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"Ugly" car park is added to heritage register

Date

Aisha Dow

A CBD car park labelled "ugly" by Planning Minister Matthew Guy is set to be added to Victoria's heritage register, threatening plans for a glittering skyscraper on the Chinatown site.

The Total House car park on Russell Street, built in 1965, is one of the earliest examples of Brutalist architecture in Victoria. On Thursday morning the Heritage Council of Victoria announced it had found it to be a place of cultural heritage significance.

The building's distinctive design sees seven concrete decks of above-ground parking topped with a smaller office building, which has been home to a string of prominent Melbourne architects. Some say it looks like an old-fashion television set.

But, until this week, the divisive post-war building was in grave danger. New owner, the AXF Group, had submitted plans to replace Total House with a "landmark" gold and silver tower.

Blueprints showed a soaring 70-storey hotel and apartment building, which would be taller than the Rialto Towers and be visible from Flinders Street Station, Hoddle Street and Carlton Gardens.

The block was reportedly purchased by AXF for $40 million in 2012.

Melbourne Heritage Action Group originally nominated Total House for the heritage register. Spokesman Paul Beekman said the building's addition to the register would mean it was very unlikely to be demolished.

"It's a great day for Victoria," he said.

Calls to the AFX Group about its plans for the site were not immediately returned.

Heritage Victoria executive director Tim Smith said the building had state significance as it reflected "the massive increase in car ownership and infrastructure post World War II".

Melbourne architect Bruce Trethowan, who was called as an expert witness for the building"s owner, was not as generous. He argued the growth in car use contributed to Melbourne's post-war "urban blight" and the multi-level car park was "best preserved by memory alone".

His views were shared by Victoria's planning minister who told The Age this year he was "not a fan" of the post-war building.  "I don't think just because buildings are old, just because they're from the 1960s means that it should be saved," he said.

"If it's ugly we can do better. Newer generations should have a chance to decide what goes on that site."

But Mr Guy said he would not intervene if Heritage Victoria wanted to include the building in the state's heritage register. "I respect their processes … It doesn't mean that I agree with everything but I think that process should stand," he said.

Meanwhile, a Heritage Victoria panel will consider whether to add another threatened city building on to the state register.

A hearing will be held for the Palace Theatre on Friday, while its current owners plan to demolish the century-old building to make way for a luxury W-Hotel.

But the group campaigning to save the popular live music venue already have the odds stacked against it, because Heritage Victoria's executive director has found it does not have state cultural significance as an early theatre, although it is considered locally significant.

Save the Palace Theatre's Rebecca Leslie is frustrated there is no process in place to protect locally significant buildings.

"This is ludicrous,'' she said. "If something is significant shouldn't there then be a due process to review?"

42 comments

  • Looks like an old television set lol

    Commenter
    mj
    Date and time
    May 03, 2014, 9:34AM
    • It's actually meant to look something like a TV. It's great a 'brutal', raw classic from the 60s is going to be preserved. The carpark is admittedly not so wonderful but the 'TV' on top is terrific. It's great inside too – although it really needs a revamp.

      Commenter
      Floong
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 10:34AM
    • The thing is, future generations might really love it.

      Fashions come and go, heritage significance is more substantial than that.

      With brutalist, but the older it gets the more relevant and stunning it becomes. It reflects "modernism". A letting go of the past.

      I think we should keep it.

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 12:09PM
    • All examples of Brutalist architecture should be demolished. Everywhere around the world. It was an abominable school of architecture and these buildings should never have been permitted in the frist place.

      If you want to memorialise this monstrosity, take some pictures before demolishing it and construct a scale model that can be kept in a museum.

      Then replace this thing with a humane building.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 1:39PM
  • What a fantastic day for Victoria, indeed! If you are unfamiliar with this unique architectural gem, see local filmmaker, Jacques Sheard's short film on Total House, "Total Brutal Short": http://vimeo.com/68265293

    Commenter
    Bilby
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    May 03, 2014, 9:45AM
    • Thanks Bilby, that was a very interesting film.

      I was of the opinion that we could lose a carpark in the city, but it seems there is merit in keeping this particular one.

      I'm also concerned about what might replace it. "a "landmark" gold and silver tower." sounds just about what Melbourne does NOT need more of!

      There are some great new modern buildings with 6 star green ratings and brilliant aesthetics that are contributing to the life in our city. There are many underused buildings that need to be refurbished or repurposed.

      I think I am happy to change my mind and support keeping Total House as it is.

      Commenter
      Riddley Walker
      Location
      Inland
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 10:26AM
    • Oh yes a great day. It's such a beautiful structure that will become a major tourist attraction. It's such a pity every old building in Melbourne wasn't kept and we could live in the 1850s once again. After all, old is beautiful right?

      Commenter
      Gilly
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 10:35AM
    • Thanks for posting the short film. :)

      Commenter
      man cuddles
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 11:06AM
    • Thanks for the link Bilby, that was insightful. Not entirely sure if it should be torn down for an Asian style development, which is what will replace this building if Heritage Victoria don't get their way. Or on the other hand, contemporary Australia is changing and this is just a part of moving forward. Can't really decide.

      Commenter
      Bogan Brouhaha
      Location
      Brighton
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 11:30AM
    • Great film, thanks! The building's Japanese references are pretty blunt! But still a great one to preserve.

      Commenter
      Floong
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 1:51PM

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