Drive to save landmark car park
A Melbourne community group is fighting to protect a Chinatown landmark from being torn down - the Total car park.
On the corner of Russell and Little Bourke streets, the car park was built in 1965 and looks like a stack of seven floating concrete decks crowned by an old-fashioned television set.
A youth activist group with more than 1000 Facebook supporters, Melbourne Heritage Action, has nominated the building for the Victorian Heritage Register in the hope it will be protected from a mooted skyscraper development.
Total car park, located at 170-190 Russell St. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Architectural experts such as University of Melbourne professor Philip Goad consider the car park to be an icon of the city's modernist architectural heritage. It was the first major example of the style of brutalist architecture in Victoria.
Its offices on top have a history of housing some of the city's coolest architecture firms, with current tenants including Peter Elliott Architecture + Urban Design, Fairbank & Lau, Shelley Roberts, K2LD & C, FMD Architects and Black Kosloff Knott. It is also currently home to bag manufacturer Crumpler.
But controversial Shanghai-born developer Richard Gu, from the AXF Group, reportedly has big plans for the site, having agreed to pay $40 million for it in August. He has a caveat on the title but is yet to settle.
Melbourne University Underground Car Park. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Fairfax Media previously reported that Mr Gu wants to put a 60-level retail and residential plaza there, a signature tower to reorient the historic Chinatown precinct and bring ''the Asian style of living to Australia''.
Last year he donated $20,000 towards the re-election of Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle.
AXF's chief operating officer, Rob Rafaniello, confirmed on Sunday the company had plans to develop the site but it was still several years away from making permit submissions.
''Total House has been bought as a long-term investment property,'' he said. ''Development plans are seven to 10 years off as we have leases in place.''
Melbourne Heritage Action is just one of a number of conservation lobbyists to argue that Melbourne is falling behind other international cities by allowing significant buildings to disappear and ignoring its modernist architectural heritage.
''This incredible whacky design is an extremely significant piece of Melbourne's built heritage as one of the country's only pieces of architecture inspired by Japanese brutalism,'' president and archaeologist Rupert Mann, 27, said. ''Melbourne's architectural heritage is an essential part of its essence as a literary and cultural city. For many young people in Melbourne that identity is important.''
A City of Melbourne spokeswoman said the Total car park was identified in a 1980s conservation study as having some heritage value and the northern part of the building was covered by a heritage overlay.
''The location of this property is also subject to height controls in the Melbourne Planning Scheme,'' she said. ''The Little Bourke Street frontage of the building is in a 15-metre height control area and the remainder along Russell Street has a 60-metre height control.''
Brutalism originated in the mid-1950s in Britain, building on the work of modern architecture pioneer Le Corbusier.
MELBOURNE'S HISTORIC CAR PARKS
Melbourne University Underground Car Park, built 1972. The only intact car park on the Victorian Heritage Register. Designed by architectural firm Loder and Bayly in association with Harris, Lange and Partners, it is famous for its two Atlas figures from the demolished Colonial Bank, Elizabeth Street, and was used in Mad Max.
Victoria Car Park, 103-107 Russell Street, built 1938. Victoria's first commercial car park and Melbourne's first multi-level car park. Architect Marcus Barlow designed it to have Art Deco facades that fitted the streetscape rather than revealed its function. Heritage listing helped save the Little Collins Street facade during a redevelopment that started last year but the rest was demolished.
Golden Square Car Park, 225-231 Lonsdale Street, built 1955. Designed by Bernard Evans & Associates for Myer. The Lonsdale Street facade is in a simple Art Deco style and it is generally intact but does not have any heritage protection. Accommodates about 200–250 cars.
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