USES AND ABUSES OF HERITAGE ARCHITECTURE - IGNORING MID CENTURY MODERNISM
Are we possessed by the past? Does our collected narrative of existing heritage architecture show out true identity or does it simply distort the true history of our nation. Heritage, where does it stand in today's world & what does it mean to the greater population. In recent times it has become clear that the focus of heritage architecture lies more towards the historic pre war period than that of post war modernism. It is a view that through a warped historical focus from local governments has skewed the greater populations knowledge of what heritage architecture is, one where we are drawn to the mystique and romance of pre war architecture in an almost pre-determined outcome regardless of where in this great land of ours we live.
What has evolved in particular over the past 30 years is a distorted view of what the public view as heritage and what they view as typical architecture. The image of Victorian, colonial, gothic revival and arts & crafts architecture are historically significant through local council protection & also through marketing in the media is one the has become embedded into our psyche from an early age. This ore conceived notion has unknowingly created an era in which local councils have begun to use and abuse architectural heritage as a way of protecting what suits the vernacular of the area they feel is warranted without causing upset to local residents who carry with them this embedded psyche of architectural heritage.
Clear examples of this can be seen in the work of Mockridge, Stahle & Mitchell a Melbourne Architectural Firm who began in 1948 and went on to produce some of the most significant post war architecture in and around Melbourne. Through the work of MS&M we can see the impact of the lack of respect towards post war modernist architecture and the abuse this form of architecture receives and thus answer the question "is heritage architecture about selective history guided towards a utopian architecture linked to the pre war era or does architectural heritage equally consider this post war era"
With this in mind the question of "what is heritage architecture and how do we determine where current architecture and heritage architecture meet. In essence it's an all-encompassing image of the past world that makes our current perceived society what it is in our own mind. It can cover a broad variety of things from traditions, language, objects and many other aspects of the past including but not limited to architecture.
The biggest issue when determining what architecture can be considered heritage is personal bias. When it comes to architecture there are many hoops to jump through when looking at the impacts of a site. There are local constraints, past use, current use & quality of the structure contained on the site as well as local impact, potential for future development on the site, other works of the architect who designed the structure in mind as well as local and state governments thoughts on the structure
Therefore when assessing what structures should be retained through heritage protection from a local council point of view many times need to be quantified in order to reach a decision and with all those items in play the emotions & personal prejudice of the people responsible can often take control of the process. Without a concise and logical process that removes the emotion and personal prejudices of those making the decisions many structures deemed worthy of protection on a local level will continue to get lost in the system and quickly demolished as developers snap up land to develop for profit and nothing more.
While it is understandable that local councils struggle due to councillor & residents limitations on what is deemed appropriate when looking to extend heritage overlays as well as preferred existing and future neighbourhood street-scapes the idea of flexibility needs to be considered when looking at site specific structures of the post war era much like they are with pre war era homes of the more prestigious architectural eras from Australia's past.
An example of work lost without being given the protection it deserved was a property at 3-5 Buckingham Street, Bentleigh which was designed by renowned local architect Sir Roy Grounds. It was a single level skillioned and flat roof structure on a double block with vast expanses of glass opening up towards the rear yard and northerly aspect, deep eaves gave it the required solar access and protection from the summer sun whilst the light weight timber cladding allowed the residence to blend in with the garden and water feature to rear courtyard. A feature fireplace held centre place in the loungeroom with floors to the main kitchen area of terrazzo tiles.
Due to restrictive limitations from the Glen Eira Council in how they assess and process potential sites for protection was never afforded any protection. The local council to have failed to protect a property designed by Sir Roy Grounds until well after its sale in early 2013 & subsequent demolition and was not aware of its heritage value. While not the most high profile work created by Roy Grounds it was one of a limited number of untouched residential properties designed by his firm and one that considering the condition prior to demolition have been given due respect and heritage protection.
3-5 Buckingham Street, Bentleigh – Designed By Sir Roy Grounds
Considering the seriousness of the loss of the Roy Grounds designed building the decisions made by Glen Eira council need to come into the spotlight with regards to how they process and treat potential places of heritage value. In order to fully understand the processes put in place by Glen Eira council and how they go about recognising and assessing the potential heritage value of buildings within the council we need to look at the "city of Glen Eira heritage management plan" which was compiled in 1996. Immediately before the document is even viewed there are some alarm bells ringing. The fact that an almost 20 year old heritage study is the driving force for current heritage policy processes shows the lack of thought council have for heritage architecture of any form from the post war era due to its perceived youth from heritage forms. A more current document would take the post war era into greater consideration purely from an age of structure and proximity to the feeling of age when relating to heritage.
Moving on from the age of the study still used as Glen Eira councils guide and sifting through the initial chapters a trend begins to appear with the first 4 chapters focussing on areas and suburbs of Glen Eira and zones in which heritage controls are required. What is striking about this trend is the clear biased towards pre war era areas and protecting what i term as the vintage heritage era or that era verging on 100 years that in the mind of the average person is where heritage sits.
With the first four chapters skimmed through and each of them covering pre war areas of the Glen Eira Council we reach chapter 5 which covers the "City of Glen Eira Heritage Management Plan" which as stated in the opening pages "arises from the processes of research and assessment contained in earlier sections of the urban conservation study reports" which in essence States that the information contained in the following pages to be used for guidance on heritage assessment locally is based upon this pre war era and shows not responsibility towards the post war era of homes in the Glen Eira Council areas.
The document goes on to discuss the aspects of using community guidance and council intervention in the area of heritage protection with regards to buildings situated in heritage areas and covers off a Council positioning statement suggesting that Glen Eira Council has by producing this document in someway demonstrated a consistent approach to conservation management which when this document was produced is accurate, however given the vast time between the writing of the document and the current climate only strengthens the argument against council showing respect to heritage architecture.
It states that the document will help council "formulate an appropriate heritage management plan after holding consultation with the community" & "commission a heritage architect to identify the heritage characteristics of properties in the area by June 1996" as well as stating what the conservation policy will be and the sub clauses contained within it which relate to Responsibility, Understanding, Advocacy, Action & Statutory Initiatives which relates to the planning environment act of 1987 & the Australian heritage commission act of 1975.
Additional examples of architectural post war work lost through a lack of heritage protection based upon heritage value are three select projects supplied to me from the daughter of one of Melbourne’s most prominent post war architects and the man responsible for forming the local Melbourne post war mid century architecture firm of Mockridge, Stahle & Mitchell (formed by Ross Stahle) which began work in 1948 & generally focussed on residential & school structures. When looking at a firm like MS&M it is clear that the work produced was of a post war modernist or (mid century modern) architectural style, the longevity of the firm itself and the impact it had locally on the architectural scene at the time in Melbourne. Whilst relatively unknown outside of the architecture circles when looking through these selected works it becomes clear that the impact MS&M had on the Melbourne landscape was one of importance to the heritage of our architecture and our city.
Building: St Marks Anglican Church
Address: 49 Sun Crescent, Sunshine
St.Marks Anglican Church - Sunshine – Sketch Elevations
The St.Marks Anglican Church was designed by the firm in the late 50's & architecturally speaking consists of an exaggerated zig-zag roof form with a timber interior of architectural note with an adjoining timber structure that provided historical context, French glass antique windows all formed what Brimbank council noted as forming a distinct post war style and considering it a building of architectural and historical significance at a metropolitan level and was to be given heritage protection as per council heritage reports from January 2009 yet for some reason was demolished in late 2009 thus being lost before full protection could be afforded to it.
Building: Watt House
Address: 2901 Point Nepean Highway, Blairgowrie
Watt House - Blairgowrie - Sketch Perspective
The Watt House which appeared in the 1953 Feb/March edition of "Architecture & Arts" was a single level home designed to sit atop the highest point of the site with a courtyard and large expanses of glass facing north while the blind side of the home created a buffer whilst catching the northern sun in the courtyard area. A timber clad home with a low slung metal roof it was a well-executed example of post war modernist architecture with early links to sustainable design.
Building: Hooper House
Address: Winmalee Road, Balwyn
Hooper House – Balwyn - Colour Image
The Hooper House was designed by the firm for a family of four on a constrained budget it contains a low slung skillion roof to 9degrees and large expanses of glass opening up onto the rear yard area off the main living areas with bedrooms & bathroom to the blind side of the home. Once again well orientated with deep eaves and constructed with timber cladding and a metal roof another fine example of the mid century era of residential architecture and another building no longer standing.
Building: Notcutt House
Address: 15 Atkinson Street, Templestowe
Notcutt House – Templestowe – Colour Image
Yet another homes situated on a large expansive block of land, The Norcutt house was located within proximity to the Yarra River and was a light weight timber clad structure with the typical MS&M skillion roofed structure with large expanses of glass orientated to the north with eaves for protection from the summer sun. Bedrooms to the blind side of the home and large open living areas it is yet another prime example of quality mid century architecture that due to a lack of foresight by the local council has since been demolished.
Each of these structures shows a clear and defined style of architecture that is of the time and the impact of the firm is seen by the spread of work around Melbourne and its surrounding suburbs. With Neil Cleheren even going so far as to consider the firm one of Melbourne's most notable and distinguished architectural firms. With this in mind and viewing each example upon its architectural design, local impact and notable worth based upon the status of the firm responsible for the structures one could determine that these aspects alone should be enough for the structures discussed to have been protected under heritage policies of the local council where each was built.
With many of the firms existing designs still standing in untouched or relatively untouched condition the loss of those and other buildings not discussed should be enough to trigger an alarm of sorts wishing the heritage community and local councils to look at protecting what remains where possible. The loss of Mockridge, Stahle & Mitchell structures in the recent past is a glaring example of the issue at hand and shows a clear lack of appreciation towards post war architectureand respected firms whom formed a major part of post war architecture and whos works should be considered along side the more antique architecture of the pre war era.
The fact that these and other post war homes and buildings continue to be demolished without any thought shows that local planning and heritage policies are not working. In conclusion a clear line of thought is needed when looking at the impact of not only singular houses designed by historically significant architectural firms but also to a collective of work by these firms regardless of where they may be located.
No longer can we as a society continue to allow local councils to abuse and use architectural heritage in order for them to create a smokescreen that brings about an ability for them to strategically protect what suits those councils while using heritage to also create ill informed and out of date neighbourhood character profiles.
In order to retain what is left of the post war mid century modern architecture we must learn from the mistakes of the past. We must streamline and update heritage policies at a local level and ensure ongoing heritage policy updates under a mandatory 5-year maximum between reports so as to reduce the possibility of loss of any form of heritage architecture that may slip through the cracks. We also need to look at removing personal opinion from the processes of heritage selection. To simply ignore a structure because at the point in time it doesn’t meet a personal view of what is determined to be potential architectural heritage is to ignore post war architecture due to its relative youth when compared to pre war architecture.
For the moment however there seems to be no simple solution as to how to remove the more personal aspect of council processes and the issue of emotion in architecture and heritage architecture remains and thus for the time being the use and abuse of architectural heritage continues to distort the truth of our heritage and our nation.