I was upset to read this week about three historic buildings in the CBD, that are somehow not heritage listed, will be demolished to make way for new skyscrapers. Only their front facades will be retained, known as Facadism.
I don’t like it one little bit. When finished you are left with the front of an old building stuck onto a brand new glass box. It looks fake. Imagine you walk through that old front door and… You’re in a brand new shopping centre?? This is not a solution to the complete demolition of old buildings!
Facadism goes against the council’s own policy of retaining older buildings in their entirety “not as two dimensional faces”, and brings me to a greater point I want to address today: a lack of appreciation for our built heritage in this country. We holiday in Europe, to marvel at it’s historical beauty. With so little of that here to begin with given the age of this country, why we are so quick to disregard our history? It really upsets me. Heritage projects are amongst my favourites, we keep a part of our history alive, so future generations can see how we once lived.
I’ll consider this situation from both sides of the fence, firstly the council. They are responding to an obvious need for more office and retail space in our CBD. However, by allowing the demolition of our history. Old buildings weren’t built with the engineering and construction systems we have today. As a result these buildings are very compartmentalised – made up of many smaller spaces/rooms rather than the large open planned spaces we prefer and which are possible today. They were also only about 3 -6 storeys in height, not an efficient use of space when compared with modern office towers. However, they have a craftsmanship, level of detail, and ornamentation that does not exist today, and is what gives these spaces their grandeur and elegance.
I think a better compromise to keeping just a facade, would be to rework these older buildings, and build the new tower behind or to one side, to at least keep a significant proportion of these buildings. It would allow us to still experience some of their interiors, and create a defined distinction between old and new. Or why not just extend our CBD? Docklands would have had more life if those high-rise residential towers were an extension of our business district. Rather than a ghost town during the day, it would be bustling with activity, day and night.
From the public’s perspective: Many of us may not have an opinion or love of old buildings, that’s ok, we all have varied interests. But once they are gone, I think people will feel their absence. Imagine on your trip to Paris, the Louvre, and many of all the old buildings were gone, replaced with just glass towers. How is then different to anywhere else in the world, if they removed their old buildings too? You see, you may not have considered it, but it is these old buildings that define much of our cities, their culture and its people. California bungalows are different here to those in California. The Palace of Versailles is in the Baroque style, but French Baroque, a variation of Italian Baroque etc. We all put our twist on things. It’s like Vegemite vs Marmite. One’s Aussie, one’s not.
My hope is to make those of you who hadn’t thought of it before, consider that these old buildings are precious. I did an inspection at a house built in 1924 last week for someone considering purchasing it at auction. As I walked through this house grinning from ear to ear about the possibility of bringing it some love and care it needs, keeping it here for another 90 years, I heard a fellow at the inspection ask the real estate agent: “Is this heritage listed? The agent: “no”. The fellow, “Ohh so I could demolish it and build a new house?” My heart sank. I have never seen another house like this before. It was a unique variation of its style. I’m dumbfounded as to why the council has not given it the heritage listing it deserves. Not all old houses are significant, many aren’t; this one certainly is.
On your travels this week, please take a look at those old buildings around you – I hope you can see how these are special, and if given the chance you might do your bit to keep these here for future generations to see how we once lived.
Heritage is not a bad word. It’s where we came from. It’s what makes this Melbourne.