The wonder of Melbourne’s Brutalist architecture
Are Melbourne’s ugly ducklings turning into swans?
Melbourne’s ‘Brutalist’ architecture may at last be receiving positive public recognition, after years of being hated.
In case you are unaware, Brutalist buildings are those distinctive, heavy constructions renown for their ‘ugliness’. The style is characterised by the dominant use of off-form, strongly textured concrete inside and out, that give the buildings a chunky, powerful and raw appearance. Brutalism enjoyed a brief period of popularity between the late 1960’s and early 1980’s, but never with the general public.
East Melbourne Fire Station (top) and St. Kilda Library
One such example is the very grey Harold Holt Swimming Centre in Malvern, which has been nominated for heritage protection. Designed by Daryl Jackson and Kevin Borland in 1967, the complex was one of Melbourne’s first to be built in the Brutalist style and is arguably one of the state’s most significant examples. The City of Stonnington has been trying to refurbish the building for some time, however the Heritage Council has intervened and is likely to give it heritage protection this month.
Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre, Malvern
Two more Brutalist buildings are soon likely to be added to the National Trust’s register, those being the R.A.W. Woodgate Centre (1973) at Methodist Ladies’ College in Kew and Menzies College (1965-70) at La Trobe University.
The R.A.W. Woodgate Centre at Methodist Ladies College, Kew.
Other familiar examples of the style include the St. Kilda Library (1971-3), part of Knox City Shopping Centre (1977) in Wantirna and the Plumbers’ & Gasfitters’ Union Building (1970) in Carlton. The University of Melbourne has several too, these being the Engineering Building, the Education Resource Centre Library and the McCoy Building.
The Education Resource Centre (top) and McCoy Building at the University of Melbourne.
The Harold Holt Swimming Centre does not represent the city’s first attempt to protect a Brutalist structure. In 1997, there was much controversy surrounding the alterations to the National Gallery of Victoria and in 1999, a section of the Waverly Park Stadium was heritage listed when the venue was closed down.
Interstate too, recent conflicts have raged over Brutalist buildings such as the landmark Cameron Offices in Belconnen (ACT). Built in 1975, these offices are recognised as being so significant that they were placed on the Register of the National Estate. Yet amazingly the Commonwealth overrode its own heritage laws and demolished more than two-thirds of the complex in 2003. And in Sydney (NSW), there has been much discussion about the monolithic Sydney Masonic Centre after it was extended.
Perhaps the public is finally developing a taste for Brutalism? Who would have thought!
The Cameron Offices in Belconnen, ACT (left) and Sydney Masonic Centre, NSW.
Adams, D. (2005) Brutally honest. The Age, 23 February, p.8
Anon (1996) YWCA adds curves. The Age, 23 July, p.5
Cassidy, F. (2002) Architect opposes demolition of offices. Canberra Times, 25 March, p.3
Copley, V. (2006) Revamp washed up? Stonnington Leader, 8 February, p.1
Day, N. (2006) They came, they saw, they concreted. The Age, 23 January, p.14
Dunlevy, M. (2001) Carpark space or national icon? The Australian9 November, p.27
O’Brien, G. (2004) Beauty of the Beast. Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May, p.35
Rock, M. (2005) Pool’s dip for heritage. Stonnington Leader, pp.1,17
Szego, J. (2005) To be Brutal, our modern heritage is set in concrete. The Age, 23 December, p.8
All by Adam Dimech except Cameron Offices © Larry Speck 2003 and Sydney Masonic Centre © Australian & New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers 2005 (used without permission).