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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

Image credits:
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).



8 responses to “The wonder of Melbourne’s Brutalist architecture”

On 4 September 2009, Hels wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Do you think brutalist architecture, or even modified brutalism, was ever used for domestic architecture? Do you have any Melbourne examples?

IF it was a tough style to swallow in schools, shopping centres, swimming pools and union buildings, it may well have been far too tough a style for peoples’ homes.

Many thanks
Art and Architecture, mainly

On 4 September 2009, Adam Dimech wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Hels, I am not aware of any examples of the Brutalist style being used in domestic architecture in Melbourne.

Speaking of brutalist architecture, you might find my articles about the Cameron Offices (Canberra) of interest.

On 4 June 2010, Built Heritage wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Actually, there were in fact quite a few significant Brutalist houses built in Melbourne. The first and most famous was the Fletcher House at 3 Roslyn Street, Brighton (Edgard Pirotta, 1971) which won the RAIA Gold Medal. Pirotta went on to design several others in the same vein. There are two fine examples in Beaumaris – the French House at 22 Alfred Street (1973) and the Smith House at 16 Surf Avenue (1975) – both designed by Baird Cuthbert & Partners.

On 2 July 2012, Shah chaudari wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

An early example may be the facade of 367 beaconsfield parade, st Kilda west. I’d be interested to see if you think this is brutalist style, although a 1940s example.

On 13 March 2014, natrei wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

HELS, what do you think of the luxury home at 40 Lumeah Road, Caulfield North, 3161

On 24 February 2015, Jonathon Woodgate wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

The RAW Woodgate Centre was named after and dedicated to a relative of mine, my grandfather’s 2nd cousin, who was principal of the MLC at Kew during the late 60’s and 70’s.

On 29 April 2018, Clinton Wayne wrote: Hyperlink chain icon
On 5 November 2022, Cookie wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

I have a fondness for Brutalistic structures…it reminds me of my youth. Lots of movies of a dystopian future from Britain used Brutalist architecture.

Some of my fondest sporting memories living in Melbourne were at Waverley Park a classic Brutalist stadium.

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