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Tearing it Down: Melbourne at Odds with British Architec...

Tearing it Down: Melbourne at Odds with British Architectural History

Melbourne has an iconic history, which is only 200 somewhat years old. Having a British lineage means that most of the buildings created in the gold rush days resemble European ideals that today may seem a little dated for the modern Australian. That being said, the city of Melbourne takes heritage preservation very seriously and

Melbourne has an iconic history, which is only 200 somewhat years old. Having a British lineage means that most of the buildings created in the gold rush days resemble European ideals that today may seem a little dated for the modern Australian. That being said, the city of Melbourne takes heritage preservation very seriously and has strict laws that prevent any unfortunate loss of history, especially with the current tide of developers flooding the Melbourne architectural market. This is a new frontier for urban planners and architects. They're asking, when does history become unimportant in the light of creating a new and thriving Australia?

Melbourne City Baths - another historical site soon to be demolished

Melbourne City Baths - Another historical site soon to be demolished

Frank Lloyd Wright once said "Architecture is the mother art. Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our civilisation."

It came to my attention that Australia has an identity crisis. What makes an Australian city unique on the global scene in terms of the cityscape? With the mix of old and new buildings that have European history attached to them, does the average Australian city not resemble something you would see somewhere in England?

Recently, there has been a lot of development occurring in the city of Melbourne. This comes mostly in the form of high-end residential buildings that are creating a Manhattan-style visual on the cityscape. Some of the developers responsible have even started to target older buildings that they claim are not financially feasible to run in the current market. They want to tear them down and replace them with newer and flashier buildings.

In line with what Frank said, maybe they are right. Does Australia not need to develop its own style and sensibility in architecture? If not, then how does this city differ from any other European city? Some would oppose this suggestion as some believe architecture must follow a path, and the path of Australian architecture stems from British lineage. Tearing down these old buildings would be a loss for Australian history.

Interior of Melbourne Central Station - History preserved

Interior of Melbourne Central Station - History preserved

Of the above beliefs, I tend to agree with the latter justification. Regardless of what is financially beneficial, keeping the heritage of a culture alive is always important. Economy cannot and must not always be allowed to trump culture. Unfortunately though, reality is a different animal. The 100 year old Palace Theatre in Melbourne's Central Business District will be demolished in 2014 to make way for a $180 million dollar mixed-use hotel and apartment development. This can be seen as a response to the population influx that Melbourne is experiencing and thus cannot be avoided.

So in this case, it looks like heritage is being forced to take a step back to allow for functional development to counter problems the city faces imminently. In light of the requirements that the city is placing on development, no one can be blamed, as this is merely a case of the city reproducing itself into something that could arguably be authentically Australian. The loss of heritage in the Australian city may just be a positive for an Australian identity.

Can we accept this evolution without degrading our history?

Credits: Images by Kunal Matikiti. Data linked to sources.

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Originally from Zimbabwe, Kunal ventured to Australia to study architecture. After completing his Masters in 2012 at Deakin University, Kunal started working in Melbourne as a graduate architect at a small residential firm and has since moved to a bi...

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