We have a moment, caused by a crisis, to catch our breath and consider
Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Melbourne has been affected often by "sliding door" moments – those instances in our city’s history where an outcome might have been very different. These city-changing moments can be decisions made because of a brave or committed individual, a cultural shift, an intelligent community pushing for reform or a crisis. Urban commentators are currently reminding us of impactful city-shifting conditions caused by war and pandemics.
Lockdown bites: An empty Flinders Lane.Credit:Getty
Sliding-door moments influence the design, or the way we engage with our city. Whether a change is good or bad will be judged by individuals and by time, but there are certainly instances where I breathe a sigh of relief when I think about what might have been.
This year may be an important moment for Melbourne. After decades of fast-paced growth and change, we have paused. We have a moment, caused by a crisis, to catch our breath and consider. While we do so, we might reflect on several relevant stories from our city’s past.
When Melbourne’s Hoddle grid was laid out in the mid-1800s, it was a commercial rather than a design decision. Lucky for us, it has resulted in a beautifully scaled network of large streets, smaller streets, and a distinctive tertiary network of through-block arcades and laneways that are open to the sky.
By chance, our city inherited a structure that has proven to be the foundation of something unique. City policies since have understood the need to protect scale and grain, promote activated street frontages, offer treed streets and well-designed pavements. As a result, Melbourne has become a magnet for visitors and those of us who love the city as a place to live, work or play.
But the pace of the past few decades and the desirability of address means the land within our Hoddle grid is now so valuable that every site is under significant development pressure, including sites that host important buildings from Melbourne’s past.
What foresight and vision it was to surround our city grid with parks and gardens. These are the lungs of Melbourne. In 2020, our handsome green walking networks have been a lifeline for a confined community. We have been reminded that when a city is home to a resident population, open space and access to nature must be an indivisible part of its urban design.
But over recent decades, the need to house a fast-growing population has not always been delivered with understanding of the value of integrated access to public space, fresh air and nature.
The 1970s was a critical moment for architecture and our city. It is interesting to see a project at 555 Collins Street "all knocked down and nowhere to go". In 1972, branded "the year of the wrecker", demolition of the Federal Coffee Palace on this very site became the moment that sparked a defiant group of Melburnians to rally against the wanton loss of too many of Collins Street’s spectacular Victorian-era buildings.
The Collins Street Defence Movement triggered a seminal shift, encouraging us to consider the value in layering our existing city with the new, rather than continuing the wholesale replacement of buildings so typical in the 1960s. It seems poignant that the replacement building is now also gone. An appreciation of the value in layering our city starts here and Melbourne has become a successful hybrid of old and new architectures.
But over recent decades, mounting pressure in the Hoddle grid has exposed us. We do not have the centuries of experience and understanding found in the European cities and we lack a committed philosophical position attached to tackling the challenge of balancing old and new.
We have seen new projects that propose complete or partial demolition, towers that dwarf significant heritage buildings or cantilever over remnants of questionable quality. There is little acknowledgement of the value of our important mid-20th century architecture.
Despite the city’s dedication to the car, Melbourne has managed to avoid the declining status of many contemporary cities built for commerce by elevating the status of the pedestrian and the bicycle. In 1985, Victoria’s 150th anniversary, for one weekend the Swanston Street spine was closed to traffic, carpeted with grass and lined with trees. Not just a celebration, this was an experiment designed to enliven a diminished city while testing the community’s appetite for change.
In 2020, our streets have been emptied of cars and people. It could be a good time to test community support for projects with the long-term urban significance of the Swanston Street closure. What streets might be prioritised for pedestrians in the future? Where might we elevate the quality, number and connectedness of our bike lanes? Where might we remove conflicts between pedestrians and cars to improve safety and give more space to the city’s visitors and residents?
While Melbourne is on pause, we have time to consider how we might host our architectural legacy in a respectful way to make sure we move forward with consideration and intelligence.
Jill Garner is the Victorian Government Architect.
Most Viewed in National
Source: Read Full Article