The developer for the new building at 1-5 Queen St has updated their original plans in the lead up to a hearing at VCAT after the City of Melbourne rejected their permit application earlier this year.
MHA has updated our objection but many of our concerns remain. Objection as pdf MHA to VCAT 1 Queen Street Jul 2015.
Re: P476/2015, 1-5 Queen Street, Appeal against a refusal, Melbourne City Council TP-2014-524
To be heard 17-20 August. Response to substituted plans.
Melbourne Heritage Action is a partly to this appeal as an original objector.
We do not object to the substitution of plans, but wish to maintain much of our objection, as the proposal, despite the modification of November 2014 and the recent proposed further modifications, do not address all our concerns. We believe that this site is one where a proposed redevelopment of such scale would be hard to make appropriate given its location entirely within a corner heritage building.
Significance of the Building
This building was first built as the Cobden Buildings in 1873, as a fine example of renaissance revival, and used as offices associated with the maritime trade.
In 1955 it became the city outlet of the noted retailer Fletcher Jones, who occupied it for about 55 years. Sympathetic alterations were carried out at this time, inserting show windows into the ground floor, and re-arranging the central section of the Queen Street facade into a symmetrical arrangement, adding raised central sections to the pediments and unusual relief figures of well-dressed men.
The Queen Street façade was more heavily altered in the 1970s by the creation of large billboard like upper façade.
The building is thus important as displaying may of the elements of a fine mid Victorian office building on a prominent site, for its association with the maritime trade, and for its association with noted Victoria retailer Fletcher Jones.
As such it was given the protection of an HO as part of amendment C186 in 2013.
Effect of original proposal
Our first main concern with the proposal was that it involved ‘facadism’ of the type we see all too often these days, retaining only two external walls of the building, and nothing of any internal historic structure. We do not know how much of that would be 1872 Victorian era walls or how much is later, and if it can be shown that the interiors have been altered so much that there is virtually no Victorian era structure remaining, or structure that identifies its use as Fletcher Jones headquarters then perhaps this is one case where the loss of the complete internals is acceptable.
We noted in our original submission that the relevant clause, 22.04 HERITAGE PLACES WITHIN THE CAPITAL CITY ZONE, states clearly as part of its Policy Basis that heritage buildings :
“…should be retained in their three dimensional form, not as two dimensional facades as has sometimes occurred.”
Our second main concern was that the tower proposed was relatively large for a relatively small site, which is entirely occupied by the heritage building, and that it would appear to rise up out of it, or alternatively as if it had been plunged into it. The angled, leaning outward crystalline form exaggerated this appearance as does the corner site which allows for long views from many distant angles. We noted that there were few three dimensional renderings that would show what would no doubt be extreme domination when viewed from say diagonally across the Flinders Street / Queen Street intersection.
Changes to the Plans
The new plans submitted in November 2014 improved on the original by proposing to accurately reconstruct the Queen Street façade to its 1955 appearance, set back the tower a little more on the Flinders Street side, substantially more on the Queen Street side (and eliminating the overhang), and reducing the height slightly.
While we strongly approve of the façade reconstruction, this does not address the fundamental problem that only the facades would be retained of the original building. Even the ‘retained’ roofs would be demolished and rebuilt.
The modifications of those plans, and the subsequent modifications as described would at least go some way to alleviating the effect that only a façade was retained from the inside by providing a full internal second level instead of a kind of mezzanine attached to the back of the Flinders Street façade.
The modifications to the tower itself are an improvement, and would for instance mean that it would not be visible when looking down Queen Street from the north; instead a recreated streetscape would be the end result. However, the views along Flinders Street and from across the street would be of a large glassy angled spike –like construction plunged into the ‘heritage’ podium.
There is mention on the documentation that levels 2 and 3 now have balconies / voids at the base of the new tower on Flinders and Queen Street sides – these may introduce a visual separation between the tower and the original building, which is something we suggested in our submission. If this is the effect, then perhaps this is a substantial improvement.