Fencing off the Fitzroy Gardens Art Deco Substation – a heritage-friendly compromise?

MHA is concerned about a proposal to erect a tall and visually imposing fence around the art deco electrical substation (built 1940) in the Fitzroy Gardens. The images in the proposal made it clear that the proposed fence would effectively ‘imprison’ this delightful building, an important visual feature on the western side of the gardens. The building is noted as being of significance to the Fitzroy Gardens on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Electrical substation in the Fitzroy Gardens
Electrical substation in the Fitzroy Gardens

The reasons for the fence are concerns about safety. For many years the substation has been used as a place for people experiencing homelessness, but in late 2014 the City of Melbourne believed that the possible risk of people using this as a place to sleep had escalated and the people were moved on and the substation has been fenced off with temporary fencing ever since. MHA has no real issue with homeless people using our older buildings as places to sleep, and in general would suggest that actively fencing off these places is not a particularly sensitive response to these people (the article does note that this is the first time the City of Melbourne has closed a homeless camp and you can read the CoM statement here). However, we can appreciate that in this situation, because of the building’s continuing role as an electrical substation, that these are legitimate concerns about safety.

Drawing of Wast elevation as it looks now with proposed fence
Drawing of Wast elevation as it looks now with proposed fence
Drawing of West elevation as it looks now
Drawing of West elevation as it looks now

MHA believes there are better ways of discouraging the use of this space for sleeping, that don’t destroy the visual effect of the building. We have sent the following submission suggesting alternatives to the high ‘prison’ fence. As always we are interested in your thoughts. If you would like to make your own suggestion on this issue you can do so until 13th April 2016 see details on this website (Permit P23125) http://www.dtpli.vic.gov.au/heritage/apply-for-heritage-permits/currently-advertised-permits

Re: VHR1834 Fitzroy Gardens, Permit application P23125 –fencing of Substation
 
Melbourne Heritage Action objects to this application.
 
The effect of the proposed fencing is very dire indeed, effectively making the delightful Art Deco building look like its behind bars.
 
We suggest that there are perhaps better ways of ensuring that homeless people do not make a camp around the apron of this building in the future.
 
I have had a brief conversation with the planner for the Parks and Waterways section, concerning these possible alternatives.
 
The most obvious is to make the apron area into a garden bed. It would be set within a lightweight tank structure, supported off the tiled floor, with lightweight absorbent material topped by gravel, and planted with succulents, perhaps interspersed between rocks. It could be watered by rainwater diverted from the downpipes (though these appear to be concealed) or by an installed watering system. This of course may raise issues with water next to an electrical installation, though presumably a system could be devised that would ensure no overwatering, no overspill close to the doors, and if there were to be a leak, that no more water would spill than the slope of the apron would be able to handle. It could also occupy only the outside two thirds of the width of the apron to further ensure no danger.
 
If this is not acceptable, then a completely dry garden of rocks and gravel could be created, using suitably light weight rocks that still had enough height to discourage any sleeping.
 
If this was deemed too heavy, then a third alternative would be a kind of art installation of a lightweight precast rough surface perhaps resembling a rockery, or even open it up to an art competition.
 
All of these low height, low visual impact options would be preferable to a cage wrapped around this delightful structure, obscuring its carefully crafted Art Deco detailing.
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2 thoughts on “Fencing off the Fitzroy Gardens Art Deco Substation – a heritage-friendly compromise?

  1. Seems the concern is in the wrong direction. Melbourne’s heritage is also one of caring for its dispossessed and disabused residents. How about make more noise about council providing proper safe accommodation. Given that the inner city draws homeless from other parts of the state, then State Government should really be dealing with the issue. On the basis there are up to 250 people sleeping rough in Melbourne, accommodation for them is some form of flats rooming houses, hostels etc, is likely to be in the order of $2.5 million. Council capital budget is about $70 million, and there are plans to spend over 160 million on the QV renewal project. If just 0.5% of the council budget was spent on council houses (as opposed to Council House) then there would be no need for butting bars around places of shelter.

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    1. All good points Gary, but we are a heritage group – there are other bodies that are focussed on lobbying for the homeless – aren’t there ?

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