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Sanitizing of Old Buildings

edited August 2007 in architecture
Returning to Melbourne after a few months in the UK, I've noticed a general fetish for covering up the identity of oldish buildings.

This might include painting over of cement render, removal of signage which was part of the original form/design or covering or removal of tiling or stonework with acrylic 'render'.

Near home off Chapel Street,South Yarra, for example, there was a classic 60s rear portion of a building. Slim split faced dark blockwork base, a thin strip of windows divided by cement rendered columns and a 3 level cement renderd top. Steel framed windows. The corner showed evidence of an old painted sign pointing around the corner to a 'lubritorium' which would have dissappeared long ago. The paint had flaked and faded to almost nothing.

Last week the entire building top was painted in a mushroom coloured semigloss paint.

This week the old 'Plasterers Guild' building in King Street had its identifying rendered 30s/40s style text sign removed and replaced with a panel of plain render even though the sign was painted in to match the rest of the building red ochre colour.

Do all of our buildings need to have the same grafitti attracting painted finish?

Why do all 'renovated' old buildings have to look like new ones?


  • edited January 1970
    Mark, I concur. I wonder when there is going to be some recognition of the value of post-Victorian building as worth engaging with aesthetically - both by architects and more broadly in society. Models for aesthetic reinterpretation of 1930s-1970s buildings are few, at the moment. Not that models to follow are perfect themselves, but at least, in the renovation of Victorian buildings, there is a 'status quo' reno typology to conform to, which functions to keep the bottom-end of this genre reasonably competent.
    The elimination of things like signage is hard to quantify as significant (as in, by planners or whatever), but I think such elements are primary in the development, or cultivation, of urban richness - the palimpsest idea of legible history.
    I suppose some people have a notion that new is better. In fact, given building budgets/costs today, I find old buildings to be often 'better' - in that they're solidly constructed and versatile.
    I think the cultivation of public architectural culture - educating clients - as well as shifting architect's own views, is necessary to alleviate this problem.
  • edited January 1970
    Public?! F... the public. These 'crimes' are being committed by us.Do you think this Forum is for the public.
    How would Brunswick Street or Chapel Street look if a bunch of Architects and Rug Scatterers came in and 'freshened it up'? So everything was 'new'. I suppose it would look like Ackland St or Errol St! 'Improved' out of all recognition. Might as well turn it into a shopping centre.
  • edited January 1970
    I have to 'but' in hear. My old folks had a lot to do with recording the structures of the Newcastle railway works when they were decommissioned some 25 years ago. heaps of 1850's to 1900's buildings and yardage that is now being transformed into...who knows what the council will come up with... but regardless, it was and is public space and looks like it might become an arts IT cultural precinct. The oldest and second last rope driven gantry crane circa 1850 in the world is all that substansially survives in it's original position (and condition). Of greater loss for Newcastle heritage buffs, rail enthusiasts the world over and scientists of metallurgy was a hundred or so metres of the oldest surviving railway track in existance in its original position, (which looked nothing like what we know today as railway track and was laid when roads were still being made by convicts). As an artifact from the industrial revolution era it is, or was of some world cultural significance. There were many other major architechtural and industrial artifacts from that era remaining when my folks recorded it but once thier report was handed in, recommending that substantial parts and fittings could be left intact as they would not interfere with future uses, the NSW railways got to work pulling as much down as they saw fit or removing as much evidence as possible from remaining structures the evidence of thier original functions. Here's the irony. My folks were recently asked to come back and show the new tenants of one of the factory buildings and the Newcastle council who now own the land, where all the old stuff (huge bearing boxes in walls, pully and belt drive shafts etc) had been situated because they wanted to paint onto the rendered surfaces and the ceilings, the exact position of the original factory infrastructure. A diagramtic representation of the real thing, when the real thing could have been easily left where it was, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in labour and preventing quite a few people in Newcastle a bit of cultural heartache about industrial heritage. The decision to pull it all out and pull a lot of it down was made by the NSW railways in the belief that no one would want to buy it or use it in its original state. Rhetorically, do you think they asked the public or the Council or the architects of the day what should be done with the buildings?
  • edited January 1970
    Good one Simon. A similar thing happened in Launceston when they redeveloped the Inveresk Railyards. The original Launceston train station and ancilliary buildings were a jumble of white painted weatherboard buildings. Ticket and waiting rooms, Postal storage rooms and well as buildings to store freight going out to country rail stations and rural areas. Those were the days of ordering remotely and having it sent to the 'farm' etc.

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, all these buildings were bulldozed as well as all the railway lines, platforms etc.

    Interestingly, Google maps still show the railway lines that were dug up at least 15 years ago and the circular carpark road overlayed. If you click from Map to Satellite you can see the effect.,147.139367&spn=0.00518,0.007542&t=k&z=17&om=1

    BTW Aurora (formerly York Park) is to the North.

    Only the buildings that were the brick and reinforced concrete related directly to the Industrial Archaeology component of the site were kept. This was quite a significant element and the buildings were redeveloped as Museum, Art and University spaces.

    When the Launceston City Council Parks and Recreation department needed a new space for one of their sections, what did they do? They built a very faux 'railway station ' on an axis nothing like the original allignment of the old rail lines and to suit the allignment of the main driveway of the large carpark that took the place of the weatherboard buildings.

    Very classy.

    I just had a ......... moment. If I remember correctly, the old Launceston outdoor cycling velodrome (magnificent) was roughly where the car park is now. Closer to Invermay Road though.
  • edited January 1970
    Correction to my contribution of 12th Sept. re Newcastle rail yards. The rope drive crane, the last of its kind in the world, was built in the 1880's not the 1850's. It can be seen working by appointment, my father tells me and was originally used to lift boilers and chassis for the building of steam train engines. If anyone is interested I can post some related links etc. Let me know and i'll work on it.
  • edited January 1970
    Just noticed a new one. You can probably see it by going to the First National real estate Wangaratta website. Their offices are a 1950's double brick house conversion that has huge steel pillars 'holding up' the 400mm eaves of a tiled hip roof at the corners. Looks bloody ridiculous
  • edited 9:24PM
    I was horrified to see that the massive old brown brick walls supporting the Railway over Surry Road in south Yarra have been painted last week.............brown. After god knows how many years of the occasional graffiti attack someone has 'legally' defaced them.
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