17 February 2011

Eastern Resource Centre, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia

Today, I would like to highlight an example of truly horrendous architecture.  The Parkville campus of the University of Melbourne has a good number of beautiful and attractive buildings, amongst which are a few malignant tumours that blight the landscape.  One of the worst offenders, in fact probably the worst offender, is the Eastern Resource Centre (ERC), one of the main libraries:

Just look at it!  This is meant to be a library, a place of knowledge and ideas and books.  I can think of few more noble purposes for a building, yet this seems to have been built with none of that in mind.  There is no style, no grace, not a single nod to its purpose as a repository of intellectual achievement and historical record.  It looks like a prison, or a place to house a soulless, bloodsucking bureaucracy or accountancy firm.  Perhaps it should be home to the Faculty of Law.  This sort of incongruous, faceless Brutalist architecture should be deplored, or even better, torn right down.  The ERC is especially offensive because it neighbours and overshadows the most beautiful structure on campus, the 1888 Building:

My grudge against the ERC is not just on the basis of aesthetics.  It used to be.   It is now personal.  For all its aesthetic failings, inside it used to be everything you could want from a university library.  The upper three floors are given over to the Education Faculty's needs (hence its former name, the Education Resource Centre); the bottom two floors house books of interest to the social sciences and humanities - but because the main SS&H library is the Baillieu and most Arts students seem far too lazy to plumb the depths of the ERC, the wealth of relevant books here went largely unmolested.  If you were willing to use the place, it was a goldmine!  Few people ventured down to the bottom two floors; you could get lost amongst the wonderful smell of books, exploring all kinds of arcane but fascinating subjects, and curl up at a desk in a very, very quiet corner to get your work done or just to unwind.  You could even just sprawl out comfortably in an aisle - there was hardly anybody to notice you.

Then the forces of renovation struck.  Somebody evidently needed to kickstart a project to justify their existence.  Part of this involved a redevelopment of the third storey entry, which has been little more than polishing a turd, as the picture at right illustrates.  Sure, the glassy new addition is a bit more airy and open, but it's just as incongruous as the ERC and doesn't achieve a whole lot.  The other part of the redevelopment is what really gets me, though: half the bottom floor was given over to some new "hub" that hasn't really proved its worth to me after a few years of trying.  My favourite aisle was lost to this renovation.  The smell, the quiet, the atmosphere - it's never really been the same.  Sure, most of the second floor and half of the first still largely look like how they used to:

But then you look down a first floor aisle and you see the new hub.  I see where my cosy little home used to be, my place of relaxation, gone forever:

So if I seem especially bitter about the ERC, it's not just because it's an ugly building (though let's not play down the architectural failings here).  It's because the best damn spot on campus has gone the way of the dodo.

Rating: Condemnable.


  1. Ha! I was the shelver down there for years (2000 - 2008)! I feel your loss; it was my little kingdom and no, it's never been the same since.

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