30 March 2011

Update: 786-798 Elizabeth Street (Elizabeth Tower Hotel), Carlton, VIC, Australia

Well, well. Early this month, Charlotte wrote about the Elizabeth Tower Hotel and its decrepitude. She noted that it was subject to an application by the University of Melbourne to demolish it and construct the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. Today's good news is that Melbourne Uni has succeeded in this application, as reported today in The Age.
Soon to cease being a blight upon the skyline.
What is worth noting is that for some reason, almost inexplicable to me, this building is heritage listed. Some people, judging by comments on that article, seem to think it has some sort of aesthetic merit worth preserving for future generations. I personally would go even further than Charlotte in condemning this monstrosity of a building. For full disclosure, I am a historian, my work has occasionally led me to dabble my toe in architectural history, and I am usually the first person to come out and bat for heritage protection. I am continually saddened by the way many cities have demolished their history, and I am infuriated by how many new buildings have been erected with the facades of their predecessor as some sort of tokenistic concession to history. However, this building is truly and utterly discardable, and the only argument I can possibly fathom in favour of its retention is as a warning to future generations not to replicate the failings of some 20th century architects.

The spiral staircase is cool, I will readily concede that. However, a single staircase is not enough to save a hideous building. If you take away the staircase, you are left with just another 1950s highrise lacking any charm or personality whatsoever. It is an exceedingly plain, bricky building with rows of generic windows littered with unbecoming, mouldy old air conditioning units. I never ventured inside myself, but by all accounts the cleaning staff had long since lost the battle with half a century's worth of accumulated grime - and, perhaps, had lost the will to live too.

I don't know where Paul Roser, National Trust conservation manager, gets the following ridiculous notion, as quoted in The Age, that the decision to demolish this building is "another part of the steady attrition of significant buildings in the city".  No, Roser. Besides a staircase of middling importance and effectively no historical notability (wow a tall spiral staircase, nobody's ever seen that before!), there is absolutely nothing significant about this building. It is not a landmark. No tourist is going to come and see this. Locals walk past it without a second thought. The only few people who could possibly give a shit are the same bizarre people who continue to encourage wretched architectural fads that are making Melbourne and other cities uglier. The National Trust has much better things to worry about than some meaningless and charmless inner city hotel that, the moment it's knocked down, won't be missed by anybody.

Time for the Elizabeth Tower Hotel to check out of Melbourne.
Of course, I have utterly no confidence that the University of Melbourne will build a quality building in its place. The uni's latest major project, the new Economics and Commerce Building, is a monument to blithering stupidity, as I'm sure I made abundantly clear in this particular rant. However, regardless of what goes up in place of the Elizabeth Tower Hotel, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has made the right decision to bowl it over before it festers any longer. Councillor Peter Clarke, again quoted in the aforementioned Age article, claims that this decision illustrates how VCAT is "out of step with the broader views of the community". I think the only person out of step is you and your malfunctioning eyes, Clarke. The skyline will be much better upon the removal of this damning legacy to 1950s architectural follies.

Rating: This decision does not impact Charlotte's original rating of Condemnable, which I endorse.

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