Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"It is no Ur of the Chaldees"

Fossil Beach Mornington, is a small cove on Port Philip Bay, which was the site of Victoria's earliest cement manufacturing enterprise. The location had a unique local geology, both for dating ancient formations from the fossil beds, and for the 'Septaria" nodules which attracted entrepreneur James Robertson to build the cement works. The works did not prosper, but for a few years was enthusiastically touted in the Melbourne Press as the saviour of the building industry as it would break the dependence on expensive imported cement.

The Patent Septaria Cement Co. works as it became known, was constructed in 1861, operated from around August 1862 to June 1863, and was quickly demolished. The site subsequently became a local beauty spot, Girl Guide jamboree venue, natural history excursion site and picnic point. Knowledge of the cement works was not entirely lost, and in 1967 and '68, William Culican, archaeologist and lecturer in classics at Melbourne University, and John Taylor undertook excavations with his students, family and friends. Perhaps unusual for archaeologists, the resulting monograph was published within a couple of years. This may be the first historical archaeological excavation in Australia (or possible a close tie with Jim Allen's, Port Essington Phd).

Bill Culican was my lecturer at Melbourne. I recall his lectures ranged over the entire history of the world, from the proper way to prepare cacao, to correct pronunciation of Celtic (with a soft s I think he said) to why driving on the left is the right system (something to do with Roman charioteers having to keep their opponent on their right side in order to smoot them with their sword). His reading lists required we poor students to fathom the French, German and Russian literature on pre-classical antiquity, with the instruction - "you will get the sense from the figures and tables". then he would translate verbatim from the Sumerian cuneiform, regaling us with the stories of Sargon of Akad as if he new him personally, (which I sometimes suspect he did). See "The Artefact' Volume 9 December 1984" Obituary William Culican Obituary

William Culican - ADB Online

Bill's 'modest' report on Fossil Beach, was undertaken in the spirit that not to do so would be a "dereliction of archaeological duty", despite one visiting nun remarking of the site that "It is no Ur of the Chaldees"

The site has subsequently reverted to nature, and few of the ruins are visible. Mornington Shire Council, is however, undertaking a conservation management plan and hopefully, in the future this area will be recognised more readily for both its historical and archaeological value.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Old versus new

I seem to have gotten some backs up in a recent post to a heritage list which I thought innocuous enough, but was rejected as too incendiary.

I think there is a serious argument to be had about the different attitudes of architects and developers wanting modern buildings in heritage areas, particularly where a new building has a negative impact on heritage, either because it creates a clash between old and new, overwhelms the old by drawing attention to itself, or under schemes like Port Phillip and the proposed Yarra heritage demolition policy (see below), becomes an argument for demolishing the old. I would doubt many architects would argue that their design does NOT display architectural design excellence, so if approved this policy would seem to be a free for all.

22.02-5.1 Demolition
Full Demolition or Removal of a Building
Encourage the retention of a building in a heritage place unless:
-The building is identified as being not contributory.
-The building is identified as a contributory building and:
-new evidence has become available to demonstrate that the building does not possess the level of heritage significance attributed to it in the incorporated document, City of Yarra Review of Heritage Overlay Areas 2007, Appendix 8 (Graeme Butler and Associates), or
-the replacement building displays architectural design excellence, or
-the replacement building positively supports the ongoing heritage significance of the heritage place.

The issue is one of aesthetics, which ultimately is an emotional response, and one also used in a highly political manner.

I was thinking a few years ago of doing one of Miles Lewis's subjects, to see what the new generations of architects look like. They seem a separate breed. I also wonder if the slab, blade and fracture style is simply a justification of the economics-driven factory-made process of new buildings - pre cast tilt slab, prefab welded portals and frames, slot in panels and the like. another option is the use of CAD programs, that are easiest to use with lines and planes, and even Perspex models. I reckon the ubiquitous saluting blade was originally a left over bit of Perspex that the model maker just stuck in at a quirky angle to give the big box some clout.

Third-year architecture students at Melbourne University had never heard of such a thing as a heritage consultant or even imagined that it might exist.

Is there a prevailing view among many architects that the community is too 'ignorant' to understand their 'art'. There are good philosophies in the Burra Charter which as one heritage practitioner described to me "mirror the centuries old "second architect principle" where a second architect's work respects and reflects on the best adjacent neighbouring works, and together they create great streetscapes and urban spaces."
He suggests "...the Windsor Hotel extension on the corner of Spring and Burke Street, was a marvellously successful building that respected the original work, and together with the old, created a successful streetscape and urban space opposite Parliament House.

"Similarly with the Melbourne Town Hall, and the adjacent Administration Building. And from an engineering point of view, the widening or duplication of bridges, where the works are many decades apart but are only subtly distinguishable, such as Hawthorn Bridge.

A similar effect was create when the BHP building (corner Burke and Williams Street) reflected the Shell Building, and other later buildings followed.

He and I await the "demise of the current wave of 'noisy' 'look at me, look at me' style (and 'no-style') and the arrival of the next wave of simple sensible solid grand designs (and designers) that just worked together perfectly."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Centre of the Cultural Heritage

This post marks a GPS location taken several years ago during an archaeological survey at Point Cook. the area is low lying basalt plain, farmed for 150 years and probably ploughed most years in that time. When we surveyed it, with Harry Terrick from the Wurundjeri I think, we found a single artefact near a drain and dam. The rest of the paddocks, (about 100 acres) were absolutely bare - a crop had been planted but had failed, and rain and wind had scoured the surface. As any archaeology could only have been on the surface or in bioturbation zone (i.e. the layer of soil effected by animals, insects and plants moving soil around), and ploughing, scarifying, seeding and such would have churned the top 25cm, but left at least 10% of artefacts in the soil on the surface, then if there was any substantial archaeology here, we would have found it.

A number of Aboriginal stone artefact scatters have been found a bit north on Skeleton Creek, and a bit south around some ephemeral swamps and water holes, so we know where people used to hang around, just not here. Anyway the developers surveyors marked the location with a nice large stake painted in pink and white and inscribed "Centre of Cultural Heritage". It seems a bit surreal give haw bare and bereft of cultural heritage the place is. Anyway, a permit was obtained from aboriginal Affairs, and Martin Lawler will be out their shortly to let the contractors know what to look for in case anything else is found.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Burra Charter and new building

There appears to be a prevailing attitude among many architects, planners and even heritage professionals that new buildings, alterations, additions and even interpretive features, when installed in a heritage place, have to be cutting edge modern design. I have read a number of times, statements like: "From a heritage perspective, it is desirable that new structures on the site are designed in a modern manner, to distinguish them from the heritage buildings... [or] should have a contemporary edge..."

This is not the case.

The Heritage Debate of the 1960s and '70s, which lead to the adoption of the Burra Charter in 1979, agonised over whether copying the old or creating brand new was a better match for existing heritage buildings. The solution was The statement:
22.1 New work such as additions to the place may be acceptable where it does not distort or obscure the cultural significance of the place, or detract from its interpretation and appreciation.

22.2 New work should be readily identifiable as such.
and the Explanatory Note:
New work may be sympathetic if its siting, bulk, form, scale, character, colour, texture
and material are similar to the existing fabric, but imitation should be avoided.
While Reconstruction or replication based on conjecture is discouraged, reinstatement of elements that add to the significance of the place, based on sound research evidence is acceptable and encouraged.

The Victorian Heritage Council provides guidelines that state:
New buildings should not undermine the significance or detract from the prominence and
character of adjoining and nearby Contributory Elements and the area covered by the Area HO. ... Either contemporary or conservative design approaches may be appropriate. The design of new buildings should have close regard to context and reflect the relationships between nearby Contributory Elements and the streetscape. Design that closely imitates, replicates or mimics historic styles is discouraged because it can distort an understanding of the development of an area, and hence the significance of a Heritage Place. New buildings designed in a conservative manner should not misrepresent the historical form of a Heritage Place. They should be clearly distinguishable as new buildings.

Some council development guidelines encourage high quality modern designs, as part of requirements for new buildings in Heritage Precincts. This has often been taken as a demand for cutting edge "out there" architecture such as the inclined blades and fractal geometries (from DKM or Lab architecture studio), which now pop up on the most pedestrian on modern tilt slab projects.

I suspect it is ego which is intentionally misinterpreting the guidelines, architects who only really want to make their marks, not work within the needs of the Heritage Place. Why else would a featurist pastiche be proposed for the most important undeveloped site in Maldon by the Bendigo Bank. It has the textured brutalist concrete, the abstract Cor10 steel veranda, the horizontal slot window.


There is a world of difference between being able to distinguish between the old and new and the jarring creations that are disingenuously proffered in this way.

In many respects, as the values of a heritage building or precinct are in what has been created in the past, the new structures should remain the least prominent and therefore least important part of the place. the architects should sublimate their egos for heritage so if their creations go unnoticed, they have succeeded the best.

Gibbons & Masters Patent Brick