A Melbourne architectural firm with expertise in all aspects of historic building conservation – and which has been a bulwark through four decades against the loss or irredeemable alteration of our built heritage – won awards on Friday night for three different projects in the 2020 Victorian Architecture Awards run by the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects.
The work Lovell Chen completed on Melbourne University’s earliest building, on “the working man’s parliament” Victorian Trades Hall, and on the extravagant 1920s picture-palace The Regent Theatre has brought the buildings up to modern standards while contributing to the preservation of three exceptionally storied structures.
The award Lovell Chen gained for the work it did on parts of Melbourne Uni’s Old Quad (quadrangle) building – a stone building erected in 1854 as teaching spaces and professorial residences, and designed in Gothic Revival style to evoke Britain’s Oxbridge universities – was for making it so energy efficient.
The sustainability award recognised how the upgrading work that bought parts of three historic wings around the picturesque cloister up to a four-green-star performance was an important but unseen aspect of what was achieved.
By also pulling off all the ad hoc additions imposed on the Old Quad over the years, its original forms have been revealed.
For example, in what was the library in the North Annexe, a false ceiling and space-dividing partitions were taken down to expose a splendidly trussed and soaring space.
The rediscovered pattern on the floor’s original linoleum was recreated in the new carpet of a room that will, when the university someday gets back to operation, be employed for ceremonial and civic functions.
The stonemasons working on the Quad, who downed tools in 1856 to march in demand for an eight-hour day, seeded a wave of unionism that links the Old Quad to Lovell Chen’s second award-winning project, this one for heritage conservation.
The imposing Victorian Trades Hall that commenced the first part of a rangy structure in 1873, and that is undergoing a $10 million refurbishment, is aptly known as “The Parliament of Labour”.
Redolent with a bruised atmosphere of the long struggle for the rights of working people, the union offices are a warren of discrete spaces. The meeting rooms, halls, stairways and, believe it or not, a ballroom, are grand. Even the antique wall signage is an essential narrative in the legendary “living building”.
But the most evocative room for which Lovell Chen led a careful restoration from utilitarian blandness to lavish, gold-leaf-touched Victorian decorousness, is the Old Council Chamber (1873-4).
Because so many vital debates and meetings have taken place in this room its the surround of tiered seating, including the 1891 formation of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party, Trades Hall insiders call the council room “the Sistine Chapel of unionism”.
The restoration involved an in-depth material and decoration research so characteristic of all Lovell Chen’s projects that the practice’s research papers – published on its website – constitute a matchless resource library on Victoria’s built heritage.
The third project for which Lovell Chen, with engineering firm Irwinconsult, won another heritage award for creative adaption, is for extending forward by 3.7 metres the dress circle of the Regent Theatre, located in the very heart of Melbourne.
Built in 1929 to cope with the enthusiastic crowds who were drawn to the novel entertainments of moving pictures, the Rococo-style Regent had a ballroom underneath.
Part of the complicated structural expansion to bring the theatre up to 21st-century international standards and to increase its audience capacity for live performance involved doing the job while The Plaza beneath continued operating.
The 2020 Victorian awards program was conducted virtually on Friday evening, with 47 awards being awarded across 18 categories. Like Lovell Chen, several projects won in multiple categories.
Architectus + Schmitt Hammer Lassen won three awards for the $88 million development of the State Library of Victoria, and Kerstin Thompson Architects won the Victorian Architectural medal, a heritage award and a commendation for the work it completed last year on the Broadmeadows Town Hall.
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