Heritage Victoria has recommended that the former Hoyts Cinema Centre on Bourke St be heritage-listed, but Planning Minister Matthew Guy has called the building ‘ugly,’ sparking debate around heritage building preservation.
Guy was quoted in the Herald Sun News as saying the Hoyts building and the Total carpark on the corner of Russell and Lt Bourke streets were deemed worthy due to their modernist "brutalist" style.
He argued, however, that such buildings should not be preserved.
"People use the term brutalist architecture to legitimise ugly buildings, but I don't think we should be saving ugly buildings in Melbourne."
The building occupies a prime location in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD and private developers have already showed interest in the site. Developer AXF Group has submitted an application for a mixed use complex, including a 68-level hotel-apartment building.
Heritage Victoria is trying to save the Hoyts Cinema Centre from demolition. The building, designed in 1966 by Sydney architect Peter Muller and completed in 1969, was the first multi-cinema complex in Victoria.
Apart from its historical significance as the first purpose built "cinema centre" in Australia incorporating more than two screens in the same building, Heritage Victoria said the Hoyts Cinema Centre is architecturally significant for the ways in which it differs from most traditional ‘post and beam’ construction systems. The tower displays early characteristics of the emerging brutalist style, which saw a rise in linear, fortress-like and block-shaped buildings.
Although opinions are sharply divided, many members of the Melbourne Heritage Action group consider the Hoyts and Total buildings to be city landmarks that deserve Victoria's highest level of heritage protection.
However, heritage protection often comes at a cost to both the building’s owner and the community, mostly because it reduces the supply of alternative uses, such as residential or office spaces, while it also increases pressure to develop other sites more intensively.
As an alternative to protection, renowned Melbourne-based transport and urban development consultant Alan Davies suggested creating a National Architecture Gallery.
The idea is that the gallery would be able to offer virtual re-creations, including 3D modelling and holographic techniques that would enable a virtual walk-through around the buildings. Models, photographs, elements from buildings and original drawings of national and international architecture could be displayed in both permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Although Davies feels there are buildings that would warrant the cost of permanent protection, he said a National Architecture Gallery addresses cases where the social cost of protection exceeds the social benefits, or where the benefits offered by the building are enjoyed only by a small group.