Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Windsor Hotel, Melbourne

In the 1880s, the top end of Collins and Spring streets formed an elegant and fashionable residential part of Melbourne.

It does not happen very often that I agree with Guy Rundle, but in his latest opinion piece in The Sunday Age he hit the right tone: “… Melbourne is still recognisably a historic city, with layers and textures, laneways and lifeways that give it a global brand, and a source of future value. It does not reside in any one building, but in the mix.” He is worried about the latest plans to demolish Lonsdale House, “one of the city’s best remaining 1930’s art deco buildings” and plans of a “makeover” of the Windsor Hotel that would ruin the whole ensemble opposite Parliament House.

Present view of The Windsor Hotel.

The plans that were published last week include a 25-storey glass tower for additional guest and meeting rooms plus health and leisure facilities. The Windsor tower would be 92 metres high, despite a height control of 23 metres under the existing planning overlay for the area. A new corner building will replace the 1960s north wing addition. This corner building is certainly not a beauty, but by far better than the proposed concrete glass box (see photos) described by one commentator as "a block of swiss cheese".

The existing corner building was erected in the 1960s.

The planned 25-storey glass tower would be 92 metres high with the proposed "block of swiss cheese" concrete and glass box to the right of The Windsor Hotel.

Architect Bill Corker, of Denton Corker Marshall, represents the company that is responsible for the Melbourne Museum (... complete with its own ski jump in yellow) and the Westin and Adelphi hotels.

The Westin Hotel in particular reveals that Denton Corker Marshall have no history of sympathetic development, blocking (very controversially) the vista between the Town Hall and St Paul's Cathederal.

The developers are confident their plans will be approved and have been discussing the project with Planning Minister Justin Madden’s department since November. Bill Corker said department officials had shown good body language in meetings and he had a good “vibe” about its success. Corker said the height of the tower was irrelevant in light of its good design.

It does not come as a surprise that architect guru Norman Day defended the planned monstrosity in an Age article. He threatened: “Architects Denton Corker Marshall’s plans for the Windsor provide a measure of the way the hotel should develop, but they got further, suggesting a prototype for developing any part of Melbourne where significant heritage issues apply.” Isn't is scary to think this might be the prototype for Melbourne's future?

The original Windsor building could be “recovered, re-instated to its original role as a major piece of urban stage scenery” (Norman Day), but there is less and less left of the original Melbourne flair. The new glass boxes may be to the united architects guild’s delight, but ordinary Melburnians or tourists will hardly rejoice of what is to be seen. Melbourne’s distinctive look disappears and is replaced by what planners all over the world approve. The new buildings will neither add something to the city’s appeal not will the stand for very long. The demolition men will be delighted to knock them down in a couple of decades.

We are in urgent need of the greatest critic of modern architecture, Australia’s future King. Prince Charles told Royal Institute of British Architects as recently as on 12th May 2009: "Few people dare to speak out ... for the very good reason that if they do they find themselves abused and insulted, accused of being old-fashioned, out of touch, reactionary, anti-progress, even anti-science - as if it was some kind of unholy blasphemy to question the state of our surroundings, of our natural environment, our food security, our climate and our own human identity and meaning. Little wonder, then, that most people shy away from pointing out that the Emperor isn't actually wearing very many clothes any more."

I wonder what Guy Rundle would make of an ally like Prince Charles. At least the marxist could not claim that the Prince of Wales of being a non-resident and therefore having no right to speak up. After all according to The Age, "Guy Rundle is an Australian writer living in England.” He may be close to Prince Charles in more than one way.

The proposed changes are just ugly and would bring no improvement to the city. These plans, especially the glass box next to the Windsor, are totally unacceptable. We should call in the Prince of Wales as the White Knight who rescues Melbourne City from the devastating grip of the united front of politicians, planners and architects.

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