THE bitter struggle between old and new architecture is constantly played out across our cities with the majority of us none the wiser.
Adelaide and its surrounding suburbs over the past sixty years have experienced a reawakening that has thrusted this battle of development and preservation into the forefront of architectural discourse. The once outer-city suburbs like Marion and Oaklands park have now experienced the density and urban lifestyles typically associated with a city centre. Most of this urban community has been centered around the Marion Triangle which has become a focal point of culture, education and lifestyle for the surrounding inhabitants.
Four key buildings, Marion Aquatic Centre, Marion Cultural Centre, Westfield Marion Shopping Centre (which has been significantly remodeled due to the great success of this project many years ago) and finally the Flinders School of Humanities and Mediatheque, have knitted together this growth in urban fabric over the past 150 years since the original large market gardens were converted into commercial land.
However one of these buildings, integral to the urban fabric of the area, is currently under threat.
Over the past few posts I have highlighted the recent plight of the Flinders School of Humanities and Mediatheque. I have been writing about the drama surrounding the proposed demolition and development of a new $200 million dollar hotel complex on the site. In right of reply, Hilton Hotel project architect Winkle Von Strudel said the main reasoning behind the demolition has nothing to do with heritage; that their goals are far greater than historic character or reuse. The hotel complex has a broader vision about the many urban design and development opportunities that lie around the site and the Marion Triangle. Von Strudel and others have mentioned how the existing buildings grosely fail by today’s standards and not only are they not of any heritage importance, they are impeding development of the area. However this vision isn’t shared by other Adelaide architects who believe the result will be more shops, cafes and a hotel surrounded by big empty space.
The Educational and Cultural facilities that were present up until 15 years ago have been embedded in the urban memory of the site, and the community group lobbying to save the former campus from demolition has now turned to engaging architects using adaptive reuse to retain the former buildings in new proposals.
Their proposals have produced bold new visions for the derelict buildings in a bid to draw support as one final appeal is launched. The vision for the campus and mediatheque includes puncturing and fragmenting the existing canopy that has romantically fallen into decay, inviting in more greenery, converting the entire structure into a community centre and bringing the mediatheque back to life. One proposal even makes a jab at the $200 million dollar ‘entertainment’ complex with a proposal to convert the underground mediatheque and former hospitality frontage into a high-class brothel reminiscent of the red light districts in Amsterdam.
Alternate proposal looking at reuse of the existing sunken mediatheque
The community group has begun a social media campaign to get the somewhat controversial images into the public arena. Group spokeswoman Stacey Roberts said the aim was to open people’s minds to the possibilities of what the Marion headland site could be if it was revamped rather than demolished.
“We’re by no means suggesting something this radical, but ultimately we believe that retrofitting the building that represents a period of South Australian architecture should be considered first,” she said.
Architect Winston George is acting as a consultant to the community group and said architects have been successfully using adaptive reuse as a driver to stimulate discussion on the values of retaining the existing buildings for many years.
“Adaptive reuse in architecture isn’t new, we’ve been doing it quite successfully for hundreds of years,” he said.
“The image of the brothel really captures the fact anything is possible”.
Winston also mentioned the importance of incorporating adaptive reuse or “future proofing” into the design process.
“The original architects didn’t think about the lifespan of the building,” he said.
“As a result, when the university moved campus and the mediatheque closed down no new tenants saw the existing structures as a viable fit for their business.”
“Adaptive reuse in architecture is normal and what really matters is how these changes are managed and implemented.”
“With the rapid rate of evolution in architecture, new methods and contextual parameters are arising that open up a range of possibilities for adaptive reuse on the Marion headland.”
This has been a common theme over the past 50 years; when buildings no longer serve a function we see them as obsolete. However this view must change as there is romanticism in adapting buildings for reuse. These revitalised buildings need to be sought after, and architects should be planning for this when designs begin. We should not only reuse buildings for their features and amenities, but inhabiting one is a statement of values that transcend current trends. If the original buildings were designed with the adaptive reuse of the Flinders’ School of Humanities in mind, the longevity of the architecture would have been a fundamentally sustainable development. This opportunity to enrich the present by engaging with the past is a lost opportunity if the demolition goes ahead.
If architects like Winkle Von Strudel open up to the possibility of including adaptive reuse in the design process, the architectural solution for the Marion Headland site can be one that has covered all options and will surely result in a more holistic approach. What ever happens on the Marion Headland site should always be remembered as a tragic loss, a loss that was destined to happen the moment the original building was conceived. This kind of scenario is something we should be coming to terms with more often as architects neglect the inherent qualities of the site and ignore the implications of lifespan in what they are designing.
The naivety of the original architects to simply design for the current moment and not the future is a major flaw that we are beginning to see in architecture. The battle of old and new architecture is something that adaptive reuse can mediate as the interplay between all the issues associated with adaptive reuse can enrich our architectural solutions.