Argus House, the towering historic edifice which has been for more than a century the editorial home of this blog, is to be converted into apartments. The pinnacled bluestone "chateau" has been empty since Argus staff moved out under a "premises rationalisation scheme" masterminded by the respected "relocation consultants" Philistein & Vandall, who established their reputation advising Australia Post on how to give up its historic buildings and move into shops.
A range of luxury apartments of from one to thirty bedrooms is planned for Argus House in a redevelopment that will also include shopping malls, restaurants, a leisure centre, fitness studios, counselling suites, swimming pools, jogging track, motor-racing circuit and casino. Developer Brian Goth describes Argus House as "a redundant but recyclable gracious old lady who needs some TLC. We're going to fit her for a new lease of life in the twenty-first century." The redevelopment, he says, will see Argus House re-emerge as "a fully sustainable world-class inner-city total living complex Melbourne can be proud of."
Argus House was built in 1891-92 to the designs of English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Crocket in what the National Trust describes as an "imaginative blend of North German Gotisch and Late Spanish Baroque". The twelve-storey structure is notable for its clusters of broached spires which, says the Trust, "confer drama and verve on an otherwise dull corner of the city". The building is protected by heritage legislation ("too little too late," according to critics, "when every other historic building around it was pulled down in the 'sixties") so that the developer will be limited to making "minimal alterations only, compatible with the building's character". The spires would be reinforced to carry a heliport and some of the interior spaces "tastefully adapted", including the unique fan-vaulted former Editorial Hall, which will house a golf course.
Argus House is the latest in a series of prominent buildings which the demand for inner-city living has seen redeveloped for residential use. Others include the Anglican cathedral, the State Library ("redundant in the post-book world", say Philistein & Vandall), the preserved locomotive and day cars of the 1930s luxury train Spirit of Progress and Government House. Though opposed by "conservative fuddy-duddies", the conversion of this last has been welcomed in a statement from by the Australian Republican Movement, which said it was "high time this public structure became a place where ordinary citizens can live rather than lah-di-dah imperial stuffed shirts in plumed hats" - though how ordinary those citizens will be is a moot point when the price of the smallest mini-studio apartment in the conversion is $3 million. An even more controversial project to convert the Shrine of Remembrance into luxury townhouses is now before the Minister.
Mini-redevelopments are in demand too and the conversion of Con and Melina Stassinopoulos's historic "Blue Aegean" fish shop in High Street, Preston, into "bachelor girl and guy pads" has won an Institute of Architects award "for preserving an unspoiled streetfront and interior redolent of its period". So redolent in fact that some of the bachelor girls and guys have complained about a lingering smell of stale frying oil getting into their hair and clothes. "What else do they expect?" asks the developer. "That's part of the historic charm."
15 May 2012