Plan to preserve 50 mid-century modern buildings divides community

Ilana Moses loves many things about her North Caulfield home in Melbourne’s south-east, especially its history.Key points:A council in Melbourne’s south-east wants to preserve mid-century architectureIt’s drawn up a list of 50 buildings it thinks are worthy of heritage protectionBut some are worried it will reduce property values by preventing redevelopment”Mid-century modern has always been something that really resonated with us,” she said.”The authenticity, the special features, the understated luxury that period really speaks to is something we always gravitated towards.”When she and her husband bought the house about five years ago, they kept as much of it as they could, including the facade, the front door, the interior screens, even the timber staircase and two chandeliers. The house is on a list of about 50 properties the local council is interested in preserving.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)They even found a 1969 copy of Australian House and Garden magazine that featured their house and renovated the rest of the home in keeping with the era.The house is one of about 50 buildings in Elsternwick, Caulfield, Bentleigh and Murrumbeena that the Glen Eira City Council is considering preserving as part of a sweeping heritage review. An early picture of Ilana Moses’ mid-century modern home.(Supplied)Ilana Moses is glad her house is on the list.”There are too many homes like that that tend to be destroyed, but it’s such a personal choice and it really worked for us.””It’s just a style of life that people either like or don’t like but I think it’s got some real personality and character,” she said.She said she does see herself as a custodian of history, in a way.”It does have its own story, which it’s nice to be a part of,” she said. Ilana Moses has restored the staircase and chandeliers in her mid-century modern house.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)Buildings designed by post-war migrant architectsThe story of the house on Aroona Road goes back to post-war Melbourne, a time when an increasing number of families were migrating from war-torn Europe.One of them was a young architect, Ernest Fooks.Dr Fooks trained in Austria before moving to Melbourne with his wife Noemi, and starting his architecture practice in 1948.A report prepared for the Glen Eira City Council identified many homes he designed around Melbourne’s south-east, especially for “well-off, European emigre families” in Caulfield.”As these large and prepossessing modern houses proliferated in the 1960s, ’70s and into the ’80s and beyond, the area acquired an envied reputation as Caulfield’s ‘Golden Mile’,” the report found.The Director of the Melbourne School of Design at the University of Melbourne, Alan Pert, studied Dr Fooks extensively.He even lived in Dr Fooks’s house in North Caulfield for six years.Professor Pert said Ernest Fooks designed about 400 buildings around Melbourne — but about half of them have been demolished. Alan Pert admires Ernest Fooks’s distinctive use of brick and outdoor living spaces.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)”There’s a modesty I think in the external architecture but where you start to see some real interest is in the interiors,” Professor Pert said.He said Dr Fooks’s architecture was distinctive in the way he worked with brick, but also in the way he used landscaping to create living spaces outdoors.”He saw his house not just as a place to live but as a part of the community,” he said.Modernist church earmarked for heritage protection The St John’s Anglican Church in Bentleigh was designed to look like a Bedouin tent.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)Another of the buildings on the proposed list is St John’s Anglican Church in Bentleigh.The council’s report describes the 1962 church as influenced by the style of the period, “when mainstream modernism was tempered by the adoption of bold geometric forms, applied ornament and decorative finishes.”The vicar’s warden for the parish, Glynis Rose, said it was a lovely place to worship, designed to resemble a Bedouin tent. Glynis Rose says the church has a few concerns about the council’s plan.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)”Christian people are people on a pilgrim journey — a journey of faith,” she said.”It does have that sense of shape and light to it.”She said the community supported heritage-listing the facade.”We’re actually quite thrilled they think the building is worthy of a heritage listing, and we think the building has design integrity and we’d certainly want to preserve this,” she said.”But we don’t think that means we need to leave everything as it was in the 1960s.” The local council is considering heritage-listing mid-century modern architectural features like the wall and grill.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)The church has raised concerns with the council about its plan to heritage-list some interior features of the church, including the back wall, the baptismal font, the iron grills and the timber panelling.”We have reservations about anything that would prevent the building from being used to its maximum as a place of worship and fellowship,” Glynis Rose said.She said the church had no plans to change things now, but might want to in the future.”The reality of the church’s experience is that it’s unlikely to be preserved ongoingly if it doesn’t meet the needs of an active and growing congregation,” she said.Fears over property valuesThe council has received more than 70 submissions on the proposal, many from landowners who expressed concerns a heritage listing would restrict their ability to make changes or demolish buildings.In response, the council said a heritage overlay would not prohibit all development, “but it must be sympathetic to the existing heritage fabric and surrounds”.In response to concern a heritage overlay would have an economic cost to property owners who may wish to sell to a developer, the council said there was no evidence heritage overlays kept prices down, and that was not its concern.”This impact is viewed from a broad or community perspective, rather than that of the individual. Therefore, an individual’s potential loss of property value cannot be taken into consideration,” the report found.The council plans to vote on the proposal in April. This modernist home is also on the Glen Eira City Council’s list.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

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