Opinion: Heritage Assets Should Be Celebrated In Contemporary Design


Rothelowman Principal Stuart Marsland believes heritage assets should be celebrated in contemporary design.

"Complex site constraints provide restrictive parameters for architects to work within, but often create an opportunity for project differentiation," he said.

"While heritage assets can posture a challenge to designers, their historical narrative can be reshaped and celebrated, resulting in an integrated outcome for all who use the building."According to Mr Marsland, a heritage building can provide a form of context, making it easier to approach a new building site with the intention of creating high quality space, sculpting volumes and forms.

"Formal and historical influences, which come with a site, have accumulated meaning and association through longevity and previous uses," he said.

"This provides a readymade architectural vocabulary as a colour balance to the new insertion."


Julius PizzeriaIn most cases people bring a set of positive associations to the retained heritage elements.

"There is a responsibility to honour those associations and history," he said.

Mr Marsland's opinion on how to approach working with heritage buildings comes from experience earned by Rothelowman projects. One such project was the Tip Top building in Melbourne, which included a 1.4 hectare site in Brunswick East defined by Dutch art deco industrial architecture from the 1940s.

"Working with the site’s 65-year history as a commercial bakery we complemented the strong horizontal polychrome brick work with bold volumetric shapes of our own," Mr Marsland said.

"Legibility of the restrained new structures as volumes in their own right emphasised the strength of the existing forms.

"At Tip Top we opened up corners, allowing heritage buildings that were previously smothered by unsympathetic extensions to once again read in the round."Mr Marsland also recalled Hawthorn Hill as another example of how seemingly hard constraints actually become strengths which form part of a development’s story.


Hawthorn Hill"This site – in a prestigious suburb and with two heritage buildings – had scared off many developers over the years until Equiset approached us wanting to truly celebrate the history of the site," he said.

"Working with a Salvation Army Hall and a 19th-century mansion on the site, we were able to create an architectural design where both were preserved, celebrated and represented.

"The mansion became the front entrance to the residential development; everyone who enters Hawthorn Hill passes through this stately home, which gives the development the feel of a genteel members’ club.

"For the client, this was an asset when it came to creating an identity and narrative for the residences," he said.

"Increasingly clients are discovering what a great asset heritage and unique elements can be, presenting a powerful narrative that can be literally woven into their offerings from the ground up." 

Original source: 'Designing with heritage' - Stuart Marsland

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