The project, designed by architect Michael McKenna, was the adaptive reuse of a local hall for community housing. The works included restoration, adaptation and extension of the historic building to accommodate 15 new apartments.
The hall was originally built in 1886 and has a high level of social significance through its various uses as a boys’ club, community hall and the home of the RSL Port Melbourne Branch. Most of the surrounding area is residential.
The challenge was to provide an affordable rental housing alternative to supplement the traditional private boarding houses around Port Phillip while maintaining the physical expression of the social significance of the historic building.
The large internal space of the hall facilitated two levels of accommodation. Housed within the original building envelope are five self contained units with disabled access on the ground floor, two of which include extra accommodation for live in carers, and on the upper level, ten single occupancy units. The large timber clad extension is the main entrance to the upper apartments and includes a communal laundry, letterboxes and a public phone. Creating a new external structure for the stairs and communal facilities optimised the use of the existing space within the hall for residential purposes.
Included in the form and fabric that have been maintained to reflect the long associations Port Melbourne residents have with the hall are: the shape of the original hall; iron gates installed by the RSL; and a mid 20th century low stone wall. The form of the hall has been maintained by having balconies recessed within the existing roofline and hopper windows that appear flat when closed.
Social significance can be an evolving and cross generational attachment to place. Collective local memory is embedded in the layers of change that occurred and continue to occur at Excelsior Hall. The use for social housing is reflective of the historic use as a gathering place for the community, while the inclusion of fabric from the late 1800s, and mid and late 1900s, maintains a physical connection with the building’s long and diverse history.