Former records office
The project by Peter Elliott Architects involved the refurbishment and modification of the former Records Office to facilitate the adaptive reuse as the Victoria University School of Law. The works included the demolition of the 1938 addition and a residence above the strong room, and the construction of a new library and a glass link between the two buildings.
Located in Queen Street, the site is in the heart of Melbourne’s Law Precinct in the CBD. The former Records Office is recognised on the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR) as having architectural, historical and scientific (technical) significance. Built from 1900 to 1904, the former Records Office is an example of the French Second Empire Style. The site includes two buildings with the Records Office at the front and a strong room with a caretaker’s residence to the rear. Neighbouring properties also on the VHR include the Titles Office and on the opposite side of the street, a former residence which is one of the oldest surviving houses in the central city area.
Modifying an existing building for another use can be challenging. At the Records Office this was further complicated by the cellular structure of the building. The new use required large spaces for defined purposes such as the library, moot court and lecture theatres to be accommodated within the existing heritage building and a sympathetic addition. The changes needed to improve the internal circulation through the building and in particular, provide disabled access. The challenge for the extension was to create a building with its own distinct presence which did not undermine the significance of the existing building.
The main entrance to the school was relocated from Queen Street to Little Lonsdale Street. The entranceway opens up to a small courtyard with the original building and offices on one side, and the new extension with lecture theatres and library on the other. A remodelled entrance on the northern side has a disabled access entering next to the new internal lift, providing access to all floors of both buildings. The lift was built 500mm away from the building and was connected to each level by a glazed link. The larger rooms of the refurbished Records Office have been, for the most part, left intact and the modifications treated as insertions.
The adaptive reuse as a law school is highly compatible with the surrounding Law Precinct. Its use as a university facility required the inclusion of several large functional units, such as lecture theatres. In maintaining the integrity of the original building it was left for these spaces to be accommodated in the new build. The large space required was accommodated by building upon the solid and rusticated basement of the Strong Room. This striking jagged addition now houses the lecture theatres and the law library. The new addition rather than understating its presence has strength and solidity.
The strong statement the new building makes on the site and its compatibility with the neighbouring heritage places and streetscape provides encouragement to those wanting to create bold new places in a heritage streetscape. The new building is sensitive to the scale and massing of the original building yet is individual in form and materials without being in conflict with its surrounding. The CBD is a dynamic environment undergoing constant growth and renewal. The architects have illustrated that innovative architectural design that is sympathetic and contextual can be compatible with the retention and use of the city’s significant heritage places.