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History

09 Oct 2018

History Image

From corporate office to high-end living

At the southern end of Southbank is the block of apartments called The Domain.

It represents patterns of changes to land-use in the area, where existing housing was replaced by corporate headquarters, which were later converted to apartments.

The high-pressure building boom of the late 1950s saw corporations seeking to construct new buildings facing difficulties in finding large plots of land in the city. Many began to look south across the river where the value of land was significantly cheaper.

South Melbourne had long been a mishmash of factories, workshops, car dealers and small businesses, much of it on Crown land leased from the Commonwealth.

But it was well-served by two tram lines, land was plentiful and cheap and there were fewer impediments to construction than in the city. Demolition of large buildings to enable the new was not necessary and the council, ever keen to attract development, was offering attractive deals on property rates – about 10 per cent of those payable in the city.

The major southern boulevard of St Kilda Rd had been cited for office development following a change to zoning in 1956. At the intersection with Albert Road, the oil company British Petroleum (BP) constructed its new headquarters in 1964.

It replaced Princes Terrace, a long, 19th century group of about 10 two-storey houses in Albert Rd, that would today be highly-prized for their uniformity of design and features, but had become run-down and were unceremoniously knocked over.

The 19-storey design (by the firm of R.S. Demaine, Russell, Trundle, Armstrong and Orton) swept around the gently-curving corner. Decidedly horizontal, the simple facade of the state-of-the-art building utilised precast concrete panels, adorned with an understated surface pattern comprising a linear motif, and represented a shift away from the glass curtain-walled towers erected in post-war Melbourne.

Like a number of other 1960s towers, additional visual interest was provided by a relief mural in fibreglass electroplated with copper and a 1964 abstract sculpture in the theatrette foyer by the Melbourne sculptress Norma Redpath.

The building became indelibly ingrained into the memory of many Melburnians when BP adorned it with a huge illuminated star each Christmas and Easter.

BP relocated in 1993 and the building was purchased and converted into over 100 apartments (one of the first such conversions in Melbourne) and modified externally with the addition of balcony terraces for the new occupants (some capable of holding 200 guests).

On completion in 1995 it was re-named as The Domain and became one of the prestige high-rise apartment towers in Melbourne, a status it still enjoys.

 

Robin Grow - President

Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society

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