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New life for police hospital

13 Sep 2015

New life for police hospital Image

The former Victoria Police Hospital on the corner of St Kilda Rd and Southbank Boulevard, was officially re-opened by Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) vice-chancellor Professor Glyn Davis last month after a year-long refurbishment of the heritage-listed building.

The refurbished “Old Police Hospital” provides state-of-the-art accommodation for the dean’s office and administrative units of VCA and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM).

The project, undertaken by architects Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (FJMT), worked closely with heritage specialists RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants in restoring the building, which was first opened in 1914.

The building is situated in an important location in relation to the City of Melbourne’s plan to run a kilometre-long linear park from St Kilda Road down to Queensbridge Square, as well as the future redevelopment of the arts precinct.

Project manager Luke Flanagan said that, while opening the site to Southbank Boulevard had been a key focus, the greatest challenge had been establishing a balance between working with the heritage constraints and achieving an acceptable standard with the functional requirements of the space.

“The real driver there is to create a meaningful connection from the city into the art’s precinct,” he said.

“There’s always conflict and tension there. Every heritage building has its own characteristics and qualities and the trick is to exploit, amplify and take advantage of them – while at the same time ensuring any interventions or additions are made sensitively.”

“Don’t overwhelm the original but complement it. That’s the real challenge. The end result justifies the pain and anguish because what you end up with is a building which is very unique.”

All additions to the building have been designed with the intention of showing a visible line between old and new, with key design features including a restored spiral staircase, a two-storey glass curtain wall extension, new steel and glass entry canopies and an interpretive garden adjacent to a copper lift.

Lead architect Louise Goodman said that she believed the success of the project had been in stripping back the building to its original plan.

“This allows the elegance of the new forms and materials of the building additions, which have a beauty in their own right, to complement the existing brickwork and proportions of the original hospital,” she said.

Opened in 1914, the former Victoria Police Hospital operated as a hospital for some 65 years and was not only the first police hospital in Victoria, but is claimed to be the first in the world.

During the First World War it was used as a military hospital and later for the public during the Spanish influenza outbreak, with the police resuming control of the site in 1920.

Its design was based on the pavilion principle, which expressed the late 19th and early 20th century attitudes to hospital design.

The police transferred their hospital to a new building nearby in 1980 and the site was taken over by the VCA, which had started occupation of the former Police Depot from 1973.

The building was subsequently converted to a printmaking school until 1992. Since then, it has been used for offices and storage and allowed to fall into a dilapidated state

The news of its completed refurbishment comes as VCA announced the completion of another project last month, with the opening of its new cutting-edge teaching workshop.

In 2016, the stables that were once occupied by police horses will also be transformed into visual art studios.

In 2017, a new purpose-built museum will be opened to showcase Michael Buxton’s contemporary Australian art collection, while plans for a new conservatorium building are also slowly gaining momentum.

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