Mid-century modern on St Kilda Rd

Robin Grow

The firm of Bates Smart McCutcheon (BSM) has been a major contributor to architecture in Victoria for more than 150 years.

For much of this time BSM has been located in the city and inner eastern suburbs but, in 1958, with a large increase of work in the post-war era, the firm relocated to 366 St Kilda Rd.

The site, opposite the Shrine of Remembrance, was previously occupied by legendary architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin and modified by them before it was demolished.

The new office, in what is now Southbank, reflected changes to styling, facilities and materials that were becoming popular in the immediate post-war years and became referenced as mid-century modern.

It was one of a few architectural offices that was purpose-built and fully occupied by one firm.

It was fully air-conditioned, had large plate glass windows (in cool grey), and with an external side wall punctuated by protruding bricks, was brightly lit and light-filled, included garden courts, a separate caretaker’s flat and, in keeping with the latest trends in transport for busy architects, room to park 36 cars beneath the building (although the site was wonderfully served by trams along St Kilda Rd).

The interior featured partitions – but only to a height of four feet, so finding anyone in the office was extremely easy. It also suited the firm’s philosophy of locating specialist teams in separate areas but close to each other.

There were seven departments (architecture, structural engineers, services, cost estimating, interior design, accounting, clerical and filing). Within the architects’ teams there were also multiple groups that focused on different building types and projects.

Throughout the building were many indoor plants, such as tropical monstera and philodendron, which became a trend in 1950s offices. The building layout and organisation was highly innovative for the time (with a nod to Japanese design), reflecting the firm’s passion for integrated structures, and served the firm well for the next 14 years.

It was later demolished as part of the massive changes to St Kilda Rd in the 1970s. What a loss it was to Southbank. •

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