Brutalist Footscray 'bunker' built by mysterious architect wins heritage protection

A divisive concrete monolith formerly used as a psychiatric hospital has won protection for its architecture and role in a shift in treatment of mental health.

23/05/2020 12:30:00 PM

Heritage Council of Victoria has determined the squat, four-storey building which was used as a psychiatric hospital from 1977 to 1996, is “a striking, prominent, highly intact and notable example of a Brutalist building”.

A divisive concrete monolith formerly used as a psychiatric hospital has won protection for its architecture and role in a shift in treatment of mental health.

Very large text sizeA divisive concrete monolith in Footscray designed by a mysterious, previously unnamed architect has won heritage protection for its Brutalist style and role in a shift in Victoria’s treatment of mental health.The former Footscray Psychiatric Centre – nicknamed ‘The Bunker’ – sits on the corner of Footscray Hospital’s sprawling grounds.

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Footscray Psychiatric Hospital has been granted heritage status.Credit:The National Trust revealed toThe Sunday Agethe building, completed in 1977, was designed by a young man called James Fong who was working within the Public Works Department.The now retired architect was previously unnamed as it was practice for departments heads to sign off on building plans at the time.

AdvertisementThe building’s fate had hung in the balance since the state government announced a new $1.5 billion hospital would be built on the other side of Footscray, paving the way for a redevelopment of the existing site.But Heritage Council of Victoria has saved the squat, four-storey building, awarding it protection.

The Footscray Psychiatric Centre later known as the Footscray Psychiatric Hospital.Credit:Chris Hopkins‘‘The intact features ... contribute to an understanding of the regionalisation of mental health treatment, the shift away from asylums and large institutions [and] the shift towards ... smaller-scale centres located close to other health services,’’ its decision said.

It also determined the building, used as a psychiatric hospital from 1977 to 1996, to be ‘‘a striking, prominent, highly intact and notable example of a Brutalist building’’.The council compared the building favourably to other Brutalist buildings in the register, including the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre in Glen Iris and Clyde Cameron College in Wodonga.

LoadingThe landmark, which had been serving as overflow storage space for the hospital, was championed by Brutalist enthusiast John Jovic, who brought its potential loss to the attention of The National Trust.“It's fantastic, it's just absolutely superb,” Mr Jovic said of the decision. “It's been about four years' work. It's unexpected actually.

“[Brutalism] is not universally liked, and it's quickly disappearing,” he said. “So a decision like this, by the heritage council, is very important.”The trust nominated the building to the Victorian Heritage Register last year.“Despite its foreboding aesthetic, Brutalist architecture has been gaining popularity and critical attention, and there is increasing urgency to protect the best examples of the style,” its chief executive Simon Ambrose said.

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“We think this architecturally striking building is ripe for re-imagination.”Mr Jovic suggested the building was perfect to house creatives, such as artists or technology start-up entrepreneurs.But the Gordon Street building, owned by the Department of Health and Human Services, has long divided the community.

Former Greens member of the Victorian Legislative Council Colleen Hartland, who lives nearby, called it an “ugly concrete bunker”.She said refurbishing the building would be costly and it would better used as part of the old hospital's redevelopment.

“I have no understanding about why you would put a heritage overlay on it,” she said.“I'd always presumed that that building would be demolished along with the rest of the hospital.” Read more: The Age »

Driving down Gordon Street and you’d think you are in 1980s Soviet Union. I love it. It reminds me of a once imagined future. It would make a good state parliament. Baleful. Does anyone remember beauty? Good it is a unique example of that period. Near my house, don’t mind it as a building, just wonder what will happen with the hospital site once the new one is built. Parks have been packed in Footscray so more parkland would be nice!

It is a great example of what type of building you do NOT want to approve at city council for the future. Looks hideous Was an era of experimental medicines......Mont Park with some down syndrome kiddies was very suspicious in the mid 80s as well from a local institution nearby........what's wrong with the local GP is your ill.

Amazing.Not!!!A brutal piece of history gets made historical piece. Whist our tranport history hub,Newport workshop can’t even get historical on the historical registor plus it has more use for tourism, and promote travel to Victoria’s country sides via steam trains a bygone era

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