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The Battle For Our Buildings

Listen to The Battle For Our Buildings

The overwhelming majority of Australians say they care deeply about our built heritage, but recent battles over heritage listed Melbourne properties reveal that the protection and preservation of our buildings is fraught.

Grass-roots campaigns to preserve local landmarks – like Bourke Street’s Palace Theatre or Carlton’s Corkman Irish Pub – have tended to focus overwhelmingly on the social significance of our favourite sites, but such battles are often prone to failure. As it stands, it’s highly unlikely that a community’s emotional investment alone is enough to save a building from the march of progress.

Photo of Emma Telfer, Stuart Macintyre, Chris Johnston and Marcus Westbury

Emma Telfer, Stuart Macintyre, Chris Johnston and Marcus Westbury

Is the bar for ‘heritage protection’ – which must include proof of the historic, aesthetic, social or scientific significance of a site – set too high? Should some buildings be saved simply because of what they mean to us … and how do we measure the strength of a community’s emotional attachment to a building, anyway? What happens to perfectly preserved buildings that sit dormant due to rigid heritage controls? When a site is protected, what happens next?

Open House Melbourne’s Emma Telfer joins panelists including Stuart Macintyre, Chris Johnston and Marcus Westbury for a discussion of what’s worth saving.


Portrait of Emma Telfer

Emma Telfer

Emma is the executive director of Open House Melbourne, and like the organisation, she champions the city of Melbourne through its built environment. Open House is a  public architecture organisation that empowers people to be active participants in the building of their city.

Portrait of Stuart Macintyre

Stuart Macintyre

Stuart Macintyre has been chair of the Heritage Council of Victoria since 2015, and is regarded as one of Australia's most influential historians.

He's the former Dean of Arts at the University of Melbourne, and is Emeritus Laureate Professor of the University of Melbourne and a Professorial Fellow of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies.

Portrait of Chris Johnston

Chris Johnston

Chris Johnston is the founding Director of Context, a leading heritage consultancy in Melbourne. Her work focuses on the special meanings and associations that exist between communities and their places, seeking to help articulate the meanings that arise from these connections and to advocate for recognition of this important but often neglected aspect of our cultural heritage. Chris has a national profile for her work in developing methodologies in this area, and has written extensively on the subject.

Portrait of Marcus Westbury

Marcus Westbury

Marcus Westbury is the inaugural CEO of Contemporary Arts Precincts Ltd that is leading the development of the Collingwood Arts Precinct in Melbourne. He is also the founder of the multi award-winning Renew Newcastle and Renew Australia projects that have reopened more than a hundred vacant properties to creative and community uses across Australia. 

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