Currently trading its individual character and sleepy posture for a new fashion statement in building design, is the suburb of South Yarra in Melbourne, Victoria.
Plain concrete or basic grey plaster rendered buildings teamed with trimmings and detailing of ‘manor black’ have become the ‘new black’, although it’s not quite Nero!
Four km south-east of Melbourne’s CBD centred on Collins Street, Chapel Street and Toorak Road, South Yarra has been the place for trendy shopping, fabulous eateries and prestigious residential addresses for years. All of that is changing rapidly.
The Block reality DIY renovating TV show, which started on Tuesday 27th January, 2015 on Channel Nine, moved into the neighbourhood over the last year.
Loyal fans were glued to their sets, learning how to do it for themselves when the timing is right. Although it will be interesting to see if the results gained hold up for others living in the street now.
The Block – Triple Threat gradually revealed how contestants (plus tradies) transformed a tired ‘block’ of symmetrically disposed modern cream brick and stained timber detailed apartments into four three-storey asymmetrically disposed hard-edged stylish townhouses.
Just like other architects all over the neighbourhood at the moment, the designers on The Block have embraced the characteristics of asymmetry, at least on the façade.
Distinctly unsettling for some, it usually represents disorder – rather than ‘symmetry’, which reflects order, logic, calm, harmony and ease of living.
The apartments in their conversion to houses in town have been concrete rendered, had black box-frame windows inserted with black vertical louvered screens added on.
There is only a small garden out the front and up the side it’s easy to see a wall of plants happening as private terraces are formed.
The Block gained an ‘instant garden’ on the street, put in place with a day or two and the generally friendly residents of the normally quiet, fairly unassuming Darling Street, South Yarra were glad to see the departure of tradies, trucks, heavy equipment plus drone and camera crews that encroached on their lives.
While ‘The Block’ has been happening at number 27 during the past months, it has not made for ease of living, although at times much amusement for those watching.
It did not help it overlapped with another five-storey development in a small street in an area where parking is at a premium and privacy preferred.
In design and style history, as well as in reality, asymmetry is known to affect our emotions. The original took place in the early years of the 18th century enlightenment era at Paris when Europe’s economies were buoyant, much like ours are now and a new generation was upwardly mobile.
In this new style version however there is no animated movement, gracious curves or witty enlivening spaces with a lack of pomposity.
And, on the interior at The Block we do know, now they have all finally been ‘revealed’, they are about the ‘character in which the master of a house (designers) can (and will) be judged …by the manner in which it is arranged, decorated, and furnished”*
This is not a contemporary description although it does seem to fit contemporary times.
Written in 1754 at Paris when designers were also busily affirming their own clientele’s social status and aspirations, words to that effect were recorded by the German born architect Germaine Boffrand (1667-1754). Interestingly in his day, those who considered themselves noble and worthy among the burgeoning bourgeoisie were also building avante-garde residences.
Boffrand was an influential teacher of architects and his idea was that a client’s status in society was easily discernible not only through the architectural shell of the house he lived in but also through the distribution, use and the content of each of its rooms within.
Those who lived in the ‘old’ South Yarra catered to this idea, although they built very differently using symmetry, which was inspired by neoclassical architecture to reflect their intentions.
After all, they were upwardly mobile too at the time too, and it had been the preferred style of the aristocracy.
However they were seeking permanence, solidity and a settled family lifestyle, which is the big difference reflected by symmetry.
Just as it is now the main difficulty for architects in Boffrand’s day was to reconcile the preferred noble neoclassical proportions on exteriors, while arranging the rooms inside in a practical manner with convenience.
Although the aesthetic today is very different brought about by modern building materials, methods and technology.
Modern or contemporary design however, just as it has in the past, does reflect the era in which it is ‘born’, so in this regard we would have to agree asymmetry is a perfect statement on our times and rapid change.
As well as The Block‘s seven day week regime to contend with, the local residents will tell you there is more than a triple threat happening here. The whole suburb is under modern development siege with a vengeance.
At the moment it makes living difficult, with road closures and inevitable delays for all. Although if it does all come right in the end, it should be good, as long as council and government authorities keep up!
How they relieve the congested roads is the biggest challenge. Nearby the Water Board have just moved in to dig up a portion of the cities main thoroughfare from the south in Alexandra Parade, which in the months ahead in 2015 will inevitably ensure more chaos.
Each day on my walk to the Royal Botanical Gardens I go past a stream of people sitting in their cars banked back for two and three blocks. They are waiting to get through the horrible Punt Road lights and look very worn down by it all, as they guzzle petrol at a great rate.
South Yarra was renowned during the 1920’s and 30’s as well as in the late 70’s and 80’s for its avant-garde lifestyle and considered design for living.
Next door to Toorak, the richest suburb in Australia for many years until recently, the original ‘Art Deco’ apartments that abound in the area are treasured and also sell well today.
From the late 80’s and into 90’s and in the last decade the South Yarra area had become ‘run down’ in need of a Renaissance of its own.
Renovating is not an easy process and change is resisted but eventually everyone must be inconvenienced if progress is to happen.
Inside The Block and all the other black and plastered numbers dotted around the suburb based on the ‘real estate shots’ they are much the same.
Modernist, sleek and hard-edged, they are all mostly designed for and by professional people wanting to live and work in a pared down quality lifestyle.
Wherever I walk I discover yet another ‘concrete grey and black’ asymmetrical complex burgeoning skyward.
Everywhere you look there are cranes and all the café’s are doing increased trade because they are full up with tradesmen for breakfast and lunch
This new professional and personal precinct is also reaching skyward, especially centred around South Yarra Station where limits haven’t been reached yet.
There is also a changing guard in retail going down as the big builders move in and take over. The focus for retail is shifting from Chapel Street up to the Paris end of Toorak Road, nearer to Punt Road
People can generally cope with change if is ‘gradual’ but the change-taking place in this area is rapid, noisy, ugly and glaring and there doesn’t seem an end in sight.
Future city planners tell us this is going to become the norm, not the exception and that we will all just have to learn how to embrace change and put up with it being more rapid than ever before.
For some it seems as if there is no time to draw a breath as daily more cranes punctuate the skyline and new notices go up on fences advising multi-storey development.
This is certainly not going down well if the reports I hear from locals about irate and angry residents at the council meetings are indeed correct.
Logic and reason may have flown out the window as we anticipate a whole rash of people moving in to an area without nary a boutique vegetable or butcher shop in sight.
Yes, they are around but you need a car to get there and this area is well renowned for being gridlocked by traffic, especially on weekends when most modern couples shop and cars are not the answer.
On top of it all there is a new ‘throw-away’ society taking over, moving in and out of apartment blocks on a six monthly basis, which is fine.
However, when they leave they just dump their detritus.
Daily residents who want to live here have to climb over bedheads, mattresses, TV sets, old computers, chairs, sofas and stoves and you name it, it’s on the footpath. Certainly an opening for an op shop with a Ute.
So where is it all this passion for building to end? Well it won’t unless something drastic happens economically.
Up until my time previous ages were littered with wars or depressions at intervals that ensured they constantly gave economies, including house and land prices a jolt, keeping both prices and people in check.
Now it is so expensive just getting into the real estate market in Australia for young couples, one would logically think a pinnacle point must be nigh and that there will have to be a real estate bubble burst soon, and perhaps a massive one at that. But even the pundits seem confused.
Being on our island in the southern seas doesn’t mean we are isolated, immune or indeed divorced from ‘controlling events’ taking place in the world having an impact here too.
We are becoming daily more integral to a world economy that will inevitably call all the shots in the end. We are a boom or bust place after all.
So in the meantime grab a tinnie, sit back and relax while you watch the ‘reality’ going down on The Block.
We have turned ourselves and our hopes and dreams into entertainment, which is good. We need to laugh at ourselves because as actor Billy Connolly so aptly says in his latest movie ‘each human being is ridiculous in their own way’.* It helps to keep us grounded.
How successful the strategy and style has been for The Block was revealed on auction day.
Doing the math based on what they paid for the building means they were expecting a good outcome and gained it.
And for those who purchased apartments in The Block, well it is still the old case of ‘caveat emptor’ – a saying in Latin from ancient Roman times – let the buyer beware!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
THE FINAL RESULTS AND RESERVES:
Deanne and Darren
4/27 Darling Street
Price: $2.29 million
Winnings: $835,000 plus $100,000 prize – Charlotte and Josh
1/27 Darling Street
Price: $2.2 million
Reserve: $1.39 million
Winnings: $810,000 – Tim and Anastasia
2/27 Darling Street
Reserve: $1.42 million
Winnings: $755,000 – Jess and Ayden
3/27 Darling Street
Price: $2 million