Are missing floors missing heritage?

These days, more and more heritage activists and city planners are faced with the question of how additions to historic buildings should be managed.

These could be small wall or roof additions, or the addition of multiple new levels. And how do these additions affect its later heritage status?

But what do we do when historic buildings have had things taken away?

This question was raised in October with an application lodged to demolish Lincoln House on Swanston St, just past RMIT. It’s a brick interwar building with art deco detailing that certainly seems like it should be protected.

But a bit of “streetview” research reveals that about seven extra floors of the building have inexplicably disappeared since 2007.

Is what is now revealed to simply be a relic of a much larger building still worth preserving? And how far does the logic continue?

Could the outline of a building that remains on the blank section of Walk Arcade still be considered a heritage building?

A similar case exists in the CBD on the corner of Manchester Lane and Collins St, where a two-storey remnant of the once magnificent eight-storey Detmold Building still stands – rather lost between a modern office building and the lane.

Is the memory of that building and some potential future restoration of the top levels enough for us to advocate for?

Even with all its floors intact, at what point does a building become defaced enough to no longer be worth protecting? If you don’t need an intact ground floor to have a heritage building, what about lost parapets?

Does losing re-creatable ornamentation, like the Palace Theatre did during its disgraceful internal demolition two years ago, mean an historic building’s future is permanently void of protection?

These aren’t questions with easy answers for heritage advocates but, as the heritage conversation moves past the simplistic notion of only preserving perfectly intact buildings, they are questions worth asking.

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Ashley Davies

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