Towering over the Titles Office

By Rohan Storey, Melbourne Heritage Action

The Title Office in Queen St is one of Victoria’s major 19th century public buildings. 

It was built in stages between the 1870s and 1880s, until it filled an entire city block, and was designed by JJ Clarke, best known for designing the Old Treasury when he was 19-years-old.

It was built to house titles, the legal evidence of property ownership, in a special strong room out the back, with solid slate shelving and steel shutters that could be slid over the windows in the event of fire.

The titles office moved out in the 1990s, and the building was later sold to Victoria University, who had established its Law School in the adjacent 1901 Records Office, sympathetically restored.

The university has sat on the building for many years, with a proposed refurbishment in 2014 not happening.

Instead it has recently applied to do something extraordinary – to build a 17-storey tower of offices and lecture rooms, perched on legs above the original strong room. This would not only loom over, and in part lean out above the original building, but it would mean the destruction of half of the 1880s part of the strong room shelving to make way for the lift core.

The 1880s strong room interiors are particularly notable, with two double height arrays of shelving, accessed by  wrought iron and cast iron galleries and stairs and bridges, rooms that look like something out of Harry Potter.

This kind of building over and above is something that has unfortunately been permitted a few times in Melbourne, against heritage advice, generally involving smaller less significant heritage buildings, and clearly should not be contemplated for a place of such high significance.

The university purchased this building knowing full well its heritage value. There is no justification, economic or otherwise, that would allow this level of change.

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