Centreway Arcade’s lost heritage

By Tristan Davies – President, Melbourne Heritage Action

We were saddened and somewhat baffled to see construction hoardings pop up inside the Centreway Arcade in March. 

The move signals the removal of unique marble, metal-clad shopfronts with custom door handles and other attention to detail, such as custom light fittings in a film set-like style and an important public artwork. 

These works are all degrading to what was one of the city’s most intact post-modern interiors. Sadly, this is one of many still unprotected interiors in the City of Melbourne.

The Centreway Arcade’s austere 1920s interior was entirely remodelled in 1987 by Cocks Carmichael and Whitford, and won subsequent interior architecture awards, as well as finding its way into many lists of important interiors in recent years. The arcade remained an intact postmodern shortcut from Collins St to Centre Place, complementing the Block and Royal Arcades’ 19th century architectural version of arcades across Collins St.

This remodelling to simply make the interior bland and grey is baffling, as many brands trade on uniqueness in shopfronts and look for space beyond just the plain glass and render that the Centreway’s owners are now going for.

We would be rightly shocked if the Royal Arcade removed Gog and Magog and the Gaunt Clock, or the Block painted over all its ornate ceilings and floors with grey render, and while not as significant in heritage terms, it is equally sad to see a more recent relative of these iconic shopping spaces disappear with little justification.

Most disappointing is the removal of the cryptic public artwork above the arcade’s entry in Centre Place, ironically spelling out “we live in a society that places an ordinate value in goods and service”, a work which caught many pedestrians’ gaze, and attracted design and art aficionados through the arcade’s shops on both curated tours and official City of Melbourne walking routes. In its place is now a blank wall and the loss of one of Melbourne’s many unexpected discoveries when looking up.

Melbourne Heritage Action considered this interior to be a clear candidate for heritage- listing, but despite much good work during recent years on many other fronts, the City of Melbourne has still not protected any significant interior spaces not on the Victorian Heritage Register, such as the Art Deco Centenary Hall on Exhibition St, which we also have a watchful eye on currently due to a planning application for the site. Melbourne as a whole has lost another part of its architectural history with barely a mention, and another part of its claimed status as a creative city with the needless destruction of public artwork •

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