Public housing towers nominated for state heritage listing

Feature Image: Park Towers, South Melbourne

A late 1960s public housing tower, Park Towers in South Melbourne, has been nominated to be assessed for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register. This is a reminder that heritage is not always gilded with gold, and places and objects significant to our communities are diverse and layered. We should protect examples of places that are an important part of our social history and fabric and provide a balanced representation of our history.

The National Trust is concerned that the Victorian Government proposal to retire and redevelop all of Melbourne’s 44 ageing high-rise public housing estates by 2051 is being conducted without the necessary assessment of potential cultural heritage values of these places. As should be the case with any re-development proposal, these sites should be assessed prior to any decision making or commencement of works. 

The first set of towers slated for demolition include:

  • 120 Flemington Road, Flemington
  • 12 Holland Court, Flemington
  • 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne
  • 20 Elgin Street, Carlton
  • 141 Nicholson Street, Carlton


Social Housing flats proposed to be demolished, 20 Elgin Rd and 141 Nicholson St

Feature Image: Social Housing flats proposed to be demolished, 20 Elgin St. and 141 Nicholson St. Source: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

The Trust advocates for a holistic, group heritage assessment that evaluates the significance of all 44 tower sites as a co-ordinated project. This would be far more transparent and effective than a piecemeal approach to assessment as each tower site comes up for redevelopment. 

If any of the sites within the project are found to be of local or state significance through this process, relevant protections should be sought that respond to any identified heritage values, rather than demolition. 

Heritage protections do not mean that necessary change cannot occur. Retrofitting that improves and upgrades the housing for residents whilst retaining them in their existing locations and communities is a viable alternative to demolition that can also retain identified heritage values.

The majority of these towers are built from concrete, and the release of CO2 with their demolition would be in direct conflict with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Furthermore, the loss of established green space around the towers through increased development would remove important environmental amenities and trees.

The National Trust maintains our position as outlined in our response to the Victorian Housing Statement that regardless of their significance, the government should meaningfully explore options to retrofit and refurbish the towers, rather than progress a pre-determined knock down and rebuild approach from the outset. This option is more sustainable, makes strategic and economic sense and will avoid displacing vulnerable communities who can remain involved in the process. 

Heritage conservation and adaptive re-use of existing buildings is a powerful sustainable development tool, contributing to the mitigation of climate impacts, and the incorporation of shared values into housing design to enrich the existing places in which we live. 

Image: Brunswick St and Napier St Housing Commission estate with Matryoshka garden sculptures. Source: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

The National Trust calls on the State Government to lead by example in best heritage practice and to immediately embark on an independent and holistic cultural heritage assessment of all 44 towers and their environs, to determine their local and state values and put necessary protections in place prior to any decision making on redevelopment works. 


Add yours
  1. 1
    Clio Curtis

    Dear National Trust
    I would hate for the National Trust to be seen as obstructive to speedy accommodation of people in need. Personally, I have always wanted to see what has been provided in these units for residents, but my voyeuristic interest is immaterial. Pussy footing around with possible retro fit will take forever and will be compromise solution for another 60 years.
    If you are serious in showcasing the lifestyle these brutalist architecture units afforded their residents, my preference would be to do a photographic or video study of the units with input from some of their residents.
    The units should then be handed over to superior architects ASAP to provide the optimum housing solutions which provide livability and happiness for the occupants.

  2. 2

    While these buildings aren’t particularly attractive to my eye they do serve a purpose and where are the residents going to live during the transformation and rebuilding of new high rise apartments of equivalent architectural appeal. And likely to be less durable if construction follows the shambolic affairs of some exceedingly expensive apartments.

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