Find the original version of this article here on The Sydney Morning Herald.
Reinvigorating heritage hospitality venues is an important way for a city to preserve its history and identity. Creating economically viable, reinvented venues, which meet customers’ changing needs while preserving these buildings, is an effective means of retaining what would otherwise be lost.
In an era of rapid densification in our cities – which we absolutely need, there is no question about that – heritage is more important than ever. Just as responsible and sustainable development in the residential space will seek to safeguard heritage, a good heritage hospitality project can not only save the building but potentially create economic stimulus for a whole area.
Take, for example, Melbourne’s relaunched Hotel Esplanade – commonly known as the Espy – which has made St Kilda a destination again, supporting surrounding businesses and the beachside suburb as a whole.
Heritage is about more than bricks and mortar, it’s about the intergenerational memories that, like a densely woven fabric, collectively contribute to the identity of a city. Working on the Espy’s revival has shown me how true this is and, as an architect, there is no doubt a need to factor this intangible notion into design. Generations of people each have their own Espy stories to tell. It would be hard to imagine Paul Kelly’s legendary performances at the hotel if the building remained shuttered or, worse, was allowed to be demolished.
Pubs and hospitality venues are more than just buildings – they are watering holes and meeting places for their communities. Dense residential development in Melbourne and Sydney makes these venues all the more important. As suburbs become more populated, there is a greater need for spaces in these areas that allow people to eat, drink and gather. Rather than finding space to add new venues, why don’t we strive to retain what we already have?
These buildings are different from heritage buildings that are “saved” by residential development. The fight to save Sydney’s Alexandria Hotel is an example of a community recognising the cultural value of such a venue. Preserving and keeping these buildings operating for their intended purpose retains the original character and charm. It allows people to see the building in its full state. When they are converted for other uses such as housing and retail it can, even inadvertently, erode some of what once existed.
The ambience and character that these older venues afford the food and beverage industry shouldn’t be undermined. We must not forget people’s desire to be in buildings that are connected with history and age. Period hospitality venues open to the public are undeniably fulfilling that desire and hopefully complementing modern development, too.
Justin Northrop is a director at Techne Architecture + Interior Design, Melbourne.