The preservation of heritage is a very emotive issue for Melbournians. As evidence, one need only look to the number of activist groups and high profile celebrities, who make their opinions, heard loud and clear, whenever a significant change is proposed.
As a design field, Architecture has far more regular struggles between old and new than other design fields. This is due partly to the significant permanence of buildings, but also because of more subtle reasons such as the sense of place that they engender in a community. Other design fields such as industrial design or fashion design rarely have to deal with their creation being around for 100 plus years. Yet in Melbourne this week such an argument reached a final conclusion.
July 1 saw the unveiling of a new ‘heritage’ Guernsey from the Essendon Football Club. Since 1872 Players from the Essendon Football Club have run out in a red and black Guernsey. This was until last night’s game against St Kilda where the new jumper played its first match. What has this got do with architecture I here you say? As someone once said ‘fashion is architecture it is just a matter of scale’.
What is architecture’s game plan when playing with heritage?
Since 1979, there has been a rule book known as the Burra Charter which has slowly been accepted by various Australian States. It was born out of a meeting of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in Burra, South Australia. The ICOMOS are the gurus who brief the United Nations cultural body UNESCO on world heritage sites, so they know what they are talking about in regards to heritage.
The content of the charter includes many pages of specifics about the process and conservation of heritage sites, however for Architects the most important sentence is only eight words long.
“New work should be readily identifiable as such”
This is the guiding principle behind all new architectural work on heritage buildings or areas. The reason for this ideology is that mimicking something of heritage value detracts significantly from it.
Take for example a valuable Australian antique from the 1850’s gold rush. Imagine you are purchasing it from a quaint store in country Victoria. Just as you leave with your very expensive purchase, you see the shop keeper replace the purchased item with another exactly like it. To make matters worse, you catch them removing the ‘made in china’ label from the bottom of item. Clearly your item is not genuine and the perceived heritage you have been appreciating in your purchase is completely artificial. This illusion of heritage is due to dishonest design and shouldn’t be tolerated in architecture.
Architects love heritage, and this is why we hate ‘heritage styles’ on any new construction.
It often intrigues me how ideas can transcend different media and yet often still find relevance. So as an Architect with the Burra Charter as a guiding principle I thought I would take a look at the heritage issues behind the new Essendon Guernsey.
The football season is a weekend cultural ritual for hundreds of thousands in Australia. It enjoys a level of permanence, in the sense that 100 years ago, just like this weekend, a team called Collingwood played a team called Carlton. So when the governing body, the AFL, decided to enforce a ‘clash’ jumper for all clubs, the fallout has been similar to when a big city developer proposes an old building be demolished. Parties sought legal advice, celebrities aired their views and the media had a field day.
The end result for Essendon is a ‘heritage’ jumper which is predominantly grey. It maintains the diagonal sash but with only slim edges of black. In the grey background are the names of all past premiership players, whilst on the top of the red sash is the name and signature of one of the most celebrated players to have played the game. On the back of the design is the original club logo and Latin club motto.
So clearly the design intent here is to highlight the long history of the club. It takes every opportunity to speak of great players from previous games and to emphasize the vintage of the clubs existence. These are noble goals executed well. The design in many ways could be considered an alteration of the old design rather than a completely new one. The renovation has occurred to the original black and it has been largely replaced with ‘compliance’ grey. What I particularly like about the grey is that the premiership names are printed in a way which clearly delineates that section as ‘new work’.
There is a lot to like about the design as a whole, it is still clearly Essendon which is much more than can be said for the majority of ‘clash’ jumpers. There is in my mind, however, one flaw, and it is a significant one. It isn’t the heritage Guernsey. Passing it off as heritage is wrong. It speaks of heritage yes but it itself is not heritage. In another 100 years that message will almost certainly be confused. This is what we have learnt from architectural history, designs can last a lot longer than we can easily comprehend as mortal beings.
As a final note what should the jumper have been called?
The Essendon Football Club Legacy Guernsey
Architecture is for everyone.