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Mint Condition: An Interview with Architect Arthur Andronas

Arthur Andronas is an Architect & Heritage Consultant, and the Director of Andronas Conservation Architecture, an award-winning practise focusing on heritage architecture and restoration. Arthur himself supervises all work in every project, while his particular interests and expertise lay in determining repair concerns in historical buildings, building science, the fire safety of historical buildings, alongside stone and mortar technology.

Andronas Conservation Architecture has worked on a number of well-known heritage and landmark sites in Victoria, including the State Library, the Manchester Unity Building and Newman College, which won them the Australian Institute of Architects Architecture Award, and multiple churches, including winning the Australian Institute of Architects National Award (Heritage Category) for their work at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Alongside this, they also conduct surveys, prepare Heritage Management Plans and assist with designing new buildings.

SLV ACA team at Queens Hall State Library of Victory. Photography: Casamento Photography

As an Architect & Heritage Consultant and Director of Andronas Conservation Architecture, could you please tell us a little about the work you do. What does it entail and what drew you to it?

Andronas Conservation Architecture, as our name suggests, is a small architectural practice that specialises in the conservation of those special places which are important to us as a society, places of cultural significance. But many places are not well understood and one of our roles is to help clarify what is important about a place, how it is important, why it is important, and what should be done about ensure that importance is not lost into the future. We are members of Australia ICOMOS (International Committee of Monuments and of Sites which are under the auspices of UNESCO) and as such all our work is guided by the best conservation philosophy and practice as espoused by these organisations.

In effect, we assist a custodian of a place, understand what they are responsible for, and how they should care for that special place. After all, one hopes that the place will continue into the future well after the current custodian (owner) has passed the place on to the next custodian.

It must be acknowledged that as society changes, as the custodians change, as needs and wants change, so must the places we use. Our main role in assisting our clients is to manage ‘change’ so as to minimise negative impacts on the cultural significance of a place.

Whilst we undertake many studies, condition reports, and asset registers, most of our work entails on-going maintenance and repair of places of cultural significance. This might include the stone conservation program of a major landmark over a 20 year period; reviewing the cleaning methods and products being used on a timber or marble floor; the need to repair an original timber window in a 1920s cottage rather than replacing it anew; or ensuring that the impact of climate change is minimised by up-sizing roof gutters and downpipes or even the design of a carpet to suit a place but more importantly to protect a sensitive floor. Much of this work is not glamourous, but it is essential for the on-going care of these special places.

Of course, we undertake major conservation programs of major landmarks. Most of these are in Victoria, but we have been involved in such works in South Australia as well. These include St Pauls Cathedral Melbourne, St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne and our work at the State Library of Victoria, where we were the Heritage Architects and part of the Architectural team of Architectus (Melbourne) and Schmidt Hammer Lassen (Denmark).

SLV State Library of Victoria Revealing the original paint. Photo: Casamento Photography

When approaching heritage buildings like the State Library, what considerations have to be kept in mind or arise, particularly in terms of any design work?

The brief for the works at State Library of Victoria was to redevelop the site to bring it in to the 21st century and beyond in terms in every aspect. Just as in any place of cultural significance, it is vital that one gains a clear understanding of a place’s importance in minute detail and how the places has been impacted upon over time. It is undertaking an audit of the place. It is also important to gain an understanding of the client’s aspirations, and desires and to translate them in such a way as to minimise negative impacts of things like running new services through the complex, be they air-conditioning or data and power reticulation, compliance issues with today’s building regulations and access requirements. Most importantly, it was important to re-activate and celebrate the Queens Hall which is the most important space in the Library and had been closed to safety concerns and leaking roofs for the previous 20 years.

The original three sectioned building was designed by Joseph Reed in the early 1850s, and was erected in three stages. On completion, the interior was a long white neoclassical room lined in Ionic columns and daylight streaming from above through the continuous fish-scaled ceiling lights. However, due to water ingress, the plaster discoloured and it was decided to paint the white interior in fashionable decorative stencil work based on Grecian motifs, the meander key, series of acanthus leaves, and other such, based on recent discoveries in places such as the Parthenon and other such monuments.

Our approach to the Queens Hall conservation program was rather contentious in that previous studies recommended that the interior polychromatic decoration of the 1850s be replicated. Our approach was to celebrate the original decorative paint work by revealing it by removing the various layers of paint applied over the past 150 years. In effect it was an archeological approach. The remainder of the interior is now painted a soft creamy white to simulate the original white plaster interior. In addressing the roof problems and uncovering the skylights, it has returned the Queens Hall close to what Joseph Reed had intended.

SLV Queens Hall Original Meander key revealed. Image supplied by Arthur Andronas.

The Former Royal Mint in Melbourne, which is now home to the Hellenic Museum, also underwent restoration and renovation in the 2000s. How were you involved in the process?

While our firm did not work on the main building’s restoration, we did undertake the conservation of the Williams Street frontage of the Former Royal Mint including the north and south guard houses, the front palisade fence and gates, and the coats of arms on the gates and over the main building’s portico. Our practice also has undertaken condition audits of the whole site since 2000. Ideally this should occur every five years or so. And we have reviewed the Conservation Management Plan recommending pathways for various components of the site as a whole. Eg. we recommended that an archeological exploration be undertaken of parts of the carpark which uncovered clear footprints of the Mint factory and processing plants and furnaces that remain under the carpark asphalt.

Walker, C. B. (1888). [The Mint / Royal Mint, Melbourne].

What did you enjoy working on the most at the Former Royal Mint?

The most satisfying outcome is that the place has an on-going use which is compatible with the historic building fabric. The fact that the Hellenic Museum is housed here-in is a great joy to me personally, but the compatible use of the upper parts of the main building being used as office spaces, though they were initially designed as an apartment for the Mint Director.

What do you find to be the greatest challenge or challenges in restoring and conserving heritage buildings?

Managing people is the most challenging aspect of my work: The owners, the tenants, the users, the passers-by. Managing peoples’ expectations and demands that a place must be restored to look and be brand new; that a place must be changed to suit their wants as opposed to considering the place and its importance first.

Whilst we cannot influence everybody that has an opinion, much of our efforts go into education of those immediately responsible for a place: the effort and care they should take, the approaches they need to consider before anything is undertaken; employing knowledgeable and experienced trades-people to undertake works on such special places, be they a cathedral or a humble cottage.

Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you can share with us?

As explained previously, much of our work is not very exciting to the average person – the on-going upkeep of culturally significant places is essential work.

However the practice is currently undertaking a number of conservation programs for landmarks, all of which are on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Scaffold is about to be taken down from around the Melbourne City Baths where we are the Heritage Architects guiding the reconstruction of the zinc diamond tiled turret roofs and other elements of the building facades.

The firm is presently reconstructing a church, St James Church Gardenvale, that was burnt down in 2016 leaving only the masonry walls standing. We’re approaching a very exciting stage as the walls and roof are being completed over the next few months. The works to the interior hopefully will be commencing towards the end of the year.

Images supplied by Arthur Andronas.

St Ignatius Richmond. Image supplied by Arthur Andronas.

Scaffolding has just been erected on the spire of St Ignatius Church Richmond (on Richmond Hill) to remove spalling stonework and to re-point the whole of the Sydney yellow block spire. Having just inspected the huge bronze cross and lightning conductor at the top of the spire, I must say that it is quite breezy up there – not sure how the masons are coping.

Over the last three or so years we have been exploring the issues relating to the facades of the Manchester Unity Building and its younger sibling, the Century Building: acting as bookend of a city block on Swanston Street opposite Melbourne Town Hall. We completed the roof and terrace works on the Manchester Unity Building a few years ago, and hope to be in a position to undertake the conservation of the Century Building Pilot program over the next year or so.

Over the last few months we have been reviewing and analysing the condition of The Holy

Manchester Unity Building New Roof Terrace. Photo:John Gollings

Monastery of Axion Estin Northcote – which was previously the former Convent for the Little Sisters of the Poor and was operating not only as a convent but also an Aged Care facility. We look forward in working closely with Rev Fr Evmenios and his team in bringing this remarkable place into the future. The first priority will be ensuring the roofs are effectively conserved.

Thank you for your interest.

Arthur (Athanasios) Andronas


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