from the Similarity Files – BHP Building, Melbourne

140 William Street (formerly BHP House), Melbourne, Australia
Architect: Yuncken Freeman, Skidmore Owings & Merril, 1967

Ok, so this one is probably more widely ‘known’ than the previous example that I raised of international works of architecture that bear strong resemblance to buildings that we might find on our own Wellington streets, but it is worth refreshing our memories nevertheless.

Construction of BHP House in Melbourne began in 1967, with the building opening in 1972. While our own example was begun 2 years later in 1974, it famously wasn’t finished until 1984 – not exactly the fault of the architecture, but it sure had an impact on its reception – a brand spanking new high-rise in the mid-80s, of a mid-60s design.

I actually think our own one is nicer, with better proportions in the details, but that could just be familiarity speaking. But what is intriguing (well, to me at least), is that the Melbourne building is registered as a heritage building, and protected accordingly by Victorian state law; who’s game enough to prepare a heritage listing report for its Wellington cousin?


8 responses to “from the Similarity Files – BHP Building, Melbourne”

  1. It’s not quite a heritage listing – but perhaps worth noting that the Willis St building is the final entry in Julia Gatley’s Long Live the Modern – which I understand is operating in some fashion as a pseudo listing of NZ Modernist buildings – the power of the press!!

  2. I note that guy suggested, in the comments of the other example linked to above, that such mimicry is legitimate if the model (and its facsimile I assume), are of worthwhile quality… Can this be said to be the case in this example?

    Has originality really gone out the window in favour of a form of Modernist-Classicism? In which case, would it be conceivable to build another facsimile of this building now, four decades later (actually longer if you count that the Melbourne building pictured is a derivative of earlier SOM work in the States)…

  3. richard Avatar

    I think it’s only relatively recently – perhaps a Modernist invention – that originality became prized in architectural design. My understanding is that the copying of buildings and details were the norm until a couple of decades or so into the twentieth-century. Perhaps it’s time such preciousness was forsaken. If something is good – why not copy it? If it’s bad – why not improve it? Morally and ethics are just as constructed and culturally specific as most other things surely … but my historical knowledge is pretty dodgy at the best of times so it could just be an erroneous rumour I carelessly picked up.

  4. The Wellington cousin should easily qualify for heritage listing IMHO – primarily because it represents a very interesting time in New Zealand’s history. It is the embodiment of so much that took place in the 70s/80s both politically and commercially, surely that should pump it up in the rankings. Why should style be the deciding factor, the story that goes with the building must count for something?

    Anyone keen for a documentary on the BNZ building? Be a great candidate for it.

  5. I think you’d have to go back further Richard, to 19th century (and earlier) Romanticism, which despite a fascination with a whole host of revival styles, gave rise to the tortured genius trope. Of course moderrnism and its masters milked it for all its worth, even mies who (in)famously said that he would rather be good than original (despite perhaps being the most original of his time fwiw).

    I guess one issue is where do you draw the line between ‘Classicisation’ (a term I’ve just invented to describe the turning into a codifiable language, the stylistic elements of the original works of other architects and their exemplar works), and outright plagiarism. I note that in our example, the BHP building is referenced in the recent Stephenson & Turner book, but as I was not around at the time of the building’s construction, have no idea if this was the case when it was designed/built. Perhaps someone can fill me in there?

    Is there any difference between this and the Shacklee Terrace example? There (in our version), we have an architect who trades on his originality. As far as I am aware there has been no connection established between the buildings – can it be a post-modern reference if no such model is announced? Perhaps the irony is a private one?

  6. t: To be registered as a historic place, a building must possess some type
    of aesthetic, archaeological, architectural, cultural, historic,
    scientific, social, spiritual, technological or traditional significance.

    i guess you’d be arguing for something in the cultural/historic areas – possibly a big ask without the other categories to back it up. It has certainly lost much of its architectural significance with the recent ‘Blam Blam – Thankyou WAM’ addition…

    a doco would be great though, it certainly is a building with a narrative…

  7. thomas Avatar

    Just exactly what is there worth emulating in a structure that is aesthetically unappealing, unappealing to inhabit, destructive of its urban street context, and incredibly unsustainable? – all of which were issued that had been raised against this type of Modern high-rise typology prior to the mimicry of the Wellington example. Even Peter Blake, editor of the Architectural Forum and high-priest of US modernism, had ‘turned’ against it by the mid-70s…

    Copying a flawed model does not seem to be in the interests of good design to me.

  8. thomas Avatar

    A quick google will show that the term ‘classicisation/classicization’ is already in circulation – you’ll have to try harder to be original…

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