Tin hall to go as rail works see us shed more heritage

New Melbourne metro tunnel station designs. Supplied
New Melbourne metro tunnel station designs. Supplied

From the outside it looks like a dilapidated tin shed, partly obscured by a chain-wire fence and a padlocked gate bearing the unambiguous message "Demolition work in progress, keep out".

The building's unremarkable exterior gives no hint to what can be found inside: a thing of architectural beauty, with 20-foot high ceilings, scuffed concrete floors and wall-to-wall timber shelving, one of few relics of North Melbourne's rich industrial heritage that remains intact.

With the trees stripped away and the area surrounding it cleared as Metro Tunnel works resumed last week, its surprising size and architectural details, including a saw-tooth roof, were laid bare.

And any day now it will be gone.

It is unclear whether it will be demolished, relocated or dismantled, but what is certain is that it will soon make way for a new station as part of the $11 billion Metro Metro Rail Project project.

The building, known as Laurens Hall, sits at the Arden Street end of Laurens Street, an industrial pocket of Melbourne with a rapidly increasing residential mix.

From when it was built in abut 1890 until 1924 it was home to Victorian Railways' carpentry workshop, and later VR's printing workshop.

It is one of several structures in the Railways Reserve Precinct, owned by rail infrastructure authority VicTrack???, to be removed for the building of the new Arden Station.

In a submission to the project in 2016, the National Trust requested the building be retained if possible, "or if removal is required, relocation ... explored".

It also urged project managers to conduct archival recording before any demolition, while noting that even that "would not adequately compensate for the loss of this complex".

From 2000 the building was home to Charles Scott's business Blueprint Furniture and his vast collection of recycled timbers from which he would create furniture.

In recent years Mr Scott also turned the building, which he leased from VicTrack???, into a function venue that hosted events including a Committee for Melbourne dinner and the 2016 launch of the AFL Women's League, as well as many weddings.

That ended in March, when he closed his business and moved out, along with his much-loved timbers, after receiving more than 18 months notice that it would be knocked down.

Mr Scott's lease had expired and he was renting the building on a month-to-month basis, which ended when works began to clear part of Laurens Street to make way for Arden Station.

He is adamant, though, that he's not a victim of development.

"It's been a privilege for me to have the use of that space," Mr Scott said.

"It was a great asset to Melbourne culture I thought, and a lot of people agreed."

In recent weeks word had spread among neighbours and workers that the building would be moved rather than demolished. But that now seems unlikely.

Asked about the building's future, a Melbourne Metro Rail Authority spokesman said: "MMRA is working with our preferred contractor the Cross Yarra Partnership to determine if elements of the structure can be re-used within the station precinct.

"We're working with the Cross Yarra Partnership on final designs for the five new Metro Tunnel stations including Arden, where the area's rich industrial character will be reflected in the station design and layout."

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This story Tin hall to go as rail works see us shed more heritage first appeared on The Age.