In May 2014, a decision was made by the Heritage Council of Victoria to add a post war carpark and office block to the Architectural Heritage Register, thereby acknowledging the buildings significance to Melbourne’s built environment.
Long dismissed by many as just an ugly concrete carpark, or simply ignored, Total House (located at 180 Russell Street) has nonetheless been an architectural object of fondness for those in the industry and others who hold an interest in Melbourne’s built history.
Constructed in 1965 to a design by local firm Bogle Banfield & Associates, Total House (named after the initial ‘anchor’ tenant, French firm Total Oil Products P/L) is a unique local example of contemporary regional Brutalism. Specifically, its design draws inspiration from the post-war concrete architecture that was being developed in Japan by practitioners such as Kenzo Tange and Kiyonori Kikutake. The treatment of the carpark railing closely follows the pattern seen on Tange’s Kagawa Prefectural Office building (1958) whilst the large office block supported by cantilevered beams is directly inspired by the Shimane Prefectural Museum by Kikutake (1960).
These design elements lend a lightness to the buildings overall appearance, belying its solid, heavy concrete construction. The car park levels seem to float above each other, with the rectangular office block perched delicately on relatively slim beams. Curiously the architects chose not to follow an extreme Brutalist theme for the office window treatment, instead opting for a more conventional, and by the mid-sixties increasingly outdated, curtain wall design. This does, however, certainly add to the overall softening of the building compared to other contemporary, more uncompromising takes on the genre.
Although the heritage listing does not completely protect the building, it does signify a change in attitude towards post war commercial architecture in Melbourne in general, and Brutalism in particular. From a global perspective, the city does not possess much in the way of quality Brutalist architecture, even when compared to other Australian cities. What does exist, however, is of a significance and quality that demands preservation, if only to provide proof to future generations of the city’s rich architectural diversity.