Letter: Carl Foster site redevelopment

Carl Foster’s garage is the most discordant element in the Bellingen main street –  this is a site crying out for renewal. We are fortunate that this may happen in the near future. The proposed building for this site will be a major element in the streetscape and quite rightly will be of interest to all residents and a subject for critical discussion and comment. However, this exchange of views does need to be informed. “I just don’t like it”, is hardly good enough.

Perhaps any discussion needs to begin with what we don’t want.

We don’t want a historical pastiche like the adjacent building (Kirklands Real Estate) but we do want a design that is sympathetic to the buildings which give Bellingen its historic and attractive character. We don’t want a modernist vanity building but we do want a contemporary building which shows Bellingen is not a museum but an alive and vibrant community open to new architectural concepts.

How does this proposed building stack up?  Well, what are the architectural elements which give Bellingen its special character and does this building relate to these? There have been several reports over the years on Bellingen’s main street architecture. The most recent is the 1999 report of the ‘Bellingen Now’ Physical Design Committee. All the reports identify some 16 significant buildings which contribute in important ways to the town’s historic and attractive character.

These buildings range from the pre-First World War Edwardian buildings such as the 1903 Federal Hotel and the 1909 Hammond and Wheatley building, to the 1939 Art Deco Commonwealth Bank building (now office and residential accommodation). There are also a number of contributory buildings that lack the the quality of the significant buildings but do contribute to the town’s character, such as the Neighbourhood Centre and the building which replaced Raymond’s Garage at 101 Hyde St (now cafe, shops and alternative health accommodation).

In summary, the architectural features that give the significant buildings their special character are general building heights, painted finishes, parapets, window areas, decorative iron roofs, verandas and awnings supported by posts.

So does the proposed building relate to these features? Well, like other postmodern buildings, it does make use of historical references, some of which do relate.

1.  The two-storey Hyde St elevation of the proposed building with a roof line level with the adjacent National Australia Bank and State Bank buildings is in keeping with the general building heights of the buildings across the street. These general building heights are very important in the town’s streetscape as can be seen from the lower heights of more recent buildings opposite the Hammond and Wheatley building, which has resulted in a severe loss of scale and an imbalance in the street.

2.  The use of multi-coloured bricks in the front elevation of the proposed building may not be the best design choice. Only three of the significant buildings are in face brick, the rest have painted finishes. A similar finish used in this new building would relate better to the main street. If face brick is used it should be restricted to a single colour in keeping with the adjacent buildings.

3.  Parapets are a particularly distinctive feature of Hyde Street. The design of the parapets take two distinctive forms which, with a little imagination, might be incorporated into the roof line or the second story veranda roofs of the proposed building.

4.  The window areas in the proposed building are in keeping with windows and French doors in the significant buildings, which in general take up about 25 per cent of the first floor elevations.

5.  The flat roof invisible from the street is probably the best design solution for the proposed contemporary building.

6.  Verandas and awnings supported by posts are a feature of the proposed building but as used in this building appear to lack the weight and substance of those across the street. As a previous letter has pointed out, a deeper set back from the gutter would also be an improvement.

In general, an effort has been made to design a building which belongs to and enriches the Bellingen main street. Could it be improved?  With quite minimal changes, yes, it could. If the proposed building was an inspired design none of the above would apply. However, this building is an example of the rather bland postmodern buildings present in all our cities. These buildings generally share a rather toy-town look but are not nearly as offensive as the red brick monstrosities of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Paul Milton