The Boroondara Council’s request to apply an interim heritage overlay to an architecturally significant modernist house designed by pre-eminent Australian architect Robin Boyd has been turned down by the Victorian government’s planning department.

The councillors were prompted to take action in August following a public outcry after the house on 12-14 Tannock Street, Balwyn North in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs was listed for sale. A petition started by Jacqui Alexander, a senior lecturer in architecture at Monash University, calling for the protection of the house against possible demolition, received almost 6,000 signatures. 

“It is a tragedy that this important example of post-war Australian modernism looks likely to succumb to the same fate as many other significant homes in Boroondara. Architecturally significant homes from this era are being razed in eastern suburbs like Balwyn at an alarming rate, only to be replaced with mass-produced and over-scaled mock-heritage mansions with no architectural or contextual value. These new developments come at the expense of our architectural heritage, the character of our streetscapes and the biodiversity of Melbourne's leafy suburbs,” the petition read.

The petition noted that the agent's listing did not include images or plans of this significant home, and instead was marketed as a development and subdivision opportunity.

Designed by Boyd in late 1948, the Tannock Street house is one of the earliest works of the acclaimed architect, undertaken following his departure from the Pethebridge and Bell partnership firm to set up his own practice. The house is also “one of relatively few surviving examples from this seminal phase of Boyd's career, prior to his celebrated partnership with Roy Grounds and Frederick Romberg”, according to the Balwyn conservation study of 2015.

The 2015 heritage study commissioned by the local council had recommended heritage protection for 18 individually significant post war properties including two designed by Boyd. The Tannock Street house was identified as significant as it provided “rare and valuable evidence of the innovation, boldness and fresh design approaches of a young architect on the cusp of an illustrious career”.

“Architecturally, the house is also significant as a notable achievement in modern homebuilding at a time when materials and labour were still (scarce) due to wartime restrictions. The house encapsulated many ideas, such as open-planning, split-levels and window walls (in this case, an improbably large plate glass window) that were extremely innovative at the time,” the study said.

However, a peer review conducted by the Council in 2017 faced strong community objections to the recommendations of the study, particularly in relation to the protection of post-war properties. The review was, therefore, limited to properties constructed prior to World War II, excluding places constructed in 1946 or later. Consequently, Boyd’s Tannock Street property remained unprotected.

While the request for heritage protection has been refused, a spokesperson for the planning department said that the house didn’t face any imminent threat since no request for consent for building demolition has been received by the Boroondara Council.

Images: Robin Boyd’s Tannock Street house (Image source: HockingStuart)