Spotlight on Centre Arcade, Bentleigh
Over 2018-19, the heritage/history team at RBA Architects + Conservation Consultants, led by Senior Associate Anthony Hemingway, undertook a heritage review of proposed structure plan areas in Bentleigh and Carnegie, on behalf of Glen Eira City Council. This study resulted in the preparation of nine citations—seven individual places and two precincts—which are currently on exhibition.
While all places of local significance, which had not been subject to heritage protection previously, the Centre Arcade at 325 Centre Road, stood out as a particularly intriguing local landmark. Over the coming months, our intention is to spotlight some of the candidates we recommended for addition to the schedule to the heritage overlay, and what better place to start than this impressive commercial design?
The Centre Arcade was constructed in 1959, filling one of the few ‘gaps’ left in the vibrant shopping strip that had rapidly sprung up along Centre Road, either side of Bentleigh Station, during the first half of the 20th century. The driving force behind the development were the Russos, a multigenerational Italian family that operated a nearby greengrocer. In the late 1950s, they commissioned the architectural practice, Forsyth & Dyson, to oversee the construction of a two-storey shopping arcade; then a rare retail typology for an outer-suburban area.
By the early 1960s, the Russo family was renting the first floor to the Star Dance Studio (who are amazingly still there!), while the ground floor shops accommodated a hairdresser, baby clothing store, dentist, bookshop, printing press and an accountancy firm.
A 1988 article in the Age took the building as a symbol of the ‘drudgery of suburbia’, apparently exemplified by Bentleigh:
The Centre Arcade was unquestionably a smart and ultra-modern building when it was completed in the 1950s. It has seen better days, as the missing letters from its name sadly but eloquently testify. The alternating grey and yellow glass panes of its façade were exactly the kind that inspired Robin Boyd to pen ‘The Australian Ugliness’.
Boyd’s dismissal of the visual pollution of featurism aside, the architects (William L H Forsyth and Gerald T Dyson) had deployed a softer suburban iteration of the International Style in their design of Centre Arcade, with most of this expression focused to the upper section of the façade. Coined by the eponymous 1932 exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the International Style emerged as the defining architectural movement in Australia in the post-World War II period, drawing from diverse transnational sources, ranging from the paradigm-changing Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (decried by some as a didactic ideologue ) to the Dutch De Stijl movement. It was presented as an ‘anti-style’ by its practitioners, who instead stressed in their design: functionalism, prismatic/sculptured forms, the innovative use of industrial techniques and materials, and the eschewing of applied ornamentation.
The International Style is skilfully demonstrated at the Centre Arcade with its employment of an aluminium-framed curtain wall with ribbon window and alternating spandrel panels of yellow and blue, ground floor piloti, and flanking side walls – the upper sections of which were finished in purple/manganese bricks. The original plans noted that a then-novel material was utilised to glaze the panels in the front window wall—‘Alumply’—a clumpy name for aluminium coated plywood sheets (which were also used to clad the Sidney Myer Music Bowl). The interior of the arcade has changed little since construction and is resplendent with period finishes and detail: chrome window frames, ribbed glass highlights, stained timber doors, and swathes of granolithic and terrazzo tiling. There is also a large neon sign, Star Dance Studios, an original feature, projecting from the upper façade.
The place is a rare and remarkably intact example of a 1960s suburban arcade, completed in perhaps the defining idiom of the period, that appears somewhat unexpectedly in a predominantly Interwar period shopping strip.
We intend to bring you more about both these projects as well as others places RBA is involved at in the near future. In the meantime, why not check out some of our other projects here.
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