This year marks two decades of distinguished service for an integral member of RBA: Senior Associate and Architectural Historian, Anthony Hemingway.

Anthony Hemingway, RBA ArchitectsAnthony started at RBA in 2000 after completing both a Masters in Arts (Fine Arts) and Masters in Planning and Design at The University of Melbourne, predominantly under the tutelage of distinguished architectural historians Miles Lewis and Philip Goad. Anthony is highly regarded at the firm and wider heritage field and undertakes a key leadership role within RBA.

Directly responsible for the Heritage Team, Anthony’s lengthy experience in the built heritage domain and remarkable comprehension of Australian and international architectural history is invaluable and essential for the diversity of tasks they undertake; from heritage asset management and design advice to research and history writing, interpretation and heritage studies.

We congratulate him warmly for his tenure, dedication, and contribution to the RBA.

Recently, Anthony took some time out his ever-busy week to answer a short Q & A put together by his team, which we share below.


Two decades at RBA is quite the feat, what do you remember about your first day? 

Not much as it was some time ago, I started on a contract basis being brought in to work on a specific project—the conservation management plan for the Heights in Newtown (Geelong) with John Patrick providing landscape input of the extensive grounds at the site.

Compared to now, the RBA office was much smaller back then—three permanent staff and me. It was a process, as always, of finding your place, but soon enough, I was asked to work on some other smaller projects, so I guess the initial signs were encouraging.

We know you for your keen eye and understanding of design within heritage contexts, from where does this interest in art and architecture stem? 

I had a long interest in architecture, initially being fascinated by Melbourne’s skyscrapers, the 1970s batch, as a teenager, and nearly studied architecture after my VCE (then HSC). My interest in art was less strong but started to evolve during early days at university while studying Medicine (yes quite a career change).

The art/architecture passions, however, were invigorated by heading to Europe for two months at the end of the 2nd year. Absorbing great art and architecture in the Netherlands, Paris, Nice, northern Italy, and southern Germany was a life-changing experience. Still, it took a few more years to meld my passions and study together.

You’ve worked at a myriad of fascinating and important heritage places in Victoria, does one stand out?

Yes, I have worked on a wide range of places in Metropolitan Melbourne and across the state, from modest structures to major, multifaceted edifices. Being a city boy, I have really enjoyed gaining an understanding of farm and other rural building types and country landscape as I was unfamiliar with such places growing up.

Conducting the heritage assessment of Towong Shire, in the north-east of Victoria, and Strathbogie Shire, central Victoria, exposed me to a whole range of deeply interesting and diverse places that I otherwise might not have come to readily know about first hand. It allowed me to expand my knowledge of the many layers of Victoria’s historic environments and challenged my perspective of what ‘heritage’ was and could be.

It was also an exciting time as—in many cases—I was the ‘first’ heritage professional on the scene out there. Undertaking the exploration and ‘discovery’ of meaningful places was exhilarating. It was also special to work hand-in-hand or alongside the locals and assist in ‘translating’ their interest and recognition of such sites into broader recognition of significance.

Personal favourite heritage place in Melbourne?

A very difficult question. The answer probably depends on my mood or what I am working on at the moment. I think I will have to cheat though and answer with a group of buildings—the Robin Boyd Residential Collection. The Robin Boyd Foundation in recent years, and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) many years ago, have organised several tours of his residential output, so I’ve had the incredible opportunity to experience many of his houses first hand and up close. I have also worked directly a few in a professional capacity with RBA.

What consistently strikes me and inspires me about Boyd’s work is the sheer variety and responsive he demonstrates to the circumstances, be it the setting or budget/aspirations of the client. While there are clear periods and types in Boyd’s work, and certain detailing he was fond of, they are all individual and generally, consistently impressive. His oeuvre really is a special legacy.

And internationally? 

Once again, too many to say. But I will start with St Philibert in Tournus, a stunning Romanesque church commenced probably during the 11th century. It has an unadorned purity that is the essence of the Romanesque and soaring proportions. Having studied a lot of medieval art history, this was high on my list of must-see places.

Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp Chapel (1954) is another favourite that immediately comes to mind. When I went to visit it, I had the place to myself and furthermore, the ambience was intensified by mist and rain, with water pouring out of the projecting concrete spouts, one steadily replenishing a pool at the rear.

In your view, how has the heritage management system evolved in Victoria over your career?

The greater recognition of interpretation and social values but these aspects throw up many curly considerations for heritage managers.

Interpretation provides a more nuanced approach to the understanding of heritage and creates conundrums about the value of later change and layers, which may be more intact that the original phases. Should all later layers, some messy and possibly intrusive to the attributed significance, be removed which obscure the original ‘great’ phase of a place and effectively whitewash all the later use of the place?

Recently, the profession is trying to grapple more so with the notion of social value, which is a good thing and lessens the perception of the heritage professional in their ivory tower. Social significance can be difficult to determine as it is more ephemeral, harder to pinpoint, and not necessarily related to the fabric of architectural or even historical value, which is the more comfortable domain of the heritage assessor. In many ways, it is crucial to an understanding of ‘place’, especially those which are appreciated by the relevant community.

20 years down the track, what are you now particularly mindful of during the opening phase of a heritage redevelopment? 

For a long time, I have been cognisant of the importance of communicating to the owner and their design team the significance of their place in a manner that is clear-cut and—importantly—stimulates and deepens the proposals.

Unpacking the ‘story’ or wrinkles of a site is crucial in the process of developing a simpatico relationship between the old and the new. Its that dialogue—hitting those notes of being informed and respectful but not necessarily subservient—that so often underlie positive built heritage outcomes.

Heritage is rife with misconceptions, any particular myth you’d like to dispel?

That most heritage places are not capable of accommodating reasonable change. Yes, there are some exemplars or ‘monuments’ type sites where the appropriate actions may revolve more around maintenance and repair. Dramatic interventions at such sites may not be feasible. However, these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

The majority of listed heritage sites, particularly at the local level, can—with some innovation—carter to development. In most cases, they’ve been evolving since the day of construction. That ‘progress’ vs preservation dichotomy is a tired trope, one well-deserving of retirement. Neither I nor the heritage policy is seeking to mandate a time warp. What I am always stressing and aiming for is balance—that is, carefully considered, sensitively managed change. Change that is abreast of the facts. Change that seeks harmony, not rupture. Change that speaks eloquently to both the past and present.

Heritage management is a process—a complicated, often challenging operation but one which is traversable with the right guide and attitude. The proposals I most enjoy working on are those that take heritage seriously and engage with it during the foundational phase.

The qualification to the above is: you’ve got to be reasonable when it comes to change at a significant place. Sometimes the degree or intensity of a proposal can be too demanding of the affected site. Again though, that risk is manageable if you treat heritage as seriously as you would any other planning requirement or public/social responsibility.

Do you have a message for emergent heritage practitioners? 

Be motivated. The heritage field is vast. You can’t master all the knowledge fields it requires at once, though you’ve got to be active in rigorously addressing ‘gaps’ in your skillset. It’s the type of career where you should never feel too comfortable! There is always a novel architectural or historical interpretation to grapple with, a new conservation approach to investigate, a different unique site or typology to get a handle on, or statutory shift to process.

Also, stay positive, stay engaged. While some headline conservation battles are lost or emerge in addled draws, there are many ‘quiet’ triumphs for Victoria’s built environment. They might not make the press, yet they have real meaning for healthy, sustainable communities—your interest in the traces of the past in the present matters and can have a real-world impact.

Anthony Hemingway, RBA Architects


Interested in discussing your next project with Anthony? Get in touch.

02 October 2020

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