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Industry Interviews

Mary Mann speaks with Peter Lovell
Director, Lovell Chen

What is the main work of Lovell Chen ?
We specialise in all aspects of the conservation of historic buildings. We are also involved in new works; however most of our jobs are to do with conserving and restoring. We are really focused on what’s significant about the building. The original material and concept of the building is important and we generally try to maintain as much of the original idea as possible.

How did you become involved with the restoration of historic buildings?
I have always been interested in the construction of buildings. I was inspired by a close family friend who was involved in the National Trust here in Victoria. They inspired me to become involved in work on older buildings, which I really enjoy.

What do you love most about what you do?
The challenge of each new job. I also love that every project is very different. The part that excites me the most is the prospect of the new issues and challenges that arrive with each new job, and finding workable solutions.

Is there a favourite project you’ve worked on, one that’s made you stop and say, ‘Wow!’?
I really enjoyed working on the Grand Dining Room at the Hotel Windsor here in Melbourne. It’s an historic hotel that was built in the 1800’s. On dismantling the later accretions we found there were many layers that couldn’t be seen before. It was an interesting job, and a fascinating detective process.

Your firm has won numerous awards; recently you won the RAIA Lachlan Macquarie Award for Heritage, for the restoration of the Beaurepaire Centre. What unique challenges did you come across during this job?
The Beaurepaire Centre project was challenging in that it was a change from the older historic building that we usually deal with, to a more recent heritage building, built in 1957. There were problems with asbestos and with the structure and fabric of the building that led to decay and deterioration issues. We were required to refurbish it and turn it into a usable gymnasium and sports complex for the university. The building had a clear, modern design. We followed the original architect’s intent but also introduced new features such as a lift system. We maintained the significance of the building and at the same time made it usable. It was a really interesting job.

In 2003 you were on the RAIA judging panel for Melbourne’s best buildings. What makes a building stand out?
For me, quality and innovation make a building stand out. Also buildings that are ahead of their time and leading the architectural field as opposed to just following. The delivery of the design concept is also important; as is that they are representative of a particular period. The judging of the competition was a fascinating process because it really made me think about what is ‘good’ architecture.

What do you think of Melbourne’s Federation Square?
Delightful and joyful are two words that come to mind. The patterns are colourful and bold. I enjoy the colour of it; I think it works well. I also like that they’ve introduced a stone that hasn’t been used a lot in Melbourne before. I think what has been done with Federation Square is a brave step forward. The colours and stone suit Melbourne well.

Do you think it will become an icon of Melbourne like nearby Flinders Street Station?
In time it will. I think it may take some time, although it won’t be hard for it to become an icon of Melbourne for its sheer size and colour.

What is the most challenging aspect of the restoration and conservation of stone?
The decision of whether to replace or to conserve. For me it’s always a difficult decision. Do we replace a large piece just because a small piece of it is corroding, or do we just patch it up? This is a challenge in every job. I believe the original material should be revered and honoured however it’s often very difficult to decide whether to preserve what is there or to just replace it.

Speaking of stone, what is your favourite stone and why?
I don’t have a favourite stone. I am a huge stone fan, however the aspect of the stone that I like the most is the skill put into it by the craftsman, or the artisan, who made the work. For me, the pleasure is more about the input, not just the material per se.

Is there a future for stone? Do you think it can continue to compete successfully with the many alternative engineered materials now available?
There is definitely a future for stone. Or at least I hope there is. I do fear for the future of stone; I think the industry has to work hard to promote the particular qualities it brings to a building. However I am very enthusiastic about the potential of stone and I think it does have a future.

By: Mary Mann
Media Liaison Officer
Stone Initiatives (c)