Robin Boyd said he intended the building to challenge what motel chains stood for.Adaptive reuse is a term architecture has co-opted to describe buildings that were one thing and have been remodelled to have a second life for another function.
Factories and warehouses converted to residences are the prime examples of recycled structures that often retain and celebrate old bashed up features amid their modern layouts and facilities.
An iconic Queens Road building by the increasingly revered mid-century Melbourne modernist architect, author and teacher Robin Boyd, was an adapted building from the start. And since it opened in 1962 as Melbourne’s first ”motor inn”, swank enough to hostel the Rolling Stones during their first Australian tour in 1965, it has been re-adapted several times. It has been a hotel crossed with a motel, a bank training facility, a college for ambulance officers and, since 2000, a rooming house with accommodation for 67 people who need affordable or supported housing options.
It is 50 years old and its revolutionary-for-the-time sweepingly curved skeleton roof frame has been visually overwhelmed by all the high-rise development that has occurred and is still taking place around it. Yet, apart from the gardens that have grown weedy, this beautifully formed six-level structure made of grey concrete block in an overtly expressed concrete frame, and a Boyd signature of vertically massed ribbon windows, is as fresh and strong a piece of architecture as it was when Boyd first adapted the structural grid of a building initially intended to become serviced apartments.
In the early 1960s, when 35 per cent of Australian households had saved up to buy a family car it made more sense to the developers of the 2024 square metre corner block on Queens Road and Lorne Street and overlooking Albert Park Lake to offer drive-in-drop-off and park underneath traveller accommodation.
Boyd was asked to take on the adaptive design and achieved a remodelling so effective that the building now known as ”the former John Batman Motor Inn” is heritage listed and considered of state significance ”as a rare attempt in the early 1960s to inject a memorable visual image (ie, the spectacular curved roof) on to a building”.
Boyd said he intended the building ”in its own way, to challenge practically everything motel chains stood for”. Explaining the choice of unadorned concrete materiality, he said he had wanted to create a building that was ”highly urbanised” yet at the same time, highly sophisticated. He had ”aimed at higher tastes”.
Under the mantling canopy he set a two-level honeymoon suite. Underneath the whole building he set in an unusual recessed porte cochere, or car drop-off entry point.
Throughout, Boyd chose the carpets and colours and designed much of the furnishings.
In the past decade, Melbourne has gone gaga for mid-century modernist architecture and particularly if properties carry the Boyd imprimatur. Until it ceased operating as a motor inn in the early 1970s, this Boyd was considered the height of cool and, through all the subsequent re-adaptions, has lost none of that cachet. A building that has gathered no ”period” moss stands as quiet justification of the reputation of Robin Boyd (1919-1971) to be considered one of the true greats of Australian architecture.
The former John Batman Motor Inn, 69 Queens Road, Melbourne. Melway 2L B12.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.