Adaptive Reuse: The Case of Geelong’s Westfield, where Architectural, Urban and Heritage Practices Intersect

Siamphukdee, Chayakan | de Jong, Ursula

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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Westfield lies in the heart of Victoria’s second city, Geelong. The transformation of an entire city block into a shopping complex stemmed from necessity, as the city entered the early phase of deindustrialisation. It involved the redevelopment of an entire urban block with multiple heritage buildings. The project was conceived 50 years ago when the city’s defining wool industry experienced a significant decline following the 1970s global energy crisis and economic slump. This downturn left numerous industrial buildings in central Geelong redundant. This situation challenged the very identity of Geelong, as well as its raison d’etre. While the transformation of the site raises issues to do with urban visioning, the adaptive reuse of multiple significant heritage buildings highlights the intersections and tensions between architectural design and heritage practices.

There is great potential in adaptive reuse to mobilise a critical understanding of the environment/city/economy based on engagement with earlier layers of historical development. This paper critically reviews the history of Westfield Geelong by considering the 1970s vision “City by the Bay,” detailing the history of Brougham Street to understand the significance of the site and scrutinising the heritage strategy of facadism adopted in the realisation of Westfield.

Understanding how this development has redefined Geelong as a city is critical to now strategically rethinking a city facing rampant development. This paper argues that the criticality of heritage and adaptive reuse must be recognised, such that the architecture and its narratives can reveal the legacy embedded in the city’s historic structures, be understood within the context of Geelong’s fast-paced self-reinvention through architectural and urban transformations, and be a positive progressive force in the city’s evolving identity.