National Trust calls for heritage protection for modernist Melbourne church

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Church interior, Mary Immaculate Church.

Church interior, Mary Immaculate Church. Image: Paul Atkinson

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Sanctuary screen, Mary Immaculate Church.

Sanctuary screen, Mary Immaculate Church. Image: Paul Atkinson

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Mary Immaculate Church.

Mary Immaculate Church. Image: courtesy National Trust

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Mary Immaculate Church.

Mary Immaculate Church. Image: Wolfgang Sievers

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Mary Immaculate Church.

Mary Immaculate Church. Image: Mark Strizic

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Mary Immaculate Church.

Mary Immaculate Church. Image: Mark Strizic

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Church interior, Mary Immaculate Church.

Church interior, Mary Immaculate Church. Image: Paul Atkinson

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One of 12 stations of the cross by Matcham Skippers.

One of 12 stations of the cross by Matcham Skippers. Image: Paul Atkinson

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<i>Madonna and Child</i> by Hermann Hohauss.

Madonna and Child by Hermann Hohauss. Image: Paul Atkinson

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Mary Immaculate Church. Image:  courtesy National Trust

The National Trust is calling for the Victorian planning minister to intervene to save a modernist church from demolition, after the Heritage Council of Victoria decided that the building does not meet the criteria for inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Mockridge Stahle and Mitchell designed the Mary Immaculate Church, in the Melbourne suburb of Ivanhoe, in 1960. The architects also commissioned artworks by four prominent artists for the church, including pieces by Matcham Skipper, Hermann Hohaus, David Michael Shannon and Justin O’Brien.

The Catholic Parish of Ivanhoe plans to make the church the parish centre for the parish of Ivanhoe, an amalgamation of three previous parishes. Fr. Bill Edebohls, parish priest for the Catholic Parish of Ivanhoe, told ArchitectureAU that three options were being considered for the site, one of which would involve the refurbishment of the church, which is “not fit for purpose,”  while “two other” options would involve its demolition. 

Madonna and Child by Hermann Hohauss. Image:  Paul Atkinson

The trust is now campaigning for an interim heritage overlay to be extended to the property, which it believes is an invaluable example of modernist, ecclesiastical architecture.

Felicity Watson, the National Trust’s advocacy manager, said, “We encourage people to support our campaign to save Mary Immaculate by contacting Banyule mayor Mark Di Pasquale to call for interim heritage protection to be provided for this Ivanhoe landmark.”

In its submission to the council, the National Trust said that “of the many Modernist churches built in Victoria’s postwar boom, the [church] is one of the largest and most striking and one of the most boldly fitted out.”

A report prepared in November 2017 by the executive director of Heritage Victoria, Steven Avery described the Mary Immaculate as “an illustrative example of an architect-designed church building” but recommended that the building should not be included on the state heritage register.

Avery stated in the recommendation that the site was an example of postwar, modernist ecclesiastical architecture, which has “a clear association with the historically important process of the design and construction of churches in Melbourne’s middle and outer ring suburbs during the decades following World War II.”

Sanctuary screen, Mary Immaculate Church. Image:  Paul Atkinson

He also described Mockridge Stahle and Mitchell as having “contributed greatly to the city of Melbourne’s mid-century development, particularly with regard to its educational, ecclesiastical and domestic design work.” Among the practices’ other built works are the Monash University Religious Centre and the St Faith’s Anglican Church in Glen Iris, both of which are listed on the state heritage register.

He argued, however, that the building was not a uniquely important representation of these qualities, noting that 743 places of worship were built across the Melbourne metropolitan area between 1945 and 1994, with more than 460 of these displaying “principally modern design characteristics.”

The National Trust has noted that of the 134 places of worship included on the register, just eight are from the postwar period. 

Editor’s note (17/7/18): This article has been amended to more accurately reflect the Catholic Parish of Ivanhoe’s plans for the site.


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