What is significant? After the National Gallery of Victoria opened in 1968 as the first stage of the Victorian Arts Centre, attention turned to the completion of the remainder of the complex. This included a concert hall, theatres and spire, which had all been conceived by Roy Grounds in his original master plan in 1960, as one building, under a spire, and linked to the gallery via a covered porch. He died before seeing the final completion of this project which he began in 1959.
The site selected for this complex, just south of the Yarra, was first proposed in 1943, proclaimed in 1957, and construction of the gallery component finally commenced in 1962. A competition was not held for the design of the Arts Centre and in 1959 Grounds, Romberg and Boyd were appointed architects. In awarding this commission, emphasis was placed on Grounds thirty years of experience and he subsequently became responsible for the job. He then devoted much of his time, from the 1960s to the 1980s, to this building complex. The rectangular gallery building was constructed to the south of the selected site in St Kilda Road, a triangular art school constructed to the west in 1970, and the area to the north, known as the North End, was allocated to the theatre and concert facilities, located under a circular spire.
Nine years after producing the master plan, and with the gallery complete, Grounds turned his attention to the design of the theatre and concert facilities. Initial plans had been for a new gallery building and a multi-purpose auditorium, however plans for the auditoria components grew, and the State government was persuaded to annex land all the way to the Yarra. The design for the State Theatre was altered to accommodate 2000 patrons and concerns over the implications of structural works associated with underground proposals, particularly after the collapse of the West Gate Bridge in 1970, forced Grounds to look at alternatives. The Theatres Building was modified and extended above St Kilda Road level as an undistinguished bush-hammered concrete building, and the spire, lifted to house the flytower, became an enormous latticed space frame. The Concert Hall, also originally intended to be underground, became a massive, sandstone coloured precast panelled, cylinder. As a result, Ground's initial concept for the complex was greatly compromised.
Responsibility for the project lay with the Building Committee, established in 1956, and comprising a number of representative members from the community, local councils, regional Victoria, the Victorian Government and the National Gallery of Victoria. These included Kenneth Myer, who was chairman from 1965 to 1989, Professor Joseph Burke and later Professor Margaret Manion from the Fine Arts Department at Melbourne University, Councillor Michael Winneke and Sir Ian Potter. For twenty five years this committee were a consistent force in the completion of the complex. It became the Victorian Arts Centre Trust in 1980, with actor and film director, George Fairfax, as its first General Manager, a position he held until 1989. Originally appointed as a technical officer, and Chief Executive Officer in 1972, Fairfax played an influential role in the development of the Arts Centre.
Work began on the theatre site in 1973, with excavation work not completed until 1977-8, two years later than expected. Work on the more stable concert hall site began in 1976. As work began on the substructures, fully developed sketch plans of the buildings and their interiors were completed.
Academy Award-winning expatriate set designer, John Truscott, was employed to decorate the interiors and his theatrical connections added another dimension to the project. His work on the interiors was constrained only by a requirement to leave elements already constructed, such as Ground's faceted cave Concert Hall interior, to which he applied jewelled finishes, and his steel mesh draped ceiling in the State Theatre, to which he added perforated brass balls. The lushness of Truscott's interiors, contrasted with the sombre character of Ground's exterior.
The Concert Hall opened in November 1982, while substantial work remained to be done on the Theatres site. The rest of the Arts Centre was opened progressively in 1984, with the Theatres building officially opened in October that year. This signified the completion of one of the largest public works projects in Victorian history, which had been undertaken over a period of almost twenty five years.
How is it significant? The Victorian Arts Centre is of architectural, aesthetic, historical and social significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant? The Victorian Arts Centre is of architectural significance as a major work by noted Australian architect, Roy Grounds, who, together with his former partners Robin Boyd and Frederick Romberg, was one of the most influential architects of his generation, pioneering modernist design. Together with the gallery, the Arts Centre occupied much of his time from the 1960s to 1980s. Grounds significance as an architect was confirmed when he was awarded the RAIA Gold Medal in 1968 and was knighted the same year.
The Arts Centre is of architectural and aesthetic significance for the high standards of design and detail evident in the distinctive interiors of the performance and ancillary spaces, designed by John Truscott.
The Victorian Arts Centre is of historical significance as one of the largest public works projects in Victoria's history. This ambitious project, undertaken over a period of almost twenty five years, encompassed complex planning, design, documentation and construction phases. It has associations with prominent individuals in Victoria's cultural history including George Fairfax and John Truscott.
The Arts Centre is of historical significance as a major cultural institution and as the primary focus for the arts in Victoria. Once constructed, the complex, with its distinctive spire, provided Melbourne with an important visual image.
The Arts Centre is of social significance for the unusual level of public interest and support it afforded. A large number of Victorians were involved with the planning and financing of the complex and a number of major and minor corporate and individual sponsors were involved.