Statement of Significance
What is Significant?
The Nicholas Building at the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Lane, Melbourne was designed by architect Harry Norris and constructed by Nicholas Buildings Pty Ltd in 1925-26. It does not appear that the Nicholas company ever occupied the building, rather it was built as a speculative office building development.
The building contains nine floors and was designed to terminate at the 132 ft (40.3 metres) height limit in force in the City of Melbourne from 1916 until 1957. A consistent skyline was established in Melbourne as a result of this height limit. Influenced by the design of commercial buildings in America, the Nicholas Building adopts a Renaissance palazzo form with mannered Greek revival styling in its facade treatment. The two main facades feature an implied piano nobile, containing two floors with a Doric colonnade, and heavy corniced attic storey above. Between these two levels, the mass of the facade is dominated by giant Ionic pilasters which divide the upper facades into bays and provide verticality to the composition.
The Nicholas Building is a hybrid structure with a steel frame adopted for the basement and first three floors, and reinforced concrete for the upper floors. Economic considerations influenced this decision, with maximum floor area achieved at the favourable lower levels, and a cheaper construction method, and subsequent reduced floor area, used for the upper floors. Grey terracotta faience, manufactured as 'Granitex' by Wunderlich, was used to clad the exterior of the building, selected for the longevity of the material and ease of maintenance.
The basement, ground, and first floor were designed as retail spaces and the interior includes a glazed leadlight barrel vaulted arcade at ground level, Cathedral Arcade, providing a link between Swanston Street and Flinders Lane. The shop fronts, particularly at first floor level, remain largely intact and few major structural alterations have been made to the internal fabric of the building. An addition was made to the ground floor of the building in 1939. The Coles retail company occupied the ground floor and basement until 1967.
Planned around a central light well, the top six floors are utilitarian, comprising of an outer ring of studio spaces around the building's perimeter and second tier of studio spaces that back onto two sides of the light well. The light well is enclosed on a third side by the lift and stair core and is open to the corridor that encircles the floor between the two rows of studio spaces on its fourth wall. The corridor spaces are relatively spartan, with cream tiled walls, linoleum floors and varnished timber joinery to the doors and windows. Other features throughout the building include letter chutes and directory boards made by Brooks Robinson shopfitters on all floors and the manually operated passenger lifts.
Of interest are the remnant signs and elements of decoration throughout the building indicating the building's diverse range of activities and occupants. Initially the building was home to businesses that included those associated with the Flinders Lane garment trade, commercial artists, medical practitioners and architects. Harry Norris maintained his architectural office at the Nicholas Building until 1955. The building continues to house some of these activities, particularly those associated with fashion, but it has more recently housed studios and exhibition spaces for numerous artists.
How is it Significant?
The Nicholas Building is of architectural and historical significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it Significant?
The Nicholas Building is of architectural significance as an outstanding and imposing example of the grand commercial palazzo of the 1920s. It is an important example of the work of Harry Norris, one of the leading commercial architects in Melbourne between the wars. Norris was perhaps one of the greatest exponents of faience in Melbourne, and his extensive use of innovative Wunderlich terracotta tiles to clad the facades at the Nicholas Building is of special significance.
The Nicholas Building is of architectural significance for its largely intact interiors which provide excellent examples of 1920s shop and office decoration. Of particular note is the street level arcade, with dome and fanlights, reportedly the only remaining example of lead-light roofed and fan-lighted arcade in Melbourne. The shop fronts, particularly at first floor level, are largely intact and also of great importance.
The Nicholas Building is of historical significance for its associations with the wealthy businessman, Alfred Nicholas, co-founder of the Nicholas Company which developed the famous Aspro formula. Harry Norris also designed Burnham Beeches, Sassafras, 1930-33 (VHR H0868) for Alfred Nicholas.
The Nicholas Building is of historical and architectural significance as a reminder of a mid-rise scale of the CBD before the 1950s when only decorative towers went above the 132 foot height limit. It is one of at least 30 outstanding 'limit-height' buildings built while it was in force between 1916 and 1957, some examples included in the Victorian Heritage Register include the Capitol House, 1924 (VHR H0471); Myer Emporium, 1933 (VHR H2100); and the Port Authority Building, 1929-30 (VHR H0965).
NICHOLAS BUILDING - Plaque Citation
Architect Harry Norris designed this grand commercial palazzo which was built in 1925-26. This Greek Revival building, clad with Wunderlich terracotta faience tiles, has a long association with fashion and the arts.
NICHOLAS BUILDING - Permit ExemptionsGeneral Conditions: 1. All exempted alterations are to be planned and carried out in a manner which prevents damage to the fabric of the registered place or object. General Conditions: 2. Should it become apparent during further inspection or the carrying out of works that original or previously hidden or inaccessible details of the place or object are revealed which relate to the significance of the place or object, then the exemption covering such works shall cease and Heritage Victoria shall be notified as soon as possible. Note: All archaeological places have the potential to contain significant sub-surface artefacts and other remains. In most cases it will be necessary to obtain approval from the Executive Director, Heritage Victoria before the undertaking any works that have a significant sub-surface component. General Conditions: 3. If there is a conservation policy and plan endorsed by the Executive Director, all works shall be in accordance with it. Note: The existence of a Conservation Management Plan or a Heritage Action Plan endorsed by the Executive Director, Heritage Victoria provides guidance for the management of the heritage values associated with the site. It may not be necessary to obtain a heritage permit for certain works specified in the management plan. General Conditions: 4. Nothing in this determination prevents the Executive Director from amending or rescinding all or any of the permit exemptions. General Conditions: 5. Nothing in this determination exempts owners or their agents from the responsibility to seek relevant planning or building permits from the responsible authorities where applicable.
Regular Site Maintenance :Public Safety and Security :
The following site maintenance works are permit exempt under section 66 of the Heritage Act 1995: a) regular site maintenance provided the works do not involve the removal or destruction of any significant above-ground features or sub-surface archaeological artefacts or deposits; b) the maintenance of an item to retain its conditions or operation without the removal of or damage to the existing fabric or the introduction of new materials; c) cleaning including the removal of surface deposits, organic growths, or graffiti by the use of low pressure water and natural detergents and mild brushing and scrubbing; d) repairs, conservation and maintenance to plaques, memorials, roads and paths, fences and gates and drainage and irrigation. e) the replacement of existing services such as cabling, plumbing, wiring and fire services that uses existing routes, conduits or voids, and does not involve damage to or the removal of significant fabric. Note: Surface patina which has developed on the fabric may be an important part of the item's significance and if so needs to be preserved during maintenance and cleaning. Note: Any new materials used for repair must not exacerbate the decay of existing fabric due to chemical incompatibility, obscure existing fabric or limit access to existing fabric for future maintenance. Repair must maximise protection and retention of fabric and include the conservation of existing details or elements.
The following public safety and security activities are permit exempt under section 66 of the Heritage Act 1995, a) public safety and security activities provided the works do not involve the removal or destruction of any significant above-ground structures or sub-surface archaeological artefacts or deposits; b) the erection of temporary security fencing, scaffolding, hoardings or surveillance systems to prevent unauthorised access or secure public safety which will not adversely affect significant fabric of the place including archaeological features; c) development including emergency stabilisation necessary to secure safety where a site feature has been irreparably damaged or destabilised and represents a safety risk to its users or the public. Note: Urgent or emergency site works are to be undertaken by an appropriately qualified specialist such as a structural engineer, or other heritage professional. Minor Works :
Note: Any Minor Works that in the opinion of the Executive Director will not adversely affect the heritage significance of the place may be exempt from the permit requirements of the Heritage Act. A person proposing to undertake minor works may submit a proposal to the Executive Director. If the Executive Director is satisfied that the proposed works will not adversely affect the heritage values of the site, the applicant may be exempted from the requirement to obtain a heritage permit. If an applicant is uncertain whether a heritage permit is required, it is recommended that the permits co-ordinator be contacted.
* Any works within the individual office space on floors 4 to 9 that do not require the removal of any original fitting, fixture or joinery element and which has no permanent impact on the original fabric or structure of the building is permit exempt.
NICHOLAS BUILDING - Permit Exemption Policy
The purpose of the Permit Policy is as a guide in assisting when considering or making decisions regarding works to the place. It is recommended that any proposed works be discussed with an officer of Heritage Victoria prior to them being undertaken or a permit is applied for. Discussing any proposed works will assist in answering any questions the owner may have and aid any decisions regarding works to the place.
The purpose of the permit exemptions is to allow works that do not impact on the heritage significance of the place to occur without the need for a permit. Works other than those mentioned in the permit exemptions may be possible but will require either the written approval of the Executive Director or permit approval.
The features identified in the Extent of Registration and Statement of Significance contribute in a fundamental way to an understanding of the architectural and historical significance of the site. These original attributes are predominantly intact in building and fabric and are particularly demonstrative of the design and function of the place. It is important that any proposed changes to alter these features are considered and assessed on the basis of clearly defined plans and proposals and must be planned and carried out in a manner which prevents damage to the significant fabric of the registered place. It is recommended that before any proposed changes are undertaken a Conservation Management Plan, that includes historical research and a history of alterations, be documented and developed for the site to better define the extant significant elements and guide future works.
The understanding of the significance of the place lies in the composition of the building's facade, the lead lighting to the retail spaces on the ground and first floors and the building as an example of a largely unaltered 1920s office building. Any proposal that would alter the facade, ground floor arcade, first floor shop fronts and all circulation spaces should be avoided.
The understanding of the significance of the place also lies in the height of the building which was set by the CBD height limit at the time it was built. Any proposal to add to the height of the building should be avoided.
The understanding of the significance of the building is also apparent in the letter chutes and Brooks Robinson directory boards throughout the building. Any proposal to remove or alter these should be avoided.
The building has a long history of hosting signage on its southern facade. This use is not believed to adversely affect the heritage significance of the place, and could be considered to be an integral part of the history of economic use of the place. While the continued use of the south facade for signage may not adversely affect the significance of the building, the construction of new signage may. Consideration should be made on the effect that any new or replacement signage may have on the structure, physical integrity and visual understanding of the place. Any proposed signage should not be visible from, or impact any view of, the Swanston Street and Flinders Lane facades.
Any proposed signage that is considered by the Executive Director to be disproportionally high should be avoided. Any new signage, replacement signage and replacement signage support structure or changes in the type of signage will require permit approval.
MITRE TAVERNVictorian Heritage Register H0464
MELBOURNE SAVAGE CLUBVictorian Heritage Register H0025
FORMER LONDON CHARTERED BANKVictorian Heritage Register H0022
"AMF Officers" ShedMoorabool Shire
"AQUA PROFONDA" SIGN, FITZROY POOLVictorian Heritage Register H1687