A race is underway to protect one of Footscray’s most iconic post-war buildings from the wrecking ball.

National Trust of Australia has nominated The Footscray Psychiatric Centre, a Brutalist monolith built on the Footscray Hospital site in the 1970s, for listing on the Victorian Heritage Register.

The request comes as the state government turns its mind to the future of the hospital site after announcing a $1.5 billion rebuild of the hospital opposite Victoria University’s Footscray Park campus.

The Footscray Psychiatric Centre was built as part of the program of ‘deinstitutionalisation’ of the treatment of psychiatric illnesses that began in the 1960s.

It was designed within the Public Works Department sometime around 1970, and built between 1974 and 1977.

Simon Ambrose, National Trust of Australia Victorian chief executive, said the building has architectural significance as a Brutalist landmark, and the capacity to assist in telling the story of psychiatric care in Victoria.

Mr Ambrose said the building was recently selected for inclusion in the Phaidon Atlas of Brutalist Architecture and serves as one of the most striking examples of Brutalism in Australia today.

“By nominating the Footscray Psychiatric Centre to the Victorian Heritage Register, the National Trust believe the site deserves protection and should be retained in any future redevelopment plans,” he said.


Footscray Psychiatric Centre. Photo by Damjan Janevski.

The National Trust’s nomination of the “monolithic landmark” highlighted the highly articulated exterior, entirely constructed of board-marked off-form concrete, and narrow deep-set windows hidden from view from many angles.

“The National Trust supports the sensitive adaptive re-use of heritage buildings that no longer retain their former use, and looks forward to reviewing future proposals to reactivate and reuse this highly significant place,” Mr Ambrose said.

The Victorian Heritage Register provides legal protection for heritage places and objects that are significant to the history and development of Victoria.

Footscray Historical Society secretary Carmel Taig said while she is no expert on Brutalist architecture, she appreciates its “boldness and honesty”.

“Remember how Footscray fell out of love with Victorian lacework, tessellated tiled verandahs and turned posts and went ‘modern’? Remember when chimney stacks and saw-tooth factories fell out of favour? A few decades later, they’re back in vogue.”

John Jovic, a Brutalist enthusiast who has long pushed for the building to be protected, said he considered it to be a work of art in itself.

“It is fantastic the National Trust did this, it needs to be protected.”

Mr Jovic took a keen interest in the building after stumbling upon it a few years ago. He began to research its history and was struck by how little information could be found.

“It wouldn’t hurt for the community to get involved and come forward with some ideas for it,” he said.

“It costs money to just demolish a place like this, it could be used for all kinds of things: a women’s shelter or an arts space.”

Footscray MP Katie Hall said the suburb’s diversity is represented in its mix of architectural styles as much as its people.

“The Victorian Heritage Register will make its final decision independent of government, but I’d hope that the community’s views are taken into consideration.”