The Heritage Council of New South Wales has made moves towards placing an interim heritage order on the modernist MLC Building, as the campaign to save the building gains momentum.

Designed by Bates, Smart and McCutcheon and completed in 1956, the office building at 105-153 Miller Street, North Sydney was the largest building of its type in Australia at the time of its construction.

Plans to demolish it and replace it with a new commercial office tower designed by the same architecture firm (now known as Bates Smart) are currently before North Sydney Council. But residents, architects, and modernism enthusiasts have blasted the demolition proposal, arguing that the North Sydney MLC building is “one of the most important mid-century modernist buildings in Australia.”

North Sydney Council has been flooded with around 70 submissions related to the proposal, while more than 1,680 people have signed a petition protesting the development launched by modern architecture preservation organization Docomomo.

On 1 September, the Heritage Council noted that the building “may be of state heritage significance” and resolved to notify the owner that it will be considering whether or not to list the item. The council will also invite public submissions on the potential listing over a period of 28 days.

The MLC building currently has only local heritage status, with its listing describing it as “a seminal work in the development of high-rise buildings in Australia.”

Scott Robertson, president of Docomomo, says that it is at least of state significance and, because of its size, quality, early date of construction and the national attention it drew upon opening (being opened by the then prime minister Robert Menzies) it is of national importance.

The existing North Sydney MLC building by Bates Smart and McCutcheon, completed in 1956.

“Demolition of heritage items can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances and every effort must be made to find compatible uses for heritage items and to apply re-use and refurbishment strategies,” he writes, in a submission to North Sydney Council.

“One has only to regard examples such as the Queen Victoria Building in the Sydney CBD to find an example of a development that worked with the building to find a suitable modern, viable use.

“The evidence presented in the development application for the replacement of the MLC Building does not demonstrate in any detail that alternative strategies to demolition have been pursued with any rigor.”

Developer IOF Custodian has said that redevelopment of the site is necessary, since a study found it would cost $118 million to adequately restore the building.

Bates Smart states in planning documents that while it recognizes the significance of the building, it was also “flawed from the beginning” due to its east–west orientation. The firm accepted the commission to design the new building on the basis that it could “design a building in the spirit of MLC that is as pioneering for the 21st century as MLC was for the late 20th century.”

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