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Artefact Church Square grew from volunteer work in the garden at Christ Church, Acland St, St Kilda. Its alternative proposal for redevelopment of the Bishop’s Residence to preserve Church Square, responds to a heritage permit application of June 2018, that planned to sever the back third of the Christ Church Complex from the front, to divide the block into two. The severed section included the grassed area behind Christ Church that would have become a carpark, with an eye-height fence built around the entire severed perimeter. Presently, it is open space that neighbours freely and frequently walk through. As open space, visitors can also walk around and view the church from various vantage points to experience its sculptural presence. We aim to preserve this open space through an alternative redevelopment of the Bishop’s Residence into an Arts Library and Centre for International Curatorial Research, International Artists Residency and Gallery.

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Before Artefact Church Square had reason to exist with me, its chair, I offered to volunteer in the garden to help Christ Church’s gardener of 12 years, Elisabeth Newman. While gardening, it is hard to ignore the church’s sculptural presence given the number of times we walk around it—wrought in the age of another time, made resplendent in earthly walls of crag-cut stone. To rare effect, the church’s architecture counters its horizontal mass with a vertical blast of space inside: a cross of earth and air. To turn the grassed area behind the church into a gated carpark is to squander the church’s sculptural presence.

Prompted by this, the inanity of a commercial childcare centre built next to a not-for-profit community one, and the gardener’s kind reminders, I finally made a submission to Heritage Victoria against the permit application. It included two main points otherwise unmade: a) the Christ Church Complex not only comprises of ecclesiastic buildings but, also, of the actual Church Square; and b) of all the elements that comprise the Christ Church Complex, it is the Church Square that is of highest heritage significance. To sever the back section of Christ Church is to destroy the last known intact Church Square in Victoria.

Artefact Church Square will, instead, preserve Church Square on Acland St by turning it into a culturally thriving social centre that maintains its open space as a place that actively invites others into a communal sense of belonging. 

Instead of segregating the back section, we will reinstate the back garden and open it further by removing the fence between it and the Bishop’s Residence, restore the Bishop’s Residence and include an Arts Library and Centre for International Curatorial Research with an International Artists Residency and Gallery.

On 01 October 2018, Heritage Victoria ruled against the permit application that would have severed the block. Artefact Church Square has been striving, since, to honour Heritage Victoria’s decision by progressing the alternative proposal as much as possible. In November, we became an incorporated association.

The permit applicant Heritage Victoria refused has, however, since applied for a review of that decision to the Heritage Council, which has set a date for a Review Hearing on 02 April 2019.

Until an outcome of the Hearing is determined, our request for permission from the Anglican Diocese to access the premises to gather all necessary information, draw up plans and finalise funding — to present the Diocese with a fully funded alternative redevelopment — will not be considered.

If you wish for Heritage Victoria’s permit refusal of 01 October 2018 to be upheld, then an expression of your support for the alternative redevelopment is crucial.

Whether you are a local looking forward to a reinvigorated open space at the back of Christ Church, to visiting the Arts Library to find out about the playwright, opera or exhibition you are about to see, or an artist whose books and catalogues the Arts Library aims to collect, we invite you to be part of this exciting possibility. Help to make the Arts Library a reality, or simply give feedback on the alternative proposal. Either way, do not hesitate to contact us.

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