Friday, 13 May 2016

Picture Post 54 - Stanhill Flats, Melbourne

Earlier today, continuing my Australian journey, my friends Robin Grow and Robyn Saalfeld of the Art Deco and Modernism Society took me on a tour of South Melbourne's deco delights. One of my favourite buildings on our tour  was Stanhill Flats at 34 Queen's Road, completed in 1950 to designs drawn up in 1942 by Frederick Romberg, a Swiss trained Australian architect. The Australian Institute of Architects website describes it as his most significant work and an example of the inter-war functionalist style. Contemporary commentators  were not so keen, describing it as "an exaggerated and unorganized jumble" due to its asymmetrical massing, stepped plan and elevation. Despite this they also acknowledged the engineering skills demonstrated in its construction and the excellent execution of detail.

Nine storeys high, the flats are constructed from concrete with steel and glass detailing. The stepped plan was devised to allow maximum light penetration, as well as to ensure privacy on the balconies. Light flowing into the building was originally controlled by the installation of venetian blinds in each flat. Each side of the block displays different features with long, stepped Bauhaus like balconies at the rear of the building, and a more austere facade on Queen's Road, albeit with an impressive canopy over the main entrance. My favourite view is at the St. Kilda Road end of the block where it is possible to see the rounded ends of those balconies, a striking glazed stairwell, a ground floor canopy and a covered walkway.

Robin told me that when the flats were built, shortly after the Second World War there was some disquiet amongst the trade unions that flats for well-off people were being built at a time when there was a pressing need for housing for poorer families. The elegant block with its roof terraces for flats at the uppermost level must have seemed the height of luxury at a time of austerity.

The Stanhill name comes from a combination of the forenames of the brothers Stanley and Hillel Korman  for whom the flats were designed. Romberg also designed Newburn, another apartment block, next door at 30 Queens Road. These preceded Stanhill and were completed in 1939. Romberg was an interesting character. Born into a German family in Tsingtao, China in 1913 (home of the famous brewery), he emigrated to Australia in 1938, became a registered architect in 1940 and went on to design many residential, educational and public buildings across Australia. In 1965 he was appointed Foundation Professor of Architecture at Newcastle University near Sydney and in later years he developed an interest in brutalist architecture. 

More Melbourne posts coming soon - thanks Robin and Robyn!


  1. Stanhill Flats were really significant, because of their location, design and timing (designed in 1942). In wandering around, we were reminded of the Lawn Rd flats in London, designed by Wells Coates in the mid 1930s.

    But I have to thank you for mentioning Romberg's Newburn Flats (1939) which are much less studied. Your reference suggested that Newburn was one of the first block of flats to adopt thoroughly the advanced European architecture of the time eg Gropius' Berlin housing estate. My students will love Newburn.

    Thanks for the link

    1. Hello Hels. Thanks for the link to the Cairo flats - what a fantastic external staircase! Lawn Road flats is one of our best modernist buildings - there is a small gallery adjacent to it now, open during the summer months only, but well worth a visit as it tells the story of the building and some of the people who lived there in the early years.