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Emerald Hill Library

In a neighbourhood not short of character architecture, the Emerald Hill Library and Heritage Centre stands out as an exceptional building. Recognised by Heritage Victoria as a rare Australian example of the Beaux Arts style, it was built in 1912, and is surrounded by the remarkably coherent Victorian-era streetscape of South Melbourne’s Town Hall precinct.

Commissioned by the City of Port Phillip in 2011, PMA opted for a contemporary architecture that operates almost by stealth, in some senses quite literally disguising itself as a shadow. The fence that surrounds the new external play area facing the street reads as a series of black striations, which both refract the base of the Beaux Arts building and conflate the addition with the shaded Victorian streetscape it sits within. Internally, though, the refurbishment has made its presence felt, with bigger, brighter spaces for visitors. Despite its best efforts too, the project has drawn some attention: it was recently featured in The Age and was shortlisted in the Heritage category at the Australian Institute of Architects Awards, Victorian Chapter.