You've probably walked past it before. Maybe you were traipsing through the graffiti-dappled laneways in search of Sister Bella or you took a wrong turn in the retail Mecca of Melbourne Central. In any case, it's hard to miss this statuesque building sitting on the corner of Drewery Place.
It's been there since 1908, when it was built as a factory warehouse for Sniders and Abrahams Manufacturing Tobacconists. Now known as the Dovers Building, this heritage-listed boutique apartment block was one of the first CBD properties to be converted for residential use in the early 1990s. At the time, the Victorian Government’s planning policy (dubbed Postcode 3000) was using incentives to actively encourage Victorians to adopt inner city residences in an attempt to reinvent and revitalise excess warehouse and office space across the city.
Postcode 3000 became a key catalyst for the future population shift, which between 1991 and 2011 saw the CBD’s residential headcount increase by over 50,000 people.
Dovers Building casts a distinguished shadow against the rear doors of takeaway kitchens and splatterings of street art it shares the lane with. It sits in the thick of inner city convenience, surrounded by endless small bars, restaurants and shopping contexts. But what makes Dovers particularly special is its unique architectural design, which was based on the historically significant Turner Mushroom reinforced concrete system of flat slabs.
Turner's flat slab system comprised slabs of concrete stacked upon large, supporting concrete columns, allowing the time and costs of construction to be dramatically reduced. These exposed concrete pillars and ceilings are still prominent features of the apartments today.
Catherine Rendell and Clive Hambly have lived in their Dovers apartment for the past two years. Rendell says that it's the “lovely incidents, random people and sense of community” that keeps them fixed as aficionados of inner city living. With backgrounds in graphic design and the video game industry, the pair now run their own design agency, Dextrous Design, from their apartment.
“We originally set up our office in the spare room, but later decided 'why waste these views?'” Hambly says. Consequently, their workstations now sit in the corner of the living room, overlooking leafy green trees, Swanston Street foot traffic and the State Library.
On the downside, living above a hub of laneway bars can test anybody's patience at times — Hambly has been known to “get a bit over the people”. Which is fair enough when the occasional marauding drunk accosts you on your way home from work on a Friday night. But that's all part of the fun.
“We've seen some pretty…interesting things go on outside our window late at night,” Rendell concurs.
Stefan Hladenki, who moved to Dovers earlier this year from his previous share-house in Fitzroy, agrees. “Sometimes what goes on in the laneway is better than TV,” he laughs.
“There’s a totally different sense of community in a building like this. In the city, you’re used to seeing those massive, soulless apartment complexes and student housing blocks, where residents are more transient and nobody really knows their neighbours. Compared to this, they’re like hotels.”
Working in city planning and urban development, the Canberra-raised Hladenki remembers first walking past the building on a trip to Melbourne years prior, and admiring it from afar.
“You can see it peering over Swanston Street with these gorgeous wrought iron balconies and New York loft-style windows. I used to imagine how amazing they must be inside. Turns out: pretty awesome.”