Time travels slowly as tram depot gets facelift

Heritage is not just confined to period buildings. It can cover gardens, shipwrecks, archeological sites or even tram depots.

The Preston Tram Depot, on the corner of St Georges Road and Oakover Street, goes back to the early 20th century and is listed by Heritage Victoria.

As with most things that move (including trams, perhaps) the depot had seen little, if almost no, change since its beginnings.

"During the World Wars the depot's use was diverted to help the war effort, assisting with the building of trucks," says architect Abe Garrity, principal of Kyriacou Architects.

The site, under the control of Public Transport Victoria (PTV), features seven main buildings, predominantly warehouses, with saw-tooth roofs, many oriented to the south.

There were not only minor problems, such as the lack of light entering through the former translucent polycarbonate windows, but a larger concern for the facilities associated with servicing the latest E-class trams, almost 75 in total.

"Servicing these trams required a different mindset, providing suitable platforms to carry out repairs below and above these trams," says Garrity.

Kyriacou demolished only minor ancillary buildings on the Preston site, including a couple of outhouses.

However, the renovation of the seven warehouses and workshops included the installation of the latest technology, with the old steel roofs replaced in a similar steel profile.

"We needed to strengthen the existing steel framework, as well as repair the original red brick walls, meeting current standards," says Garrity, pointing out the depressed floor plates to allow easy access and investigation from below the trams.

Some of the new machinery includes sand-releasing equipment to strengthen a tram's rail grip.

New skylights in the roof, together with replacing existing highlight windows, was also paramount.

In some areas, new concrete floors were laid, together with new tracks. In other warehouses, where timber floors once existed, concrete was substituted to enable current standards to be met.

Roller doors leading to these warehouses were also replaced to allow for not only increased natural light, but as importantly, unimpeded sight lines throughout the depot.

The architects also inserted a new washing facility, with a clear delineation of past and present on one side of one of the warehouses.

A new security fence, lining the perimeter allowed the site to be opened up.

"We used the original fleur-de-lis motif that we found on one of the original gates to the depot and had these reproduced," says Garrity.

In addition to creating a 21st century environment for the E-Class trams, Kyriacou Architects designed new offices for the operator Yarra Trams, as well as a kitchen and dining area for staff.

New offices, together with meeting areas, also formed part of PTV's brief. "The staff were in need of more space, both to work in and meet informally, as well as to have a separate area for lunch," says Garrity.

Heritage-listed buildings generally hit the headlines. However, some of our most significant heritage-listed buildings capture a bygone era and need to be preserved for future generations.

One of the ways such buildings will remain is to not only have them listed, but also to ensure their use as functional spaces.

"We worked closely with Heritage Victoria, as well as with Yarra Trams, completely reworking some of the warehouses where it was appropriate," says Garrity.

Some features, such as the bogie turntable (a turntable of about three metres in diameter), were retained in the scheme.

Other items, such as notice boards and signage, were handed over to Yarra Trams for perpetuity.

Although the E-class trams now dominate this landscape, there is still both the room and the technology at the Preston Depot to service the old W-trams.

"Trams are quintessentially Melbourne, but so are these remaining depots," adds Garrity.

This story Time travels slowly as tram depot gets facelift first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.