Magdalen Laundries Restoration
The Abbotsford Convent’s Magdalen Laundry is set to become a significant arts and cultural space, with the first stage of conservation, restoration and retrofit works completed in June 2019.
This project was announced in August 2016, following a State Government contribution of $2.7 million towards transforming the Laundry, granted from the $30 million Living Heritage fund.
The Abbotsford Convent, Australia’s largest multi-arts precinct, comprises of 11 historical buildings. The Laundry is one of the last remaining buildings to be redeveloped for arts, cultural and learning purposes since ownership of the Convent was handed to the public under the management of the not-for-profit Abbotsford Convent Foundation.
Williams Boag Architects led the design for Stage 1 works in the Laundry. WBa is a preeminent Melbourne-based firm with expertise spanning architecture, planning, urban design and interior design. Building works were completed by FDC Construction & Fit Out, who previously partnered with the Convent on the restoration of the adjoining Sacred Heart building. All works were overseen by Heritage Victoria.
Background, History and Heritage
The Convent’s Magdalen Laundry is noted for its architectural and historic significance.
Built in the 1880s by the original owners of the Convent, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Laundry was staffed by women who lived onsite at the Magdalen Asylum. The Laundry were a source of income for the Sisters, and operated commercially up until 1975. These cavernous spaces – arguably the most visually striking spaces within the Convent precinct – have been dilapidated and completely out-of-bounds to the general public for almost 45 years.
The conservation, restoration, and retrofit of the Magdalen Laundry is one of the largest and most significant projects undertaken at the Convent to date. This is a significant undertaking by the ACF to bring these extraordinary spaces to life for community arts and cultural use. Once fully restored, the Laundry will become an iconic community asset within the National Heritage Listed Abbotsford Convent and a unique arts and cultural venue only 4km from Melbourne’s CBD. Future uses for these spaces will include multi-use presentation space for performing arts, exhibitions, conferences, festivals, dynamic events, and more.
The Abbotsford Convent Foundation has embarked on this significant restoration project to protect – and enliven – Victorian cultural heritage for our community to experience for generations to come.
Although the commencement of this project marks a significant milestone for the Convent, the Abbotsford Convent Foundation acknowledges the sad social history of these buildings, and the impact they had on the lives of the women who worked here, often in harsh and oppressive conditions.
The Convent's National Heritage Listing states the Laundry and asylum buildings are an important physical record for those Australians and their families known as the Forgotten Australians. The Listing also states the harm of institutionalisation and the trauma experienced by many residents is acknowledged as part of the Convent’s heritage.
As with any development on the Convent site, it is our intention to respect this history and heritage, while working to develop this space in the future as one which creates positive stories and impact for the community through arts and culture. The ACF is currently working on a heritage interpretation project which will acknowledge the history of the women and girls who resided in the adjoining Sacred Heart building, and who worked in the Laundry.
You can learn more about the Convent's past by joining one of our guided social history tours or by taking a self-guided walk (available via web browser and visitor app), which includes an oral history recording from Trish, a former resident who also worked in the Magdalen Laundry.
The ACF also recognises the Wurundjeri People as the traditional custodians of the land and water on which we work and live.
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