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From Solemn Halls to a Vibrant Hub
February 1st, 2024

From Solemn Halls to a Vibrant Hub

Once a place of austere devotion and discipline, Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent has been transformed into Australia’s largest arts, culture and learning community precinct, with FDC's dedication to preserving its rich history and thriving future an integral part of this evolution.

If the Convent’s walls could talk, they would have over a century of stories to share; of the Gold Rush boom, the Great Depression, two World Wars and tales of hardship experienced by thousands of girls and women, many of whom resided in the Convent’s Sacred Heart building and worked in the onsite Magdalen Laundry.

FDC's relationship with the Abbotsford Convent began with the restoration and refurbishment of the Sacred Heart Building in 2018. Five years on, FDC has donated over $100,000 in new works towards the Bishops Parlour and Balcony, and upcoming concrete replacement. "FDC's contributions have never been solely about construction,” says Cameron Jackson, General Manager, FDC VIC. “We have a deep knowledge of and passion for heritage projects and contributed to the Convent because of the immense value it adds to the arts, culture and learning of the local and Melbourne communities.”

Given the precinct's heritage significance, it was a job that required more than just construction expertise. "Heritage projects require a lot of design thinking, sensitivity, and flexibility as well as the ability to restore and respect the site within the limits allowed, while incorporating architectural elements that bring its functionality into the modern day,” says Cameron. “This job was a coming together of multiple specialist teams to ensure the absolute best outcome.”

The project was not short of challenges, but its transformation has been remarkable. The Sacred Heart Building is now adorned with features like architecturally considered perforated metal, that retains the view of original site elements. The bathrooms feature large exposed industrial steam pipes that have been left in their raw form, ensconced behind clear glass panels, that showcase the structure’s history.

These thoughtful design interventions have not gone unnoticed. The Sacred Heart Building was honoured with the 2019 AIA Victorian Chapter Heritage Architecture Named Award - The John George Knight Award and received a commendation in the 2019 AIA National Award for Heritage.

Today, the Abbotsford Convent is a living place for ‘curiosity and collaboration, meeting and meaning.’ It’s a bustling precinct which fosters arts, culture, and community programs, services and events, representing an inspiring transformation from solemn institution to vibrant creative hub.

“Every day an incredible number of diverse people work, gather and create in various buildings and gardens across the Convent. The work of exceptional partners like FDC are essential to providing the sensitivity necessary to restore a place of this national significance while being cognisant of how people not only use these spaces today but thrive in them. It’s not just an approach to building excellence but an appreciation of community well-being that is the cornerstone of FDCs practice and this is at the heart of our richly rewarding values-driven partnership with FDC,” says Collette Brennan, Abbotsford Convent’s CEO.

FDC's commitment to supporting the community's aspirations ensures that the Abbotsford Convent's story remains, even as it enters a new era. "We remember and respect the legacy left by those who faced hardship here,” says Cameron. “Our aim is to always honour the building’s history and from that hardship, deliver a positive outcome. It has been a real privilege to work in the community and with the considerate team at the Convent.”


1. The team behind Cam’s Kiosk has opened Julie, a seasonal garden restaurant. Enjoy a produce-driven menu and a thrilling wine list whilst overlooking the Convent’s Heritage Gardens and grounds.

2. Every second Saturday of the month, the Convent welcomes the Regional Farmers Market: fresh, sustainable and delicious produce from Victoria’s finest farmers.

3. Keep checking ‘What’s On at the Convent’ and sign up to the newsletters. There’s something on every day of the year.