The Majesty of Melbourne’s Architecture

Melbourne presents an eclectic mix of old and new architecture, but in essence the renewal of the last 30 years shows some excellent planning and demonstrable common sense in the preservation of the essential heart and soul of this great Southern City. With extensive heritage overlays and protections, the absolute carnage of the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s was halted. The ‘slums’ of Carlton, South Melbourne, Fitzroy and North Melbourne have now been protected from further assault. In reality these were not slums but areas full of classical Victorian buildings of great beauty.

Many beautiful buildings have been saved and what’s more any new construction around listed buildings is required to be sympathetic to the existing and original architecture.

The Royal Arcade

There are some significant examples of this. The Royal Arcade is a magnificent Victorian style feature running between the Bourke St Mall and Little Collins St. Originally constructed in 1869, the Arcade is famous for ‘Gaunt’s Clock’ where two giant statues of Gog and Magog have ‘struck’ the hour since 1892.


Charles Webb, Architect

The original architect was Charles Webb who was quite a well known and active architect in the late 19th century. His works included the iconic Windsor Hotel in Spring St, the South Melbourne Town Hall and the famous Tasma Terrace in Parliament Place East Melbourne. It is a testament to his work that each of these locations is still standing and intact as well as the exquisitely beautiful Royal Arcade. Much of the effort to preserve this valuable living history can be attributed to the National Trust and its tireless work in preserving the history of Melbourne and its gracious buildings.

Windsor Hotel

South Melbourne Town Hall

Tasma Terrace

The Block Arcade

The Block Arcade, at 282 Collins St, is another fantastic example of living history in a modern city. Built in 1892, Trip Advisor has listed the Arcade at number 4 in its ‘Australia’s Top Ten Landmarks’.


Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

The architect was David C Askew. His brief was to produce something similar to the ‘Galleria Vittorio Emanuele’ in Milan. Richly decorated with mosaic tile flooring, glass canopy, wrought iron and carved stone (masonry) finishes, it is an extraordinary building that has delighted generations of Melbournians who may have enjoyed morning or afternoon tea at the Hopetown tea rooms, an original feature of the Block Arcade. It was originally and formerly known as ‘Carpenters Lane’. Once completed the original shopkeepers petitioned to have the name changed to ‘The Block’ and it is still known as the ‘Block Arcade’ today.

Hopetown Tea Rooms

The Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building is a World Heritage Site listed building located between Nicholson St (the entrance) and Rathdown St (the rear) in Melbourne’s Exhibition and Carlton Gardens.


Joseph Reed, Architect

The building’s Architect was Joseph Reed. Joseph Reed designed many of Melbourne’s famous landmarks. These included the State Library of Victoria, the Bank of New South Wales in Collins St, the Geelong Town Hall, the Melbourne Town Hall, Rippon Lea in Elsternwick. He also completed the work of Architect William Butterfield in the construction of St Paul’s Cathedral. As well he was responsible for the Independent Church in Collins St, Scots’ Church across the road and the Melbourne Trades Hall.

State Library of Victoria

The Bank of New South Wales

Geelong Town Hall

Melbourne Town Hall

Rippon Lea Estate

St Paul’s Cathedral

Independent Church, Collins St

Melbourne Trades Hall

His style was said to be ‘eclectic’ and included Italianate, Classic, Gothic and Scottish Baronial. His crowning achievement however would be acknowledged as being the Exhibition Buildings, completed in 1880 for the International Exposition. Add to this the now demolished Menzies Hotel and it is easy to see that Joseph Reed has had a massive influence on the ultimate look and feel of the City of Melbourne.

The Architectural style of the Exhibition Buildings is said to be ‘Rundbogenstil, Gothic Architecture’. It is meticulously restored with opulent interior, expansive galleries and a soaring dome. The Great Hall is extensively used for trade shows, cultural events and community events.

Museum of Victoria

And adjacent to the existing Exhibition Buildings is the new Museum of Victoria (Museum Victoria) at 11 Nicholson St. The Exhibition Buildings are now part of the Museum Victoria Campus. Here there is a wonderful example of melding the old and new together with a gracious complimentary style. The Melbourne Museum presents ongoing exhibitions and also houses Melbourne’s IMAX theatre.

In March the Museum and Sovereign Hill will be presenting ‘A Victorian Silhouette’ featuring 1850s Day Wear which may give even more insight into Melbourne’s past but on a personal and more human level.

We will continue with the theme of the past meeting the future next week. But it is plain to see that engaging an Architect with real vision can result in lasting beauty and enjoyment for generations. Balance Architecture and Interior Design salute our past Architectural Masters in Charles Webb, David C Askew and particularly Joseph Reed and his successive partners. All have left us with a lasting sense of the times they lived in and the magnificent vistas of Melbourne we still enjoy today.

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