You will find much of Melbourne's most notable architectural sites along its main thoroughfare. Take a gentle stroll – or better still a bicycle tour – to get to know these buildings.
Architects: Denton Corker Marshall
Location: Carlton Gardens, Carlton
In designing the Melbourne Museum, architects Denton Corker Marshall were faced with the challenge of complementing the old building with an uncompromisingly contemporary structure. Its cantilevered east-west roof, with a further plane jutting out toward Canning Street, is visible for miles. Denton Corker Marshall are often called Australia's greatest iconoclasts and are known for their angled structures and cantilevered planes, as well as their use of colour, which is evident in the cubic Children's Museum at its western end.
Royal Exhibition Building
Architect: Joseph Reed
Location: Carlton Gardens, Carlton
Designed by the architect of the State Library and the Melbourne Town Hall the Royal Exhibition Building, with its wooden frame, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 as one of the last remaining buildings of its kind. Conceived at the height of the mid-19th century International Exhibitions movement, which demonstrated the confidence and achievements of the Industrial Age, the building has survived many incarnations, ranging from housing the inaugural Australian Federal Parliament to an influenza hospital.
The dome was modeled on that of the Florence Cathedral.
RMIT University Building 8
Architects: Edmond and Corrigan
Location: 368 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Edmond and Corrigan's RMIT Building 8 is home to the School of Architecture and Design. Corrigan designed a colourful, patterned mask for the façade, which veils and extends an existing building that once consisted of pragmatic concrete and glass blocks. The architecture program is housed on the top floor, and from the street below you can see – jauntily cantilevered – a bright tiled protrusion that accommodates the meeting room. Each floor is fondly tiled in colours inspired by Victorian football teams.
Architects: Tappin Gilbert and Dennehy (original building),
Ashton Raggatt McDougall (ARM) (redevelopment)
Completed: 1887 (original building), 1995 (redevelopment)
Location: 342 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Legend has it that idiosyncratic Storey Hall, designed by ARM architects, was kept carefully veiled during construction because it was going to be a controversial building (needless to say, it was). The building was originally conceived in a neoclassical style and has accommodated the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society and passed through the hands of the Women's Political Association in the past. The colours of the new façade, green and purple, make reference to these earlier inhabitants. In the interior, a further reference is made to the so-called Yellow Peril sculpture, which is now located on the forecourt of ACCA.
State Library of Victoria
Architects: Joseph Reed (original building), Ancher Mortlock & Woolley
in association with Geyer (redevelopment)
Completed: 1856 (original building), 1990–2005 (redevelopment)
Location: 328 Swanston Street, Melbourne
The recently refurbished State Library of Victoria with its terraced lawns in front of the neo-classical portico offers the most successful public platform along Swanston Street. A visit to the famous domed reading room is a must.
Newly inscribed on the interior walls that support what was once one of the largest domes in the Southern Hemisphere are the words of writers reflecting on words, literature and libraries: 'One reads in order to ask questions', writes Kafka. 'Books are the threads from which our culture and civilisation are woven', suggests Richard W. Clement.
Architects: Kisho Kurokawa, Bates Smart + McCutcheon and Hassell
(original building), Ashton Raggatt McDougall (refurbishment)
Completed: 1988 (original), 2005 (refurbishment)
Location: Corner Swanston and LaTrobe streets, Melbourne
The Melbourne Central Shopping Complex is a reminder of the influx of foreign architects in the 1980s, who were commissioned with large-scale construction projects in the city. The fact that the original mall was infamous for its disconnection from the urban fabric of the city was often attributed to the fact that the architects weren't familiar with the character of this city. Local firm ARM was invited to alleviate the problem in 2005. They did so by creating new openings to the street and streamlining its interiors, replicating Melbourne's laneway system to enable shoppers to traverse several city blocks while remaining undercover.
Architect: Nonda Katsalidis | Completed: 1999
Location: Corner La Trobe and Queen streets, Melbourne
Taking a detour toward the south-western end of La Trobe Street, and the last remaining block of the Hoddle Grid, you'll catch a glimpse of the sculptural Republic Tower. The 36- level tower was one of the first residential high-rises built in the city and contributed to a strategy aiming to encourage an influx of private dwellings in inner Melbourne. Its architect later designed the 92-storey Eureka Tower at Southbank. The Republic Tower's prominent billboard features works by different artists, making evident the strong connections between the city's artists and its architects.
Architects: Denton Corker Marshall, Lyons Architects, Kerstin Thompson Architects, John Wardle Architects, McBride Charles Ryan
Location: Corner of Swanston and Lonsdale streets, Melbourne
Adjacent to the State Library is the Queen Victoria Village (QV) development, the design of which saw a diverse cross section of this city's most renowned architecture practices interpret the character of contemporary Melbourne. This
montage of buildings spans an entire city block, incorporating laneways and a small square, though what masquerades as a series of public spaces is actually a commercial shopping mall. In addition there are around 600 apartments, car parks and the 29-level headquarters of BHP Billiton.
Architects: John Wardle Architects, Hassell + NHArchitecture
Location: 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
Toward the perimeter of the Hoddle Grid at Spring Street you'l discover an office block named Urban Workshop, which towers above a collection of small-scale historical buildings. This building has received much praise – and many awards – for its new interpretation of public and private space. By making this space available for anyone to enjoy, the planning permit of the building was extended from 10 to 32 storeys. Again, the use of the laneway is employed as an urban characteristic for Melbourne. Its foyer is strung with sturdy, custom-designed furniture, reminiscent of oversized wooden building blocks.
RMIT Capitol Theatre
Architects: Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin
Location: 113 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Capitol Theatre was designed by Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin, the first licensed female architect in the US. The pair had won the competition to plan Canberra in 1912 and subsequently moved their practice to Australia. Opened in 1924, this remarkable theatre was more recently repurposed as a lecture hall for RMIT University. The cavernous interior is strung with elegant, geometrical stalactites that form the receptive surface to a magic lantern array of 4000 coloured lights, as the walls of the theatre threaten to become both immaterial and all-engulfing. Robyn Boyd, one of Melbourne's most renowned architectural personalities and an ardent campaigner for modernism in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, was cited in The Age in 1965 saying that the Capitol Theatre was 'the best cinema that was ever built or is ever likely to be built'. Guided tours take place on
Flinders Street Station
Architects: JW Fawcett and HPC Ashworth
Location: Corner of Swanston and Flinders streets, Melbourne
This endlessly busy, large Edwardian structure is riddled with urban myths around its design. The most outlandish theory proclaims that the station was originally intended for Bombay, but that a jumble in a London mailhouse resulted in the plans being sent to Melbourne instead. Commuters disappear into and spill out of Flinders Street train station, while others huddle on the stairs beneath a line of clocks (it's a notorious meeting spot). Preserved in dusty neglect, a ballroom – which many Melbourne residents would love to see restored – is hidden somewhere above all the commuter traffic.
Architects: Lab Architecture Studio in association with Bates Smart
Location: Flinders Street, Melbourne
Across from Flinders Street Station, Federation Square stands as a plateau distinct from the city proper. The clusters of shard-like buildings are the architectural debut of Lab Architecture and was designed it in association with Bates Smart Architects. Fed Square's most distinctive design feature is the façade system applied on most of its buildings, which utilises a new understanding of surface geometries. The architects devised a modular system of three cladding materials – zinc, glass and sandstone – which are fashioned into the form of five different triangular shapes of the same size and proportion. Since the Square's inception, the Melbourne public – from taxi drivers to architectural historians – has been engaged in a continuous debate on what constitutes good architecture.
State Theatre and Hamer Hall
Architects: Roy Grounds, Peter McIntyre and Bob Sturrock (Spire)
Completed: 1984 (Arts Centre), 1982 (Hamer Hall), 1996 (Spire redevelopment)
Location: 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Once you cross the Yarra via Princes Bridge, you enter Melbourne city's arts precinct. The squat, bunker-like architecture of the theatre and concert complex creates a sharp contrast to its distant European neo-classical cousins. The Spire that rises above it, a Melbourne landmark, including the gold-coloured webbing around its lower section, simulates the folds of a ballerina's tutu. Current and future development of the arts precinct will eventually link the State Theatre, Hamer Hall and National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) along a redefined axis towards the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) on Sturt Street.
The National Gallery of Victoria
Architects: Roy Grounds, Mario Bellini & Metier3 (redevelopment)
Completed: 1968 (original building), 2003 (redevelopment)
Location: 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) was also originally designed by architect Roy Grounds who – upon splitting with his partners – retained the commission that the firm had won in 1959. The building – with renovations by Mario Bellini in association with Metier3 – is a bluestone box with a canted lid with a arched entry. An outline of the façade could be sketched with just a few lines, and its austere block-work recalls the (nearby) Shrine of Remembrance's monumental distribution of stone. Hidden inside, beyond the foyer the great hall features a ceiling of stained glass in kaleidoscopic abstract patterns conceived by the Australian artist Leonard French.
The Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) and Recital Centre
Architects: Ashton Raggatt McDougall
Location: Corner Southbank Boulevard and Sturt Street, Southbank
This complex is described by its architects as 'non-identical Siamese twins' because they are co-located but each expresses a different architectural identity. What the two venues share is a love of the nighttime, when theatre-goers and music appreciators venture out. The twins, in particular the glowing white lines that trace their network of parallax optical effects across the MTC, are therefore best viewed at night. Each venue has its own discrete foyer within which nooks and crannies offer several opportunities for a pre-event rendezvous.
Victorian College of the Arts and Music (VCAM) School of Drama
Architects: Edmond and Corrigan
Location: 28 Dodds Street, Southbank
Suitably adjacent to the new MTC stands the Victorian College of the Arts and Music (VCAM) School of Drama. Wedged into a street frontage that is increasingly dedicating itself to the performing arts, the School hides behind a façade that acts like a layered mask. In the 1970s Corrigan studied in the US and was influenced by the work of Robert Venturi. An interest in the Australian variety of the ugly and the ordinary, a celebration of the suburban vernacular, together with the elevation of the decorated shed, are all at play here.
Centre for Ideas
Architects: Minifie Nixon
Location: VCAM Campus, 234 St Kilda Rd, Southbank
Somewhat off the beaten track, the Centre for Ideas emerges unexpectedly like a remarkable backyard folly. Architect Paul Minifie suggests that the inspiration for the generation of the Centre for Ideas project was derived from a chance encounter with an article examining Jonathan Kellen's dust diagrams. This became the point of formal departure, combined with an algorithmic process derived from a Voronoi tessellation. The dimpled reflectivity of the cladding covers shallow cone sections that culminate towards the interior of the building as window orifices or chrome hub-caps.
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
Architects: Wood Marsh Architecture
Location: 111 Sturt Street, Southbank
A further detour from the axis of St Kilda Road leads you to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA). The ACCA complex stands like the great red rock of Uluru in the midst of its own desert, where the infamous sculpture Vault – better known as the 'Yellow Peril' – has also found its final resting place. The building is covered with massive panels dusted with a patina of rubicund rust and is – unbeknownst to many – suspended over a freeway bridge. At first it appears that the rusted hull is impervious, but discreet openings fold out of the rough skin allowing entry.
The Shrine of Remembrance
Architects: Phillip Hudson and James Wardrop (original building), Ashton Raggatt McDougall (visitor centre)
Completed: 1934, 1954 (forecourt), 2003 (visitor centre)
Location: Domain, St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Looming paternally across the city, stands the monumental Shrine of Remembrance. Each year on Remembrance Day on 11 November at exactly 11am, the word 'love', etched in marble, begins to glow as the sunrays fall through an opening in the Shrine's apex, which is modelled on an Aztec-inspired stepped pyramid. The Shrine was designed by two returned soldier architects to commemorate the First World War, with the forecourt added after the Second World War. Recently, a purpose-built Visitors Centre was added. Known as 'the undercroft', it is visible from the forecourt as two stone pavilions flanking the mound to the Shrine's east-facing side. The 2003 winner of the highest architectural prize in Victoria, the development was commended for its successful intervention with heritage architecture.