Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Melbourne Open House

Mum was up from the country on business just in time for Melbourne Open House. This event gives people an opportunity to see inside some of the city's most significant buildings, a mix of heritage and modern architectural marvels. It's a chance to be a tourist in your own city. Early Sunday morning found us on a tram in high spirits and feeling just a little bit smug - we were going to be there super early and we'd already formulated a plan of attack! Only to find queues for some venues stretching for blocks... Everywhere we turned were determined looking people clutching little blue maps. All looking maddeningly patient in face of the queues.

We did some rapid change-of-planning. Top marks for doing it on the fly but zero points for map reading - how did I miss the opening of Queen's Hall at the State Library of Victoria? The slv is one of my dearly loved buildings! And there were rumours of the Regent Theatre's art deco ballroom being open though clearly not part of the program.

I've had to pinch a few photos (sorry if you're uncredited but I've lost my list of references). Somehow my camera, which has made it through rural China quite happily, had a bit of a hissy fit when asked to take photos in the Melbourne cbd. Luckily, a photographic competition has been held in conjunction with the open day. So in a week or so I'll be able to show you how beautiful the venues really were.

271 Collins Street - Former National Bank of Australasia (1927)
Up the elevator and through a very pedestrian modern renovation you come upon some magnificent hidden rooms. The board room and dining room of the old National Bank of Australasia are fully lined in oak and Tassie blackwood. Though 1920s this is no art deco do. Built on classical lines and conveying a sense of weight and stability, these are rooms that would certainly make you feel very important. The ground floor banking chamber is marvellously grand - all white marble with an ornate high ceiling (though we had to sneak into the Lindt chocolate house to see it). [pic from SLV]

Athenaeum Library (1842)
Scooting past the theatre downstairs to pop up to the library. This the first Mechanic's Institute in Victoria and so, one of the oldest cultural institutions in the state. It still operates as a subscription library, though I question how sustainable this is. It certainly is a charming space and I had a good chat with Jill the lovely librarian. It houses the sweetest elevator ever - all wood panelled with a small recessed dome for the vintage light fixture. There's also the old bakelite telephone exchange (complete with the connection for Miss Otterthwaite). The wooden shelves are cosy, comfortable and sadly impractical. They'll soon make way for standard library shelving. I did wonder where they would be sold...

Treasury precinct (1850s)
I haven't spent much time up the government end of town and I'm ashamed to say I discovered a good many official buildings that I never even knew existed, including the old Government Printers Office. And these are BIG buildings! There was some charming etched glass but my favourite moment was the description of WWII precautions. The Treasury Gardens were completely dug with trenches. Judging from the picture I'm not entirely sure how much protection these would have provided. [pic from The Argus Newspaper, SLV]

Tasma Terrace (1878)
Formerly upmarket boarding house for politicians and the wealthy, now home of the National Trust. This is a series of extremely fussy, much wallpapered houses - full Victorian splendour! This was designed by the same fellow who did the nearby Windsor Hotel and it is interesting to see how he planned on a small scale. The rooms are neatly proportioned and cosy and yes, we talked about how lovely it would have been to live there. [pic from inail1972 on flikr]

St Pauls Cathedral (started 1880)
This was truly a grand experience. This is a Melbourne landmark. It's part of the busy intersection of cathedral, the Young and Jackson Hotel, Fed Square and Flinders Street Station. I've gone past it a billion times. I've kept an eye on the ongoing restoration work - part of which afforded the opportunity to watch traditional craftsmen such as stonemasons at work. But I've never, ever gone inside because, well, it's a church. In cathedrals such as this it's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer extent of decoration. A special feature here is the remarkable tiles. I've never seen a church with tiled walls. The look is almost Middle Eastern or, according to a tale told by an old geezer with a badge (as distinct from young geezer with dog collar), like a pub.

Collins Street Baptist Church 1845
What an absolute contrast to the cathedral! This building is light and open, in keeping with the Baptist understanding of the building - not a sacred space but a place for a community to gather. It has an airy white interior with soft pale lavender and green stained glass details. Most restful and welcoming.

Capitol Theatre (1924)
Oh the fabulous picture palace! The Capitol is now owned by RMIT Uni and used as a lecture theatre (which I must say is better than the Church of Christ hall I had my accounting lectures in). The building was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony (who planned Canberra). And they more than fulfilled their design brief to create a cave-like interior. The theatre itself has a ceiling that most resembles geometric stalagtites, that used to be backlit with coloured lights that would change in time to music. It's a bit sad to see these aren't working anymore but with over 2000 light globes in the ceiling and some less than OHS compliant access points I can see why they've not addressed this. Much of the theatre is in a sad state, thanks to the ill conceived conversion of the theatre foyer into an arcade sometime in the 1960s. We got to visit the upper circle lounge foyer and mezzanine level, where an RMIT lecturer gave a vivid description of its glory days - complete with gentlemen's smoking room and ladies' boudoir. There were lots of photos, scraps of the original carpet and hints at the rich bush-toned colour scheme - oh it was glamorous!

Melbourne Unity (1929)
Oh the queues! We never made it to this building. It was all I wanted to see. It has a marvellous art deco boardroom. Apparently. The tower has magnificent views. So I'm told. It used to have a highly polished dance floor and an aviary of Australian wild birds but that was in the thirties. Maybe next year. [pic from the MUBB website]

We had a glorious day. The weather was perfect. Blue skies and just enough chill to make walking a pleasure. It's exciting being in the city during an event such as this, such a buzz. You find yourself chatting to people in queues and it inspires you to check out the architectural features of other buildings as you walk along the street. And of course, we had tea at the gallery!



i luv living vicariously through your descriptions... more please!!!!

Curvy Kitty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curvy Kitty said...

Why don't I take you and Sailor Lily out to tea at the gallery some time? My dance card is a bit full at the moment but maybe in a few weeks? Their scones are ever so lovely...


sounds like a plan and a date for the future - we just need to 'tea' it up with Lily!!!!!

larrythelibrarian said...

Did someone mention tea?