by Neometro

Open Journal Open House

Arts & Events - by Open Journal

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Open House Melbourne is an annual event which offers the opportunity to attend guided tours of buildings that would otherwise be closed to the city’s design-devoted general public. It offers a window into the city’s exemplary architectural culture that many faithful Melbournians are proud of, but few have a chance to engage with. With this year’s event scheduled for the last weekend in July (25th and 26th), now is a great time to consider which buildings to put on your shortlist.

Unsure where to start? Ask and you shall receive: the following list sets out the indispensable ‘Stations of Open House Melbourne 2015’. While there are many excellent buildings open to explore, following one of these ‘mini-tours’ will make your architectural pilgrimage a little more thought provoking.

The top nine buildings for 2015 have been clustered into three groups each with a distinct building use, architect or era. Each tour is provided with a few lingering questions that are specifically relevant to the buildings’ underlying ideas. Whilst there are no conclusive answers to these questions, they will at least put a smile on the face of the volunteer tour guides who might’ve been expecting to answer straightforward questions all day.

Contemporary Learning

  1. RMIT Building 80, Lyons
  2. RMIT Design Hub, Sean Godsell
  3. MU Melbourne School of Design, John Wardle & NADAA Architects

These three buildings are all large tertiary education buildings within walking distance of the city. Designed for RMIT and Melbourne University by some of Melbourne’s most prominent architecture practices, the projects each reflect a different approach to the design of teaching and learning space. This difference is not only evident in the projects vastly different formal aesthetics but also in the way they engage with their context.

Melbourne School of Design, Rob Deutscher, Flickr

Melbourne School of Design, Rob Deutscher, Flickr

Things to argue about:

– Each of these architects use sunshading as a major argument to justify their elaborate & expressive façade systems. Do you think this is their primary concern or an alibi for their aesthetic?

– Each building has an interface with a heritage building. Building 80 appears to intersect, the Melbourne School of Design engulfs and the Design Hub stands off. Which strategy is the most respectful? Should contemporary buildings be respectful to heritage?

– Each building embodies a different approach to social learning spaces. Building 80 offers permanent social space dispersed throughout the building, the MSD offers one unified volume that can be changed in use at the end of semester and the Design Hub offers indeterminate/flexible spaces that the student cohort are expected to take ownership of. Will these buildings change the culture of the student bodies that inhabit them?

The many renovations of ARM 

  1. Shrine of Remembrance, ARM
  2. RMIT Storey Hall, ARM
  3. Arts Center Melbourne, Hamer Hall, ARM

This group of buildings have all been renovated by the architecture practice ‘Ashton Raggatt McDougall’ over the course of the past two decades. Each project has won (or will win) awards for public architecture on the national stage, and together offer an illuminating window into the leading edge of the Australian industry. As with the university projects outlined above, each of these projects vary dramatically in their formal language. However, this diversity arises from the internal machinations of a single practice adapting their approach to suit each problem rather than individual practices.


Shrine of Remembrance, Jonathan Lin, Flickr.

Things to argue about:

Each of these projects use colour extensively. Will this ‘date’ the buildings in decades to come? Why is it important for a building to be ‘timeless’?

The courtyards around the Shrine of Remembrance can be read as ‘bomb craters’ and the sun shading element as a ‘giant poppy.’ Why did the design team deem this literal approach appropriate? Is this a new approach to architecture or does it have a long lineage?

Power, privacy & prestige

  1. Parliament House, Peter Kerr
  2. Supreme Court of Victoria, A.L Smith & A.E Johnson
  3. The Australian Club, Lloyd Tayler & J Charlesworth

Built prior to 1900, these buidlings showcase the wealth and prosperity of Victoria in the gold rush period. Designed by émigré architects from the United Kingdom the projects each showcase both the ambition of the colony and their deference to the English architectural canon. The architects utilise classical architectural language to invoke impressions of power and prestige that inturn reflect the institutions these buildings house.

Parliament House, State Library of Victoria Collection, Flickr

Parliament House, State Library of Victoria Collection, Flickr

Things to argue about:

These buildings would fit the context of almost any city in Western Europe. Is having a Parliament or Supreme Court building that is particular to Melbourne important? What would make a building ‘Australian’ in character?

The original scheme for the parliament included a dome on the Bourke St Axis but it was never completed. Should the dome be built now and if so should it follow the original plans?

These buildings all appear more dignified and foreboding than their neighbours. Which architectural elements communicate this? If the institution these buildings housed were different would the buildings still have the same effect?


The full program for Open House Melbourne 2015 can be viewed here.


Words: Will Brouwers


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