Off the drawing board

Patrick Ferry and Rebekah Ludlow
Thursday, 14 July 2022

Reflecting its rich history and culture, Melbourne is renowned for its amazing public architecture. Gems range from local post offices to iconic landmarks such as the Exhibition Building and former General Post Office (GPO).

Windows into a city's history

The designs of many buildings once owned or leased by the Australian Government across Melbourne (and the rest of Victoria) are documented in series B3712 – Folders of Construction Drawings.

The drawings include elevations, schematics, floor plans, cross-sections and engineering and mechanical layouts.

Collectively, these and other records in the collection (such as historic photographs) provide 'windows' into the history of Melbourne as a city.

The earliest drawings date from the 1850s and relate to buildings which were built by the colonial Victorian government and later transferred to the Australian Government.

The charm is in the detail

Early hand-drawn and water-coloured drawings are exquisite works of art in their own right. They are also beautiful in their intricacy, often detailing minute design elements such as fittings and decorations.

Ghosts of buildings past

There are also traces in the archives of buildings which have long since disappeared from Melbourne’s urban landscape. These help document the evolution of individual sites.

One example is the original wooden and corrugated iron drill hall and orderly's rooms built on the corner of William and A'Beckett Streets, Melbourne. These buildings were demolished in the late 1930s to make way for a new, art-deco style drill hall built for the Australian Army Medical Corps. This building, which is now the headquarters of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) is also documented in the collection.

Unrealised visions

Structures which never got off the drawing board are also documented in the collection. Detailed designs of the Victorian Parliament building show what the Melbourne landmark would have looked like had the proposed dome been built. These particular drawings were acquired by the Australian Government when the building served as Federal Parliament House from 1901 to 1927.

Other items in the collection attest to further unrealised architectural visions for Melbourne. For example, the official 'bid book' for the 1956 Olympic Games contains artistic renders of an imposing, colosseum-like stadium which was never built.