Inspiration from Australia: My Tete-A-Tete with Melbourne’s Unique Architecture

Text and Images By Anubha Sarkar

‘I don’t think that architecture is only about shelter, is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.’

– Zaha Hadid

Echoing the prestigious architect Zaha Hadid’s statement, Melbourne’s architecture makes you stop in your tracks, perhaps excites you or maybe just even baffles you. Not surprisingly,  in 2016 the Victorian government approved a tower for Melbourne’s city centre to be designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Rest assured, every step that you take in Melbourne’s city centre exposes you to either the architecture of new or old. When I was asked to write a piece on Melbourne’s architecture, I mulled it over a bit and decided that instead of retelling a history of Melbourne and its consequent impact on architecture, I would tell the story through my eyes and first impression. There are some buildings and  structures that have particularly caught my eye, and to those I keep revisiting, keep rethinking my perception of them. So join me in reading about some of the architecture that always catches my eye in the city centre of Melbourne.

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Yarra River

The Southern Cross Station in Melbourne: A Sea of Undulating Waves

When I first caught a glimpse of the Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, the immediate impression I had is that of undulating waves. Waves that go on forever even when your eye reaches the endpoint of the station. The wave of crowds teeming under the station parallels the movement of the wave shaped roof of the station. The station serves as a terminus for interstate, regional and metropolitan trains, and the more I traverse beneath the station as I am either changing trains or getting into the city, I can’t help but be reminded of how this wave structure is also emblematic of creation of Melbourne itself. Melbourne has historically witnessed waves of immigration from different parts of the world and continues to attract immigrants. In light of the anti-immigrant rhetoric worldwide, the Southern Cross Station’s existence is sometimes both ironic and comforting.

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Exterior of the Southern Cross Station, Melbourne
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Interior of the Southern Cross Station, Melbourne

 The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art: An Exercise in Postmodern Architecture

The other building that immediately had me stopping in my tracks was the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA). I struggled to initially understand the seemingly unstructured block of oxidised iron rising amidst a desert, and adjacent to this confusing rusty block, a humongous cylindrical pipe towering above you. The building is all-encompassing and never ending, and reminded me of numerous modern cultural institutes I had encountered in my stay in Rotterdam, Netherlands (another city known for its eclectic architecture). Little wonder I could not help but bracket this kind of architecture as post-modern, since the building had no end or start, and the spaces within flowed into each other, with no strict demarcations. Completed in 2002, the ACCA building houses the Contemporary Art Centre, Chunky Move and Playbox, and true to its post-modern aesthetics, the unified spaces although remarkable, had me confused and lost since I couldn’t figure out my venue for a conference! I did not know where the entrance was or where did the space end!

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The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art: An Exercise in Postmodern Architecture

The State Library of Victoria: A Place to Get Lost In

After tiding over the waves of Southern Cross Station and confusion over the entrances at ACCA, true to my bibliophile nature, I found myself gravitating towards the State Library of Victoria. It was inevitable that I found myself in there, lost in the 19th century old cultural icon of Melbourne. The towering pillars of the entrance are reminiscent of the Pantheon pillars of Rome and Paris, underscoring the classic European style of architecture. My first visit to the library was a delight as I stepped into history, surrounded by ancient books encouraging me to delve deep into their depth of knowledge.

The famous La Trobe Reading room with its warm inviting wooden chairs and desks, in no time, attracted me into opening a book and spending unaccountable hours in there. I would like to point out the importance of public spaces and libraries, wherein residents from all walks of life are free to walk in, study, pick up a book or just roam the halls. Too often such cultural heritage buildings and need for public spaces are neglected in many parts of the world, and thus it was a delight to see that the library was a thriving place!

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State Library of Victoria- Facade
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State Library of Victoria- Interiors

Royal Arcade of Melbourne: A Victorian Shopping Arcade Preserved in Modern Melbourne

Now, before the editor bites my head off for writing beyond the word limit, the last place I want to take you to is the Royal Arcade of Melbourne. It commenced functioning in 1870 and is now the oldest shopping arcade that still survives in Melbourne. With black and white square tiles lining the floor, and dotted by quaint looking jewellery, bakeries and Russian doll shops, perhaps what really warmed the cockles of my heart is that it reminded me of many historical shopping arcades in Europe. The kinds that you might find in Brussels, Paris or Berlin. This is not a surprise since Australia was a British colony in the past. Every time I walk down the lane, I become nostalgic of my trips I made in Europe. This is a fine example of surviving and well preserved Victorian Architecture dotting the city centre of Melbourne. Time to sign off and let the images talk for the arcade!

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Royal Arcade of Melbourne-Interiors
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Royal Arcade of Melbourne- Domed Roof

About the Author

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Anubha Sarkar is currently a PhD candidate at Monash University where she explores the connections between creativity, culture and economy. When failing miserably in following a schedule for her research, she can be found loitering in libraries or galleries, and subsequently gorging on food. She can be reached at anubhasarkar@gmail.com .

 

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