Category Archives: Architecture

The Commons Graffiti

The Commons is a Brunswick residential complex design by Breathe Architecture’s Jeremy McLeod that received the 2014 Victorian Architecture Award for Sustainable Architecture as the year’s ‘‘exemplar of apartment living.’’ Read more about the architecture award in The Age but I want to examine the way that it integrates with the locale in particular the graffiti in the area.DSCF0137

It is not an inspiring locale, at the end of a dead end street on a block between train tracks and a panel beaters. It was previously the site of a single story factory/warehouse stood surrounded by a chain link fence. In its favour it is close to Sydney Road and very close to Anstey Station train station. Anstey has the standard utilitarian construction of a Melbourne railway station from the 1970s, the chain link fence, only the signage has been updated.

I have watched the developments progress as I passed by on my regular ride along the Upfield bike path or when traveling by train in and out of the city.

Now plants are growing up the chain balcony rails, of this multi-story building with an attractive facade facing the railway. On the ground floor there is the coffee shop, Steam Junkies and two large rainwater tanks sit out the back. It contributes and improves its locale rather than exploit it. The Commons is the only building is an entrance to the Upfield bicycle path.

There plenty of graffiti along the bicycle path but the brick walls beneath the second decorative story facade of The Commons had only been tagged a couple of time since its construction. The tags were not removed. It was unlikely that the walls were going to stay that way as they were along the graffiti covered Upfield bike path and it appears that it was never the intention.

Then this week came the Sinch tribute, a massive legal piece that covered The Commons lower walls and water tanks. An awesome group effort featuring parts of the AWOL and Id crews along a few others. See Land of Sunshine for more photos. There aren’t that many graffiti tributes in Melbourne (see my post Rest In Peace).  Sinch (1988 – 2014) died in June; Benjamin Millar “Tributes for street artist electrocuted while train surfing” in The Age.

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Drewery Lane

Wandering the streets and lane ways of the inner city I found myself once again in Drewery Lane. The lane extends less than 100m between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale street and runs parallel to Swanston Walk. I’ve never had any reason to be in Drewery Lane and have only wandered into once or twice before by accident.

It is a surreal location, suddenly removed from the main city streets and dominated by a large white sculpture, on the front of Baroq House, depicting an entwined male and female figures about to metamorphosis into one the London plane trees planted along the lane. The London plane trees, although common street tree in Melbourne, are an unusual feature for a Melbourne’s lane.

Like many of Melbourne’s lanes it is virtually a pedestrian zone because you would never expect a vehicle to actually drive along it. Mostly because there is generally a van making deliveries blocking one section so that even pedestrians have to squeeze past.

The short lane contains a mix of the boutique apartments, the backdoors of businesses and the nightclub, Baroq House. Melbourne Fresh Daily provides information about the patrons of Baroq House and its cocktails, along with photographs of the lane way and some of the street art.

As usual for Melbourne’s lanes there is plenty of street art. Dean Sunshine has, of course, photographs of one of the larger works of aerosol art in the lane by Putos, Seige, Caper et. al.

Amongst the other buildings along the lane there is Dovers Printery (also called “Sniders and Abrahams Warehouse”). Snider and Abrahams were manufacturing tobacconists in the 19th and early 20th century and their seven storey Chicagoesque style office, factory and warehouse building, now heritage listed, was constructed in 1909 – 1910. It has now been converted into two bedroom, two bathroom apartments with secure parking.

It is “the world’s oldest example of a flat plate reinforced concrete structure” according to real estate agent Mark Connellan; a slight exaggeration. It was the first in the Australia, there were serval earlier buildings in the USA that used the then patented Turner Mushroom System including the Johnson-Bovey in Minneapolis (1906; razed) and the 1906 Hoffman (a.k.a. Marshall) Building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The architect of the Dover Printery, the American-Australian Hugh Ralston Crawford had obtained the license to use Turner Mushroom System of flat-slab reinforced concrete floors that allowed for thinner slabs and broader spans. Basically it is the first building in Melbourne to employ the modern construction technique typical of modern multi-story buildings.

The some debate about the name of the lane, currently underlined in red to indicate a spelling error. eMelbourne suggests three possibilities. Was it changed from Brewery to Drewery? Or was it named after London’s Drury Lane as suggested by historian Weston Bate in his book Essential but unplanned: the story of Melbourne’s lanes (1994)? Most likely it was the named after the chemist and city councillor Thomas Drewery, as these local politicians love to have their names recorded for posterity.

There are three side branches a lane, an alley and a place leading off Drewery Lane, most of them are also called Drewery, although one is name Snider Lane. The dead end Snider Lane is the one that most retains the aspect of service lane packed with rubbish bins. Taped to the wall above the rubbish bins of the restaurants and hotels is a printed note of complaint in English and Chinese telling the businesses to lock their bins to prevent junkies from going through them and leaving a mess.

Junkies going through restaurant rubbish bins? As I turn back into Lonsdale Street, a groups of three young men pass me and I can hear their conversation. “What are you on?” asks one. ‘Methadone,’ his companion replies.


Sculptures in the Moat

In March 2014, a homeless man Gary Makin went snorkelling in the NGV’s moat collecting the coins. He was arrested – he should gone equipped with a buskers licence and told the police that he was a living sculpture. He would have been the most artistic thing that has been in the NGV’s moat for years.

That was until a few days ago when street sculptor, Will Coles placed some of his concrete giant soya sauce fish into it.

The moat of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is now mostly empty, except for the prosaic coins and fountains. Once there were sculptures standing in its waters. Geoffrey Bartlett’s Messenger 1983 stood in the moat before being moved to the sculpture garden in the back of the NGV. Four years later Deborah Halpern’s Angel (1987-89) stood in the NGV’s before being moved to Birrarung Marr in 2006.

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

As a psychogeographer I am fascinated by the moats around Australian cultural institutions. There is something curiously medieval about moats. There are moats at Melbourne Zoo around some of the enclosures; there is also a moat around La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus. A moat, even an ornamental one, creates a clear separation between one area and another.

At the time of their design, La Trobe Uni opened 1967 and the NGV in 1968, their architects were clearly expressed with these moats the cultural divisions in Australia between the cultured and the barbarian hordes. The moat around the bastion of culture that is the NGV on St. Kilda Road symbolically removes it from the rest of the world, creating a fortress or a sacred island to protect the art inside.

Now there are no sculptures in the NGV’s moat; Will Coles sculptures have been removed. Now there only a few fountains including the curved steel fountain at the city end of the moat, Nautilus dedicated to the architect of the NGV, Roy Grounds.

Then there is the famous water wall entrance of the NGV that still delights small children. Originally the NGV had more courtyards and fountains, regularly spitting out jets of water amidst rocks. I find fountains in art galleries quaint, but there are a surprising number of water features in art galleries including MOMA.

Recently a friend asked me if I would move on to writing about fountains now that I had completed writing my book on public sculpture (Melbourne’s Sculptures – from the colonial to the ephemeral, due to be published by Melbourne Books later this year). I feel a kind of dread and can already smell the chlorine.


Of Wool & Slow Art

“I’m hopping that the sheep like the show.” Dylan Martorell told me.

Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorell, from the Slow Art Collective (SAC) have made a gateway for the Wool Week exhibition in the Atrium at Federation Square. A simple but impressive tent of red, orange, yellow and white woollen yarns, held down by eight giant balls of wool, framing the small exhibit of wool in fashion and furnishings. I was amazed that Kato and Martorell were able to pull off such a large elegant work that fitted beautifully with the Atrium’s architecture as often their art tends towards the chaotic.

Wool Week 2014 at Federation Square

Wool Week 2014 at Federation Square

Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorell are part of the Slow Art Collective (SAC) which has been around since 2009. The Slow Art Collective is not a fixed group, its members come and go. It continues to explore ideas around slow art and to challenge the conventional fast cultural exchange. Asking for a deeper reading rather than more.

The slow art is related to the slow food and the slow city movement in that it slows the pace down. Slow art involves bring what you are using in your life into art. If you buy materials they have to be re-used. Most importantly slow art is about slow exchanges of value rather than the fast, monetary exchange of value. It is about the slow absorption of culture through community links by creating something together an blurring the boundary between the artists and viewer. It is a sustainable arts practice, not an extreme solution; a reasonable alternative to deal with real problems in contemporary art practice.

Ironically some of the slow art is created very fast, spontaneous improvisation with humble materials and simple techniques. They have been very prolific in the last five years, only last Sunday I was listening Dylan Martorell audio art in the current exhibition at the Counihan Gallery. Visitors to the Melbourne Now at the NGV might have paused, as my brother and I did, in the SAC’s environmental installation, Marlarky made of recycled materials. Many of the SAC’s installations show an interest in functional architecture – their bamboo poles get used again and again.

A fortnight before I went to see Dylan Martorell and Chaco Kato at their Brunswick studio. I wanted to meet them after seeing their work for the last five years. They were busy working on one of the long bamboo poles, that have been used in many of their exhibitions.

Slow Art Collective at work

Slow Art Collective at work

There were boxes of wool in their studio to be assembled. The work is sponsored by Woolmark Company with a campaign slogan of “live naturally, choose wool”. The company and the campaign appears to be perfect fit for the SAC. After the Wool Week exhibition is finished the wool will be donated to the Knitting Group at Federation Square. In keeping with the idea of slow art the wool will continue to be used and reused.

SAC were attaching bundles of wool ready to be unrolled. They opened up the black plastic wrapping of one that they had prepared earlier, a great seed pods of wool, ready to spring out when installed. But it was impossible to imagine what the finished work would look.

The Wool Week exhibition at Federation Square also features three pens of sheep (rams, lambs and ewes). The sheep appeared to have no opinion of the products of their fleece but ewes were keeping a keen eye on the rams and the many people walking past.

Sheep at Federation Square

Sheep at Federation Square


Keep Hosier Real

Approximately 2000 people visit Hosier Lane every weekend, even on a cold, rainy Sunday in May. On this particular cold, rainy Sunday there were more than the usual number of people in Hosier Lane. People had to squeeze through the crowd that had gathered to rally in protest at a proposed multi-story hotel development in the aerosol paint covered lane.

Bride keeping Hosier Real

If you think that the lesson of the story about the goose that laid the golden egg couldn’t be more obvious, then you are seriously under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both greedy and stupid. The current proposed redevelopment of the old MTC/Chinese theatre site on Russell Street, that backs onto Hosier Lane into a multi-story hotel is not just an inappropriate development, it is a greedy and stupid.

Inner city Melbourne’s rejuvenation, the result of decades of planning, creating an event and spectacle based city brings people into the city. This in turn created a market for restaurants, shops and hotels – hotels, that would include the proposed multi story development.

Now a reasonable person would think that it would be in the interest of a development next to one of Melbourne’s major tourist attractions to be designed appropriately for its location but this would, again, under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both stupid and greedy.

I am not against development; I am not like Jeff Sparrow in Radical Melbourne moaning that the Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters, at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939, is now occupied by a restaurant. What is needed is development that is appropriate to the location, that doesn’t simply occupy the space, that doesn’t simply take things away from the place without giving something back to the area.

Professor Roz Hansen, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for the Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy points that the development doesn’t just threaten the tourist value the street art and graffiti in Hosier Lane it also threatens to overshadow the ‘Winter Garden’ in Federation Square.

This new development will also impact on the Babylonian-revival style Forum Theatre – the proposal admits it has no plans regarding the known vibrations from this live music venue. No doubt after it is constructed they will make a complaint and attempt to shut down the venue?

This is not to forget that Hosier Lane is distinctly different to the designed attraction of Federation Square or even the heritage listing of the Forum Theatre. The development also threatens services to the homeless that are provided by the Livingroom and Youth Projects in Hosier Lane. As well as, the pedestrian zone that the lane way has become.

Adam Bandt Keep Hosier Real

Describing these developers as “the real vandals” as Adam Bandt, Federal Member for Melbourne, did at the rally today is being too poetic and too kind. Perhaps I am being too kind in simply describing them as stupid and greedy.

There is an online petition and it is interesting to see that people are signing it from Brazil, Croatia, India, Italy and the USA, indicating that this is not simply a local issue.


Sculpture @ Melbourne University

There is an expectation of sculptures adoring the university’s buildings and gardens and Melbourne University’s collection provides a unique view of the history of sculpture in Melbourne. (Macquarie University established a Sculpture Park in 1992.) The removal of the iron fence around the grounds in 19th Century meant that grounds of Melbourne University were open to the public. However, although the sculptures are on public display they are in the separate space of the university and have a different history to that of the Melbourne’s public sculptures. This is not a guide to Melbourne University’s sculpture for that see Lorinda Cramer and Lisa Sulivan’s Sculpture on Campus.

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Sculptures at Melbourne University have accrued over time – there has been no over all plan.  Brian Lewis (Foundation Professor of Architecture, 1947– 1971) was described by Ray Marginson as “an outstandingly successful ‘magpie’.” (“Impecunious magpies, or how to adorn a university with little ready cash – Ray Marginson, interviewed by Robyn Sloggett” University of Melbourne Collections, Issue 7, December 2010 Dr Ray Marginson was Vice-Principal of the University of Melbourne from 1965 to 1988.) This magpie aspect to the collection ties in with the earlier trend of ‘façadism’, as well as, Melbourne University’s outstanding collection of modern sculptures.

‘Façadism’ at Melbourne University is a struggle to accrue identity in the post-colonial new world, a kind of antiquarianism on a gigantic scale. It is a local version of the American multi-millionaires who moved whole European palaces across the Atlantic to feel more in touch with history.

The redevelopment of the city brought sculptures to Melbourne University. In 1890 the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the USA acquired northwest corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street. When Whelan the Wrecker demolished the building in 1959 and the group of bronze statuary that topped the entrance portico was donated to the University of Melbourne.

The sculpture depicts a sandal-shod Amazon giving succour to a widow with two children. It was modelled and cast in Vienna in 1893 and is similar to the sculpture that once stood at Equitable’s New York office. It was originally located at its new Architecture school at Mt. Martha but was relocated to the main campus in 1981.

In 1966 Whelan the Wrecker’s work provided more sculptures for Melbourne University when the Union Bank was demolished. Two figures meant to represent Great Britain and Australia, also known as Ada and Elsie. (Robyn Annear, A City Lost & Found, Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne, 2006)

The gateway to the underground car park with figures by Percival Ball (1845-1900) was also saved from demolition.

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The early appearance of abstract modern sculptures on the Melbourne University campus demonstrates the progressive university community compared to the rest of Melbourne. Inga King and Norma Redpath played a more important part in introducing modernist sculpture to Melbourne than Ron Robertson-Swann regardless of the brouhaha over Vault.

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

In 1980 Inge King‘s Sun Ribbon replaced a pond on the Union Lawn; it was what the university students wanted (Marginson p. 28). The sculpture is the gift of Mrs Eileen Kaye Fox in 1982 in memory of her parents Ernest and Fannie Kaye. In 1985 a group of students covered the sculpture in aluminium foil. Also by King on the campus is “Upward Surge” 1974–75 Steel Commissioned 1974 for the Institute of Early Childhood Development, Kew and installed in its current location in 2001.

Norma Redpath, Flying capital, 1970-74

Norma Redpath, Flying capital – Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial, 1970-74

The Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial by Norma Redpath 1970 (signed 1969-70) is a bronze capital on top of a black steel column. Prof. Sydney Dattilo Rubbo (1911-69) was the professor of Microbiology from 1945-69. Leading post-war sculptor Norma Redpath 69-73 studied sculpture at RMIT, 1953 was part of the ‘Group Four’ with Inge King, Julius Kane and Clifford Last. Other public sculptures by Redpath in Melbourne, the Facade Relief (1970–1972) at Victoria College of Pharmacy and the Victoria Coats of Arms (1968) on the front of the Arts Centre of Victoria.

Although Melbourne University has an good collection of sculptures featuring works by many notable sculptors and with examples from many different eras of sculpture, it is a peculiar collection that often picks up what others were casting aside.


Hidden Gem in Cemetery

The Springthorpe Memorial, completed in 1901, is one of Melbourne’s hidden gems, not rhinestones but an over-the-top extravagant diamond from the late-Victorian era. In 1933 the Argus praised it as “the most beautiful work of its kind in Australia”.

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When in 1897 Annie Springthorpe died giving birth to her fourth child, her husband  Melbourne prominent doctor and art collector, John Sprinthorpe was grief stricken. They had only married for ten years; privately he poured his heart out in his diary. Publicly to commemorate her he commissioned the most impressive memorial in Melbourne at the Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew.

No expense was spared. Dr Springthorpe assembled the all star team of his time: architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear, sculptor Bertram Mackennal and landscape gardener William Guilfoyle. Harold Desbrowe-Annear (1865-1933) was an admirer of Ruskin and his most well known work in Melbourne is the Church Street bridge, Richmond (1924). William Guilfoyle (1840-1912) was a landscape gardener and botanist who, in 1873 became the first curator of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Sir Bertram Mackennal was Australia’s international superstar sculptor of his time. Although Mackennal was born in Fitzroy he was equally at home in England where he sculpted portraits of British royalty. Melbourne residents many know his friezes on Parliament house, his statue of Circe, 1893 in the NGV or his memorial to Edward VII in Queen Victoria Gardens.

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A gate with a shield creates an entrance way to the small landscaped area around the Springthorpe Memorial in the very crowded space of the cemetery. There is a small areas around the memorial with a few seats and some trees.

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The stain glass roof of the memorial gave the white marble statuary an unreal red glow. The large dome of red glass in a scale pattern reminded me that the snake as an ancient symbol of eternal life because the snake sheds its skin. The snake motif is repeated in the water spouts on the roof.

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There are so many loving words all over the memorial. On the tiled floor and bronze words in Ancient Greek around the inside of the entablature and English on around outside.

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Mackennal’s complex three figure group consists of a full length portrait of Annie Springthorpe laid out on a Roman style sarcophagus and surrounded by angles. The angel hovers over the tomb floating on a marble nimbus; the idea of carving a nimbus out of marble strikes me as absurd, trying to carving rock to look like vapour.

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There are a few other mausoleum worthy of architectural note at the Boroondara Cemetery including a gothic-revival chapel and an Egyptian-revival temple with fantastic detailing. And there are a few other tombstone carving worthy seeing including a tomb with a bonze dog on top reminiscent of the famous tomb in Highgate cemetery tomb of bare knuckle Tom Sayers, guarded by a carving of his faithful dog. But the Springthorpe memorial is over the top in its grief, opulence and luxury, it is a five handkerchief experience.

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