Melbourne Open House 2014

IMG_2979Once a year, on a weekend in the depths of Melbourne’s winter, buildings across the city throw open their doors for the general public to get a behind-the-scenes look at Melbourne’s built environment. This annual event known as Open House Melbourne is the perfect opportunity to view some fantastic architecture, free of charge.

Atelier Red + Black Directors Sonia Sarangi and Michael Smith share some of this years highlights from the exciting line up of open buildings.

41X, 41 Exhibition Street Melbourne by Lyons Architects and the Australian Institute of Architects office fit out by Hassell

Reviewed by : Michael Smith

Some buildings have more pressure on them to be brilliant pieces of architecture than others. This new tower containing the offices of the Australian Institute of Architects known as 41X is no doubt one of those under intense scrutiny.

Our tour started up the bluestone stairs in the first floor architectural bookshop and cafe. This space is a perfect place to enjoy a coffee whilst observing exhibition street or perusing the latest in architectural print media. The guide for our tour was one of the architects from Lyons Architects who was deeply involved in the project from its earliest competition stages. A repeated realization throughout the weekend was that it makes a great difference to the experience when you have a knowledgeable tour guide.

Climbing the meandering staircase to the next level the unorthodox relationship with Flinders Lane became apparent. At the ground level substantial space had been given back to the street, whilst at the levels above the building reclaimed this space to facilitate the stairway which in itself has been designed to operate as an internal street.

As we arrived on the third floor we were guided through the offices for the Australian Institute of Architects which were designed separately by Hassell. This contemporary office space utilized earthy tones and a dynamic ribbed black ceiling to achieve a 21st century professional corporate look. Many on the tour had concerns that the use of the black ceiling had made the space unusually dark. I think there is some truth to this however one must also consider that each work space has its own task lighting. This empowers the office workers to have greater control over their environment and reduces energy lighting areas that are not in use.

Throughout the tour the high level of environmentally sustainable design innovation was continually pointed out by our guide. The innovation that most stood out for me was the use of a product called Bubble Deck which enables the concrete floors to use 70% less raw concrete by utilizing engineered plastic air bubbles within the floor system.

For me this building suffers the fate of being very good rather than being brilliant. Whilst the environmental aspects are extremely innovative, the architecture itself perhaps doesn’t quite achieve the height of expectations placed upon it. A fascinating building none-the-less which was well worth the exploration.


URBAN WORKSHOP, 50 Lonsdale Street Melbourne, by John Wardle Architects

Reviewed by : Sonia Sarangi

Having tried to see this building on two previous Open House years, I was very chuffed to get a queue number that was not more than an hours wait.  As soon as the tour began, I could take in the central atrium in it’s complexity – and then I had this intense (geeky) epiphany. It felt like I was looking at the predecessor to every major commercial project (here’s looking at you -big 4 banks) of the past decade. Why predecessor?  Because Urban Workshop was completed in 2006.

Designed by John Wardle Architects, its very compactness (shoehorned into a few remnant laneways of Melbourne) is what gives Urban Workshop its ‘oomph’.  It juggles a complex site with a rich history, yet it weaves together a space that uses light and material in a poetic manner – without becoming didactic. I believe the pictures will do a lot of the talking.

The really good news is that the lobby is open to the public all year round, so go check it out on other days of the year too.  I should also mention that the tour was one of the best at Open House (in my opinion), as most of the volunteers had been working there for many years and had a lot of in-depth knowledge of both the site and the building.


Shell House, 1 Spring Street by Harry Seidler

Reviewed by : Michael Smith

Open House Melbourne gives the general public the chance to walk through buildings by some of the great architects in history. Harry Seidler (1923 – 2006) is one such example of an Architectural Master who’s work is free to appreciate at Open House Melbourne. Shell House at 1 Spring Street was completed in 1988 on a site that formerly accommodated an 1891 William Pitt building called Tower House.

What makes this building extraordinary is the sweeping curvaceous plan and the highly refined external form. This form is perfectly complemented by the large external sculpture entitled The Shell Mace by Charles O. Perry 1989. The polished lobby features an artwork by Arthur Boyd within a recess in the ceiling which adds colour to the clinically modernist space.

The tour to the upper levels revealed a fairly standard office interior with a fantastic view over the sporting precinct and inner eastern suburbs.


THE COMMONS, 7-9 Florence Street Brunswick by Breathe Architecture

Sonia Sarangi

If buildings could inspire a cult…. I would say this one has done so already. The paucity of multi-residential projects with a clear sustainability agenda, made this one of the star-attractions for me (and numerous others judging the length of the queue). Designed by Breathe Architecture, it is also the winner in both the Multi-residential and Sustainability categories at the recent Victorian AIA awards.

It will be nearly impossible for me to talk about the project without sounding like a fan-girl, so I will simply list the awesome aspects of this Project:

  • 0 cars , 75 bike spaces & cheek-by-jowl to Anstey station
  • Excellent thermal performance in each dwelling, greatly reducing the need for artificial heating & cooling
  • Reclaimed Floorboards in apartments
  • Robust low-impact materials such as concrete benchtops and form-ply cabinetry used in interior fitout
  • Communal laundry and rooftop communal clotheslines
  • Rooftop veggie patch
  • Rooftop beehives that will (hold your breath) generate 100kg of Honey for residents in a year!
  • Use of reclaimed, re-purposed materials wherever possible and avoidance of un-necessary plasterboard to simple ‘cover-up’ the guts of the building services


Coops Shot Tower, Melbourne Central

Reviewed by :  Michael Smith

Sometimes it pays to take a closer look at a building that you often pass by quickly. Most Melburnians would be familiar with the Coops Shot Tower at Melbourne Central, but how many have been to the museum within? Melbourne Open House highlighted this mini museum via their fantastic website. As it turns out it is open for free on most days, so make sure you take a look to see another side to this famous landmark.



The Quays, 231-245 Harbour Esplanade Docklands by McBride Charles Ryan

Reviewed by : Michael Smith

The Quays are a multiple award-winning mixed-use and apartment development in Docklands. Designed by world-class architects McBride Charles Ryan (MCR) this project pushes the boundaries of what is possible in developer driven housing projects. Gone are the bland everyday finishes that real estate agents often say appeal to the widest audience. Instead bold colours and dynamic sectional forms have been used to craft a project which sets itself apart from other Docklands apartments.

Once again it was great to have a knowledgeable tour guide. In this case they don’t come any more knowledgeable than MCR director Debbie Ryan who was incredibly generous with her time.

From touring the complex series of spaces, it was clear that there had been a very intense and extensive design process. No area was too insignificant for detailed consideration. Areas that in lesser developments would be blank plasterboard walls were instead faceted sculptural elements. Areas like the pool that could have been flat concrete ceilings have been expressed as extruded stepping forms. If Melbourne could have tower developments of this quality as a rule rather than an exception, I have no doubt that inner city living would be even more popular.


Faculty of Architecture Building, Melbourne University by NADAA + John Wardle Architects

Reviewed by : Sonia Sarangi

The result of an international design competition held by the Faculty, the new building has been design by NADAA (Boston) & John Wardle Architects (Melbourne) in collaboration. It is a surprise inclusion into the Open House program, as it is due to be completed in late-August, so it is very much still a building site – however I can appreciate that the University is very proud of their new building.

The star-attraction on show was the atrium with a suspended volume at it’s center. It is both a feat of engineering (there are no supports to connect the ‘mystery’ volume to the floor) as well as robotic-precision – as evidenced in the finely calibrated, but varied perforations of both the timber internal claddings and the external zinc skin of the building. This is definitely an architecture that looks to the future and not to the past. There is a very strong geometric language to the overall space, which the pictures should illustrate well. The thing that really grabbed me personally, was how softly-lit and human-scaled the atrium felt.

The project has often been described as a bit ‘chameleon-like’, as the outer skin changes in each elevation in response to the adjacent hodge-podge of the university’s buildings nearby. However, since my Open House experience was mostly limited to the ground floor and upper atrium, I look forward to a future visit to view the building in it’s entirety, as well as to see how well-used it is by its students.


NAB Docklands, 700 Bourke Street by Woods Bagot

Reviewed by : Michael Smith

The final building in our review is the NAB Docklands building at 700 Bourke Street by architects Woods Bagot. This building has seemingly had a remarkably low presence in the architectural media since its recent completion. Going into it I had no idea what to expect. The experience was breathtaking. In Melbourne there are some impressive atrium spaces, Myer Melbourne and the previous NAB building in Docklands come to mind. However these are small in scale compared with the 14 storey vertigo inducing experience at 700 Bourke Street. It is strangely reminiscent of various Science Fiction movies with endless towers that allude to the massive scale of humanity and our drive for growth. Having said that the atmosphere was not sinister. Bright contemporary finishes assist the occupant to feel welcome and not too overwhelmed.

The tour took checked in guests up to the top floor for an explanation of the NAB’s new flexible work space approach. This system allows employees to choose the space best suited to their work for the day, rather than being allocated a permanent desk to work on.  This system supposedly applies to all staff regardless of how senior they are. This in turn works with the architecture to allowing better communication between staff, often on the bridges or stairs between work zones.

If this building is open on future Melbourne Open House weekends I would strongly recommend a visit.

Many thanks must go to the organisers of this fantastic event and the volunteers that make it all possible. This years Open House Melbourne has yet again been highly impressive. The variety and quality of the spaces open for inspection highlight the outstanding level of architectural design that is going on in Melbourne right now. The massive public interest proves beyond doubt that Architecture is for Everyone


About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
This entry was posted in Free architecture, Melbourne Open House, News, Review, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Melbourne Open House 2014

  1. Pingback: Melbourne Open House 2016 | The Red and Black Architect

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s