Open House Melbourne was on last weekend [25-26th of July] with over 100 buildings open to the public [visit their website for more information http://www.openhousemelbourne.org/]. I went last year and saw a couple buildings, including The Commons, which was worth the hour-half line up, so I was keen to see what was on this year. I decided to plan my day the morning of Open House on the Sunday, having a couple “Damn!” moments when I saw a building I wanted to see but wasn’t open on Sunday. Missing my train into the city, I had to wait an hour and a half until the next one, which gave me plenty of time to map out the day in the train station. I planned on visiting 6 buildings throughout the day and the weather forecast was typical for Melbourne.
Arriving at Southern Cross, I made my out to Hawthorn to check out the Tram Museum, originally designed by Leonard Flanagan. There’s something about these old sheds, the bricks, the mass and the sheer presence it has. Compare it to the surrounding buildings, you’ll understand what I mean. I walked into the shed to the sound of kids continuously ringing the tram bells. Now I will admit I didn’t go here to check out the trams, I was interested in the shed, but wandering around I started to have a peek at the trams. It was an interesting feeling, here I am inside a building built in 1917, looking at historical trams. How many people who rode these trams? What stories were shared on these seats?
Catching the train back to Flinders Street, the University of Melbourne Boathouse Extension was on the list and close-by, so I made my way over the bridge and down the Yarra. I made my way inside and had a brief walk through, then I was able to ask the architect a couple questions regarding the design, in particular the window details. There were constraints such as footprint and scale, but I believe architecture thrives when there are constraints applied, and this is a great example. A simple material palette including plywood, timber, concrete and blue (University of Melbourne’s colour), simple form with some interior manipulations to bring natural light in and provide some outdoor spaces really makes great use of the small scale.
On my way to the next location I walked past Fed Square, noticing a crowd gathering I moved closer in. There appeared to be an acrobat warming the crowd up for a classic Melbourne street performance, so noticing I had some time I thought I’d stick around. He got an adorable girl from the audience to help out, cracked plenty of jokes and made the at-times silent crowd feel awkward and terrible, in a comedic way. He did some break dancing, flips, then some handstands on blocks, prepping us for his final act. He got into a full-handstand on these blocks, which didn’t appear to be very stable. Then he pushed the blocks away, free-falling and catching himself on the stand in some form that acrobats/gymnasts would know. Needless to say, it was impressive and overall a great show, so I wanted to give him some money, as you do. Went to reach for my wallet, only to feel nothing, checked my bag, then my pockets, my bag again, then pockets, this repeated a good 4-5 times until I remembered I must have left it at the Boathouse Extension. In a panic, as my bank cards, student card, license, etc was in the wallet, I made my way back, thankfully I didn’t stray too far. Walking up to the building the volunteers recognised me, luckily someone handed my wallet in to them, and this relieved a huge amount of stress I was facing for 10 to 15 minutes. I made my way back to Fed Square to give the performer some money, then on to the next building.
I made my way to the GPO building as there was an architect’s office open, DesignInc who work on a range of scales. I visited a couple architect’s offices last year, and it was fascinating to see them, so when I saw this office was open, I had to be there. It was now approaching 1pm and I had yet to have lunch, and I arrived, being welcomed by a 40 minute queue. I contemplated just leaving, but I wanted to see the office, so with a growling stomach I passed the time checking out a lot of the photos from Open House through Instagram. Once inside we were given a tour, looking at their workstations, meeting spots and such. There was quite a bit of greenery inside, and use of timbers which contrasted well again the white walls and ceilings. Due to the heritage listing the architects couldn’t make new penetrations and had to ‘insert’ services and such.
Thinking I should get the exercise I strolled from the GPO to Blackwood Street in North Melbourne to check out another architect’s office, Clare Cousins. Making my way uptown I stopped for some lunch, then arrived at the beautiful concrete Brutalist building. Being ushered upstairs, I arrive just in time for a tour with an interior architect of the firm. The building is occupied by two businesses, Clare Cousins Architects and a construction (where I am blanking on the name!), and there is a subtle but effective element that distinguishes their space. If you look up in the builder’s office you see plywood panels with black stripping, look up in Clare Cousins’ office and you see the same plywood panels, but with white strips. The materials pay homage to the Brutalist history, with polished concrete floors, blocks and some nifty details throughout (including concrete legs in the kitchen’s dining table). However the use of plywood helps soften the space and give a textured and natural warmth to the offices. This is an office where I wouldn’t mind staying back til 9pm (or later), and that’s the power architecture can have on business. There is also a wonderful outdoor deck, where we were told it has been transformed into a ping-pong arena and even a nightclub, okay after-work drinks. Possibly one of my favourite parts of the building, the bright orange entry!
I decided to skip the two other buildings I wanted to see, so I decided to walk to Melbourne Central, to eventually make my way back to Geelong. Along I way I spotted a building I quite liked, especially with the use of colour [shown above] and compared it to Swantson Square [in the background of the above photo] and how ARM used colour. Pulling into Southern Cross, I was somewhat excited to sit down on the train for an hour, I was exhausted as I decided to walk everywhere (except out to Hawthorn!) My phone calculated roughly I walked closed to 9km, so my feet were a little bit sore.
Walking up to my train to Geelong, I notice the first carriage was full, so I kept walk. The second, third, fourth…. All the carriages were full. I made it to the very last carriage and it too was full, thanks to an AFL match ending not long before, many supporters wish to return home. Sitting on the floor for some of the trip, I ended up having to stand for most of the train ride, when all I wanted to do was sit down and have a nap.
While I only saw a select few buildings, and avoided popular buildings which long queues, it was still a great day to explore some architecture. There was sunshine, some slight rain, but the Sunday really showed Melbourne off as a city with some big ticket events such as AFL, the Run Melbourne marathon and of course Open House Melbourne (I’m sure there were plenty of other events on too). I do implore architecture students to get to these Open House events (or similar in your area), looking at a building through photographs on ArchDaily isn’t the same as experiencing it in person. In person you can smell the smells, hear the noises, touch the texture and experience the spaces.
If you are on Instagram, I recommend searching the hashtags #openhousemelb, #curiocity, #ohm2015 and #openhousemelbourne, to get a good view of the weekend. Want to check out the photos I posted? Well check out thatarchitecturestudent.