Art & Design


Melbourne Architours go Modern

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City slickers tread streets teeming with history ­– for the most part none the wiser. It’s a great thing then that a group of architects are shedding light on our surrounds with their walking tour company Melbourne Architours.

Two special outings will take place during this year’s National Trust Heritage Festival, exploring the impact of the modernist movement on our fair city, and Shelley Freeman is excited to be one of the architects at the helm.

“All of us love the style”, she says of the post-WWII modernist era – herself residing in a Frederick Romberg apartment on Queens Road – although it seems the average Melburnian may not yet share this attitude.

“Most people get Victorian and Art Deco – they can relate to it quite easily because it’s older and ornamented. But when it comes to modernism, people have quite a strong emotional response to it, and they don’t get it.”

It’s all a big misunderstanding, not helped by the fact that many modernist constructs are concrete giants, at the mercy of the ‘form follows function’ principle. “Whatever the building looks like is a reflection of what’s actually happening inside,” Shelley explains, “whereas Victorian architecture was very stylistically driven.”

Her personal favourite, the strikingly scarlet Mid City Centre on Bourke Street, is considered by most tour goers to be the city’s ugliest building. “One of the reasons they think it’s ugly is because it’s got no windows – it was designed as a cinema, which is a dark space.”

Arguably the most famous, albeit controversial, example on the tour is the carpark building on the corner of Russell and Little Bourke streets. “It’s one of a kind,” says Shelley of the Chinatown relic, that’s been described as seven floating concrete slabs crowned by an old-fashioned television set. “It was the first major example of the style of brutalist (late modernist) architecture in Victoria.”

Shelley hopes that educating people on its initially jarring presence will ensure its protection. “It’s very confronting to look at in the urban street scape, but when you understand why it’s like that, hopefully people can have a more objective stance about it.”

Starting at Tasma Terrace with an introduction from historian Rohan Storey, the two-hour tour concludes with drinks at the NGV.

The Modern Tours are on Sat 10 May and Sat 17 May, 2pm – 4pm
Adult $50, Conc $42.50, National Trust member $42.50, ticket via

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