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Melbourne has a splendid range of architecture, built since its founding in 1835. While Melbourne’s international-style skyscraper record is impressive, the city also has some splendid historic buildings in a variety of popular styles including Victorian, Federation, Neo Gothic and Art Deco.
The most prominent historic architectural style is Victorian (1840 – 1890) which signified the prosperity and confidence of the post Goldrush period of the 1850s. View elegant Victorian architecture in the city and in the surrounding suburbs where there are hundreds of beautiful Victorian villas, townhouses and terraces.
The Windsor Hotel, opened in 1883, is one of the city's grandest hotels (originally named The Grand). Stop by to gawk at the Grand Dining Room before taking part in the tradition of afternoon tea.
William Butterfield, a leader in the Gothic Revival style in England, is responsible for St. Paul's Cathedral, considered one of his finest works; outside is a statue of Matthew Flinders, the first seaman to circumnavigate Australia.
Royal Arcade, Melbourne's oldest shopping mall, was built in 1870. Thanks to statues of Gog and Magog, mythical monsters that signal the hour on either side of Gaunt's Clock, this is no ordinary mall, it is elegant, airy and spectacular, and only one of Melbourne's intriguing inner city laneways. The 1890s Block Arcade, at nos. 282–284 Collins Street, is one of Melbourne's grandest shopping centres, its name appropriately taken from the tradition of "doing the block" – promenading around the city's fashionable shopping lanes. Restored in 1988, the L-shaped arcade sports a mosaic-tiled floor, ornate columns and mouldings, and a glass-domed roof.
The Old Treasury Building and Gold Treasury Museum, the city's first Italian Renaissance building, is a favourite for its beauty. Originally a place for all the gold from the Ballarat and Bendigo mines, it now serves as a museum showing Melbourne's history all the way back to Aboriginal times. Amazingly, this building was designed by J.J. Clark, who was a mere 19 years old when he took on the project. The Royal Mint on William Street near Flagstaff Gardens is an excellent specimen of the florid facades of the late nineteenth century.
The World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, site of the opening of Australia's first Federal Parliament in 1901, is a sumptuous Italianate structure well worth a visit.
A walking tour through the central city (the 'Golden Mile') will introduce you to many fine and varied buildings, especially but not exclusively, of the Victorian era. The banks in Collins and Queens Streets are notable, as is the State Library and Walter Burley Griffin's Capitol Theatre, both in Swanston Street. For those who appreciate buildings with a morbid history, look no further than Old Melbourne Gaol. Built in 1841, the building has three tiers of cells with catwalks around the upper level - it's now a penal museum run by the Victorian branch of the National Trust. The most famous inmate to call this home was bushranger Ned Kelly, hanged in 1880. There are candlelight tours for those travelers who enjoy a little fear with their history.
The collapse of the land boom of the 1890s and the depression that followed saw a watered down version of Victorian architecture known as Federation which was influenced by the federation of Australia in 1901. Flinders Street Station, which represents a mix of early Art Noveau, Queen Anne and classical motifs, was completed in 1911. The most prominent residential style was a hybrid of Californian Bungalow style and can be seen throughout Melbourne’s inner and outer suburbs.
Art Deco featured from the 1920s, and Melbourne has a collection of Inter-War Deco buildings including the Myer Department Store and Palais Theatre in St Kilda. Through the 40s, building slowed to almost a halt.
With the win of the 1956 Olympic Games, Melbourne undertook a period of architectural rejuvenation that saw much of the architectural detail such as Victorian awnings and ironwork removed from buildings to make way for the more "international" style. In 1957, the height restrictions in the Central Business District were removed, which paved the way for a series of demolitions and the consolidation of whole city blocks.
The 1990s saw a renewed architectural boom for the city with developments such as the Docklands, Southbank, Crown Casino and the CityLink freeway system completed. Southbank's Melbourne Exhibition Centre was colloquially named "Jeff's Shed" after Liberal premier Jeff Kennett, who kicked off the construction. Notable buildings of the period were the postmodern 333 Collins St, the corporate pastiche of 101 Collins St, the boldly organic RMIT Building 8 and the new Melbourne Museum.
Each July, for one weekend only, the wildly popular Melbourne Open House is held, a tremendous opportunity to see some little known buildings. Walking Melbourne has a comprehensive guide to the city's architecture.