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Exploring Melbourne – Open House

There were many reasons to go into the city on Sunday: the Melbourne Open House 2011, yarn bombing in the Bourke St. mall, yum cha, shopping and the first sunny day in many weeks. I didn’t get to see all the 75 buildings open in the city. Some, like the Block Arcade, were booked out; others, like the Royal Melbourne Hospital Tunnels, had an hour wait until the next tour. I did see Origin’s Balcony Garden, the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom and Melbourne Town Hall.

Origin’s Balcony Garden on Level 7, 271 Collins Street, is a contemporary roof top garden for the staff with a BBQ area as one of the main features. Designed by Jamie Durie and completed in 2009 it is elegant and informal with a lot of artificial turf over not only the balcony but also seats and the circular seating “cocoon”.

The Athenaeum Theatre and Library is an old cultural institution from the era of marvelous Melbourne. It was a time when people would know that Athena was the goddess of wisdom and civilization. The first feature film and the first ‘talkie’ in Melbourne were shown in the Athenaeum Theatre. In its long history has also been used as an art gallery mostly between 1943 and 1962. I remember it from the Melbourne Theatre Company’s productions in both the main theatre and studio space on the top floor. Between the theatre spaces there is private subscription library – in my imagination this had always been antique relic preserved from the 1900s but actually the library has kept up to date and full of popular titles and has 4 computers with internet access for the patrons.

Plaza Ballroom with visitors on Melbourne's Open House

Across the road from the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom built by Frank Thring Snr. (father of Frank Thring, the actor). It is a rococo extravaganza of faux medieval with a tiled fountain and fake balconies. Overhead there is a huge hand-painted coffered reinforced concrete ceiling. It reminded me of the décor of the Forum Theatre and an old cinema in Brisbane but on a far larger scale.

After the theatrical aesthetic of the ballroom the classical styling and eclectic collection of the Melbourne Town Hall appeared more dubious. It has all the qualities of a wedding reception centre which it is used for. The council chambers are also used for the Melbourne comedy festival. Amongst the collection of portraits of former mayors and official gifts from other cities there is a Rick Amor painting of Melbourne laneways complete with graffiti and paste-ups (odd considering the City Council’s antipathy towards street art).

Twilight Taggers in the Bourke St. Mall

A visit to Melbourne’s CBD would not be complete without looking at some street art. There was a yarn-bombing project by Bali (see her blog the Twilight Taggers) and Yarn Corner going on in the Bourke St. Mall. A long colorful knitted and crocheted cover for a rail and its supports adorned with crocheted flowers. Yarn bombing is turning into a community art form, the family-friendly, council-friendly aspect of street art. And while in Chinatown for yum cha I walked up Croft Alley to see the current aerosol street art on its walls. Croft Alley was repainted in February 2011. (See my post about the earlier Croft Alley Project.)

Due to Sunday’s fine weather and the Melbourne Open House there were hundreds (maybe thousands) of people of all ages (kids getting their open house maps stamped at various locations) exploring the rarely seen Melbourne, the old Melbourne and the present Melbourne.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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