Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's a pity the Athaneum didn't have authentic 19th century wooden computers, though

One of the projects that I keep meaning to get around to after I get around to all the other projects I mean to do is a long essay about Melbourne's architecture. I've already mentioned our wonderful car parks, and I may have commented on our brilliant toilets (including a number of exciting underground ones), and I haven't even begun discussing the weird Edwardian facades that line our suburbs, and the odd effects they all have on your sense of perspective. But in the meantime, I'll just mention that yesterday, I went to this event, where a number of Melbourne's oldest, and most distinguished buildings were flung open to the public. Who knew that the concert venue in the Melbourne Town Hall had sunflower designs on the ceiling? Not me, until today. 

I was a tad disappointed by my first stop, the Melbourne City baths, since although it is one of the most 'distinctive Edwardian Baroque buildings in Melbourne', there was a sad lack of any distinctive Edwardian Baroque bathers to speak of. 

Next thing, I toddled along to the State Library, where the Queen's Hall was left open for the public. It's name was half true: it was a hall, but it lacked a Queen. I admired the carpet, which was old and a little bit ratty, and I admired the closed doors to the modern-looking offices on the other side. "Oh, they're just some offices," said someone to me as I looked in through the windows. That made me even more curious. All in all, my sympathies were with the woman who stood looking into one closed-off end of the hall with a friend, and, as I passed by, remarked to her friend, "Mmm!", in the sort of voice of a person who is not sure what they should be saying, but want to sound interested anyway. 

I popped into the Manchester Unity building after getting some nuts to eat and found a huge queue of people waiting, a bunch of sheepish looking guides telling me that they couldn't do any more tours today, some marvellous tiled floors, lifts with what looked like copper doors, and a laneway out the back. It was an exceedingly interesting laneway, but then, I get exceedingly interested in every laneway that I don't think I've seen before. I continued eating my nuts and told the guides that it really was quite a nice little ground floor, and went on my way to the Atheneum library, at which there wasn't much that I hadn't seen before except a nice little wooden-tiled lift. Possibly operated by a man called Thursday. There was actually a queue of people to walk into the lift, to stand inside the lift and, well, walk out of the lift again. Not caring much for this idea, I toddled out again and went down to the Melbourne Town Hall. 

As for the Town Hall, well, what can I say? There was fabulous red carpet. There were kids banging the gavels in the chamber. Well, it seemed appropriate - I felt like having a makeshift board meeting myself. There was a brilliant dining room with all the dinner places set, and a chaise longue(!) in the corner. And then there were the old chambers, which were lined with large pictures of previous Lord Mayors of Melbourne. As we filed in to the room, an old chap wearing a guide uniform announced to us that "for a long time, it was a practice for the Mayors of Melbourne to have large beards." Well, no, he actually said that "it was a practice for the Mayors of Melbourne to have large portraits done," but I couldn't resist editing his words in my head as I listened to him speak. 

I could probably have done another building or two before everything closed down for the evening, but four was quite enough. I decided to do a little bit of amateur poking around town on my own, however, and for the rest of the day, I climbed the stairways in Melbourne's more interesting buildings just because I could, I walked to lesser visited corners of Flinders Street station, and I stood around in funny little corridors and laneways and, well, just kind of existed. 

So it's probably a good thing they're only going to have an Open Melbourne day once every year. It's not necessarily a good idea to encourage people to go wandering with starry gazes through important stone buildings while fat men with beards hold decisive meetings about the future. Why, imagine if Flinders Street Station flung their second-floor ballroom open to the public next year. It might actually be a station that people want to go to, rather than a place that they want to get away from! That way lies chaos. 


ras said...

I had VIP tickets for this event, so I tottered past that queue in the manchester unity building and got myself ona tour.

They should actually make the open house event go for a weekend. They had 55,000 visits yesterday and 32 buildings open to the public.

TimT said...

I would have mentioned, except that I didn't, that half of the most interesting and accesible buildings in Melbourne were left off. There are plenty of interesting places in the suburbs that are worth investigation.

I thought this whole Open Melbourne thing was going to be a hugely popular event, but I probably underestimated the crowds waiting outside a huge building, on Swanston Street, just across from the train station. I could have wandered to some of the things in Docklands or elsewhere and not had to endure such a queue, but meh. Lazy.

So did the rest of the MU building live up to the ground floor level? Worth seeing?

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