BUILT ENVIRONS CYCLE ADVENTURE
START: St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne
LENGTH: 12 kms, with 8km segue
FIELD NOTES: An odyssey of architecture, big spaces, people and all manner of urban spaces.
Melbourne is a city of detail. It doesn’t have one gallery it has many, it doesn’t have a couple of key landmarks, buts hundreds of places and spaces all with their own quirks, stories and legends.
Our cycling and sights tour explores a broad cross section of buildings, unremarkable vistas, human activity and urban planning in over drive. It is about strange design, strange expression and strange detail. All you need is an afternoon and the willingness to dig a little deeper in the name of design, curiosity and critique.
Let’s start at St Patrick’s Cathedral (Albert and Macarthur Streets, East Melbourne), at the top of the city. Above the southern entrance on the right hand side (near a statue of St Francis of an Assisi) is a relatively new gargoyle. Rumor has it that the gargoyle is of infamous ex-Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, courtesy of an anonymous sculptor. The Cathedral itself is also worth walking into – it can be both strange and surreal being in the enormous, mostly empty space.
At the corner of Albert and Nicholson, note the fountain in the garden to the left. Pledged to the site by the Coles Myer group, the fountain also happens to be a replica of the Coles Myer brand developed in the 1980s – fancy that, brand cowboys.
Passing Parliament House on Bourke and Spring Street, take a moment to process the grandeur of the building, clearly designed by founders as the seat of power for Victoria (since 1855), Australia (1901-1927) or in their minds perhaps, the world. Today, their grand vision best serves wedding photographers and their happily posing subjects.
If in need of a convenience stop, drop into the Sofitel at 25 Collins Street, and
discretely travel to the 35th floor atrium bar for a loo with a killer view. With gigantic spaces, dramatic lighting, dashes of gold and a logo by New York firm Chermayeff & Giesmar, the interior is luxe, eighties style.
A left down Exhibition Street and a roll down the Batman Avenue extension, catch the Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr, if you can. A public musical instrument, the bells sound daily at 8am–9am, 12.30am-1.30pm, and 5pm-6pm.
Proceed up the Yarra, turn right at the Morrell Street Bridge and shift into some climbing gears for a ride up Anderson Street. One the right just past Clowes Street, a curious landscaped water storage site called Guilfoyle’s Volcano was built in 1876, and commands great views. Turn right at Domain Road, and head toward St Kilda Road. To the left is the new library by architect John Wardell for Melbourne Grammar. I love the OTT signage system by EmeryStudio.
Crossing Domain Road, jump on the path due north to The Shrine of Remembrance (Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra, 9661 8100). Lock the bike up and check out Ashton Raggatt MacDougall’s visitor’s centre, before wheeling down the Shrine’s forecourt lined with Pencil Pines towards Anzac Avenue. On St Kilda Road, the unmissable bluestone wall of the austere Victoria Barracks once marked the centre of Australia’s World War II effort.
Ride up to Coventry Street from the Barracks entrance and coast down past the lovely red 3D SJB logo by defunct Sydney design maestros, Feeder. A short roll or stroll down Grant Street leads to the infamous yellow Vault sculpture, the gravel plains that surround it, and some strange architectural moments – Denton Corker Marshall’s vent tower for CityLink, and of course, the striking windowless raw steel void of Wood Marsh’s Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Note the two signing schemes for ACCA – one (by Fabio Ongarato) consisting of carefully embedded triangle forms found in the forecourts of the site, and the other a massive logo on the North Western façade, design by ACCA themselves. In the VCA precinct, seek out the shiny Centre for Ideas, the School of Drama and further on to the Recital Hall and MTC Theatre – my jury is still out on whether it is great architecture or simply tricky aesthetics.
A hook around Southbank Boulevard, make you way to the entrance of the NGV International. Along with the usual attractions of modern galleries: the show–stopper art, a great hall, sculpture garden, is an overlooked coat of arms on the façade above the entry. Inside, push through the pricey gifts of the gift shop, through to what is one of the city’s most well stocked design bookstores.
With a touch of caution head down Swanston Street, past the Arts Centre, Flinders Street Station and each major cross street of Hoddle’s grid. Take in the torrent of people, buildings and spaces of one of Melbourne’s busiest thoroughfares. Standout sites include the Capitol Theatre, the MLC Building, State Library, Story Hall and the Melbourne City Baths. In the late summer afternoon take moment to look back and see the golden tram tracks as the setting sun glistens and gushes down the built corridors – just like the interiors of the wonderful Hamer Hall.
Turn left at Franklin Street, to the corner of Queen Street. If you feel some bad energy around Queen Victoria Market, take a moment to remember the 2000 souls who once made this the site one of Melbourne’s first cemeteries. At the nearby corner of Spencer Street and La Trobe Street, have a breath and admire Australia Post’s animated neon signage of a postie in action, a remarkably expensive piece of branding. Similarly, riding over the La Trobe Street extension into Docklands, you can’t miss the gigantic Channel 7 logo outside the Dockland’s Stadium. One of Australia’s largest freestanding trademarks, the logo is the work of ‘our Ken’, or Mr Cato if you doing a studio internship.
Segue: Jeffrey Smart landscape
The comedian Ruby Wax once described Melbourne as grey – lets embrace this thought, move through a few gears and take in Melbourne’s steely hues and occasional flashes of primary colour… If you have more time to spare turn right at Harbourside Esplanade onto Footscray Road and ride west my good rider. Continue along the separated cycleway about 2kms, and turn left onto Appleton Dock Road, and right shortly after at Coode Road. Follow Coode all the way to the Maribrynong River, where a right at either Mackenzie Road or Dahlenburg Street and another right at Footscray Road will have you riding back to the city. A bustling truck haven on the weekdays, this big loop is excellent on a Sunday, as it gives way to a Jeffrey Smart landscape of big empty spaces, shipping container towers and big machines parading in reds, yellows and blue.
Safe riding all design nerds and lovers…
Andrew Ashton is founder of Studio Pip & Co, an independent Melbourne design and communication practice. www.peoplethings.com