Signature city

Certain buildings appear on the landscape as if a gesture of the hand at the end of a letter, a tick of approval on a report card, or a graffiti tag on a bare wall. The gestural effect is most pronounced when new buildings plant themselves on places already imprinted on memory.

This is Melbourne for me — a familiar urban fabric overlaid with new gestures accreted over my 20-year absence. I never saw them go up. As it happens, many of these new buildings are by signature architects, and belong to institutions and organisations that use architecture to brand a place.

Melbourne is not unusual, and the tactic is not new, but it’s a startling feature of this particular city. Some think of Melbourne as calm and genteel, with wide streets and uninterrupted acres of Victorian terraces, blending into parkland and leafy suburban sprawl. Signature buildings interrupt the calm and compete to inflect the mood of the city.

NAB Museum2 Potter RMIT DesignHub SkylineFromUni Age SouthernCross FromFederationSquare ExhibitionCentre FederationSquare

Buildings shown (in order)

  • National Australia Bank Headquarters 2013 – Woods Bagot Architects
  • Melbourne Museum 1995 – Denton Corker Marshall Architects (and Royal Exhibition Building 1880 – Joseph Reed)
  • The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne 1998 – Nonda Katsilidis
  • Swanston Academic Building RMIT 2012 – Lyons Architects
  • RMIT Design Hub 2012 – Sean Godsell Architects
  • City skyline from Melbourne University Square
  • Media House 2009 – Bates Smart Architects
  • Sourthern Cross Station 2007 – Grimshaw Architects and Jackson Architecture
  • Federation Square (foreground) – Lab Architecture Studio and Bates Smart Architects
  • Convention Centre (foreground) 2009 – NH Architecture and Woods Bagot
  • Federation Square with spire of Victorian Arts Centre (Roy Grounds 1974)


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