Melbourne Open House

What is it?

This weekend, 69 buildings around Melbourne and inner city areas participated in Melbourne Open House 2011 by opening their doors (for free) to the general public. Included on the list were office buildings, theatres, electrical substations, churches, a synagogue, hospital tunnels, museums, houses, university colleges and sports stadia.

What did we think?

We headed into town on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, visiting half a dozen of the buildings on offer, including Lyons’ architectural studio, Geyer interior design office, the Russell Place electrical substation, Denmark House, ANZ global headquarters and the VicUrban offices in Goods Shed North.

The experience was rewarding for two important reasons. The first was the buildings themselves, each uniquely engaging. Lyons’ studio is a smart and edgy fitout that pays immense respect to the fabric of the original building. The Russell Place substation is steeped in history, replete with 70-tonne transformers in continuous operation since the 1940s. Denmark House is a small building that offers rooftop views we had never imagined existing in the city. Goods Shed North is another beautiful remnant from our past, lovingly preserved and re-imagined for contemporary usage.

The second reason was the people attending Melbourne Open House, easily recognisable by their upwards-turned gazes and little red guide books. At Russell Place, we pretended to be friends with three guys so we could sneak onto the back of the line, then did indeed make friends with them. At Geyer, we talked with office staff, even recognising one of them from our university days. At ANZ headquarters, we started chatting with a family from Abruzzo, Italy, swapping impressions of Melbourne’s history in Italian. And heading home at the end of the day, we bumped into our aunt and uncle, surprised and delighted that they too had traipsed up and down the city’s streets for an afternoon.

This weekend affirmed not only our own love of Melbourne, but also revealed just how many other people there are who feel likewise. The little red books we spotted at buildings and on the street acted as perfect ice-breakers, knowing smiles followed by easy and fulfilling conversations. The red books were a shared badge that marked us all as urban adventurers, out to discover our city’s hidden secrets.

Author: Warwick Mihaly

I am an architect, writer, teacher and father.

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