|List||Commonwealth Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (22/06/2004)|
|Place File No||2/11/033/0164|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
The General Post Office is one of Victoria's most important public buildings. It is associated with the growth of Melbourne and the State of Victoria, especially the gold rush period and the land boom of the mid/late nineteenth century. The changing fortunes of the State are reflected in the piecemeal growth of the building. The site itself has been the focus of postal activities in Victoria from 1841 until the present. It is also significant as the location of intercolonial conferences on Postal and Telegraphic services in 1892 and 1897, key events in the leadup to the federation of the Australian colonies in 1901 (Criterion A.4. Historic Themes: 3.7 Establishing communications [establishing postal services]; 4.3 Developing institutions; 4.6 Remembering significant phases in the development of settlements, towns and cities; 7.4 Federating Australia; 8.10 Pursuing excellence in the arts and sciences [designing and building fine buildings]).
The main postal hall provides a sense of space which is a now rare feature, as few remaining public buildings similarly possess central spaces of such scale and grandeur (Criterion B.2).
The Melbourne General Post Office is a significant example of the Victorian free Classical architectural style (Criterion D.2).
The building, especially with its clock tower, is a strong element in the surrounding streetscape (Criterion E.1).
The General Post Office is also an important social landmark in the city and is frequently used as a formal and informal meeting place by the Melbourne community (Criterion G.1).
It is associated with several architects of note, including Arthur Ebden Johnson, Walter Burley Griffin and John Smith Murdoch, all of whom contributed ideas to the total design (Criterion H.1).
The GPO is sited on the northeast corner
of the Bourke and Elizabeth Street
intersection, the western gateway to the Bourke Street Mall, one of the CBD’s
principal retail precincts. The site is
located within variously aged and scaled streetscapes which contain building
stock from nineteenth and twentieth century development. The original GPO building and its early
additions occupy the southern and central sections of the site which contrast
with a contemporary infill building constructed in 2004-05 on the northern
portion of the site and above the 1906 annexe.
The formerly open rear lane along the eastern boundary of the site once
provided vehicular through access between Bourke and Little Bourke streets, but
has since been developed as a covered outdoor dining precinct. The site now has complete building
Ground floor and entry: The Melbourne GPO presents three principal levels to Elizabeth and Bourke streets. These are built up on a stepped plinth interspersed with cuboid balustrades projecting to each side of the tower base and from the breakfront colonnades of the Elizabeth Street and Bourke Street pavilions. The entrance is through an arcade of 16 bays, including two at the base of the tower, and an enlarged arch over a vehicular gateway at the base of the eastern Bourke Street pavilion. The ground floor elevation is marked by a set of paired Roman Doric half-columns, each pair sharing a cubed pedestal. These frame the arches, which are stilted on piers behind the half columns, and spring from a richly sculpted cornice. This cornice is represented, in each bay, as a set of Doric-looking pilasters, cast in a smaller dimension than the main order, so that it seems to weave in and out of the main ground floor order. The keystones are scrolled and these, in turn, support the Doric entablature. The tower base projects out marginally beyond the main arcades, and is framed by a set of four full, disengaged Doric columns anchored under spur entablatures. The corners are given an extraordinary set of re-entrant angles which read as a staccato sequence in rounding the corner and make the transition from the arcades into the tower base and back again. The dual scales of the Doric order are carried through this angling sequence, reading as partly-buried capitals. The same treatment is applied to the transition into the Bourke Street pavilion base at its ground floor. The Elizabeth Street pavilion frames its ground floor arches in eight disengaged columns under a full-width entablature that projects out to a point level with the spur entablatures on the tower base. The four-bay wing built immediately north of the pavilion then reverted to the same arch and half-column treatment given to the original arcade.
First floor/piano nobile elevations: The Doric cornice is then topped by an alternating set of Italianate balustrades with waisted balusters, and another set of cuboid plinths over the paired ground floor columns. These support paired Ionic half-columns, which front another set of masonry piers and a set of 16 arched windows, all narrower than the entry arches. The tower facet at this level employs the same set of staccato return surfaces seen on the ground floor and is again framed by disengaged columns, Ionic this time. The springing point cornice is treated as a quasi-subordinate order rather than as a fully worked smaller Ionic layer. On Elizabeth Street the pavilion was given a breakfront similar to the ground floor, but with the same alternation of balustrade and pedestal that marked the rest of the first floor arcade. The entablature was again full width, with the frieze interrupted by a blank panel.
Second floor/attic level elevations: Added in 1885-90 on a set of existing pedestals, the level utilised a run of paired Corinthian columns, each pair under a spur entablature. These framed a set of oblong window aedicules (opening framed by columns), set in from the columns over a stone-dressed wall. Above and between the spur entablatures are a set of attic windows, which allow the second storey, treated broadly as an attic storey in the general composition, to read close-up as a combined piano nobile and attic within its own elevation. These small upper windows are separated by panelled stone dressed bays, carried up through the second floor’s entablature to conclude with a parapet of alternating stone-dressed panels and Italianate balustrades. The parapet piers have bases and cornices that dramatize the cornice’s slight step inward, visually. This contrasts with the Bourke Street pavilion, which continues to project at its ground floor front. The Elizabeth Street pavilion reverses the second storey composition in being dominated by a set of pedestals that taper in ogival (pointed) section one-third the way up the elevation, and it omits the secondary expression of attic windows.
Dormer and mansard levels: These were originally completed at second floor level (1859-67) in two groups. A main mansard ran along the Bourke and Elizabeth Street elevations to a point just before the north west breakfront. A curved mansard topped the Bourke Street vehicle entry pavilion, and the whole roofline was finished with an iron widow’s walk balustrade (railed roof-top platform) (on the Bourke Street pavilion) and ridge capping (on the rest of the roof). These roofs were all steeply pitched and interspersed with small bullseye dormers. These were all rebuilt above the second floor when that was added in 1885-9, and the mansard motif was then carried up into the extended clock tower, at two levels: a dormered mansard above the main clock face, and a circular-plan mansard and flagpole eyrie crowning the tower. Compositionally, this expanded the Bourke Street pavilion mansard, having three bullseye dormers to the Bourke street pavilion’s two. In addition, the Elizabeth Street pavilion had a set of stone-dressed dormers resting on the roof cornice line. These had flared consoles supporting either side, framing small arched windows. These were interspersed at the corners by piers supporting orbs. The Elizabeth Street pavilion’s mansard and dormers sat on a panelled parapet in elevation which matched the skyline of the main roof mansard. In the 1859-67 design this mansard and parapet arrangement enabled the post office to carry an extra storey out of sight from the street. The 1885-90 extension allowed three extra stories to be concealed within what still read as a three-storey façade.
Tower extensions: The tower masonry was extended by about 3/8 in height between 1885 and 1890. This involved replacing the main cornice on the tower’s third storey with a balustrade and heavily based piers, and replacing the panelling below the vent arch with attic-window sized panels that picked up the ‘secondary attic’ motif of the new second floor elevation. The earlier clock faces, on four temple front wings were now replaced by a direct extension of the main cubic tower shaft, extended up in three more facets. The first two of these levels (effectively the post office’s fourth floor) was framed at the corners by panelled pilasters. This included four tall arched windows, topped by a straight cornice and pediment above those. The fifth story (now only in the tower) was expressed by sets of smaller paired arched windows in double aedicules. The main clock faces, at level six in the tower, were corbelled out marginally above the lower levels, and this corbelling was accentuated by an additional balustrade. The clock dials were framed by another set of panelled pilasters and a plain entablature. The cuboid plan of the tower was interrupted by the first of the two mansards, and then resumed as a lantern with four arched top-hung sashes, framed with paired miniature half-columns under spur entablatures. These were topped, again, by pedestals supporting finials, and the final circular mansard rose from the cornice between these.
Construction date: 1859-67 (first two storeys and short tower); 1885-90 (third storey and full tower); 1906-11 (Elizabeth Street wing)
Style: 1859-67: Renaissance 15th Century (arcade, triple orders); 16th century (Mannerist elaboration, Sansovinesque)
1885-90:French renaissance-baroque revivalism (mansarded clock tower and main roof; dormer usage; on ancillary tower at Southeast end)
1906-11: Baroque revivalism: Elizabeth Street pavilion
Period: Early Victorian (1850-1870), Late Victorian (1885-90) and Federation (1906-11)
Structure and materials
The following ‘original’ fabric is based on the 1859 to 1885 form of the building as was completed by 1890. Refer also to section on alterations, below, for additional information on subsequent building fabric.
Levels: 5 including basement, plus 4 additional levels to corner tower and 1 additional level to north tower.
Structural frame: Solid load-bearing masonry (brick and stone) construction to wall structure on bluestone footings; internal ground floor arcade supported by bluestone columns; Traegerwellblech fireproof floor/ceiling system throughout; iron-framed roof structure including angle iron slating battens.
External walls: Various Tasmanian sandstone including Taylers Bay and Oakhampton at Spring Bay (and possibly Point Venenat) for the 1859 works above a pink Gabo Island granite basement, where exposed. Victorian ‘Stawell’ sandstone from Mount Difficult in the Grampians used for the 1880s works. The elevational treatment and rhythm is determined by heavily moulded entablatures and superimposed trabeated system of columns and pilasters.
Internal walls: Typically, hard plastered brickwork with the exception of basement areas, some of which were unpainted brickwork or sparrow-picked ashlar bluestone on rock-faced bluestone, and the tower levels which were unpainted brickwork.
Floor: Traegerwellblech fireproof floor system throughout comprising vaulted corrugated iron and concrete construction on iron beams with timber floor boarding on timber joists above the concrete. Uncommon construction technique employed for floors of upper level additions with joists set into concrete. Ground floor level and arcade floors probably paved with bluestone or tiled. A dry drain capped with cast iron gratings runs around the internal corridor of the postal hall. Continuing the fireproof construction, original staircases are constructed of interlocking cantilevered bluestone treads and landings with cast iron balustrades. Externally, bluestone steps run full width of south and west arcade elevations.
Ceiling: Underside of Traegerwellblech lined with timber ceiling joists and generally finished with hard plaster or lathe and plaster with moulded plaster cornices. Ceilings over main entrance vestibules are arched with coffered panelled plaster linings. Lantern ceiling over the central mail room is divided into coffered bays. Basement ceilings are unlined, maintaining the corrugated iron finish of the floor system above. Underside of mansard roof framing in north tower is lined with 150mm-wide tongue and groove timber boarding on fabricated angle iron frame. Tower rooms at level 3 are lined with beaded timber boards below vaulted iron. The ground floor external arcade soffit is divided into vaulted bays finished with carved stone facing and mouldings.
Roof: Framed with iron, possibly reused from the original 1859 building. Originally finished with slate to straight planes with lead sheeting to mansard forms and flat area around central lantern. Ridges defined by cast iron cresting and drained via concealed cast iron downpipes.
Other: The original external door openings contained paired panelled timber doors to the arcade with panelled timber doors elsewhere and panelled timber reveals throughout. Interior door openings had polished timber 6-panelled doors, some glazed. Ground floor arched window openings to arcade contain half-glazed tripartite arrangements with glazed fanlight and timber panelling to dado height. Window reveals elsewhere are panelled timber and window sashes are generally double hung, variously divided. The internal arcade openings contain decorative cast iron balustrades with polished timber handrails and architraves are moulded timber. Floors are variously finished with moulded stone or rendered skirtings with moulded timber skirtings in ancillary spaces.
The first Melbourne General Post Office was constructed at
the intersection of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets in 1852. The original building was replaced with the
much grander GPO building in 1859. The
design was a result of a two part competition, for the ‘architectural design’
and the ‘internal management’ of the post office building. Architects Crouch and Wilson won the first
part of the competition, but the government adopted the design of AE Johnson,
the second place winner, with minor amendments from other entries and input
from William Wardell, the Chief Architect in Victoria’s new Public Works
Department. The building was constructed
in three stages. The initial two-storey
building was completed by 1867. In 1887,
as a result of overcrowding, a third storey and tower were added. Additions were undertaken to the Elizabeth Street
façade in 1906-7 by Swanson Bros, consisting of an additional two storeys and a
basement. Further alterations occurred
in 1919, when designs by Walter Burley Griffin and JS Murdoch converted the
original sorting hall to public space, removing the original staircase. The interior of the building was destroyed by
fire in 2001 and it has subsequently been redeveloped as a retail complex.|
1859: Crouch and Wilson, part 1 of initial competition, with some components evidently incorporated into the final design.
1859-1867: Arthur E Johnson and William Wardell, Public Works Department: arcade, first two floors, short tower, mansarded roof to main upper floor and mansarded tower at east end of Bourke Street elevation.
1885-90: Arthur Johnson, Peter Kerr (supervision) extensions, second floor and full-height tower.
1906-11: Unclear (SE Bindley’s style has been noted in the Elizabeth street pavilion).
1919: JS Murdoch, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony, conversion of mail room to postal hall; reversal of circulation pattern, removal of north end stair.
2002-4: Peter Williams and Gary Boag, repair supervision and internal retail fitout.
Summary of development and/or alteration
1859-1867: Basement, ground and first floors constructed with two additional levels for a short tower at the southwest corner. Mansard roof form over central bays.
1885-1890: Second floor level constructed over entire floor area and a small mezzanine level constructed over second floor level along the eastern wing of the building. The corner tower is constructed to its full height of eight levels. Mansard-roof constructed over entire roof area with an additional floor level constructed over the northern break-front bay of the Elizabeth Street elevation and the eastern breakfront of the Bourke Street elevation. A third internal staircase is constructed at the northwest corner of the building.
1906-11: The basement, ground and first floor levels are extended north along Elizabeth Street by five bays with form, construction materials and detail to generally match the original building. The annexe has a parapeted façade, concealing paired hipped roof forms. Internally, the ceilings of the annexe are lined with fibrous plaster with coved plaster cornice in lieu of lathe and plaster and moulded cornices. The joinery profiles vary slightly from the original and timber skirting boards have been used in lieu of moulded render and stone. Other alterations at the time included changes to internal partitioning of first floor areas. A temporary building is constructed at the northern end of the site to house the telegraph department. The original arcade paving is replaced with a granolithic finish around 1912.
1914-17: A new building, to the design of JS Murdoch, was completed at the corner of Bourke and Spencer streets, opposite Spencer Street Station and the mail sorting and parcels branch is relocated from the original GPO building.
1919: Substantial alterations associated with reversal of the postal hall circulation pattern, partly to designs prepared by Walter Burley Griffin and the Public Works Department’s JS Murdoch. The original arrangement of a centralised mail handling hall flanked by service counters opening onto the external arcade is reversed, bringing the public into a central public postal hall within the building. The staff service areas and counters are relocated to the perimeter of the building and the original arcade windows are replaced with fixed sash windows. The main stair at the southern end of the hall is removed and replaced with a smaller stair to the southwest of the original and stairs at the northern end of the building are variously altered. The postal hall is refurbished at this time and parquetry flooring is laid over the concrete floor. The northern annexe is also altered to accommodate private letter boxes and the telegraph department is relocated back into the building from its temporary accommodation at the northern end of the site. The partition walls of the second floor mezzanine are removed. Amenities are also upgraded.
1937: A former lightwell between the original building and the 1906 annexe is infilled with additional floor area at first floor level and alterations to internal partition walls were made at first and second floor level, including demolition of some fireplaces. Central heating was installed around this time. During this period various tunnels and bridges to the neighbouring building to the east were constructed, most using existing openings.
1964: The 1906 ‘tin shed’ is demolished and a temporary metal-framed pavilion is constructed to the north of the northern annexe, facing Elizabeth Street and Little Bourke Street, incorporating public phones and a small plaza is created facing the Elizabeth Street/Little Bourke Street corner. It is probable that general finishes and fittings were upgraded during this period including floor coverings and lighting.
1969: Conservation works to exterior including reconstruction of some missing sections of sandstone with synthetic ‘stone’.
1986-8: The postal chamber is refurbished and new posting and private box rooms are provided. Substantial alteration occurred with the construction of a part first floor mezzanine level within the 1906 annexe. The area between the north wing and the central roof lantern at third floor level is infilled by this date and some third floor areas in the west wing are subdivided. The window panelling to the arcade perimeter openings is variously replaced.
2001: Australia Post leases the premises and a retail centre was opened in southwest corner of the building. A major fire guts the central postal chamber, arcades and flanking office areas at first floor level, causing the central lantern roof to collapse. Rectification works were carried out to secure and protect the building fabric, followed by reconstruction of the lantern roof, plaster finishes and timber details.
2003-4: Construction of large steel-framed addition covering the previously temporary buildings on the northern section of the site and conversion of the GPO to a major retail shopping centre. Various associated works include insertion of new retail and commercial shops within the perimeter areas of the postal hall and arcades, escalators and amenities. The rear lane is converted to an outdoor terrace area, servicing new cafes and restaurants along the eastern side of the building. The second floor area is also altered to house bars and restaurants.
|Condition and Integrity|
GPO’s ability to demonstrate its original design is exceptionally good with
regard to the architectural conception, materials and detail as completed in
1889 and extended in 1911. This is in
spite of extensive internal reorganisation in 1919, a major fire in 2001 and
adaptation of the building to retail use and considerable infill building at
the northern end of the site. |
The building fabric reflects most aspects of its original exterior attributes, particularly with regard to: the whole nineteenth and early twentieth century south and west principal elevations to Bourke and Elizabeth streets including stonework, arcades, roof forms, fenestration and joinery of most upper floor windows and; original stone, brickwork and joinery of elevations to rear lane.
The fire in 2001 extensively damaged the central postal hall and some adjacent spaces. The widespread damage throughout the main postal hall and the adjoining spaces on the ground, first, second and third floor levels necessitated complete reconstruction of the postal hall roof and extensive reconstruction of decorative plasterwork and joinery. Associated with this, reconstruction works were undertaken to construct a number of retail tenancies throughout the building. These works were undertaken with care to avoid intervention on significant fabric as far as was feasible. Much of the non-structural fabric of the postal hall was replaced to match the original. A new bluestone floor has been laid over the original concrete floor in the postal hall and the substrate was altered to incorporate trenches for services. The glazed lantern roof structure has been reconstructed. Elsewhere, particularly at the northern end of the building, later additions and alterations and fabric of little significance, including some floors, ceilings and sections of Traegerwellblech and the strong room (at the south-west corner) were removed as part of the 2003-04 adaptation works.
The cumulative effect of change to the original program, reorientation of the public circulation, general phases of refurbishment for postal use and the most recent adaptation works has resulted in a diminished ability to understand the original internal plan form and fabric in many circumstances. This is heightened by the necessary reconstruction of substantial areas of fabric following the 2001 fire. Notwithstanding, the general impression of the nineteenth century interior, as adapted in 1919, remains broadly legible, particularly throughout the postal hall and the more intact – though secondary – spaces on the upper levels.
The Melbourne General Post Office Conservation Management Plan, Allom Lovell & Associates Pty Ltd, May 2005, provides documentary evidence of the building fabric after the fire damage and before the refurbishment works and adaptation were undertaken. The exterior has been well maintained and has undergone conservation works to stone and roofing, following from initial adaptation and reconstruction works in 2004-5.
|338-352 Bourke Street, corner Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.|
Lewis, N. Historic and Architectural Survey of the Central
City Of Melbourne:
Bourke Street East.
Area 8 Report to the Historic Buildings Preservation Council, Melbourne, 1976.|
Sands, R. Conservation Management Plan for the Melbourne General Post Office, Australian Construction Services, 1988.
G S Warmington & A C Ward, Australia Post Survey of Historic Properties in Victoria, 1990
Commonwealth Heritage List, ID 5197
Register of the National Trust, B445
Register of the National Estate, ID 5197
Victorian Heritage Register, H903
Savills, APPD Property Valuation Report, June 2005
Allom Lovell & Associates, 2005, Melbourne General Post Office, 338–352 Bourke Street, and 188–218 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne: Conservation Management Plan.
Report Produced Mon Apr 21 19:56:24 2014