Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism Blogging (3); OK, it's Tuesday, but surely that's ok...

Hmm. Have slowly started cleaning up my office at work in preparation for eleven months' absence; and am very slowly going through my list of things to do before I can really get down to some writing: examining PhD theses; assessing journals for the ARC; chasing up signatures from colleagues on new graduate applications; hunting down illustrations for an essay for antiTHESIS; deciding on the content of another essay; trying to find accommodation in Philadelphia and New York. It's also been very hot. It got up above 40 in Melbourne today, and then suddenly crashed to the high 20s. Much more comfortable.

Anyway, yesterday's medievalist blog topic was voted by the readers of the Melbourne Age in 1987 as Victoria's favourite building. It is the "Gothic bank" in Collins St, designed by William Wardell, a devoted follower of Pugin who migrated to Australia in 1858. It is magnificent.



And possibly looks even better in black and white:


Scroll down here for best images, especially of the interior. Keep scrolling on this site: there are some great shots here.

ANZ also built a skyscraper with postmodernist neo-Gothic arches up the top behind the bank, which you can see in the first picture above:



Discussing Wardell's building (we'll have occasion to re-visit his work on future occasions, especially when we look at St Patrick's Cathedral), Brian Andrews, in Australian Gothic (p. 25) quotes J. M. Freeland, Architecture in Australia on the building boom that was responsible for much of this very elaborate building style:

The pumped-up prosperity based on over-extended borrowing which was to envelop the whole of eastern Australia during the eighties was to reach its hysterical climax in Melbourne. In that town financial caution was to be thrown to the winds; crazy ventures were to be launched with loans over-subscribed within an hour or two of opening and with people fighting for the opportunity to invest their money: clever unprincipled financiers, many of them penniless when the decade began, were to float dozens of finance companies and building societies and, by the peak year of 1888, create an artificial and frantic land boom which was to be the prelude to the greatest and most terrible of depressions in Australia's history.


Sound familiar?

And a personal note. My aunt, who now lives in Sydney, was a very resourceful woman, who used to love coming into the city from Moonee Ponds and Keilor, where she used to live. In fact, she would take friends and visitors around to visit various banks of architectural or stylistic interest: and this was always the centrepiece of the tour. My uncle was not really one for much travelling or going out at night; and I can remember marvelling one evening, when my mother, sister and aunt and I had seen a movie in the city one evening, and Muriel commented on how beautiful her beloved city looked at night, all floodlit, and all. For she had mostly only seen it during the day. It was just one of those moments that consolidated the difference in our lives, just one generation apart.

2 comments:

Mark Lawrence said...

It boggles the mind to read that Australia's financiers have been making the same mistakes for the last century and more. (For a moment, I was convinced the excerpt referred to the Bonds and Skases... )And they will go on making the same mistakes.

However this time around, with the exception of Eureka tower and a couple of others, the spending spree-land and building boom seems to have expressed itself sideways rather than upwards... grotesquely bloated, energy-intensive McMansions spreading across a carpet of socially isolated housing estates chewing up farmland.

Along your medieval, I think it's very interesting that banks were built in very much the same vein as medieval cathedrals. Goes to show what the 'modern' religion is...

Mark Lawrence said...

Oops. That should read, 'Along your medieval lines [of thought]'.