National Gallery of Victoria (NGA)
date of commission:
date of completion:
St Kilda Rd, Melbourne, Victoria
Recreation / Culture (REC)
protection status/heritage listings:
– Victorian Heritage Register (H1499)
– National Trust of Australia Heritage Register Victoria (B6582)
The National Gallery of Victoria (now known as NGV International) in St Kilda Road is one of Melbourne’s most intriguing modern buildings of the 1960s, primarily because of its multiple, some might use the word eclectic, historic and material allusions. Rectangular in plan, with three square courtyard inside, Roy Grounds’s design is like a renovated Neo-Classical palazzo/castle sitting in a moat, but with Oriental touches: the upturned floating eaves lined in bronze anodised aluminium floating above a continuous band of zig-zagging clerestory windows, the timber gridded baffle ceilings (now all removed), and the Bamboo Courtyard with its bluestone pebbles, jet fountains and black bamboo (demolished) that was intended to resonate with the collection of Oriental art encircling the courtyard. In 1966, Grant and Mary Featherston were commissioned to design all the display cases and furniture and they too used local materials – Victorian Mountain Ash – to match the gallery’s modular internal wall linings. Other features include the bronze Victorian coat of arms above the Richardsonian entry arch designed by Norma Redpath, the much-loved ‘water wall’ at the gallery entry, and the baronial climax of the whole building, the Great Hall with its stained glass ceiling by Leonard French (thought to be the largest in the world) supported off exposed and tapering black steel columns. The carpet in this space, originally a rich golden pile of Victorian wool, has been replaced with a sombre grey.
In 2003, major internal alterations were undertaken by Italian architect Mario Bellini in association with the Melbourne firm Metier III. All three courtyards were filled in, all the Featherston display cabinets were removed, all gallery interiors were refurbished and de-emphasised of their original natural materials (wool carpets, parquetry floors and modular timber panelled walls), and a hole was cut through the wall of the Great Hall to give direct access to the sculpture garden beyond. Despite these changes, the exterior remains largely intact.
Text adapted from an entry by Philip Goad in Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape and Design 1925-1975, Hannah Lewi and Philip Goad (2019, Thames and Hudson).