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Victorian Academic Classical c. 1840—c. 1890

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  05 Customs House 09 Choragic Monument 10 Justice and Police Museum
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  07 Chief Secretary's Office
 Macquarie Street

04 Sydney Grammar School

05 Australian Museum

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  016 Police Law Courts 06 Balmain Post Office and Courthouse 02 Leichhardt Post Office 
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15 Old Bank Building
01 Leichhardt Town Hall
 
During the Victorian era, Western nations shared a belief that the human race was progressing towards ever higher levels of material prosperity. There were grounds for such confidence. The British Empire continued to expand, and many other European nations acquired colonies overseas while promoting industrialisation at home. The energetic citizens of the United States drove railways across America, settled and developed farmlands, built cities, and laid the foundations for the nation’s industrial might. In Australia, discoveries of gold in the 1850s brought an influx of new settlers, boosting the economy and creating a growing demand for buildings of all kinds.
A scholarly brand of classical architecture was the ideal language with which the Victorian age could proclaim its confidence and celebrate its achievements when a high degree of formality was needed. From mid-century onwards, the refined elegance of ancient Greece was no longer the ideal, and preferred models were found in the extroverted pomp of imperial Rome and the grandeur of the fully developed European Renaissance. In America, almost every state capitol was clothed in correct classical raiment and had a central dome raised high on a colonnaded drum. The growth of local government in Britain’s booming industrial cities created some impressive and quintessentially Victorian monuments. One of the most influential examples, Leeds Town Hall, is notable for a feature which has no classical precedent—a grandiose central tower which gives the city a visual landmark and proclaims its civic pride. In Britain, Europe, America and Australia there arose innumerable law courts, libraries, art galleries and museums which expressed their importance and dignity through the correct use of the language of classicism.
Buildings in the Victorian Academic Classical style are usually symmetrical in plan and massing unless special conditions (for example, a street- corner site) dictate otherwise. Whether the architecture is exuberant or restrained, façades always display a strong sense of systematic composition, and this is usually achieved by the use of one or more of the five architectural orders (Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite). Classical proportions determine the major subdivisions of the façade and also control the shape, size and placement of smaller elements such as window and door openings. As in all architecture derived from classical models, the parts contribute to the whole while maintaining their individual identity. The design of elements such as pediments, aedicules, consoles, balustrades and mouldings in this style is always in accordance with long-established conventions.
Australia’s finest example of the Victorian Academic Classical style is Parliament House in Spring Street, Melbourne. Its architects, Peter Kerr and J. G. Knight, created a building which is both large in scale and rich in detail. Its grand cascade of steps and monumental colonnade allow it to dominate its surroundings effortlessly—even without the huge central dome shown on the original design but never built.

Examples

005 New South Wales Club
Custom House, Esplanade, Launceston, Tas. Built by J. & T. Gunn, 1885. Rich modelling of copious classical detailing.
Parliament House, Spring Street, Melbourne, Vic. Peter Kerr and J. G. Knight, architects,from 1856. Grandiloquent even without its proposed great dome.
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Copy of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates (Athens). Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, NSW. Walter McGill, sculptor, 1870. A compelling antipodean echo of classical Greece.

Town Hall, St John Street, Launceston, Tas. Peter Mills, architect, 1886. The pavilions and grand Corinthian colonnade foreshadow the Beaux-Arts style.
 
  State Library of Victoria. Swanston Street, Melbourne, Victoria. Completed 1856.
 
  Parliament House. Spring Street, Melbourne. Completed 1856.
 
  Melbourne Trades Hall. Completed 1875.
 
  Supreme Court of Victoria. Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria. Completed 1884. Features a large columned neo-classical dome.
 
  Parliament House. Adelaide. Completed in 1889.
 
  St Kilda Town Hall. St Kilda, Victoria. Completed 1890.
 
  Former Hibernian Hall. Swanston Street, Melbourne. Completed 1887.
 
  Former Baptist Church House. East Melbourne, Victoria. Completed 1863.
  Quoted from:
"A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Austrlian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present"
RICHARD APPERLY, ROBERT IRVING, PETER REYNOLDS. PHOTOGRAPHS BY SOLOMON MITCHELL.
Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995 ISBN 0207 18562 X
Copyright © 1989 by Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds.

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