I can remember that in one of the first Architecture lectures that I attended, the lecturer stated (as fact), that you could always tell the Architect, as they would be the ones looking up at the buildings when walking, when everyone else was looking down at their feet.

I'm not so sure that this is completely true - there are no doubt many people who look up and notice the details above their head, and many Architects who walk around in a slight daze, noticing nothing.

I am often struck, however, by the interesting detail up in the sky above our heads. Modern Architecture generally does not incorporate decoration or ornament, or anything for that matter of particular interest above the first storey. Purism in Architecture means that we have lost a lot of the interesting detail in our Architecture. So I cast around and thought of a few examples that I have noticed locally and that have interesting detail if you only look up a little higher than your nose.


The Beehive Corner in Adelaide's CBD has always been a favourite. Not just because the bottom of the Beehive Corner contains the Flagship Haigh's Chocolate Store, but also because perched above the beautiful Gothic revival building with its ornamental brickwork is a little gold bee on top of her hive.



Source: thepiecart.com.au via Adelaide on Pinterest



I also love the original and early illuminated Haigh's Chocolates sign above the awning.

Back when I lived in Melbourne, I used to live around the corner from Empire 111 Vintage, in Albert Park, Melbourne. It's in the small main shopping strip, filled with little cafes, an excellent book shop and several rather expensive dress shops and is located in "The Suit Hospital Pty Ltd" building. Up until the late 1990's/ early 2000's this particular shop housed a mending and alteration business. The original 1950's shop front has been retained by the new business, with its Invisible Mending sign, little robots (so futuristic) and signage with its old name. It's quite complimentary to the new Vintage business run by the very stylish Lyn Gardiner (who has been featured in many Interiors magazines).



There are a few absolutely wonderful examples of decoration and ornamentation in Melbourne's CBD. I love the Majorca Building, at the end of Degraves Street in the city. It has a beautifully tiled facade in blue and gold, with ornamental columns and decorative pediments. It's completely unexpected as it is hidden in the back laneways of Melbourne, surrounded by the rather austere and plain facades of its neighbours. There is so much distraction at ground level with the lively street cafes and businesses, but it rather slaps you in the face at the termination of the cafe strip.



When I used to catch the tram to work, I would always look out at this beautiful mosaic panel on Collins Street. It's all quite Ancient Roman/ Classical in its inspiration with Atlas et al, and much of it is in gold, so it catches the light. It really has an amazingly rich colour, and is on an otherwise fairly simple Art Deco building. The mosaic is up above the awning that covers the pedestrians, so unless you're on the other side of the street, it's easy enough to miss it.



Back to the inner city suburbs and to slightly more simple ornamentation, what could be a fairly average Fruit and Vegetable shop in a fairly standard High Street style shop front has been transformed by these ethereal and colourful fruits piled up above the awning and made out of chicken wire. So fun, and so unexpected. It's on Chapel Street on South Yarra. Sorry for the image quality, it's from Google maps...



You are spoilt for choice in European cities with the ornamentation on buildings. Unfortunately Australia, being a more modern built environment, lacks much of that decorative detail. Modern Architecture is about a lack of ornamentation/ honesty in design. You're not supposed to cover things up with decoration, which was the reason why ornamentation was traditionally applied around windows and at the bases of buildings (to cover the joins). It's a shame, because decoration has a place, and can enrich an otherwise dull built environment.

18 comments:

  1. Isn't that how Gaudi met his fateful end....standing in the middle of the road looking up at his Sagrada Familia and being run over by a tram? Architects beware! The beehive corner looks beautiful and whimsical.....we have an old Cascade Brewery building in Hobart which has now been encroached upon by towering, ugly, cheaply constructed modern edifices which shadow the nostalgic thylacine on top of a beer keg. Rx

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    1. True indeed Romy, Gaudi did meet his end while admiring his building..... and they never mentioned that in the lecture! Don't worry, the Beehive building has also been ruined by the backdrop of the hideous green and gold glass Myer centre a few buildings down the road, a complete eyesore from the late 80s. On the whole, however, Adelaide specialises in retaining the facades of the Victorian architecture, then building the hideous monolith one room back. Grenfell Street is a prime example. I'm sure Hobart is the same. I think it's supposed to be a clever juxtaposition between the old and the new xx

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  2. Great post Heidi. I love beehive corner too. If you can sneak in a coffee in David Jones on level 3 (from memory) you can get a nice view of the buildings on north terrace. There's a few nice gothic touches on some of the buildings there too.
    K xx

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    1. I love that view too K, overlooking the Art Gallery and the Museum, and all the beautiful landscaping they've done to North Terrace. You don't need a magazine to read while enjoying a coffee xx

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  3. Lovely post Heidi - yes - great reminder.

    I love looking around and when I get on the bus in London - I always try and sit on the upper deck to get a better view. I get to peek into the first floor flats and offices - so interesting!

    Never been to Adelaide but would love to go someday.

    But I love that building in Degraves Street - I used to always walk along the back alleys - first it was to avoid Swanston Street but then I just loved looking at the inscriptions and the dates on the facade.

    But I will remember to be more careful than Gaudi...

    Next time I visit Melbourne - I have to check out Albert Park properly - I used to go to a hairdresser sometimes there near Misuzu's. Was an excuse to eat there afterwards! x

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    1. I used to love sitting on the top deck of the bus and looking in the windows in London too! Definitely check out Albert Park when you're next home - it's got a lovely mix of shops and cafes and has the best bookshop in Australia (I think). The Avenue Bookstore has an amazing Design section on a mezzanine level stuffed full of beautiful books and the staff are often writers themselves, so have great knowledge... so rare in the days of the chain store book shop. xx

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  4. the architecture here is really fascinating. and so much history behind it!!

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    1. Some interesting things amongst all the modern blandness! xx

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  5. Sometimes I just like beauty for its own sake.

    I have always felt a bit sorry for the poor tram driver who hit Gaudi!

    The bee on the beehive is stunning. Perth is definitely heading down the metal/glass/uber modern architecture path, especially since the mining boom. There are still a few old buildings dotted around though.

    Take care.

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    1. I've always liked ornamentation.... which always put me on rather the outer with my colleagues, but I think it adds so much to the way you experience your environment. I haven't been to Perth in years, although Mr AV goes over all the time for work (and is there today actually... left home at 5.30am for his flight) and he has said there's a massive amount of construction going on of the big glass skyscraper variety. What is interesting about all the modern construction is that the traditional skills are almost unknown now, builders have become quite deskilled in some ways. xx

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  6. Love this post! I am a walker who always looks up, didn't know that about Gaudi so I had better take care. I love old buildings and always lament the fact that so many of the Beauties built in Melbourne's Gold Rush era were demolished in the 50's & 60's for the Uglies. I do wonder what they teach in Architecture nowadays in Australia. Modern architecture does not have to be ugly, there are wonderful examples overseas, but not here...ugliness is the keyword. And, I agree, ablout the loss of traditional skills. What's happened to us, we are definitely not the "clever country" any more.

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    1. There were so many lovely buildings demolished at that time - Adelaide lost some huge and grand old buildings at that time too. I guess it's been a mixed blessing that while Adelaide isn't an economic powerhouse anymore (it had more millionaires per capita than any other city in Australia circa 1900) it means there hasn't been the rampant development that has happened in other cities. xx

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  7. Dear Heidi

    Such an interesting post. Really like the way you vary the topics as blogs that are only about fashion or interior style (much as I love both) can get a bit monotonous after a while.

    The building ornamentation pics are fascinating and so beautiful. Next time we go to Melbourne will look out for the places you've included. Whenever we're crawling along in a taxi in central Sydney I specially watch for the wonderful old buildings and their ornamentation. There are still lots despite all the highrises.

    One day we must visit Adelaide and the Beehive Corner - it's a darling kind of gingerbread house in your picture. Was only in Adelaide once, as a child with my parents. We had afternoon tea in a little place in the Corner itself, don't remember the name, so many years ago, but they knew it was the place to go. Whenever we visited a city my parents always took us to the museum, the art gallery, the botanical and other special gardens and some lovely shops and places to eat. So I do have distant memories of being there - and having visited all the vineyards and wineries in the countryside.

    Sadly as a much newer city (more like a big country town really, only with major modern public buildings and monuments) Canberra lacks these lovely old buildings and the feeling of history. But we enjoy living here as the air is so clear and unpolluted, compared with Sydney there are no traffic problems (though at the moment everywhere you go there are roadworks), people are so friendly and generally well educated and enjoy discussing a variety of interesting issues. Conversations are not so boringly focused on where you live and the value of your property as they tend to be in Sydney.

    Heidi, if you haven't discovered the blog "Aussie in France", you might be interested. In recent weeks she's been doing a series of great posts on Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia and his other buildings in Barcelona, with some wonderful photos of the ornamentation. Worth taking a look.
    Best wishes, Pamela

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    1. Thank you for the tip on the blog Pamela, I'll go and have a look. I love Canberra - although I think it's the housing stock that suffers the most, perhaps because people move on a lot and I know from my Aunt that they find it a struggle to find good Architects/ Designers etc locally. I have a lot of family in Canberra, and they all love it for the reasons you mentioned. Next time you're in Melbourne, you should definitely take a trip out to Albert Park and the Avenue Bookstore - I'm sure you'd love it (and it's not far from the city, you can even catch the number 1 tram which takes you straight to the village). I am planning a trip into the excellent Art Gallery of SA in the next week or so to see the Turner exhibition, although I'm thinking you'll probably wait until it moves onto Canberra mid year. xx

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  8. So excited to have found your blog! My nieces name is Adelaide! What a cute coincidence :)

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    1. I love the name Adelaide for a little girl... interestingly, Heidi is the nickname for Adelheid (German name), which translated to English is Adelaide. xx

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  9. Such an interesting topic! When we were designing the Roma Mitchell Law Courts, part of our brief was to include "something to look at above the pedestrian's view from the street". Or in other words, something to arrest the eye when walking on the other side of the street. It lead to much discussion as to the lack of interest in much modern architecture, above that canopy line, just as you say. My solution was to incorporate different coloured glass into the facade walling, to represent the colours of the adelaide hills and sea. (Chosen, hysterically, by climbing on top of the old police building with my full set of Derwent 72 pencils, and holding up the ones which matched the tones I could see. It was hilarious to see the look on the glass manufactures' faces when they were handed a bunch of pencils and asked to make samples of glass to match!) There are some other elements as well, purely there for the pedestrian view - I can't take over your post with my ramblings so shall stop! But I do thoroughly agree with your sentiments.

    Oh, and have always loved that Beehive corner, both for the architecture and of course for the world's best chocolates which lie within!! xx

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    1. I shall have to have another look at the Law Courts, next time I'm passing. I'm sure your glass looks beautiful. Did you know that the way they got the horrific Myer centre through in its green and gold livery was to tell the council that the green represented the vineyards around Adelaide, and the gold was the barley. Unfortunately the council bought it, and didn't seem to realise that they were just recycling the Brisbane plans. Wonder what they told Brisbane council?! xx

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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