HOT: Characters & Spaces Walking Tour, Melbourne

State of Design has been over for a couple of weeks now, but because of scheduling difficulties I haven’t had a chance until now to do the Characters & Spaces free self-guided walk by Letterbox with my trusty photographer, RM.

Character is a program run by the Communication Design Program at RMIT which ‘seeks to explore and express the cultural and social significance of graphic design and typography to a broader community’. Basically, this meant a very enjoyable two hours poking around the CBD on a Sunday, spotting an array of delightful gems hidden in what I thought were my familiar well-trodden tracks. Here are some of the highlights:

Stop 1. I must have walked through Centreway Arcade thousands of times and I’ve never really looked up. If you do look up, you’ll see that the southern end of the arcade has some Helvetica letters set into diamond configurations.  Put  them all together and it says ‘We live in a society that sets an inordinate value on consumer goods and services’. What a thought-provoking message to include in a shopping arcade!

Centreway Arcade Melbourne

Centreway Arcade Melbourne

The other bizarre thing you’ll find on the second floor of the arcade are the light poles, which have the shape of Australia attached to them. So daggy and kitsch.

Stop 2: At 247-249 Collins St is Newspaper House, with a beautiful glittering mosaic on its facade. Again, a building I’ve passed thousands of times and never even noticed a glimmer of gold. I think many passersby were equally amazed when they saw us gazing upwards and noticed the mosaic for the first time too.

newspaper house collins st melbourne

The facade was created by neo-classical mural artist Napier Waller and the quote ‘I’ll put a girdle round about the earth’ comes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my favourite Shakespearean play). If you look closely at the mosaic. you can see a telephone pole, light globe and the date of its installation.

Stop 9: The tacky souvenir shops of Swanston St overwhelm a lovely cursive script attached onto the side of what used to be The Graham Hotel at 67-73 Swanston St. The sign is best viewed from across the road at City Square.

graham hotel swanston st melbourne

Stop 10: You really have to crane your neck for this one. Stand on the steps of 247 Flinders Lane and look amongst the rooftops for the half obscured signage for the iconic Majorca building. Many tourists have photographed the Majorca facade, but I’ll bet that hardly any have ever spotted this sign.

Majorca Building, Centre Place Melbourne

Stop 11: Have you ever noticed that the City Library signage is written on a big ‘L’ for ‘library’?

Stop 16: At 1-5 Elizabeth St you’ll see an abstract mural by Richard Beck of three glasses clinking together on the side of Hosie’s Hotel – apparently the colours have faded since 1953. In front of the mural is an old sign indicating the tram routes to the Royal Melbourne show, which for some reason has never been removed.

hosies hotel elizabeth st melbourne

Stop 17: The now defunct Australian Natives Association (28-32 Elizabeth St) was housed at in a building which features a menagerie of native fauna, although we thought one of them on the right side of the shield looked like a pig with a spear through it?

ANA Elizabeth St Melbourne

I’m keeping a hold of my pamphet for future guests, as I think it’s a wonderful way to discover a side of Melbourne that not many tourists see. To  download a copy of the guide click here.

If you’d like more information about interesting architecture around Melbourne, check out Walking Melbourne. They run walking tours, as do Hidden Secrets, who run walking tours exploring the laneways and arcades of Melbourne.

HOT: 1277 Past Use By, Adelphi Hotel, 187 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Another free exhibition in State of Design (seeing a theme here?), this time in the foyer of the Adelphi Hotel. All in Good Hindsight is a design practice all about sustainability, so they’ve come up with a novel way to use up all those millions of metcards Melburnians throw away every year.

1277 Past Use By‘ is all about giving a new, artistic life to an everyday object that has passed its use by date. So the colourful metcards have been turned into lampshades, a miniscule sculpture of a wheelbarrow-pushing man and framed art. A very creative extension to all those preschool projects we used to do with paddlepop sticks and egg cartons!

HOT: Baking Architecture, 41 Exhibition St, Melbourne


I was pretty sure that I’d enjoy the Baking Architecture exhibition (part of State of Design festival) as soon as I walked into the foyer of the Australian Institute of Architects and sniffed the aroma of patisserie.


Melbourne architectural practices and chefs have collaborated to construct delicious models of unbuilt architectural structures in order to explore the parallels between the production of food and architecture and the influence of design aesthetics in both disciplines. The exhibition ranged from the twisting simplicity of Elenberg Fraser‘s design exercise for a high-rise tower, constructed from plates of pastillage, gelatin and confectioners sugar by Baker D Chirico; a lacy laser-cut cube of icing sugar by Let Them Eat Cake modelling a Hawthorn residence by FMD Architects; and the eye-catching Liquorice Freeway, a work comprising coloured cake icing for the liquorice pylons and a bridge of edible rice paper printed with a Melways map by BKK and again Let Them Eat Cake.


The exhibition only runs for a few more days so go along in your lunch hour but remember not to ‘touch or eat the displays’!

HOT: Visible Markings, Craft Victoria, 31 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

My favourite of the three exhibitions that Craft Victoria are hosting as part of the State of Design festival is Visible Markings.

In a dimly lit room various pieces of armoury hang with ghostly stillness. However, the breastplates, collars and neckpieces have been constructed out of unexpected materials – knitted wool interspersed with leather, oak, organza and metal. Alana Clifton Cunningham’s exhibition challenges the traditional ‘stand-back and admire’ approach of art exhibitions with a collection of tactile textures which you are encouraged to approach at close range and touch. In fact, on the back wall you are actively urged to feel a row of small frames containing different knitted textures, which reminded me variously of Christmas trees, fishing nets and even female genitalia.

The intricate handmade works reward a slow, careful inspection and you can read more about the process and the artistic inspirations in Craft Victoria’s interview with Alana.

Visible Markings, Craft Victoria, 31 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

NOT: Morphed, Craft Victoria, 31 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Simply put, I didn’t like Emma Davies’ exhibition Morphed (another State of Design show) because I thought it was ugly. The works were apparently inspired by Davies’ recent trip to South Africa and ‘the visual intoxication of busy streets, road-side performances, and the bustling Johannesburg market’. I didn’t sense any of that in the lumpish black ape/humanoid creatures with spindle limbs who peered at you as they perched on timber pedestals and draped on rusty ladders.

If you love the figures based on my best attempt to photograph them, you can read an effusive review of Morphed at Art Blart.

HOT: UK Overgrown, Panelpop, 117 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

I’m a little disappointed that I won’t be in Melbourne this weekend, as otherwise I’d be completely immersed in State of Design, Victoria’s design festival.

Fortunately, some of the events are open during the course of ten day festival. So today I decided to visit the venue closest to me, Panelpop, which is displaying a series of photographs entitled ‘UK Overgrown‘.

This small exhibition displays a handful of photographs by Collingwood-based photographer Adrian Lander, taken while he was visiting London, Sussex and Wales. The works explore our desire to tame the natural environment around us, but if we’re not vigilant, Mother Nature will laugh delightedly and quickly reclaim it. The atmosphere of the pictures ranged from creepy to comical, with my favourite works being a pair of photographs of ‘plants gone nuts’ – a hedge looking like it was about to attack a suburban garage and a vine creeping up a lamp post like strangler fig, pointedly juxtaposed against a background of uninspired cement buildings and other man-made objects. The other work I loved was a photograph of another lamp post, but this time it looked like the electrical wires were radiating from an organic core.

While I was giggling at the cheeky plants, Tony the owner of Panelpop told me to touch the paintings. Wow! I could feel the ridges of the panelled fibreglass house and the coarseness of a hedgerows under my fingertips. Panelpop specialise in what they call a ‘new art medium’. They claim recycled wood from people who would normally throw it in the tip and reuse polystyrene from the Queen Victoria Market stallholders to reinforce the back of the frames. The framed surface is given a coating made from gypsum based cement and industrial by-product which means that the works are scratch and weather resistant and don’t require glass protection.

If I had a spare $980 then I’d be buying one of Adrian Lander’s prints and hanging it on my balcony next to my vege pots. As such, I might have to be content with uploading one of my own photos to Panelpop.