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Former Mail Exchange


672-696 Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC, Australia


Exterior – Free to view

Interior – Access may be restricted

Architectural History

The Former Mail Exchange building was designed by the first Commonwealth Government Architect John Murdoch. Commissioned in 1904 and completed in 1917 the seven storey building was constructed in the beaux-arts classical style and was a precursor to the Greek revivalist period that took place in Melbourne in the mid to late 1920s. The red brick facade features rustication at the corners and a trabeated facade at first to third floor levels. The dominant feature there is the paired giant order fluted columns, with ionic capitals, rising through three storeys. Bronzed steel framed windows fill the bays between the columns, contrasting with the mass and solidity of the masonry. Windows in each corner also rise three storeys from small balconettes with a simple bronzed steel balustrade.

Social History

As the first Commonwealth Government architect, Classicism became the style of choice for major public buildings as a result of Murdoch’s vision for the city. The building was erected to ease congestion and provide better conditions than those at the original GPO. The reception and distribution of mail was made more efficient by its location near Spencer Street station to which it is connected by an under road tunnel. Its modern system of chutes to transport mail around the building and connection to platform 2 at what is now Southern Cross are testament to the dedication of the city to modernise the mail system in the early years of the new Commonwealth.

Prompts & Activities

  • Why do you think the architect used Greek influences in this building? How does it relate to its purpose, and the people who would have occupied it?

  • In comparison, how is it used today, and is this thinking still relevant? Or does the modern use of the building subvert its history?

  • How many of the mentioned Greek architectural elements can you see? Can you count columns or other design features? Which types of columns are used, and why do you think this is?

  • The Former Mail Exchange was built after the GPO, to address congestion in Melbourne's postal system as populations boomed. Are there any links between this building and the GPO? What is the same, what is different?

  • What is your favourite element of this building? Does it have interesting ornamentation? What part does this element play in the overall design of the building, and why might it have been included? You might like to draw your favourite components! Observational sketching is a great way to get a deeper understanding of something.

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