Hook: Laneways and the Grid System

I love Melbourne’s Laneway Culture. Really, I do. And no, you most likely won’t find me with an obscure-coloured Holga and my Oxfords traipsing along these little lanes taking photographs of macarons in velvet-coloured boxes or sipping authentic chocolat chaud. I live too far away for this kind of endeavour, but when I do get the chance, oh do I try.

But I’m here to engage with Professor Martyn Hook’s articulation of the reason behind the sudden emergence of such culture. And it has nothing to do with the quirkiness of them hipsters.

Night Vision of Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne seen from the International Space Station at night reveals its young history. Unlike the winding streets in older European cities, Melbourne’s streetlights follow a more planned grid system. Established in 1835 around the natural bay of Port Phillip, Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria in Australia.

I’d like you take a deep breath in before we continue. Don’t you just want to say “Whoa” but with a full stop instead of a violent exclamation point? I’m spellbound by the composition, the singularity, all perpendicular lines, unbent, untwisted. And if you zoom in a lot closer, you’ll see what I’m talking about with those laneways.

Professor Martyn of RMIT’s architecture and design described the superimposing of the grid not as a landscape function, but in fact, an economic one. The Laneway Culture is vibrant and unconventionally appealing, and that’s exactly the point. The very city of Melbourne, divided up by streets thanks to the power of the grid lines, is an invitation for commerce. What can be done there? What can be traded? How can these smaller streets be used?

And RMIT University works the same way. Looking back, RMIT had been a closed-off University, barricaded by a watchman who made certain that only students were allowed to pass through, specifically in Bowen Street. Nowadays, anyone can pretty much walk in, walk through and no one would give a water’s dam that they are actually walking through an academic institution. And why would they?

RMIT organises itself as close to how the city organises itself too. The University invites the city in so there’s the commerce there. And RMIT is surrounded by civic centres, much like the whole of Melbourne. Looking from Bowen Street, there’s the State Library of Victoria to your right and across from that, Melbourne Central. Up top is the Old Melbourne Gaol, and to your left, the City Baths. Sound civitas enough for you?


I loved the notion of “letting the city in.” It makes me think of the security issues that may arise with this pursuit of commerce; the value of the University as a whole in the eyes of both students and staff as opposed to those unaffiliated to it. The Laneway Culture (more of in the next post) and the superimposing of a grid on every new map back whence Colonial days because systems are a must.

It really does make me think more of the reasons behind the making of the city, and specifically, of RMIT itself and how I may be able to document Building 20’s significance in my future project.

Some in the list:

  • Economic Function
  • Commerce
  • Surrounded by civic centres – what does this mean?
  • Maybe Building 20’s exterior placement has some sort of significance that can be researched and further developed?
  • Does the interior of Building 20 have anything to do with its surroundings? And if so, how can I use this to my advantage in telling my story and representing place?

Oh, lots to think about!

locam magistram

Disparate and picturesque, limestone and basalt are only some of the words used to describe the Old Magistrates’ Court that sits in old Russell and La Trobe street, always passed by. Flanked by “copper-clad turrets” and surmounted by “arched windows” tinted and aloof, listen closely: you can almost hear the thud of an age-old gavel compelling you to law and order.

When we marched through the, ironically, automatic doors – the conduit from building 1 – I was immediately disarranged. Some of the questions that filtered through my brain was, “Where am I?” “Is this real?” “Did I just emerge from a time-machine and dream-landed to the Renaissance?” Perhaps, if I touched the walls they would crumble. But alas, the musky smell of the carpeted floors and wooden benches that sat across Romanesque-style wall panels bespoke of a since-1884-old building that is more than passed by these days whether you’re a University student or not. It is simply forgotten.

But don’t let me traumatise the adventure with some sadness. Let’s revive it with a modern-day splash…

with much probing
– a short to describe feelings

She hadn’t a choice, really. She cannot simply walk away without fishing out her only means to photograph and collate. With a harsh pull and a muted capture, she ventured to a place she felt was something she only read a book of.IMG_0999

The space around her felt far from thin. The air was packed, almost suffocating in its age. There was a holy silence. Softened footsteps and whispered awes, she couldn’t keep her mind from imagining a magistrate walking these same corridors or that hallway over there that led to even more doors.

She felt intruding, to say the least. It was as if she was not meant to enter the vestibule of this great bastion of law and order. Her fingers ghosted over a marble-step that disappeared towards the first-floor.

IMG_0995She shivered.

Though the sun shone out through the arched windows, she knew, she just knew, that the place was haunted by the sheer expression of strength that was so romantically Roman.


But perhaps George Austin had wanted to leave the plebeians speechless after all.

If you can’t tell by my little short above, I’ve a real passion for the ancients. The entirety of the place is my favourite. But I have a particular fondness to this L-shaped peristyle courtyard, which I found – contradictory to Edquist’s muses who found it an “unusual” feature in an institutional building – was so perfunctory in position, only slightly odd, offering an authentic Roman feel. Austin, the great architect he was, really did a number with placing this courtyard here. For unlike other buildings that may boast the romantic interior and exterior of the age-old Romanesque, the courtyard itself is carved in the very heart of this stone masonry, thus marking the building as far more reverent to the original Roman architecture than of the other sites of the institution.


And this reverence is what makes mine heart cry a bit.


The State Library of Victoria has an extensive collection of photographs and books, manuscripts and articles with above photo being one of them. Entitled, “The Kelly Trial – The Scene in Court” (guess which court!), this photograph goes back to that particular moment I had when my group traversed the walls of this old court.

On the audience stands,metres back from the judge’s seat, there is a long wooden divider. Seemingly unblemished upon first look, it’s terribly easy not to notice the scribbles on timber. More like scratches, carvings, really, superimposed by some students’ ink. Tribal.

I tried to decipher some of the words but couldn’t. Most were faded, though still quite ingrained. My fingers ghosting over them, you could perfectly touch the grooves.

I had wondered if, in that room, where Ned Kelly was on trial, someone in the audience actually felt disinterested enough to actually carve graffiti on it. Something to ponder…




Nowadays, the Old Magistrates’ Court is cartographically known as “Building 20” for the RMIT-goers. Not entirely sure which faculty uses court rooms as their classrooms (and I envy them to the greatest degree), but as nominally clued-in, it was used as a judicial court, of course, and as stated here, then Victorian Premier Hon. Thomas Bent, promised the Council of the Working Men’s College (RMIT) that this court would become their main administrative building.

In conclusion, I wish to visit this building yet again but this time, with summoned courage, at time where it’s a little darker than usual. Melbourne summer, though Autumn now, still promises an sunny 7.30pm so it didn’t work so well in that regard. But I wonder just what else this building beholds when admiring it by moonlight…