Art & Design

This Year’s Open House Melbourne Program Just Dropped

By James Shackell
15th Jun 2017


Good news everyone! The Open House Melbourne 2017 line-up dropped today, and it’s looking pretty awesome.

If you haven’t queued patiently for Open House before, it’s basically architecture porn for consenting adults—the one weekend of the year where we get to see inside the city’s coolest (read: most expensive) private buildings. The buildings don’t do anything exactly, they just sit there looking as interesting as possible. You walk in, look around, try to resist the urger to carve ‘___Was Here’ on a surreptitious wall, then leave a better and more well-adjusted person.

Believe it or not, this is Open House’s 10-year anniversary, and they’re celebrating with 80 new buildings on the books, in suburbs as far afield as Ringwood and Dandenong (for a long time the program was strictly CBD). You can check out the full list here.

Looking for the cliffnotes? Here are the coolest buildings at Open House this year.

New Additions

Kiah House

One of the 15 private homes in this year’s program (yep, people actually open up their homes for public viewing. We’re fighting an urge to rearrange the fridge door condiments...) Kiah House was designed to resemble the Buddhist retreats of Kyoto: a tranquil refuge in the heart of Melbourne. It used to be a weather-beaten old cottage, if you can believe it. Yep, all you need for ultimate relaxation is a dream, the skills of Austin Maynard Architects...and (presumably) a big wad of cash. One for the cashed-up Zen-seekers.

RMIT New Academic St

A ground-breaking overhaul of the RMIT City Campus, and it’s going to be all-access during Open House. This isn’t just interesting for post-grad journalism students trying to find where the hell Room 24B-2 has moved to—the NAS project is modern green architecture on steroids. There’ll be gardens incorporated into the design, including a four-story open garden building and two rooftop terraces (called ‘Sky Gardens’, which sounds much cooler). The project is massive, pulling together half a dozen architecture companies, plus Australian design firm, Lyons.  

Fifty Albert

You know those ridiculously opulent high-rises springing up all over Melbourne? The ones that advertise a 1-bedroom shoebox using pictures of some Harvey Spector-type penthouse suite that mocks you with its 20-seater couch ? Well now’s you chance to visit that Harvey Spector-type penthouse suite. Fifty Albert in South Melbourne is opening its doors to the public for the first time, and you’ll get to see exactly what a top-flight Melbourne apartment looks like. Expect furniture that would be a real pain to move, and killer Melbourne views.

Cairo Studio

There’s minimalism...and then there’s Cairo Studio. Its designer describes it as ‘petite’ living, presumably in the same way your Sylvanian doll houses were ‘petite’ living. To be fair, it may be small, but Cairo Studio packs a lot in, mostly thanks to its multi-purpose ‘tool chest’: a beautifully designed console in which you wash, eat, cook and sleep. The original building, constructed in 1936, was meant to be a throwback to tiny London flats that did away with inconveniences like ovens, cooktops, washing machines and personal space. This one’s gonna be controversial.  

The MAD House

A strange, time-warp construction that teleports visitors back to the 1960s. The MAD House is a house in Beaumaris that sort of froze halfway through the 20th century. The new owners moved in in 2011, but instead of bulldozing the lot and building a grey concrete slab, they restored the interior to create a sort of living museum. Architect Adrian Bonomi was brought on to create a contemporary, liveable space, while keeping as much of the retro old stuff in tact as possible. The result is one of a kind.


Strolling through the pulsing corporate amygdala of KPMG might not sound like a barrel of laughs, but this building on Collins Square is being marked as the ‘workplace of the future’. It looks a little like George Jetson and Frank Lloyd Wright got together to design a new office: soaring white staircases, glass and marble everywhere, swooping lines and tasteful, minimalist furniture. Whack in a co-working space, a dedicated hospitality/catering team, ‘data visualisation capabilities’ (could be a projector, we’re not sure) and you’ve got something pretty cool.

Old Favourites

Melbourne Town Hall

Who knows what shadowy machinations really go on inside the Town Hall when it’s not being used for its major purpose, hosting MICF comedy shows? Well this is your chance to find out. Visitors at Open House get access to the admin offices on the ground floor, plus the Council Chamber, the Portico Room, the Melbourne Room and the Yarra Room. If you spot Kevin Spacey plotting something, alert the authorities.

Substation J

We always thought electricity just appeared in the city’s street lights, perhaps courtesy of some sort of mystical force or an army of mischievous pixies. Apparently this is not the case. Electricity comes from weird subterranean bunkers like Substation J, one of the oldest substations in the city. Melbourne was one of the first city’s in the world to have a public electricity grid, and it’s not often you get a peek into how it all works. This one’s presented by CitiPower and Powercor.

Nicholas Building

The Nicholas family were a wealthy Melbourne clan who got rich by selling Apsro (the first form of aspirin). So you can thank painkillers for The Nicholas Building, one of architect Harry Norris’ greatest achievements. You would have seen it looming over the corner of Swanston St and Flinders Ln, and this is your chance to check out the cool artists community that resides inside. Open House will be leading tours through Folk Architects on Lvl 8. This one will be popular, so get in early to avoid the queues.

Hawthorn Tram Depot

The Hawthorn tram depot was opened in 1916, and it used to service the developing route between Princes Bridge and newfangled suburbs like Camberwell and Burwood. As the years went by they added offices, amenities, a uniform-production area and a tram driver school. The Camberwell Depot made it obsolete in the 60s, but the building itself is a sweet walk back through Melbourne’s charming (yet frustratingly slow) tram-based past. You can also check out the official Melbourne Tram Museum, plus new residential units that were added in a 2002 redevelopment. We say bring back the old W-Class. Who's with us?

Rupertswood Mansion

You’ve heard of Rippon Lea, Werribee Mansion and Como House, but how many of you can point to Rupertswood Mansion on a map? This place doesn’t get the same hype as Melbourne’s more illustrious mansions, which is weird, because it’s kind of stunning. It was built back in 1874 by a wealthy landowner, Sir William Clarke. It cost 25,000 pounds and took two years to complete. Just a simple family shack...with 50 rooms and a 100-ft tower (and you thought today’s new money was showy...) During Open House you’ll get to walk through the Ballroom and the Mansion’s bottom floor, accompanied by current College history students.

Melbourne General Cemetery

Ever wondered where Sir Robert Menzies is buried? Or Burke and Wills? The Redmond Barry who presumably inspired the Unimelb building called ‘Remond Barry’? Well wonder no more—they’re all in the ground at the Melbourne General Cemetery in Parkville. You know, the one you have to hold your breath while driving past College Crescent (which is hard, because the thing is bloody massive). This Open House tour walks you past some of the more famous graves, plus gets you inside the spooky gothic-style gate lodge. If that thing isn’t haunted we don’t know what is.

D-Division, Pentridge

Most people have driven past Pentridge. It’s even become a brunch spot for local Coburg residents (if you haven’t checked out The Glass Den yet, put that on your to-do list). But not many (apart from infamous criminals like Chopper Read) have actually wandered its cells blocks. Open House is giving you that chance. They’re opening up D-Division, a 161-cell collection that housed the prison’s most notorious inmates. It operated for almost 150 years before closing in 1997. You have to pre-book for this tour, but it’s worth the effort. 

If you're all about the design you'll appreciate these: Melbourne's most jaw-droppingly beautiful cafes. 

Image credit: Open House Melbourne | The MAD House

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