Melbourne Bound: The City in Books

Melbourne Bound graphic

Bookshop by Uro has asked 10 Melburnians with a creative or professional interest in the built environment to nominate the books that have had the biggest influence on their understanding of Melbourne, and their practice within it.

The books form the centrepiece of a specially curated display of Melbourne-focused art, architecture and design publications for Open House Melbourne 2022.

You can visit our Collingwood Yards bookstore in-person until Sunday 13 August to leaf through the contributors' selections, many of which are rare and long out of print. Otherwise, you can find their answers below, along with links to view and purchase those books that are still available.

Contributors (click to jump):
John Gollings + Christine Phillips + Andy Fergus + Kerstin Thompson + Eugenia Lim + Mark Jacques + Claire Martin + Conrad Hamann + Dan Hill + Jan van Schaik


John Gollings, photographer

Remembering Melbourne

Remembering Melbourne 1850-1960—Richard Broome, Richard Barnden, Don Gibb, Don Garden, Elisabeth Jackson and Judith Smart

This encyclopaedic volume brings joy and sorrow in equal measure. Joy to observe a planned Victorian city built from scratch, with a quality afforded by profits from gold and farming and almost unique in its integrity. Sad because it is a record of loss—lost buildings demolished for lesser replacements and a reminder that modern architecture and planning controls are mostly an abject failure.
For me personally, this book validates my career as an architectural photographer. A properly made record of the built environment is an invaluable record, a record that defies time and existence when the subjects are destroyed.

Available from The Royal Historical Society of Victoria—click here to purchase

^^ back to contributors

Christine Phillips, architect

Christine Phillips' book selections

The Place for a Village: How Nature Has Shaped the City of Melbourne—Gary Presland

This book transformed the way I see Melbourne. As I walk around its gridded streets, I now see it as a web of relationships of terrains and eco-systems, flora and fauna, some that have been forgotten and some that have been neglected.

Available from Bookshop by Uro—click here to purchase


I truly love this book; one big, long epic poem, 549 pages in fact, that on the surface, gives us an insight into Melbourne's artistic milieu. Π.O's technique of mashing together historical facts and figures to coalesce the past with the present is utterly compelling; it's like a dream about Melbourne you can drift in and out of at any time.

Available from Bookshop by Uro—click here to purchase

Radical Melbourne: A Secret History—Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow

Who doesn't love a good secret! This book reminds me that our city is much more than simply the walls around us.

Out of print—no longer available

^^ back to contributors

Andy Fergus, urban designer

Andy Fergus' book selections

Living and Partly Living: Housing in Australia—Ian McKay; Robin Boyd; Hugh Stretton; John Mant 

Mostly for introducing me to a counter narrative to the glorification of the house in a paddock. This book highlighted for me Australia's rich history of dense housing experimentation through the 1970s. It showed it was okay to be an Australian designer that didn’t care about fancy single houses a great deal—the structure of the book through scales was a great way of linking experimentation with individual buildings to broader ideas at the scale of the city.

Out of print—no longer available

Robin Boyd: A Life—Serle, Geoffrey

This was given to me when I was working as a graduate planner, and was my first introduction to Boyd, his upbringing, and a snapshot in time of Melbourne and this way of contributing as an advocate, commentator, writer, critic. It gave me the sense that there might be a much bigger role for architects than seeking awards, and eventually influenced my decision to contribute to the Robin Boyd Foundation and study architecture.

The Bush—Don Watson

From explaining our history of soldier-settlement schemes, to the first act of white settlement, this book unpacks the relationship between one of the most urbanised countries on the planet with the myth of the 'bush'—and how it shapes our identity. It is haunting and often excruciating, but along with books like Secret River does a fantastic job of situating the reader in the context of frontier white Australia, while concurrently showing that there was (and is) an alternative way.

^^ back to contributors

Kerstin Thompson, architect

Kerstin Thompson's book selections

The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History - Paul Carter

Time and again I return to this spatial history for its many insights about the forms of white settlement, the discomforts and misfits that came from applying and adapting European models of space to here. Bachelard’s House—from Cellar to Garrett—is positively horizontalized.

Out of print—no longer available

Division and multiplication: Building and inhabitation in inner Melbourne - Nigel Bertram

This book succinctly captures, through beautifully precise and simple drawings, the patterns of details, forms, hierarchies, typologies and subdivisions I have noticed and enjoyed on my walks through Melbourne’s inner suburbs.

Out of print—no longer available

^^ back to contributors

Eugenia Lim, artist

Eugenia Lim's book selections

Beautiful Ugly: The Architectural Photography of John Gollings—Joe Rollo

As an artist interested in the built environment, I am ‘architecturally adjacent’. Researching for my project The Australian Ugliness (2018), I pored over John’s photographs, looking at his narrative-based and quite experimental compositions capturing Edmond and Corrigan’s early work. His images are iconic and they capture statement architecture—buildings I have studied within, visited, and love-hated. The images in this book helped me see the drama and enduring architectural languages (bold colours, cantilevers, expressive flourishes, recurring materiality) of my home city, and also to frame and compose my own creative love letter to Melbourne (and Australia).

Available from Bookshop by Uro—click here to purchase

Signs of Life: Melbourne International Biennial 1999

I’ve never managed to get my hands on this catalogue, but the biennial exhibition curated by Juliana Engberg left a lasting impression on me. I was in my last year of high school and gravitating towards art and publishing. An innocent time: pre-September 11, before the US invasion of Iraq, before the advent of social media. Our only worry was Y2K!

First and foremost, I remember the building: the old Russell Street Telephone Exchange and Post Office (now Hero Apartments — another example of art gentrifying the city and displacing itself!). A raw, inspiring context for the first and only Melbourne International Biennale. The show had a real Nordic bent to it, but mostly I remember work by Ricky Swallow and Callum Morton—you can’t get more Melbourne than that.

Out of print—no longer available

^^ back to contributors

Mark Jacques, landscape architect

Mark Jacques' book selections

Transition 52-53—Various eds

I’m from Sydney and the idea of Melbourne was transmitted to me before I’d even been here by many magazines, chief among them Transition. Issue 52-53 is indelible because of Alex Selenitsch’s ‘Seven Kinds of Resurrection’, a poet’s guide to the then recently completed Storey Hall by Ashton Raggatt McDougall. Selenitsch finds seven kinds of resurrection offered by the architecture, ordered from the most prosaic and building-centred, to the most ethereal or virtual. The framing of this new building as a kind of dispersal or re-gathering of the stuff of the city, particularly the mortal parts of the Swanston Street spine, gave me a way of working and thinking about Melbourne that I’ve never fully shaken—a place of perpetual resurrection, where the vanquished urban body reappears (it might be made of different matter, or might be a bit dispersed, or warped) as a kind of twin to irritate the present.

Out of print—no longer available

Graham Kennedy’s Melbourne—Graham Kennedy

I think it’s generally accepted that this book has done for Melbourne what Ulyssesdid for Dublin (but with more economy). Melbourne chronicles the appointments and encounters of the itinerant Graham Kennedy, then Australia’s top television star, in the course of an ordinary day. Graham shows us the sights of his city, his favourite restaurants and frequent night spots. We shop with Graham at the big department stores, the arcades and the classy boutiques. Miraculously, we are Graham’s guest at both the Melbourne Cup and the Footy. A precursor to The Economist’s Global Liveability Index and Monocle'sQuality of Life Survey city guides, Graham Kennedy’s Melbourne is a souvenir of the lifestyle propaganda publishing that was rife in this country in the middle of the century, fuelled by Antipodean insecurity. That’s here too, but I see this one as a novel reminder about the freedoms, behaviours and permissions available to citizens of the city (even in the 60s) that weren’t available to occupants of the village or the town.

Out of print—no longer available

Characters—Stephen Banham

This one is a Trojan horse of a book. Ostensibly about typography, advertising and signage, it is in fact a meticulously observed love letter to the pedestrian experience of Melbourne. The delight of Characters is being able to see the city in the way that Stephen Banham sees it—the way that he notices the particular and the strange in the familiar data that’s part of our quotidian experience of the city, the way in which he literally reads between the lines of the place and his ability to decipher text that isn’t there at all. All we might want from a book is to have it change the way we see the world around us, and this book has given me a second sight of Melbourne.

^^ back to contributors

Claire Martin, landscape architect

Claire Martin's book selections

Breaking Point: The Future of Australian Cities - Peter Seamer

When written in 2019, Australia’s population was projected to increase by 11.8 million between 2017 and 2046. Since its writing, liveability has worsened, inequity has grown, and the global pandemic has highlighted the value of the local. Breaking Point reinforced to me planning’s instrumental importance to landscape, lives, and livelihoods. There is phenomenal potential in Melbourne and other Australian cities, if we change the way we plan, design, and build. It is a book of radical hope for more localised, urbanised, and equitable major and regional cities. Australian cities are a federal problem, and we can do better.

Available from Bookshop by Uro—click here to purchase

The Mesh Book: Landscape/Infrastructure - edited by Julian Raxworthy and Jessica Blood

The Mesh Conference held in July 2001 was part of that continuum of The Edge Conference series that began in 1983, described by Harriet Edquist as a “uniquely Australian phenomenon in landscape architecture education”. The Mesh Book explored the potential of landscape as infrastructure, whether The Invisible (systems of beliefs), the Immanent (natural systems) or the Present (road, services), and combined essays, case studies and portfolios. While not exclusively written about Melbourne, it is very much a product of Melbourne and of a community of practice. Now more than ever before it’s a reminder of the potential of landscape as infrastructure, supporting something beyond itself.

Out of print—no longer available

Dear Sun: The Letters of Joy Hester and Sunday Reed - edited by Janine Burke

WI received this book as a gift after visiting Heide Museum of Modern Art on my first day in Melbourne. It’s a book of letters by Joy Hester to Sunday Reed, written between 1944 and 1960. Hester was the only woman member of Melbourne’s Angry Penguins. Sunday Read was her closest friend and a patron of the arts. John and Sunday Reed’s home was the iconic Australian modernist building Heide II. It’s a building I fell in love with and that I always return to, with a very distinct visual and physical relationship to the surrounding landscape—continually concealing and revealing.

Out of print—no longer available

^^ back to contributors

Conrad Hamann, historian

Conrad Hamann's book selections

The Walls Around Us - Robin Boyd

My mother gave this to me two years after it was published, when I was 12. It fascinated me. It made me angry—with its accounts of lost chances and opportunities for Australian architecture, and I was also vaguely annoyed by what I sensed was Boyd’s bearing of social superiority. His images and accounts—especially of the Californian Bungalow and Robert Haddon’s wonderful Wharf Labourers’ Building—fuelled my childhood fascination with architecture and especially the early twentieth century’s role in its formation.

Out of print—no longer available

Bates Smart: 150 years of Australian Architecture - Philip Goad, George Tibbitts, Miles Lewis, Julie Willis

I always seem to be dipping into this book! Nominally it is only on one firm of architects and its anabranches, but you learn so much from its text and images, decade after decade. I go back constantly and measure my arguments and assessments against it, and its authors’ understandings.

Out of print—no longer available

The Heritage of Australia: The Illustrated Register of the National Estate

Notes and valuable info on literally thousands of heritage sites, buildings, styles, with a plurality and breadth not previously matched. You can trace the breadth and circumstances of Australian architectural currents through its pages and it is the most wondrous ‘raw’ document on the texture of Australia’s architectural culture and environment. It took in large chunks of the twentieth century—a first in a comprehensive Australian publication, and had a catholicity of coverage. Excellent essays, especially by Miles Lewis and Joan Kerr for architectural specifics, and Vincent Serventy and others on environment and DJ Mulvaney on First Nations. The National Estate, yet another Whitlam era initiative, was frozen in 2007, the last Howard year, and replaced in statutory authority by Federal coverage, cut back to about 300 buildings. It seems there was no need to continue expanding the Estate or its coverage, and many buildings in its pages have since gone. The cover is starting to fall off my copy and it is full of scrappy bookmarks.

Out of print—no longer available

^^ back to contributors

Dan Hill, urbanist

Dan Hill's book selections

The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas

I think The Slap was the first book I read that was firmly situated in Melbourne— possible exception of Neville Shute’s On The Beach—and certainly the first to connect with me, and to connect the city to me, to convey its distinct flavours. I can't remember the characters' names but I vividly remember the textures and temperaments of the book: the heat radiating off the endless tarmac and somehow priming the urges of the protagonists, as if a suburban Santa Ana was stuck glowering over the tight volume framed by the eight characters' perspectives. It was also the first time I opened my eyes to the complexities of the Australian suburbs, under the too-easy vilifying, and their knotted threads of culture and identity.

Available from Bookshop by Uro—click here to purchase

Echoes—Shu-ling Chua

Echoes is a short book of three shimmering stories, each moving lightly and carefully across a loaded terrain of memories, languages, images, sounds and places, artfully eliciting allusions and elisions from the landscape of the everyday. Yet Shu-ling Chua's essays are rooted in the shifting identities and imaginings familiar to many a Melburnian whose roots are elsewhere, one way or another. Her stories might start in a share house, or with laundry, or the lyrics to 1960s Cantonese pop songs, but Chua carefully pulls apart their threads until they reveal Malaysia or Hong Kong, distant ‘homes’ which convey both the possibility and longing inherent in this city’s layered identities.

Out of print—no longer available

The Politics of Public Space—Office

Finally, the space of the city itself. While it’s tempting to simply suggest dipping into any of Leon van Schaik's rich back catalogue in order to understand the built fabric and spatial practices of our restless city’s urbanism, I’ll plump instead for these well-conceived and well-executed timely little volumes, put together by Melbourne design and research practice Office. The four books are write-ups of three years’ worth of public talks in public space, about the politics of public space. In other words, the speakers are pricking the Australian city’s Achilles heel, often with a rare combination of academic depth and engaged activism..

The Politics of Public Space Volume Two and Volume Three are available from Bookshop by Uro

^^ back to contributors

Jan van Schaik, architect

Jan van Schaik's book selections

Design City Melbourne—Leon van Schaik

Melbourne feels like a great place to be an architect, and this book sought to articulate why. It demonstrated that there was a culture in this city that believed in the idea of design. And valued it. The book showed how this culture existed not just amongst a community of architects, designers, artists and others, but also amongst those that commissioned architecture, collected art, and invested in fashion. The book is optimistic, and inclusive. The author is also my father, and the book includes one chapter by me. My first ever in print. I have been unable to bring myself to re-read it until now. I wrote it before I understood that writing was a skill that could be learned, and was certain it would be awful. Surprisingly, save for a few factual omissions, this chapter that I wrote blindly and in fear is actually quite good. What do you think?

Available from Bookshop by Uro—click here to purchase

Backlogue, Journal of the Half Time Club—Peter Brew, Felicity Scott, Paul Minifie (eds)

Backlogue is the documentation of the discussions held at the Melbourne Half Time Club—an informal late night meeting where architects got together in a pub to discuss the ideas that underpinned their work. The club was fuelled by the passionately held principle that architecture was material philosophy. And that this material philosophy could only exist by virtue of an ongoing and lively debate. So lively and passionate was the debate, that it might best be described as 'architects anonymous'. Tempers always flared, and the professional and philosophical became blurred with the personal. Grudges were born, and repaid. These debates still rage in our profession. But 'rage' now seems to be the wrong word. Better to say 'bubble away'. And new platforms exist for their exposition, such as MPavilion or Loop, which seem more balanced and mature and edited for consumption outside of the passionate gossip of the inner workings of a profession. More's the shame, I say.

Out of print—no longer available

Spray: The work of Howard Arkley—Ray Edgar and Ashley Crawford

By the time I learned about Howard Arkley he was already dead, his works inaccessible by any means other than the occasional glimpse in a museum. So to the books, where  I learned that Arkley's optimistic rendition of the Australian suburban architectural standard began with experiments in the blurriness of lines. Somehow, just by squinting his eyes, and his (spray) brush, he was able to see deep and valid cultural meaning in a part of the city that I had been brought up, and trained, to dismiss. Edgar and Crawford show how Arkley's work is an optimistic riposte to Robin Boyd's lament about the architectural ‘featurism of the Australian suburb. But rather than positioning the suburbs as a type of fun to be embraced, Akrley's work is a 'serious cultural appreciation of the suburb'. That the first house I designed was an extension to, and restoration of, a 1960's cream brick suburban home owes a lot to this learning.

Out of print—no longer available

^^ back to contributors