Queen Victoria Building

The Queen Victoria Building, or QVB, is a late nineteenth century building by the architect George McRae in the central business district of Sydney, Australia. The Romanesque Revival building is 30 metres wide by 190 metres long, and fills a city block, bounded by George, Market, York and Druitt Streets. Designed as a shopping centre, it was later used for a variety of other purposes until its restoration and return to its original use in the late twentieth century.

The building has been subject to an ongoing facelift from early 2011 to restore and clean the sandstone finish. It is unknown when the face lift will be completed.

History

The site of the Queen Victoria Building was the location of the George Street Markets, and was selected for the construction of a grand government building. Architect George McRae designed the QVB in the ornate Romanesque Revival style with the express purpose of employing a great number of skilled craftsmen who were out of work due to a severe recession. The building was completed in 1898 and named the Queen Victoria Building after the monarch.

The completed building included coffee shops, showrooms and a concert hall. It provided a business environment for tradesmen such as tailors, mercers, hairdressers, and florists. The concert hall was later changed to a municipal library and the building was partitioned into small offices for Sydney County Council. The building steadily deteriorated and in 1959 was threatened with demolition. It was restored between 1984 and 1986 by Ipoh Ltd at a cost of $86 million, under the terms of a 99-year lease from the City Council and now contains mostly upmarket boutiques and "brand-name" shops.

Ipoh finished a $48 million refurbishment in 2009. The changes include new shopfronts, glass signage, glazed balustrades, new escalators connecting ground, first and second levels and new colour schemes.

Architectural features

The dominant feature is the central dome, consisting of an interior glass dome and a copper-sheathed exterior, topped by a domed cupola. Smaller domes of various sizes are on the roofline, including a pair overtopping each end of the rectangular building.

Stained glass windows, including a cartwheel window depicting the arms of the City of Sydney, allow light into the central area, and the roof itself incorporates arched skylights running lengthways north and south from the central dome. The intricate colonnades, arches, balustrades and cupolas make the exterior a visual feast of Victorian fussiness.

Inside, the building consists of four main shopping floors, the top three pierced by voids protected by decorated cast-iron railings. Much of the tilework, especially under the central dome, is original, and the remainder is in keeping with this style. Underground passageways lead off to Town Hall Station at the southern end, and to a food court at the north.

Interior displays

Two mechanical clocks, each one featuring dioramas and moving figures from moments in history, can be seen from the adjacent railed walkways. The Royal Clock activates on the hour and displays six scenes of English royalty (accompanied by a trumpet voluntary written by Jeremiah Clarke). The Great Australian Clock, designed and made by Chris Cook, weighs four tonnes and stands ten metres tall. It includes 33 scenes from Australian history, seen from both Aboriginal and European perspectives. An Aboriginal hunter circles the exterior of the clock continuously, representing the never-ending passage of time.

The building also contains many memorials and historic displays. Of these, two large glass cases, removed in 2009-2010, stood out. The first display case contained an Imperial Chinese Bridal Carriage made entirely of jade and weighing over two tonnes, the only example found outside China. The second was a lifesize figure of Queen Victoria in a replica of her Coronation regalia, and surrounded by replicas of the British Crown Jewels. Her enthroned figure rotated slowly throughout the day, fixing the onlooker with her serene and youthful gaze.

On the top level near the dome is displayed a sealed letter which is to be opened in 2085 by the future Lord Mayor of Sydney and read aloud to the People of Sydney. It is written by Queen Elizabeth II in 1986 and no one except her knows what is written.

Exterior features

At the southern end of the building is the Bicentennial Plaza, facing the Sydney Town Hall across Druitt Street. Another statue of Queen Victoria can be found here, arrayed on a light grey stone plinth, the work of Irish sculptor John Hughes. This statue stood outside the legislative assembly of the Republic of Ireland - Dáil Éireann in Leinster House, Dublin, - until 1947 and was given to the people of Sydney by the Government of the Republic of Ireland to prevent its destruction by the IRA. It was placed on its present site in 1987.

Nearby stands a wishing well featuring a bronze sculpture of Queen Victoria's favourite dog "Islay", which was sculpted by local Sydney artist Justin Robson. A recorded message voiced by John Laws urges onlookers to give a donation and make a wish. The tens of thousands of dollars cast into this well annually benefit deaf and blind children.

Designer

George McRae was born in Edinburgh in 1858. He arrived in Sydney in 1884 and was appointed Assistant Architect in the City Architect’s office. He became City Architect and City Building Surveyor in 1889, a position he held until 1897 when he was appointed Principal Assistant Architect to Vernon in the Government Architect’s Branch. He succeeded Vernon as Government Architect in 1912 and held the office until his death in 1923.

Works undertaken by McRae during his term as Government Architect included the Education Dept Building 1912; Parcels Post Office 1913; Taronga Zoo lower entrance, top entrance, and Indian elephant house; additions to the Colonial Treasury Building in Bridge Street, and Cessnock Court House.

From 1912 until 1937 the Government Architect’s Branch was housed in the “Tin Shed”, a temporary building on the site of the first Government House and demolished in 1970.

  • The QVB's wishing well.

  • The central tiled mosaic

Building Activity

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