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Joseph Reed
architect
White Hat
Joseph Reed
architect
White Hat

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Joseph Reed

Joseph Reed

1823 - 1890
architect

 

The White Hat Guide to

Joseph Reed


This short article was first published as part of the Seven Architects of Melbourne series in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No.610 of 22nd November 2013

Two of White Hat's favourite locations in Melbourne are strongly connected with Joseph Reed. The first is the intersection of Collins and Russell Streets. Standing there you can see the Bourke & Wills statue - what? you can’t see it? - that probably means you’ve arrived a century too late as we pointed out in a recent newsletter.

Collins Street 1880

One corner is the Art Deco T&G Building (Tooth & Gum Building - so called because of the number of dentists who had their practices there). On the other corner is the residence and medical practice of Champagne Jimmy - why was he called Champagne Jimmy? - that is another story for another time. Then across the road are two churches in strongly contrasting styles - Scots’ Church -

Scots' Church

and the Independent (now St Michael’s) Church -

St Michael's Church with Scots' Church in the background
St Michael's Church with Scots' Church in the background

One is in Neo-Gothic style with all the trimmings while the other is in polychrome brick and evokes a Spanish Mission style that might be more at home in colonial South America. How could two such disparate architects claim opposing corners of one of Melbourne’s most prominent intersections?

Easy.

They were one and the same architect. And he was soon to design the Town Hall further down the hill. You see Joseph Reed possessed a number of pattern books. Pattern books were the Pinterest of the 19th century with detailed drawings of classic architectural designs, interiors, mouldings, decorations and the like. With gold money pouring into Melbourne in the 1850s, newly rich clients (just like the daughters of newly rich parents planning their weddings) could leaf through the pattern books and say “I’ll have one of those and one of those.” The resulting bad taste lives with us today in Melbourne but we prefer to call it ‘heritage’ and both locals and tourists enthusiastically heart it. The best of the architects supplemented the pattern books with their own drawings and paintings made during their study tours, as in the case of J.J.Clark, John Grainger and Joseph Reid.

Reid however had a particular flair for monetising his concepts - sorry, his clients’ concepts. He convinced the Welsh Methodists that the glory of God would be best served by having the tallest (and therefore most architecturally expensive) spire in Melbourne.

Lonsdale Street East - 1864
(Lonsdale Street showing Wesley Church (background) considerably taller the the Catholic St Francis' Church (foreground)

He then convinced the Scottish Presbyterians that Scots’ Church could best display the ‘proper’ glorification of God if it had a steeple higher than Wesley Church. When the English architect of St Paul’s Cathedral (who never bothered to visit Australia) resigned and Joseph Reed took over, he turned his business skills to promoting the missionary ecclesiastical high-rise aspirations (and dollars) to the Anglicans. Of course Archbishop Mannix was to have the spire of St Pats redesigned to trump them all, but that is another story for another time.

With Joe’s skill at satisfying the tastes of a whole range of cashed-up clients it was no surprise that he was soon winning most of the architectural competitions of the day. So much so that other architects wondered whether there was any point in submitting a design. Fortunately this business and marketing skill came with solid architectural craft plus the ability to search out people with the skills to actually build the client’s dream. One such person was the builder David Mitchell. Mitchell had soon decided that in the new colony a builder needed to establish a vertical supply chain through from the quarries to the building site to establish quality and supply certainty. His quarry in Ringwood is still readily visible from the road today. Mitchell’s tomboy daughter, Helen, used to scramble up the scaffolding of Scots’ Church spire to bring her dad sandwiches. She later became known around the world - not as Helen Mitchell, but as Dame Nellie Melba. In the heady days of Melbourne’s gold money, Jo reed was to stamp his designs on the face of Melbourne, including the State Library -


Reed's original design for the library


Reed's grander revised design

 Scots’ Church, Independent (St Michael’s) Church, the portico of Collins Street Baptist Church -

Portico of Collins Street Baptist Church, Melbourne

and several building now lost including the Federal Coffee Palace and Old Wilson Hall -

Old Wilson Hall

Another of our favourite locations in Melbourne is inside the Exhibition Building. Gentlemen, don your frock-coats and top hats, ladies don your hooped skirts and take your parasol and follow me into the Exhibition Building. It is a space. A space which must have been amazing to those in hooped skirts and frock-coats. This temporary building was constructed for the Great International Exhibition of 1880. Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, believed that was and conflict could be reduced and eventually eliminated if countries became interdependent in industry, commerce and trade and the Great Exhibitions were part of this mission. Jo Reed had called on the building and engineering skills of David Mitchell to create this space. However, for Joe, this was different from all the other showy buildings with their elaborate carvings. This was simply space. True, there some murals and other decor around the place, but now, for the first time Joe was working with unadorned space. You need to get the proportions right but it also has to be able to stand up without the public that it might suddenly collapse on their head. Between them, Joe Reed and David Mitchell nailed it and produced Melbourne’s greatest building. For over a century this temporary building has hosted everything from Victorian exhibitions to hot rod shows to university exams. A maths exam in this space requires only one question - ‘Describe the maths you see around you.’

Some forthcoming events related to Joseph Reed:

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