Key 49: New Arts Building (Old Arts) 1923


At the end of World War I the Arts Faculty, by far the largest, was still crowded into the oldest buildings of the University. 'Class rooms which were large enough when students were counted in half-dozens, were miserably inadequate when the larger classes contained hundreds', observed Professor of History Ernest Scott. The Library was also absurdly small. The Arts Building (now Old Arts, its name since the New Arts or 'Babel' building was erected, with the Arts South or John Medley Building appearing a generation later), completed between 1919 and 1924 and faced with yellow freestone was designed and built by the Victorian Public Works Department, its design attributed to Alfred La Gerche (as signified in a commemorative plaque unveiled in 1997) . Its occupation allowed the whole of the north wing of the Quadrangle building to be converted for library purposes.

Aerial view of University of Melbourne, c1938
[Old] Arts, looking south-west
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-1081]

This building is often used as the iconic image of the University - despite its relatively recent history - which George Tibbits points out was perhaps a substitute for the unbuilt original south wing of the Quadrangle which had included a clock tower.

View of clock tower building
View of clock tower building.
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-1735]
Students outside Old Arts building, 1954
Students outside Old Arts building, 1954
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Image Catalogue, UMA-I-2159]

The building's Public Lecture Theatre has been heavily used not only for public lectures, but for a multitude of student and staff gatherings with a wide variety of purposes, many relating to political and philosophical debate on current and historical affairs.

Public Lecture Theatre
Public Lecture Theatre
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Media Photograph Collection, Photograph No 19906]