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Architecture & Planning

Early Melbourne typified Australian colonial towns, its small houses dotted through surveyor Hoddle's street grid. Ambitious buildings included the first St Paul's and St Francis', St Peter's Eastern Hill, St James' Cathedral, a graceful single-span Princes Bridge, and an early gaol, all recalling colonial Regency or picturesque architecture of New South Wales and Tasmania.

The basic elements of the morphology of metropolitan Melbourne - low-density sprawl, the skew toward the east, and a predominant grid street pattern - were in place early in the 20th century. Colonial planning was little more than the two-dimensional survey of streets and the reservation of strategic allotments for public uses. By the end of the 19th century, city and suburban improvement was assuming more diverse and sophisticated guises as development accelerated. All these threads came together in the town planning movement in the years prior to World War I, a process which reflected a rising international consciousness about the health, beauty, efficiency and equity of modern industrial cities.

Like all Australian cities, Melbourne is a laboratory of modern planning ideas, successful, stillborn and disastrous. Not quite textbook-perfect, its fragments testify to a shifting ideology of planning visions from the city beautiful at the end of the 19th century through mid-century garden metropolis and modernist blueprints to the entrepreneurial city at the beginning of the 21st century. The many different expressions today of city planning's historic goal of balancing development and environment - enabling, regulating, advocacy and adversarial – confirm its inherently political nature.