Responsible for the design of Melbourne's major public buildings and the construction of roads, bridges, wharves and other infrastructure, the Public Works Department (PWD) was formed in 1855, replacing the colonial architect and colonial engineer, who had directed public works since Separation in 1851. Under Charles Pasley, commissioner of public works, it began a huge program of public works, including Parliament House, the Customs House, Victoria Barracks, the Government Printing Office and the Treasury Building.
Although public competitions saw architects in private practice design some of Melbourne's major public buildings, most were the work of PWD architects, sometimes men of exceptional talent. William Wardell, architect of St Patrick's Cathedral, had immigrated to Australia for health reasons in 1858 after a successful career in England. Employed by the PWD from 1858 to 1878, and its head from 1861, he oversaw the design of austere, classical buildings for Treasury Place. Although the government offices at 2 Treasury Place were the result of a public competition won by Michael Egan, his restrained design accorded with Wardell's guidelines. His influence can also be seen in Government House (1872-74) and the Alfred Graving Dock.
John James Clark, who emigrated from Liverpool in 1852, designed the Renaissance revival style Treasury Building, the Titles Office in Queen Street (1877) and the administrative building for the Royal Mint at the corner of La Trobe and William streets (1869-72). The public competition for the design of the Supreme Court (1874-84) was won by A.L. Smith and A.E. Johnson, a PWD employee who resigned to carry out the commission. Henry Bastow, who moved from the Education Department to the PWD in 1883, was responsible for the distinctive school architecture of the 1870s and 1880s.
After Wardell's dismissal on Black Wednesday in 1878, PWD architects enjoyed greater design freedom, evident in the work of Samuel Bindley's Bourke Street West Police Station (1888), Records Office (1900-04) and Crown Law Offices (1890-92), and in A.J. McDonald's Federation Romanesque style South Yarra Post Office and Flemington Court House and Police Station, featuring Australian flora and fauna motifs. G.B.H. Austin designed the French Romanesque revival Magistrates' Court on the corner of Russell and La Trobe streets (1910). Percy Everett, head of the PWD from 1935 to 1953, introduced the art moderne style evident in the design of the Russell Street Police Headquarters (1942-44).