The Melbourne landmark question

There has been a well-documented and longstanding call for Melbourne to build its own internationally recognisable landmark. While in my opinion we can always live without one, it is widely acknowledged that easily recognisable landmarks help to promote cities wordwide.

Test yourself: when you think of New York, which images automatically come to mind?  For me it's The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building and The Statue of Liberty. For Sydney it's The Sydney Opera House and The Sydney Harbour Bridge. These are all iconic landmarks that clearly identify the cities they are from.

It’s not that Melbourne doesn’t have landmarks; it’s just that the landmarks that we have could be considered local or national landmarks at best.  Even though the Royal Exhibition Building (REB) has been given World Heritage listing by UNESCO, the fact remains it’s still recognised by most as a national landmark. Other national landmarks include the MCG, Flinders Street Station, Federation Square, Eureka Tower and the Arts Centre Spire. Melbourne’s W class trams and the Royal Botanic Gardens can probably also be included in the list of national landmarks. The Shrine of Remembrance, Parliament House, Luna Park and the NGV are more than anything else, local landmarks. If one was to judge by the sheer volume and variety of postcards, badges and fridge magnets sold in tourist shops, then Flinders Street Station could easily be our definitive national landmark.

Numerous people would argue that Melbourne is a city of many cultures and various architectural styles, which combine to offer constantly changing aesthetic experiences. Any attempts to reduce it to being represented by a single landmark will damage the very thing that makes this city great.

It is my personal view that, whether by default or by design, Melbourne will probably one day have an internationally recognisable landmark. The city has a great design culture and the prospects of a single landmark lie more in design than just monumental domination, but could be both, as long as distinctive design is the dominant feature.

If a tourist was to ask me today, “Which is Melbourne’s landmark?” I would answer, it’s the whole city, with its many interesting streets and lanes sprinkled with impressive buildings of many styles.  Although this may not register internationally, Melbourne’s streets, lanes, buildings and trams together make up a very special place that the locals love and that many visitors enjoy!

Eureka Tower souvenir medallion.


Alexander Sheko's picture

I have always thought that Melbourne does not need a landmark building (because discussion of "landmarks" is usually about landmark buildings or structures) in the same way as Sydney has the Bridge or the Opera House.

As you say, it might be that such landmarks help promote the city to visitors, and, in this way, any tangible benefit from having such a landmark should be able to be (in theory) measurable in terms of benefit to advertising campaigns and actual increase in tourist/businessperson numbers and spending.

If this is the case, is it possible to show that Sydney's Bridge and Opera House "cause" tourists to come? How can this be separated from other factors influencing tourists' choices, such as the appeal of the harbour generally?

My casual observation is that tourists are interested not only in landmark buildings that work as iconic imagery on postcards, but are interested in things like the Queen Vic markets, the Arts Precinct, our laneways and other less iconic things. I would expect that businesspeople (e.g. conference organisers) would be more interested in business facilities, the amenity of those areas, easy access to/from airports and hotels etc.

I cringe whenever I hear developers/politicians/etc. speaking about a building being a landmark and comparing to attractions like Sydney's Opera House, NYC's Empire State Building etc. We do not need to try to build a building for such a purpose and I agree with your article that it would damage the city to try to do so.

Given that Melbourne's appeal is more diffuse than that of Sydney (Sydney's main drawcard is the Harbour and the attractions on it that draw from its beauty, whereas Melbourne is instead attractive for its arts and sports scenes and the activities that go on), I think it is only natural that it would be harder to make a single landmark "work" but that what is recognisable and attractive about Melbourne is its more intangible features and what you can do in it.

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loafing_oaf's picture

I really find these sorts of debates pathetically insular.
Very few cities anywhere in the world have any kind of "Landmark". You can do a Top 5 "New york - empire state", Paris - Eiffel Tower, etc. But once you move beyond the ranks of those first-tier instantly recognised cities you realise that such things are the exception, not the rule.
What is Istanbul's landmark? Madrid's? Toronto's?

The ONLY reason we in Melbourne think this "landmark pursuit" is something we should be engaged in is that we look to Sydney and the way in which the Opera House and Bridge were used as vehicles to promote the city's brand extremely effectively. So Sydney now gets mentioned alongside cities whose league it actually doesn't even play in. But the factors which gave rise to that situation will never replicate themselves in Melbourne.

Melbourne has done a brilliant job of building its civic brand using what's at its disposal, already here and most importantly is actually derived from the culture of the place. This has been and will be the long-run key to the evolution of Melbourne's presence on the global stage. Worrying about icons takes our eye completely off that ball.

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Chris Peska's picture

Welcome loafing-oaf! I would have to agree with you there, Melbourne doesn't need an icon, Melbourne is already an iconic city! I think locals and visitors alike appreciate this aspect. cheers.

Observe. Design. Build. Live.

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Peter Maltezos's picture

The infuriating ad below that was once featured in The Age is a good argument for a definitive Melbourne landmark.

I collect, therefore I am.

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