At its completion in 1890, the extravagant Prahran Arcade reflected Melbourne’s ‘boom-time’ optimism. Despite its initial opulence, its condition gradually worsened over the decades, with structural cracks, damaged render and flaking paint visible since at least the 1970s.
To establish the project scope, the non-original layers of paint were carefully stripped back revealing long-lost aspects of the facade, including imprints of the original ‘PRAHRAN ARCADE’ lettering, which was faithfully restored. Structural repairs to corroded steel elements in the balcony were discretely integrated with conservation works to both the ceiling and floor, and the decorative details, including two large eagles, were carefully rebuilt. A traditional skim coat rendered finish, with oxide pigments chosen to match the soft tones of the original, completed the conservation works.
The outcome, guided by evidence-based conservation practice and respect for multi-layered stories, is a revitalised Prahran Arcade once again expressing the late-Victorian ambition of the area.
The earthquake in 2021 that damaged buildings in Chapel Street, also threatened to shear off the highly ornamented facade of the nearby Prahran Arcade, a fabulous example of the 19th-century shopping arcade, built at the end of Melbourne’s land boom.
The building was still magnificent with ruinous grandeur before RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants’ beautiful restoration, the tours of duty with various embattled tenants, nailed to it like war medals. It is testament to the ambitious but failed vision of a rare breed for the time – a private female speculator. The building literally struggled to get steam going (Turkish Baths were proposed) and the banks foreclosed it within seven years. Dan Murphy established his wine cellar there. But decades of neglect gave it a seedy vibe – good enough for storage, artist studios, and movie sets with menace in the plot.
The jury was impressed with the specially developed render, the craft of hand-pulled plasterwork, and the creative use of a balcony floor to structurally pin the facade back to the building.
We often bemoan that quality of buildings lost to spreadsheets – the “they don’t make them like they used to” sentiment. This owner believes the numbers say otherwise. Investing in the restoration of this grand dame is good for business. We can’t wait to see what he does next.
Deirdre Heffernan, Project leader
Lachlan Mc Mullin, Graduate of Architecture
Margaret Nicoll, Conservation Technician
Meher Bahl, Graduate of Architecture
Phillipa Hall, Design leader
Roger Beeston, Design Architect
Design Project Group, Structural Engineer
Glowing Structures, Lighting Consultant