Open House in the `Burbs

Keen to explore some of Melbourne’s most architecturally significant buildings but don’t want to venture right into the CBD? Here are our top picks for Open House in Melbourne’s suburbs.

Open House Melbourne, run a month-long festival of architecture during July. The festival culminates over last weekend of the month with the most buildings open to the public on the 28th to the 29th of July from 10am to 4pm.   


1. Willsmere, Kew

If you’ve ever wanted to find out what the inside of a former psychiatric asylum is like, here’s your chance. Willsmere [1 Wiltshire Drive, Kew], formerly known as the Kew Asylum, could easily be mistaken for a mansion. It towers over Yarra Bend Park, up high on a hill that can be seen from the Eastern Freeway, if you know where to look. In fact, at one point it was the highest constructed point in Melbourne. Italianate and French Second Empire architecture is evident throughout its buildings, that were converted to sought-after residential units in 2006. Unique features include the property’s ‘haha’ walls, built into the hill the property resides on. They’re named this way as you can see over them, but when you get up close you’ll realise you’ve been tricked — they’re too high to climb over. During Open House you’ll get the chance to explore the grounds, museum, and bluestone cells. 

Bookings required   

Hero image source: Open House Melbourne

Image credit: Farley Webb Photography

Willsmere, Kew

2. Hawthorn Tram Depot, Hawthorn

It’s hard not to notice the Hawthorn Tram Depot [8 Wallen Road, Hawthorn], with its grand arched windows, alongside Wallen Road. Built in the American Romanesque style known for decorative arcading, this building originally opened back in 1916. Throughout its time, the Hawthorn Tram Depot was used not only for storing trams but also for housing offices, uniform manufacturers and a substation. Nowadays, its main tram shed is home to the Melbourne Tram Museum, with some of the building converted into residential units — a result of its unique façade and sought-after location. Pay a visit during Open House to see the heritage tram fleet, the former driver training facility and to admire the unique architecture. 

Image credit: Adam Chandler

Hawthorn Tram Depot, Hawthorn

3. Henty House, Ruyton Girls' School, Kew

Take a peek into boarding school life in years gone by at Ruyton Girls’ School’s Henty House [12 Selbourne Road, Kew]. Ruyton is one of the state’s oldest independent schools for girls, but even older than the school is the two-storey mansion that, at one time, served as the school’s boarding house — Henty House. Originally completed in 1872 by notable Melbourne architect Albert Purchas, today the house still holds many of its Victorian-era features. Venture through the building’s reception lounge, boardroom, servant’s hall and more during Open House. 

Bookings required

Image credit: Mark Chew

Henty House, Ruyton Girls' School, Kew

4. Hawthorn Arts Centre, Hawthorn

Just around the corner from the bustling Glenferrie Road precinct you'll find Hawthorn Arts Centre [360 Burwood Road, Hawthorn], an imposing Victorian building perfectly juxtaposed to the restaurants, cafes and boutiques it’s surrounded by. It was initially the Hawthorn Town Hall designed by John Beswicke — who also designed Dandenong, Essendon and Brighton Town Halls, among others — with construction taking place from 1888 to 1890. It takes on the Second Empire style that is characteristically bold and heavy-looking to communicate power; the centre’s onsite Second Empire Cafe pays homage to this. The grandeur continues when you step inside, with many spaces boasting chandeliers and elaborate detailing on the rooves, walls and windows. 

Image source: Open House Melbourne

Hawthorn Arts Centre, Hawthorn


1. Sun Theatre, Yarraville

The Sun Theatre [8 Ballarat Street, Yarraville] is a prime example of a once-dilapidated building revived by passionate owners and locals. When it was built back in 1938 it was a luxury 1050-seat cinema with just one screen and an Art Deco façade, which altogether took a mere six months to complete. After the ownership changed a couple of times, the cinema sadly closed in 1982 and remained closed for the following 20 years, deteriorating. Today, the main cinema has been split out into eight boutique theatres where cinema-goers can enjoy a range of films, from arthouse to blockbusters. 

Bookings required

Image source: Open House Melbourne 

Sun Theatre, Yarraville

2. Spotswood Pumping Station, Spotswood

The magnificence of this heritage-listed building makes its past purpose surprising for those who aren’t in the know. The Spotswood Pumping Station [2 Booker Street, Spotswood] was built in the 1890s as part of the Melbourne Sewerage Scheme and operated for almost 70 years, until Melbourne’s rapid growth required a service with greater capacity. Volunteers have meticulously restored the pumping station and its machinery, contributing to its popularity as a tourist attraction, event space and filming location — it was used in the 1979 film Mad Max. During Open House, you can explore the historic boiler house and engine room. Tablets will also be on loan for the littlies to enjoy with interactive content about the construction of the pumping station. 

Image credit: Copyright Museums Victoria

Spotswood Pumping Station, Spotswood

3. The Essendon Incinerator, Moonee Ponds 

In the late 1920s, The Essendon Incinerator [180 Holmes Road, Moonee Ponds] was built to solve the problem of an increasing amount of waste in Melbourne’s inner west. The local tip could not handle the waste from the growing population, so, Walter Burley Griffin — renowned for designing the city of Canberra — and his team designed the Essendon Incinerator. Known for its Spanish mission-style, the aesthetically pleasing incinerator was designed not to impact the livability of the area. Now, it’s used as an artistic space where visitors and locals can enjoy exhibitions and art classes. During Open House, take a guided tour of this Essendon landmark, delve further into its history through the display of historical images and get a sense of what the property once was.

Image source: Open House Melbourne

The Essendon Incinerator, Moonee Ponds

4. Dream Factory, Footscray

In its past lives, the Dream Factory [90 Maribyrnong Street, Footscray] building has been a wool store, a rubber factory, a rave site and the HQ of Lonely Planet. With such a colourful past following its construction in the late 1800s, its perhaps not surprising that today it’s a co-working space, home to many creative and innovative businesses. Furthermore, in the process of bringing this building into the modern day, environmentally conscious features have been added including Australia’s first industrial Tesla batteries that retain solar energy from the building’s panels. The Dream Factory is a quintessential example of mill conversion where an industrial factory building is restored and repurposed for non-industrial purposes. When you visit, make sure you check out the rooftop — it offers wide-ranging views of the CBD. 

Bookings required 

Image source: Open House Melbourne

Dream Factory, Footscray


1. Luna Park, St Kilda

On 13 December 1912 more than 22,000 people walked through the giant mouth of Mr Moon to experience the fun and excitement at the opening of this Melbourne icon. Learn about the history and construction of this much-loved St Kilda fixture and take a behind-the-scenes tour of Luna Park’s [18 Lower Esplanade, St Kilda] Great Scenic Railway — the oldest operating wooden roller coaster of its kind in the world. You’ll also have the chance to admire the expertly restored carousel that is over 100 years old and the ghost train that originally opened in 1934. 

Bookings required

Image credit: Michael Kluge

Luna Park, St Kilda

2. Dandenong Town Hall and Drum Theatre, Dandenong

If the walls of Dandenong Town Hall [226 Lonsdale Street, Dandenong] could talk, they would have many stories to share since its inception in 1890. Over the years it has been adapted to serve many functions for the local community including a public hall, courthouse, council chambers and local library. The mid-2000s saw the town hall evolve into the award-winning Drum Theatre, which hosts a range of local and touring productions as well as exhibitions and community events. Old and new architecture are celebrated at the Drum where the Town Hall façade remains, amalgamated into the new design. 

Image source: Open House Melbourne

Dandenong Town Hall, Dandenong

3. Firestation Print Studio, Armadale

From 1906 to 1988 the Firestation Print Studio [2 Willis Street, Armadale] building, as the name suggests, was once the Malvern Fire Station’s headquarters. Plans to have the site demolished saw a few locals successfully rally to repurpose the building into a community art space. The site is now an artistic hub and the only Melbourne print studio accessible to its members 24/7. Step through its arched red doors and see for yourself how a building that once served a utilitarian purpose, is now a place of creative expression for local artists. 

Image source: Open House Melbourne

Firestation Print Studip, Armadale

4. Como House & Garden, South Yarra

The Como House [Williams Road & Lechlade Avenue, South Yarra] we know today is the result of the evolution of the property, as its ownership was passed on from family to family over the years. Used to run cattle in the 1830s the land was then purchased in 1847 by Edward Eyre Williams who became the judge of the first Supreme Court of Victoria. Williams had a four-roomed residence with a separate kitchen built, forming the foundation of what Como House was to become. Later, the grounds were landscaped, a second storey was built and a ballroom wing was added. These measures, along with many others along the way, form a fascinating fusion of Australian Regency and Italianate architecture — a site sure to impress the sharpest architectural eye.

Image credit: Anthony Basheer 

Como House & Garden, South Yarra


1. Abbotsford Convent, Abbotsford

Among the terrace houses of Abbotsford, you can find your way into the grounds of the heritage-listed Abbotsford Convent [1 St Helliers Street, Abbotsford] — an inner-city retreat that wouldn’t be out of place in the English countryside. It was, at one time, the largest Catholic complex in the country as well as a refuge for disadvantaged women, many of whom worked in the convent’s Magdalen Laundries. Today, it’s a popular meeting place and the workspace for painters, writers, jewellers, playwrights and other creatives. With 11 buildings on site, there’s an abundance of architectural influences to admire including French Gothic/Medieval and European Baroque Revival. There are also intriguing stories to uncover and, with the help of the Abbotsford Convent Foundation and government funding over the years, its walls still stand to tell those tales. 

Open Sunday 29 July only 

Image credit: Charlie Kimross

Abbotsford Convent, Abbotsford

2. Woodlands Homestead, Greenvale

The impressive Woodlands Homestead [Woodlands Drive, Greenvale] began as a timber-kit house but we promise, you won’t be thinking of Ikea flat packs when you walk through it. It was founded by William Pomeroy Green, an Irish born former Royal Navy Officer. In the 1920s it was given a makeover, channeling the California bungalow architectural style. These days, it’s home to Living Legends where many of horse racing’s greats call home. Meander through the grounds on a self-guided tour during Open House, or go on one with a knowledgeable guide. 

Image source: Open House Melbourne

Woodlands Homestead, Greenvale

3. Estonian House, Brunswick West

A landmark of Brunswick West, Estonian House [43 Melville Road, Brunswick West] was originally where locals went to catch a flick when it was a theatre from the late 1920s to the late 1950s. Since those days, it’s been a store for a loading equipment company, a live theatre, and then back to a cinema — at the time specialising in Italian films. Throughout its many lives, several tweaks to the building’s façade have been made. Today, as the name suggests, it’s a hub for Melbourne’s Estonian community. 

Bookings required

Image source: Open House Melbourne

Estonian House, Brunswick West

4. Triple R - 102.7FM Studios, Brunswick East

Take a behind-the-scenes look into the world of independent radio at Triple R’s Brunswick studio [221 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East], where live content is produced, 24 hours a day. Positioned inside what was previously a lingerie factory, the space was customised in consultation with Fitzroy-based Six Degrees Architects. Between its walls are six studios, a live performance area and corporate spaces, all of which will be open to explore during Open House with the help of guides or solo. There’s also the chance to get behind the mike and channel your inner radio announcer with demonstrations and activities to participate in. 

Image credit: Bre Teofilo

Triple R - 102.7FM Studios, Brunswick East

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