Park in Disguise

Amanda Tiong

When I chose to do Melbourne University car park, I never thought that a car park would look anything like this.

Because what we normally had in mind about car parks is very typical – an organized space, bright, concrete, with rectangular pillars going all over the place.

University Square Underground Car Park

On my first visit to the site, I actually went to a normal underground car park (University Square underground car park) instead of the assigned one. So it kept me thinking: What is so special about this car park?

It was a Sunday afternoon when I visited the actual site and I struggled a bit in finding the car park. It is situated inside Melbourne University Parkville campus (Grattan St, between Elizabeth and Swanston St.) and can be accessed through Gate 10.

Built in 1972, located underneath the south lawn in Melbourne University, Melbourne University South Lawn car park, also known as the Mad-Max car park (it was one of the shooting sites in the movie, Mad-Max) is the first underground car park in Australia and is the only one to have a gothic style. In the 1960s, a problem of lack of parking space in the university was faced. Therefore, in order to solve it, a plan of having an underground car park beneath a landscape area was proposed.

Unlike many other underground car parks out there, this car park is supported by mushroom-like columns which are formed by parabolic reinforced concrete structure at the top and short concrete columns at the bottom. These columns are designed to allow the plantation of trees at the South Lawn as it increases the soil capacity of the lawn so there are spaces for the roots of trees. Therefore, the columns serve as flower pots and at the same time supporting the roof.

Before entering the car park, I was already drawn to the entrance. Judging by the entrance, one cannot tell that a car park lies within it. With its neoclassical design, the entrance features two Atlantes which were originally situated on the entrance of The Colonial Bank of Australasia back then. It was then moved to the west entrance of the car park in 1972 after the building was demolished. Looking into the car park from the outside, not much of the space can be seen. I find myself looking into a pitch black hole most of the time. This makes the entrance seems like a portal connecting our world to another world.



Carefully stepping into the space, all I can see is a field of mushroom-like structures going through it. It is empty inside as it was a Sunday. After a few glances of the space, my first impression towards it would be that it is really dark, cold and intimidating. It is definitely not what I imagined it would be like. Probably because of the arches created by the parabolic structures, an effect of enclosure is created in the space. The sound produced by the machines in the car park was really loud as it was echoed in the space. However, I can still hear my own footsteps as I walk around. At first, I was scared and I felt uncomfortable being in the space and I just wanted to get out as soon as possible. But, after walking around the space, I started to get used to it and it doesn’t seem as scary anymore. At first glance, I thought that the space is confined. In fact, after I explored the space, I found out that it is actually quite spacious. Another interesting part of the car park that I am greatly amused by is the placement of the columns. They look like as if they are placed randomly at certain angles, but at most angles you can tell that it is arranged in an orderly manner.

Taken on a Sunday afternoon

Taken on a Monday afternoon

I went there again on the following Monday afternoon and the obvious difference of it on a Sunday and Monday is that the car park was so full, which makes it less intimidating. I stayed in there for quite some time, observing what was happening inside the space. And I noticed that the car park is not an unusual place for students of Melbourne University as they have to pass by it almost everyday. Furthermore, I found out that most students use the car park as a bypass to get to another side of the university.

I wondered why such outstanding architecture is not known by many. I wouldn’t have known about this place if I wasn’t working on this project. Till now it still remains hidden to the public but at the same time it is familiar within Melbourne University students. In my opinion, with the site situating inside Melbourne University, the students are already so used to seeing the space hence to them, it might just a be normal car park.

It is great to have discovered the space and to know that such striking architecture already existed in the 1970s. I think that it should be revealed to the public so that more people would know about the space as it is a piece of architecture worth to look at.



the city behind melbourne
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