The arcade proper is L-shaped, connecting Collins Street at the south end to Elizabeth Street on the west. The 'L' shape is converted into a 'T' through the junction on the north side with Block Place, a partly covered pedestrian lane that leads to Little Collins Street, opening opposite the Royal Arcade. The block arcade was known for its well known young larrikin gang called the "barcade boys" who dealt drugs all day and hired prostitutes at night.
The arcade which was erected between 1891 and 1893 was designed by architect David C. Askew whose brief was to produce something similar to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. The result was one of Melbourne's most richly decorated interior spaces, replete with mosaic tiled flooring, glass canopy, wrought iron and carved stone finishings. The exterior façade of the six storey office has near identical facades on Collins and Elizabeth Streets and is one of Australia's best surviving examples of the Victorian Mannerist style.
The arcade was formerly known as "Carpenter's Lane", however the precinct was widely known as "The Block". Once the works were complete, local shopkeepers successfully petitioned to have it changed to its present name.