Marcus Barlow

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Marcus Barlow
Born 1890
Died 1954
Nationality Australian
Occupation Architect

Marcus Barlow (1890–1954) was an Australian architect and a successful and influential designer during the economic turmoil of The Great Depression and World War II. His projects were important to the development of Melbourne architecture, being innovative in use of new technologies and inspired by international design movements. In his commercial projects, Barlow was the first to utilize a change in height restrictions of towers in Melbourne, the first to use an escalator and the first to incorporate air conditioning. Barlow also played an important role in the modernization of the building industry, through designing and following a highly structured development schedule. He was innovative on a domestic level as well, as seen in his Strawbale Home Building, in which he used straw bales as a more economical alternative to brick construction. His various projects show an interest in a diverse range of styles that vary from Old English, to Commercial Gothic, to early Modernism.

Personal life[edit]

In his firm with Hawkins, Barlow managed to maintain a thirty-strong team during the economic turmoil of the Great Depression and World War II.[1] He also had a strong social consciousness and public interest. He was elected to Tasmania Institute of Architects in August 1918. He was also part of Oswald Barnett’s Slum Study Group (1934), Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board (1936).[2] These endeavors led to him becoming the first consulting architect appointed by the Housing Commission in Victoria in 1937.[1]

Notable projects[edit]

Manchester Unity Building[edit]

When regulations regarding the addition of architectural adornments and towers were changed, the Manchester Unity Building was the first to be approved by the Council. Barlow’s proposal on behalf of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows took full advantage of the regulation changes, and designed to make the Manchester Unity Building the tallest in Melbourne. When built the main body reached 132 ft with an additional 78 ft tower.[3] It is of Commercial Gothic Style, and drew freely on the award-winning design of the Chicago Tribune Tower (1922) by Raymond Hood. It was also the first in Melbourne to be constructed with an escalator.[4] Barlow prepared immense amounts of preliminary work to ensure the construction time of his works was kept to a minimum. Believing that speed is beneficial to up to a point where it increases capital cost and stating that "this point must be accurately determined by the architect before the tenders are called for the erection of the building",[5] the Manchester Unity Building was erected in record time with works progressing exactly to the detailed schedule that Barlow had prepared.

Century Building[edit]

Marcus Barlow's design for the Century Building, like his Manchester Unity Building, was a prominent example of the onset of modernism in Melbourne. Working in a commercial gothic style and influenced by the art deco movement, the result was a stripped-back vertical façade clad in faience-glazed terracotta tiles. Wunderlich Limited, manufacturers of faience, often used the Century Building in their advertisements, claiming that the cladding ‘gives a permanent freshness and sparkle to this fine building. Window spandrels are in hand moulded terracotta glazed neutral grey to achieve an arresting architectural contrast’.[6] Regardless of the financial limitations of the time due to World War Two, Barlow used the Century Building to push design ideas: he freed up floor space by placing the news reel theatre in the basement;[7] it was also the first building in Melbourne to be air conditioned.[8] The Century Building's most prominent feature is the tower which is positioned at the corner of Swanston and Little Collins streets. It is a significant design feature that exemplifies Barlow’s constant efforts to project his buildings beyond the city's height limits.[3]


A Tudor style house, Colinton is considered representative of the diverse residential designs produced by Barlow and Hawkins during the inter-war period of the 1920s. In 1927, the prominence given to the design of Colinton in two popular publications (Australian Homes Showcase and Australian Home Beautiful) contributed to the adoption of Tudor style for commercial and retail developments into the 1930s.[9] The house is now heritage listed.

The Baby Health Centre[edit]

The Croydon Baby Health Centre was built in response to the changing social attitudes towards maternal and child health during the early twentieth century. Barlow himself held a deep interest in issues surrounding community health and it is thought that he completed the project with no commission.[10] Although it was constructed during the interwar period, dominant architectural features such as the ornate wrought iron detailing, half timbering and sash windows, define the building's ‘old English style’ which draws directly from the Picturesque and Arts and Crafts movements (1880–1910).[10] Today the building continues to be used as a children’s health centre under the title Croydon Maternal and Child Health Centre.

List of works[edit]

  • 1922 Collins Gate 373 Little Collins St
  • 1923–24 Temple Court 422–428 Collins St (Grainger Little Barlow and Hawkins)
  • 1925 Spry Bros Bootery 323–325 Bourke St
  • 1926 Colinton 92 Mont Albert Road Canterbury (Barlow and Hawkins)
  • 1930 The Baby Health Centre 12 Civic Square Croydon
  • 1931 Howey Court 234 Collins St
  • 1932 Midway Court 256 Collins St
  • 1929–32 Manchester Unity Building 91 Swanston St
  • 1933 Hardy Brothers 338 Collins St
  • 1933 Miller House 357–359 Collins St
  • 1936 Albany Court 230 Collins St
  • 1938 Presgrave Building 273–279 Little Collins St
  • 1939 Strawbale Home Building Maidstone St Altona
  • 1938–1940 Century Building 125–133 Swanston St
  • 1944 Jensen House 339 Swanston St

Further reading[edit]

  • Goad, Philip, Melbourne Architecture 2009 The Watermark Press Boorawa NSW
  • Grow, Robin, Melbourne Art Deco 2009 Ripe Off the Press Melbourne
  • Van Deale, Patrick and Lumby, Roy, A Spirit of Progress: Art Deco Architecture in Australia 1997 Fine Art Publishing


  1. ^ a b Victoria Heritage Database: Maternal and Child Health Centre Accessed 12/4/10
  2. ^ The Mercury (1860–1954), Thursday 29 August 1918, Hobart, Tasmania.
  3. ^ a b "Oddfellows building: council approves plans" The Argus. 09/09/1930 p. 6,
  4. ^ Goad, Philip, Melbourne Architecture 2009 The Watermark Press Boorawa NSW
  5. ^ Barlow, M, Rush Building: to the editor of the Argus. The Argus 30/7/320 p.24
  6. ^ Goad, Philip, Melbourne Architecture 2009 The Watermark Press Boorawa NSW p 149
  7. ^ Grow, Robin, Melbourne Art Deco 2009 Ripe Off the Press Melbourne p42
  8. ^ Van Deale, Patrick and Lumby, Roy, A Spirit of Progress: Art Deco Architecture in Australia 1997 Fine Art Publishing p 61
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b

External links[edit]