10 Years Archiving Melbourne's Exceptional Designs

After a decade of celebrating and sharing Melbourne design culture in all its richness and diversity, the RMIT Design Archives has published a 10th-anniversary issue of its Journal.

Today we offer a glimpse inside this compendium of made-in-Melbourne design – showcasing a selection from the 100 fascinating inclusions, from architectural drawings to hand-drawn sketches, magazine covers, and iconic products selected by friends, associates, and colleagues of RMIT.

Elle Murrell

RMIT Design Archives has published a 10th-anniversary issue of its Journal. Photo – courtesy of RMIT Design Archives.

Elle Murrell
5th of February 2018

‘I’m old-school,’ says Harriet Edquist, the first and current Director of the RMIT Design Archives. Also Professor of architectural history at the University, Harriet has researched and written about Australian architecture and design for many years. ‘The RMIT Design Archives came into being 10 years ago, and is a resource of material relating to Melbourne design from the twentieth century onwards,’ explains Harriet. 

Celebrating the milestone of 10 years, the Archives’ commemorative Journal, published at the end of last year, documents a collection of 100 artifacts of Melbourne design. Each fascinating inclusion is presented alongside personal stories, authored by friends, associates, and colleagues of RMIT, that bring the unique history of each object to life. Harriet feels that having different voices talking about what design means to them illustrates the depth and range of the Design Archives, and hopes that the Journal will introduce objects that people have never seen before.

Available as either an e-book or in hardcopy, the distinctive journal is designed by Melbourne typographer Stephen Banham, who has guided the Archive’s publishing program from the beginning. ‘It sits well on a coffee table and is a celebration of local design culture in all its richness and diversity – from architecture to automotive,’ says Harriet.

‘One of the interesting things about Melbourne, is that this history has deep roots in the nineteenth century, and our architecture, design practice and innovation have been enabled by decades of cultural infrastructure – whether formal state-instituted galleries, museums, and schools or more informal galleries, patronage, private practices, studios, and collaboratives,’ adds the Professor. ‘The strength of Melbourne’s design culture today rests on these foundations, something we often forget. Archives help us to remember.’

View the online version here or via ISSUU, and find more about the RMIT Design Archives on its website.

Photo – courtesy of RMIT Design Archives.

Phillip Zmood, Styling proposal for HJ Monaro coupe

Gift of Phillip Zmood, 2009

The placement of Phil Zmood’s automobile styling art in the RMIT Design Archives marked an important step in the archive’s growth. I had witnessed Zmood take a roll of drawings from his garage while researching my book Monaro Magic, rolling them out on his office floor and appearing surprised there were so many and wondering what he would do with them. I have chosen his HQ concept coupe as my favourite piece for two reasons, it exemplifies what Michael Simcoe describes as shape reflecting light to support the graphic elements of the design, and, I own a HQ coupe.’ – Norm Darwin.

Photo – courtesy of RMIT Design Archives.

Photo – courtesy of RMIT Design Archives.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), BBC Design in Everyday Things

Gift of Michael Bogle, 2017

Australian Broadcasting Commission, Design in Everyday Things

Gift of Michael Bogle, 2017

‘Design in Everyday Things is an illustrated booklet published by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) in autumn of 1941. It accompanied a series of radio broadcasts by designers and architects including three important members of the Melbourne design community: interior designer Margaret Lord, fashion designer Edna Lewis and curator and graphic artist Alleyne Zander. With an imaginative cover by Alistair Morrison, the booklet, the designers and the national broadcaster demonstrate the incremental maturity of the Australian design scene of the era. The comparison to the BBC’s Design in Everyday Things, “men talking” of 1937 is irresistible.’ – Michael Bogle.


Photo – courtesy of RMIT Design Archives.

Robert Pataki, Prototype of powerboard design for Kambrook

Gift of Jackie and Robert Pataki, 2012

‘Robert Pataki’s prototype established a design for power boards that was adopted worldwide. Remarkably, it was never patented and, although hugely successful, eventually lost market share to other brands. Alone, power boards do nothing. Plugged-in, the plastic meeting spot for multiple electrical devices simply provide convenience, replacing the chaos of piggy-backed adaptors. But I can no longer look at this yellowing object and the fantastic PB-1 font, for its functionality alone. Post David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a power socket – and its travelling companion electricity – is a fizzing, flickering source of cryptic power that can move people through dimensions and both give and take away life.’ – Kate Rhodes.

Photo – courtesy of RMIT Design Archives.

Photo – courtesy of RMIT Design Archives.

Nancy Elvins, Cover for the Australian Home Beautiful

 June 1936
Gift of Harriet Edquist, 2014

‘A graduate of Swinburne Technical College’s art school, where she studied from 1930 until 1934, Nancy Elvins illustrated stories and designed headings for journals such as Table Talk, Mufti, the Australian Journal and Australian Home Beautiful. This magazine was originally launched as Australian Home Builder, rebranded Australian Home Beautiful in 1925, and is one of Australia’s longest running magazines. This cover references an article titled House for Little Fishes, although it must be said the writer, C B Frond, did not recommend fish bowls, a craze he thought to be waning!’ – Ann Carew.

Frederick F Sterne, Melbourne Technical College Correspondence School

Papers 10–12, c. 1948
Gift of Estate of Emden-Snook, 2009

‘Slight tears and yellowing are signs of time travel from c1948, the year Frederick Sterne set up a four-year Interior Design program for the Melbourne Technical College. The first program of its kind in Australia, the hand-written words ‘Interior Design’ have a sense of pride in their hand and the drawing of an interior – probably Sterne’s – emerging from the drawing board illuminated by artificial light projects a future. Viewing and selecting this actual paper cover in the present, gives significance to a path in the past and carries it towards a future. Archives enable this.’ – Suzie Attiwell.

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