The Francis Ormond Building originated as Melbourne's Working Men's College, which opened in 1887. The first stage (1885-86), on Bowen Street, was built by J Moore at a cost of ₤11,000, and housed the main lecture hall (now the council chamber), workshops, classrooms and caretaker's quarters. The design was the result of an 1883 competition won by the architects Percy Oakden (later an honorary director of architectural classes at the Working Men's College), Leonard Terry, and Nahum Barnet. The second stage of the building (1890-92), designed by Oakden Addison and Kemp and costing ₤13,700, comprised the Latrobe Street wing and the corner tower, and included offices, college council and instructors' rooms, classrooms and laboratories. The idea of a college to improve the education of the working classes was first proposed in 1881 by Francis Ormond (1829-89), a Scottish immigrant who had made a fortune from farming and became a great educational philanthropist. The Working Men's College owed its foundation both to the philanthropy of Ormond, and to the support of the unions. The three men most closely involved with its establishment were Ormond, Charles Pearson, a prominent public intellectual and member of the Victorian Lower House, and W E Murphy, secretary to the Trades Hall Council. F A Campbell was the first Director. An important innovation of the College was the system of certificates which a workman could obtain, with all the classes being held in the evening after their work had finished. The College provided a broad range of subjects, not only a narrow technical education, and classes were open to women as well as men. Following Ormond's death a public subscription raised £1200 for the bronze statue outside the building by the sculptor Percival Ball which was unveiled in June 1897. The Working Men's College became the Melbourne Technical College (1934), then Royal Melbourne Technical College (1954), the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (1960) and is now part of RMIT University (1992), one of Australia's foremost universities, on a greatly expanded campus. The original Working Men's College building was called Building 1 of RMIT, and was renamed the Francis Ormond Building in 1981.
The Frances Ormond Building is an asymmetrical three storey Gothic Revival style building of brick, faced with finely-worked sandstone on the two street elevations, on a bluestone base, with a slate roof and sandstone chimneys. The exuberantly modelled street facades are of rock-faced Barrabool sandstone with smooth-dressed Waurn Ponds stone around the openings. The most prominent feature is the square corner tower with a steeply pitched Second-Empire-inspired roof, with corner pinnacles and elaborate iron cresting on the short roof ridge. The earlier part of the building, on Bowen Street, is less simply decorated that the second stage, which includes the tower and the section along La Trobe Street. The earlier section has less ornate window openings, which lack the tracery, receding orders, hood moulds, and decorative bosses adorning the later section. The storeys are differentiated by different decorative treatments, and are separated by decorative string courses. There are several picturesque gables, including a steep parapeted gable inset with tracery above the La Trobe Street entrance. The Bowen Street entrance is surmounted by a parapeted balcony with gargoyles at the corners. Many internal features survive, including the stained glass decoration in the tympanum over the Bowen Street entrance, with the foundation date, 1877, the Gothic arched openings throughout and several staircases. The most impressive space is the Council chamber, originally a lecture theatre, which has an impressive timber ceiling and tiered seating. The statue of Ormond outside the Bowen Street entrance is a full-scale bronze figure on a high granite base. The new Melbourne Magistrate's Court built to the east of the college in 1911-13 created Victoria's best northern European medieval revival streetscape.
How is it significant?
The Francis Ormond Building is of architectural and historical significance to the state of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The Frances Ormond Building is architecturally significant as an exceptional Gothic Revival style educational building, and as a major example of the work of the prominent Melbourne architects Terry & Oakden, Nahum Barnet and the firm of Oakden Addison & Kemp. With the adjacent court buildings it forms part of an outstanding medieval revival streetscape.
The Frances Ormond Building is historically significant for its association with the development of education beyond primary level for the working classes in Victoria in the late nineteenth century. It is significant as a monument to its founder Francis Ormond, one of Victoria's outstanding nineteenth century philanthropists, reinforced by the statue of Ormond erected nearby. It is significant as the earliest part of what has become one of Victoria's most important educational institutions. It is significant as a demonstration of the commitment of working men and women to their self- improvement, with over eleven thousand individuals having contributed to the public fund established in the early 1880s for the construction of the first stage of the building.