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APA Building
The Australian Building.jpg
A postcard featuring The APA Building (centre left)
General information
Type Office
Location Melbourne, Australia
Completed 1889
Demolished 1980
Roof 53 metres
Top floor 47 meters
Technical details
Floor count 12
Design and construction
Architect Henry Kemp

The APA Building was a Victorian "skyscraper" in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; at 12 storeys and 53m to the tip of its corner spire, it was the tallest commercial building in Australia at the time of its construction in 1888-9, later reputed (erroneously) to have been the world's tallest (or the third or fourth tallest) at the time.[1] Originally known as the Australian Building, it was located at 49 Elizabeth Street, on the corner of Flinders Lane in Melbourne, and was notable for its very vertical proportionals, enhanced by the steep roof, spires and gables of the Queen Anne architectural style top floors. It was Australia's tallest building until 1912, and remained Melbourne's tallest until 1929.


In the 1880s Melbourne was in the throes of the 'landboom',[2] fueled by easy credit and steep increases in the price of land, especially in the central city. The announcement of the construction noted that it was said to be taller than any private building in London at the time, and would stand amongst the tallest in New York and Chicago.[3] It was reputed to have been originally planned to have fifteen stories,[4] and was to have been twice as wide,[5] but was built with 12 levels, the top one attic space and a caretakers flat.[6]

In 1920 the Australian Provincial Assurance Association Ltd, an insurance company, bought the building as their Melbourne base, and the renamed it the APA Building.[7]

The APA was Australia's tallest building until 1912, when the Culwalla Chambers was built in Sydney. This office building was constructed of reinforced concrete, and had 12 full office floors, with a facade height of 59m.[8]

The APA Building was Melbourne's tallest commercial building for 40 years, until the company decided to move, and purchased and remodelled another 9 storey Victorian 'skyscraper' on the southeast corner of Collins and Queen Streets as their new headquarters, adding a very tall tower in 1929, which topped out at 76 m (250 ft).[9] This was also known as the APA Building, and was demolished in the late 1960s. Some time in the 1950s, the spire, turrets and gables of the top floors of the earlier APA Building were removed, leaving it with a truncated mansard roof.[10]

By the late 1970s, its historic importance was recognised despite its alteration, and it was classified by the National Trust,[11] and the then Historic Buildings Preservation Council. The owners then successfully argued for a demolition permit, on the basis of the large cost of upgrading to meet modern fire regulations. It was demolished in 1980, and replaced by a five-story office building.[12]

Architectural Style[edit]

The building from Elizabeth Street, circa approx 1900

The building was designed by the short-lived partnership of Oakden, Addison & Kemp[13] in association with John Beswicke. The design has strong influences of the English Queen Anne revival, then a new style in Melbourne. This is seen in the use of red-brick with rendered stripes, and the picturesque turreted and gabled roofscape.

Claims to height[edit]

The APA Building has been variously claimed to be the tallest (or the third or fourth tallest) in the world in 1889. With 11 occupiable floors, and a 12th attic floor, a roof height of the 11th floor at 41.5m, top roof height of 47m, and top of the spire at 51m (plans reproduced in a thesis at Melbourne University),[14] it is lower than, but comparable in height to a number of buildings in New York City and Chicago, built in that year or earlier.

For instance in New York, the 11 storey Potter Building completed in 1885 was 50.3 to the top of the roof, with pinnacles on top of that, the 12 storey Washington Building of 1887 was 67m to the roof, plus attic and cupola, and the 1885 Chelsea Hotel was 43m to the top of the 12th floor, with decorative gables adding greater height. In Chicago, soon to be the home of all the tallest buildings, the 12 storey Rookery Building completed in 1888 was 55m to the roof, and the tower portion of the 1889 Auditorium Building was 17 floors and 72m.[15] The next year the very tall World Building was completed in New York, with at least 13 tall floors, a height of 70m up to the top floor roof, and 94m to the top of the large dome.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Skyscrapers". School of Historical & Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne. Retrieved 2015-07-03. 
  2. ^ "Land Boom". School of Historical & Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne. Retrieved 2015-07-06. 
  3. ^ "New Buildings in Melbourne: The Loftiest Structures in the City". The Argus. 14 June 1888. Retrieved 29 May 2017. 
  4. ^ Lewis, Miles (1995). Melbourne: The City's History and Development. City of Melbourne. p. 80. 
  5. ^ "Building for Australian Property & Investment Company Limd. c/o Elizabeth Street & Flinders Lane / Henry H. Kemp". Trove. Building & Engineering Journal, October 5, 1889. Retrieved 29 May 2017. 
  6. ^ "Australian Building [i.e. Australian Property and Investment Company Building] [technical drawing] / P. McCluskey 1981". State Library Victoria. Retrieved 29 May 2017. 
  7. ^ "Australian Provincial Assurance advertisement". Sunday Times (Sydney): 27. 18 December 1921. 
  8. ^ "Culwalla Chambers". Search for heritage. NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  9. ^ "City of Towers:Melbourne's Changing Skyline". The Argus. 12 February 1929. Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  10. ^ "Australian Property Investment Co Building". Victorian Heritage Database. National Trust. Retrieved 24 April 2017. 
  11. ^ "Australian Property Investment Co Building". Victorian Heritage Database. National Trust of Australia (Victoria). Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  12. ^ "APA Building". Emporis. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  13. ^ "Percy Oakden". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  14. ^ Taylor, Michael (1960s). Marvellous Melbourne's Skyscrapers. Melbourne University Architecture Library: Undergrad Thesis. 
  15. ^ "Auditorium Building". Emporis. Emporis. Retrieved 24 April 2017. 


  • Granville Wilson, Peter Sands, Building a city: 100 years of Melbourne architecture, Oxford University Press (originally from the University of California), 1981.

Coordinates: 37°49′2″S 144°57′51″E / 37.81722°S 144.96417°E / -37.81722; 144.96417


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