CBD010-22.jpg (79162 bytes) Sydney Architecture Images- Central Business District

Queen Victoria Building


George McRae


block bound by George, Market York and Druitt Streets. 




Federation Romanesque combination of American and Venetian Romanesque.






There have been markets on this site since 1810. The Queen Victoria Markets replaced the old George Street markets in
1898. They were designed for the Council by the City Architect, George McRae, and aspired to be the grand shopping arcade of Sydney rather than produce markets. The imposing Romanesque building was never successful as markets until it was refurbished in 1986.
  Nineteenth Century images- State Library of New South Wales
The markets formerly on the site of the Queen Victoria Building.
Taken from the top of
Sydney Town Hall circa 1870.
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  Following images with special thanks to Michael Greenhalgh.
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Images- thanks to www.sydneymate.com
The Queen Victoria Building, now affectionately known as the QVB, was designed by George McRae and completed in 1898, replacing the original Sydney markets on the site. Built as a monument to the long reigning monarch, construction took place in dire times, as Sydney was in a severe recession. The elaborate Romanesque architecture was specially planned for the grand building so the Government could employ many out-of-work craftsmen – stonemasons, plasterers, and stained window artists - in a worthwhile project. Originally, a concert hall, coffee shops, offices, showrooms, warehouses and a wide variety of tradespeople, such as tailors, mercers, hairdressers and florists, were accommodated.

Over many decades, change saw the concert hall become the city library, offices proliferate and more tenants move in, including piano tuners, palmists and clairvoyants. Drastic 'remodelling' occurred during the austere 1930s and the main occupant was the Sydney City Council. As recently as 1959 the Queen Victoria Building was threatened with demolition. As it stands now, in all its glory. It is testimony to the original vision for the building and the superb craftsmanship of the artisans who put it all back together again.



In keeping with retailing trends in the city, the QVB replaced the stalls of ramshackle George St Market building with a beautiful shopping emporium of arcades and galleries lined with specialty shops. The development was conceived by the City Council during the economic boom of the 1880s as a means of removing the old markets while ostensibly retaining the dedicated 'market' function of the site. It was then a publicly owned building, erected on land owned by the City Council and paid for with public funds and credit. But construction of the QVB from coincided with the onset of depression in the 1890s and consequently the building became a financial drain on the council for many years.

In 1928 it was suggested that the building might best be used as a car parking station. Some years later, however, it was decided that the newly created Sydney County Council Electricity Department would use much of the building as office space. In 1935 there was an extensive installation of new interior fittings such as lights, air vents and balustrades, and ground floor exterior fittings such as doors, windows and supporting columns. The style chosen was Art Deco, in keeping with the modern image of the new County Council and its role in supplying electric power. The 13 January 1936 issue of 'Building' magazine described the result as 'striking in the modernity of its design'.

The QVB refit was part of a broader adoption of the Art Deco style in Sydney and other areas of Australia. In the 1930s and 1940s Art Deco denoted civic and industrial vitality. Among the companies at the forefront of this boom was Wunderlich Ltd, the pre-eminent local manufacturers of glass, ceramic and metal architectural elements and light fittings. Consequently the County Council contracted Wunderlich to supply much of the material for its new offices.

In the 1960s Sydney underwent a new wave of development and the favoured style was International Modernism, typified by tall glass, concrete and steel office blocks. With its Victorian facade and its mixture of piecemeal ground floor shops and now unfashionable Art Deco offices, the QVB was seen as a shabby eyesore. Proposals to demolish it were put to the City Council. However, various citizens and members of council resisted these moves and in 1971 a decision was made to preserve and restore the building as a historically significant site. It was not until the 1980s that work began on this restoration with the intention to return the building to its original style. As a result, the 1930s Art Deco fittings and many other interim elements were removed.

On the one hand the 'saving' of the QVB was part of a growing recognition of the importance of its historic and aesthetic significance. Its ultimate financial success owes much to this new 'heritage' appeal. On the other hand its preservation and restoration was not altogether typical of the era. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s many older Sydney buildings were demolished to make way for offices, new shops or residential developments. Among the most notable of these were the nearby Anthony Hordern's building, the Regent Theatre and the Walter Burley Griffin designed Pyrmont incinerator.





QVB official website
  History of the QVB