Constructed between 1893 and 1898 in the Sydney central business district, the grand Queen Victoria Building was erected as a Municipal Market on the scale of a Cathedral. The 620 feet (190 m) long and 98 feet (30 m) wide massive building occupies an entire block of Sydney's George Street. Popularly known as QVB, the architecturally splendid structure is a gorgeous example of the Romanesque Revival Building. Considered one of the gracefully dignified structures on mainland Australia, the heritage-listed nineteenth-century building, designed by George McRae, was originally constructed as a marketplace. During its long history, it was used for a variety of other purposes, underwent remodeling, and suffered decay until restored and returned to its original grace in the late twentieth century.
The site of the huge Queen Victoria Building, previously occupied by a market and the Central Police Court, was under the control of the Council of the City of Sydney since 1842 and was subsequently envisaged as a grand civic square by Francis Greenway. Although four substantial stone halls were built in the 1830s, eventually the site was selected for the construction of a spectacular centre of trade.
During that time, Sydney was undergoing a building boom, and since no particular style of architecture was predominant, George McRae submitted four designs for the proposed new building in four different styles, namely Gothic, Renaissance, Queen Anne, and Romanesque. Out of the four designs, the City Council opted for the Victorian Romanesque style, graced with arches and columns. Finally, after the initial paper works, the foundation stone of the building, a five-ton block of granite, levered and lowered into position at the corner of George and Druitt Streets, was laid by the City Mayor, Sir William Manning,in December 1893.
George McRae, the creator of the massive Queen Victoria Building, is considered by many as one of the leading protagonists of the new construction methods and materials, which were beginning to break down the conservatism of building techniques. To strengthen the building, he used steel, iron, concrete, reinforcing, machine-made bricks, glass, imported tiles, fireproofing, riveting, and hydraulics on an unprecedented scale. Apart from constructing a grand building, its elaborate design was also planned to employ a large number of people in a time when the country was going through a great recession. While the building was still under construction, the City Council resolved in 1897 to name it the Queen Victoria Market Buildings in commemoration of her Diamond Jubilee, which was subsequently amended to Queen Victoria Building in 1918. Nevertheless, it was ceremoniously opened by Mayor Matthew Harris on 21 July 1898, and the Druitt Street entrance was opened by his wife, using a commemorative solid gold key. To commemorate the occasion, the building was illuminated by about 1000 Welsbach incandescent burners, equalizing the effect of around 70,000 candles, sufficient to illuminate even the basement.
The Queen Victoria Building with its façade created in a mixture of Romanesque art and exceptional art deco is characterized by its beautiful stained-glass panels, magnificent domes, pillars, and arches.
However, the dominant feature of the gorgeous structure is its central dome consisting of an interior glass dome, enveloped in a copper sheath exterior, topped by a domed cupola. Besides the central dome, the rooftop also houses smaller domes of various sizes, including ones on each upper corner of the rectangular building. The stained glass windows, along with the arched skylight running lengthwise north to south from the central dome, allow light into the central area of the building.
Unfortunately, the condition of the glamorous building started to deteriorate steadily due to negligence and non-maintenance, and proposals for demolition of the building gained strength by the late 1950s when the city was growing rapidly. In 1959 Lord Mayor Jensen suggested bulldozing the QVB and replacing it with a public square. However, despite immense pressure, the building was ultimately saved as the National Trust of Australia declared that the QVB should be preserved for its historical importance. Finally, the majestic Queen Victoria Building was completely restored and renovated between 1984 and 1986 by a Malaysian Company, under the terms of a 99-year lease from the Sydney City Council.
During the restoration, while a new underground car park station was built, in the process of restoration its exemplary features were also retained, which included the original stair of the building, made of trachyte, a grey fine-grained volcanic rock, the tiled surface with a pattern of repeated shapes, especially polygon, called tessellated tiled surface,and the column capitals. The building consists of four main shopping floors, and the top three levels, protected by decorative cast-iron railings, have large openings that allow natural light from the ceiling to illuminate the lower floors. Today, the grand shopping plaza houses more than a hundred different shops, including retail stores, and galleries. Apart from that, it also houses several architectural wonders, such as the bronze statue of Queen Victoria and other similar sculptures. Equipped with more than 20 cafes and restaurants for grabs, the Queen Victoria Building is especially well known for its dining options, which include, among others, the Tea Room, a heritage diner hall, built in the concert hall once housed here.
There are several charming exhibits scattered across the Building premises, which include two mechanical clocks. While the Royal Clockactivates on the hour and displays six scenes of English royalty, the 33 feet (10 m) tall Great Australian Clock, made by Chris Cook, exhibits 33 scenes from Australian history. It also houses a collection of portraits of Queen Victoria and displays her life-size figure, a replica of her Coronation regalia, in which her enthroned figure rotated slowly throughout the day, fixing the onlooker with a placid and tender gaze. There is a mysterious time capsule displayed at the top level of the building that contains a sealed letter written by Queen Elizabeth II in 1986. According to the related instruction, the letter is to be opened in 2085 and read aloud to the People of Sydney by the future Lord Mayor of Sydney.