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Baldwin Spencer Building

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Title: Baldwin Spencer Building  
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Subject: University of Melbourne
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Baldwin Spencer Building

Baldwin Spencer Building
Basic information
Location 152 - 292 Grattan Street Parkville, Melbourne, University of Melbourne
Architectural description
Architect(s) Reed Henderson and Smart (1887–1890), Smart Tappin and Peebles (1905–1906), Mockridge Stahle and Mitchell (west wing, 1963)
Architectural style Gothic Revival

The Baldwin Spencer Building is located at the University of Melbourne and was named after the first Professor of Biology Walter Baldwin Spencer. Spencer submitted designs that were finalised by architects, Joseph Reed, Anketell Henderson and Francis Smart who formed a partnership known as Reed Henderson and Smart.

It began construction in 1887 and was opened a year later as the Biology Building. The School of Biology was renamed Zoology in 1920 when W E Agar succeeded Baldwin Spencer. The building itself is a Gothic Revival structure with elements such as rough-hewn freestone coursed walls that can be compared with similar designs by the same architects for nearby buildings such as Ormond College and the earlier Medical building. The Baldwin Spencer Building is architecturally and historically significant to the State of Victoria.

Historical significance

The Baldwin Spencer Building is significant for its connection to Walter Baldwin Spencer, who introduced many of the successive additions early into the next century, these of which included a greenhouse and aquaria.

Architecturally the Baldwin Spencer Building is significant in demonstrating the intricacies of the Gothic Revival Style, as well as demonstrating the University’s preference for this style to a number of its buildings.

Historically this building is significant for showing the new era of science teaching and original research that revolutionised educational policy in Victoria during the late nineteenth century.


The design intent of the original Baldwin Spencer Building portrays the identified requirements of Walter Baldwin Spencer for natural light and ventilation to enter a space containing the biology research department involving microscopic and dissecting work.

The original building contained a lecture theatre which can seat two hundred students, well-lit laboratories, a museum for teaching purposes and store rooms. The lecture theatre contained a large skylight roof as well as acoustic and ventilation systems. The laboratories provided two feet of window space for every five feet of bench, and located at the rear of the building was a greenhouse, maceration room, pond and animal compounds. The building contains many interiors that are still intact from the 1890s, with many original elements of architecture such as the staircases; specifically the staircase within the conical roofed turret, the ceiling of the library with cast-iron columns and crocket capitals, initial laboratory spaces and equipment, as well as the steeply tiered lecture theatre complete with wooden seating and desks. These elements give a vivid impression of the architectural style of that period in time.

Externally, both the Biology and Medical Buildings were situated towards the large ornamental lake which is now paved over and grassed as Union Lawn. In 1889, additional rooms were added including lecture spaces and also later in 1905, two workshops were added to the building that were designed by the original architects Reed Henderson and Smart (later known as Smart, Tappin and Peebles in 1906). The Baldwin Spencer Building is constructed in stone and brick, which is styled in a type of the Early English Gothic.

The key architectural elements include the heavily rusticated freestone walls, buttresses, a conical roofed round turret with spiral stair, dressed stone arched window heads, drip moulds and a parapet decorated with trefoils. Internally the original theatre, laboratory and staircases are still retained; one of the laboratories still contains its original slate benches. In the library, the ceiling is panelled timber with chamfered beams and decorated cast-iron vents.



  • Goad, Philip (1998). Guide to Melbourne Architecture.
  • Goad, Philip (2003). Architecture On Campus.
  • Tibbits, George (2000). The Planning & Development of The University of Melbourne.

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