RMIT Building 13 (Emily McPherson College)

Corner Russell and Victoria streets, Melbourne

1930s typing class

Typing class, circa 1940.

Fast facts


Building 13 is on the Government Buildings Register of the Heritage Council of Victoria and the Register of the National Estate. It is classified by the National Trust and is designated a ‘notable building’ in the Melbourne City Council planning scheme.

Date of building

The original building fronting Russell Street was officially opened by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York on 27 April 1927. Architect: Evan Smith, Government Architect. In 1930 the building was awarded the second only RVIA Street Architecture Medal. The Ethel Margaret McPherson wing (fronting Franklin Street) was opened on 16 August 1950. Architect: Percy E Everett, Chief Architect of Public Works Department of Victoria.

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1930s fashion exhibition

1930s fashion exhibition.

What to see

Teaching kitchen, ground floor

Recently renovated, this area is a state-of-the-art food tasting facility. The original ceramic tiled wall and other period features have been retained.

Ethel Osborne Hall, ground floor

The Ethel Osborne Hall is a gracious venue for meetings, lectures, award ceremonies and other gatherings.

Stained glass ceiling over staircase (visible from ground floor)

The two feature panels have been recently uncovered and restored to their original condition.

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Textiles class

Textiles class.

History of the building

The Emily McPherson College is a testament to the public philanthropy of businessman and politician Sir William McPherson, who donated £25,000 towards its cost. The college gave a broad education to women, and later men were enrolled. (Today, of course, RMIT's programs are open to everyone regardless of gender, and annual total enrolments of women and men are usually balanced.)

The Emily McPherson College is historically significant as a symbol of the influence of the domestic economy movement in Victoria in the early twentieth century. Though the influence of the movement was seen in the syllabus of Victorian Education Department schools from the 1920s, and in the establishment of other private schools for the domestic arts, the Emily McPherson College was the principal centre of domestic science teaching in Victoria. It is also significant as the first institution in Victoria specifically established for training teachers and others in domestic economy.

The Emily McPherson College building was opened in 1927 by the Duchess of York.

The Emily McPherson building, constructed in 1927, is architecturally significant for its simplified neo-Greek external treatment. It is an outstanding example of the pervasive influence of American architecture in Australia in the early twentieth century. The stripped Beaux Arts style of contemporary American official architecture is evidenced in the symmetrical front elevation with Doric portico, the simplified treatment of the walls and the vestigial pediment, and decorative details such as the saltire crosses on the windows and balcony and Greek fretwork on the portico floor. While other public and commercial buildings in the 1920s adopted elements of the style, generally within a variety of other stylistic contexts ranging from an academic Beaux Arts to a neo-colonial Georgian style, the Emily Mac parallels official stripped neo-Greek style more closely than other buildings of the period.

The original internal finishes are substantially intact in most spaces, notably in the circulation areas and the Ethel Osborne Hall. The interiors are representative of institutional and commercial buildings of the period. The original benches in the surviving kitchens are significant as demonstrating the relatively advanced notions of built-in kitchen fittings that were being advocated at the time for domestic and commercial kitchens.

On 30 June 1979 the college amalgamated with RMIT and from that date the Emily McPherson Department continued to operate from Building 11 and Building 13. After a few years the department merged with the Department of Fashion and Textiles and the Department of Food Science.

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