web.Block.V (2018)



Melbourne History Workshop is actively involved in the creation and maintenance of projects such as eMelbourne, the online encyclopedia of Melbourne, and Melbourne Directories, a digitisation of useful historical materials. Melbourne History Workshop operates primarily out of the Faculty of Arts Digital Studio in Arts West. The Digital Studio initiative aims to promote research in the Digital Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS).

MHW has been collaborating for a number of years with the City of Melbourne’s Art + Heritage collection, and in particular its artist-in-residence program. In 2016 the team worked with Christos Tsiolkas and Zoe Ali to co-curate the City Songs Exhibition, which focussed on narrative and images inspired by the history of Melbourne’s Block XI (the city block bounded by Swanston, Collins, Russell and Bourke Streets).

The next iteration of this collaboration has shifted the focus to Block V (bounded by Flinders, Swanston, Collins and Elizabeth Streets). The City of Melbourne commissioned artist-in-residence Lewis Brownlie to create intricate historical facades of the Melbourne CBD. Lewis uses a classic black-and-white line drawing technique to depict detailed building facades — his Buildings of Melbourne Colouring Book (Hootenanny Ink, 2015) features twenty images of well-known Melbourne buildings and precincts.


J. Williamson, ‘A Plan of Melbourne Port Phillip’ (c. 1839) [SLV MAPS LB 821.02 A [1839] WILLIAMSON]

Conceptually and technically, the project extends Lewis’s practice from illustration into digital animation and GIS techniques through collaboration with the Melbourne History Workshop team. Lewis has firstly created a set of drawings of the buildings on the block, setting the scene for the team to collaboratively explore ways to digitally render these drawings and to fabricate the block as a multi-dimensional interactive environment.

Interdisciplinary development of our Melbourne Block Project has been further piloted through an exciting synthesis cluster involving researchers and students from history and computer engineering. In order to be accredited by various professional bodies, most Computer Science degrees have a ‘go do a project start-to-finish with a real client’ subject/s. Some subjects involve the students doing an internship and writing about their experiences for an assignment. Other subjects are group work or closer to a minor thesis.

This project was greatly progressed by our Computing and Information Systems interns Yuqing (Rachel) Liu and Tong (Tracy) Zou. Under the supervision of Professor May and Dr Mitchell Harrop (from SCIP, the Social and Cultural Informatics Platform), Rachel and Tracy worked on producing designs, low and high fidelity prototypes of a web-based rendition of the artist’s work. The work incorporates other historical place-based information in an exploratory and interactive 3D mode. The final website will capture the passing of time through an animated sequence of drawings that can be interacted with and explored in a variety of ways through integration with other existing place-based data sets.

Preliminary findings—and reflections on MHW legacy projects—were presented at ‘Urban Renewal and Resilience: Cities in Comparative Perspective‘, the 14th Conference of the European Association for Urban History in Rome (August 2018):

A. May, H. Morgan, M. Harrop, J. Lesh, ‘Two Steps Forward: Pounding the Pavement in the Digital City’ (Session M36 Digitising the Urban Archive: Towards a New Digital Urban History).



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