Queen Victoria Building – sketching the east entrance

December 7, 2011

I’ve set myself the little task of doing preliminary work from photos at home of Sydney’s most-difficult-to-sketch buildings – building up some knowledge in my head before tackling them on location. Four buildings in four days. Today’s ‘wedding cake’ Sydney building in Victorian architectural style is the Queen Victoria Building, an example of Federation Romanesque.


Sydneysiders will be familiar with the building’s histor. Built 1893-1898, opposite Sydney Town Hall, it’s in the elaborate American Romanesque or Byzantine style, as a monument to Queen Victoria and (to boost employment of out-of-work builders) featured exuberant work by stonemasons, plasterers and stained glass window artists. I believe it was built to replace the existing markets, but I’m confused about whether (and for how long) it remained an elaborate cover over market stalls since there is talk of it being a concert hall – surely a super-large one and doubling up on the Centennial Hall of the Town Hall opposite?. In any case, after a chequered history, it underwent full resotration by Ipoh Gardens Berhard, a Malaysian company at the tail-end of last century.

Previous sketches

I’ve sketched the north-west corner previously and blogged about it. Because the building, a “shoebox” with domes on top, occupies a city block, it’s difficult to get a sense of the entirety at ground level. it is entirely hemmed in by skyscrapers on three sides as well. I chose not to articulate the context. 

Here are two previous ‘scratchy’ sketches, the first on-site from public seating in York Street and the second from Google Earth:

Today’s view

And here’s today’s view, photographed two days ago.

It’s just possible to sketch this standing up on location (I’m learning to watch out for recessed alcoves at fire doors), except the glass awning protrudes. Before doing it on-site though, I need to get used to the vertical perspective and the impact that has on the Chartres-like stained glass window. What I’d like to emphasise is the contrast between the yellow Sydney sandstone, the white marble and the green copper domes; I like the idea of leaving in the hoarding in place for renovations of the south-east corner of the building.

I’ve copied it freehand in the same A4 size I’d want to sketch it on-site. I’ve been very strategic in adding linework at odds with the verticals and horizontals to lead the eye in and out. I’ve tried to balance blank areas with fine detail. I started with a vertical centre line and two outer lines defining the entrance and reflecting the vertical perspective.  The half-way point horizontally is at the top of the arch holding the stained glass window.

Note in the photograph probably the most important architectural element of all: a distinctly black line running right around the building, separating “walls” from “roof”. 

Tomorrow I move on to the Lands Department building, but next will come back and add colour (probably a orange/purple complementary colour scheme, tending towards yellow/blue. The photo shows the potential for colour highlights using greens, red and bright orange. I’d be varying the temperature of the colour to reflect the glass awning at the top and leave white paper showing only at the marble statues.

As with yesterday’s Town Hall sketch, I’m feeling very confident now about tackling this on location!


http://www.qvb.com.au/About-QVB – see the dramatic photo on the building’s website, the foreshortened Druitt Street frontage at night.

http://www.sydneyarchitecture.com/cbd/cbd3-007.htm – this webpage includes a photo of the eastern entrance, but a more-difficult-to-sketch three-quarter view.

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