The Rialto

Details from plans for the Rialto Building, 1890 The Rialto Building, undated

The Rialto building is now a luxury hotel, but it began as a warehouse and office building, with retail outlets at street level.

The Collins Street fa├žade is designed in the distinctive version of the Venetian Gothic palazzo style favoured by boom period Melbournians, and features cement details, ceramic tiles and pressed zinc.  Commissioned by businessman Patrick McCaughan in the late 1880s, architect William Pitt utilised the latest in fireproofing for the internal structure, incorporating fireproof floors, stone stair cases, isolated hydraulic lifts, metal strips instead of timber laths to support plaster and full height masonry internal walls.

A growing awareness of the need to preserve all aspects of Melbourne’s heritage in the 1980s saw preservation of 5 levels of urinals at the rear of the Rialto building, and conservation of many other details from past times.  The Rialto is just one of a complex of interconnected 19th century commercial buildings through to Flinders Lane, and the relationship between the buildings has been maintained in the current use - the long east facade of the Rialto faces into a void under a glass atrium roof and opposite the former Wool Exchange building (1891) which is finished in a sympathetic style.  The floor of the atrium is formed by the original bluestone cobbled laneway, which served the carts and wagons delivering products to the adjacent warehouses.

Early tenants of the Rialto building included the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works, responsible for providing Melbourne with a water and sewerage system and the law firm of Theodore Fink, younger brother of notorious lank speculator, Benjamin Fink. In addition to building plans by William Pitt, The University of Melbourne Archives holds records relating to both Fink brothers and records of one of the Rialto’s later tenants, the Melbourne Woolbrokers’ Association.

Construction of the Rialto Towers behind the original Rialto began in 1982, on the site of Robb’s Buildings.   Melbourne's first skyscraper public observation deck operated in the Rialto Towers between 1994 and 2009 and the building hosted Melbourne's first Tower running event in 1989.

Details from plans for the Rialto Building, 1890
Architect, William Pitt
Ink and watercolour on paper
William Pitt 1977.0115

The Rialto Building, undated
Photographer unknown
OSBA 780
William Pitt 1977.0115