One of the most colourful clients of Melbourne architect Arthur Purnell (1878 – 1964) was Alexander George Barlow (1880 – 1937), a highly innovative—if slightly shady—businessman, who was a pioneer of the car retail industry in Melbourne. After his new car dealership Barlow Motors failed in 1930 during the Great Depression, he leased the Lower Melbourne Town Hall and installed a miniature golf course. Alas, this business went bust too. When things finally got too much in 1937, tragically Barlow killed himself. A.G. Barlow’s son Alexander (‘Alec’) Arthur Barlow (b. 1908) worked for Barlow Motors. In 1926 the company sponsored him and the Australian adventurer Frances Birtles to drive a Bean sports car from Darwin to Melbourne in the shortest possible time. They completed the 3391-mile journey in 205 hours, with many adventures along the way. If that wasn’t enough, Alec Barlow was also an aviator. In 1929 he crashed his plane on its maiden flight and then matter-of-factly bought a new plane a fortnight later.
This past semester at the University of Melbourne, where I teach, I asked a group of third year architecture students to imagine that A.G. Barlow and A.A. Barlow were alive today and needed a new building for Barlow Motors—consisting of a car showroom, a car service centre, a car park, a ‘bachelor’s apartment’ for A.A. Barlow, and a rooftop miniature golf course—which reflected the adventurous spirit of the Barlows. Since the types of cars sold by Barlow Motors no longer exist, the students had to choose a current brand for the company to sell. Following is a sample of the students’ buildings: