In the early 1850s a competition was held for a design for the building, but all the entries were rejected and the government architect, Charles Pasley, came up with a design of his own. The design was later modified by another architect, Peter Kerr of Knight & Kerr.
In December 1855 construction began on the site in Spring Street, and the building was completed in stages between 1856 and 1929. The chambers for the Victorian Legislative Assembly and the Victorian Legislative Council were finished in 1856, at which time Bourke Street ran between the two chambers. The library was completed in 1860, and the Great Hall (now Queen’s Hall) and the vestibule in 1879. In the 1880s, at the height of the great boom fuelled by the Victorian Gold Rush, it was decided to add a classical colonnade and portico facing Spring St, which today gives the building its monumental character. This was completed in 1892. The north wing was completed in 1893 and refreshment rooms at the back of the building were added in 1929.
Despite its protracted construction and the inevitable evolution of the design, the building today feels very much a single entity. The flow of the rooms, particularly taken in context with the main facade leading to the Queen’s Hall and the Parliamentary chambers, is both logical and visually impressive.
Both Pasley and Kerr’s designs included plans for a dome, but these were abandoned when a sharp depression began in 1891, and the dome was never built. From time to time governments have expressed interest in completing the building by adding the dome, but have been deterred by the enormous cost.