Built Heritage Consultants Melbourne
Dictionary of Unsung Architects   return to DUA index

Biographical Overview

Mordechai Benshemesh was born on 16 January 1911 in Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine (now Israel).  He spent three years at the Montefiori Polytechnical School in Tel Aviv (1930-33) and later completed his architectural studies in London, where he obtained diplomas from the British Institute of Engineering Technology (BIET) and the International Correspondence School (ICS).  Benshemesh migrated to Australia in 1939, arriving on 13 June aboard the Strathaird.  

By his own admission, Benshemesh spent the next decade employed in the offices of several notable Melbourne architects, namely Arthur W Plaisted (from 1940-41) and H R Johnson (from 1946-49) before commencing his own practice around 1950.  He soon became well-known as a designer of multi-storey apartment blocks, mostly located in the St Kilda area, where he was living at the time.  These projects began on a modest scale, typified by the small three-storey block of flats at 285 (now 289) Barkly Street (1953), but, by the end of that decade, had become considerably larger and more ambitious.  

In 1960, Benshemesh garnered much publicity for Edgewater Towers, a 13-storey apartment block that towered over St Kilda's iconic beachfront boulevard.  Described by the Herald newspaper as "one of the first multi-storey blocks of flats in Melbourne's suburbs", the building, providing 100 dwellings, secured Benshemesh's reputation as the city's leading designer of high-density residential developments.  That same year, his scheme for a similarly-scaled development on Toorak Road, overlooking Fawkner Park, was selected over proposals by four other architects.  Comprising a massive 11-storey tower on a stepped plan, the ambitious project did not proceed, although it was 
presciently touted as "a forerunner of a wave of highrise building development in many exclusive suburbs south of the river".  Nevertheless, such was Benshemesh's standing in this specialist field that, in 1961, he was one of three leading Australian architects (together with Harry Seidler and Neville Gruzman, both from Sydney) invited to participate in a forum on the topic of multi-story apartment buildings, the transcript of which was later published in Foundations magazine.  

While best known for his multi-storey apartment blocks, Benshemesh was responsible for some similarly-scaled office buildings (mostly along the burgeoning commercial strips of St Kilda Road, Albert Road and Queens Road), as well as some
institutional and industrial commissions.  In 1962, he designed the four-storey Palm Lake Motel (also in Queens Road), which was one of the largest and most luxurious motels yet built in Australia.

Mordechai Benshemesh died on 22 December 1993, only a few weeks before his 83th birthday.

Select List of Projects




Factory, Blackshaws Road, Spotswood
Flats, Barkly Street, St Kilda
Flats (Elizabeth Lodge), St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Flats (Gilbert Court), Toorak Road, Toorak
Flats, Marine Parade, St Kilda
Flats, Marine Parade, St Kilda
Flats for Edgewater Towers Pty Ltd, 14 Marine Parade, St Kilda (13 storey)
Flats for Pavic Investments, Toorak Road, South Yarra (11 storey)
Danglow Wing, Montefiore Home for the Aged, St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Flats for
Westbury Co-operative Housing Society Ltd, Westbury Street, St Kilda East
Flats (St Ives), Toorak Road, South Yarra (ten storey)
Palm Lake Motel, 52 Queens Road, Melbourne
Flats (Questa Heights), Upper Esplanade, St Kilda (ten storey)
Office building for General Insurance Company, 610 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Office building, Albert Road, South Melbourne
Office building (Nilex House), 10 Queens Road, Melbourne
Cool store for BSC Containers, Appleton Dock, Footscray
Edgewater Towers
Edgewater Towers, Marine Parade, St Kilda (1959-60)

Westbury Street flats
Flats, Westbury Street, St Kilda West (1960-61)

Palm Lake Motel Mordechai Benshemesh
Palm Lake Motel, Queens Road, Melbourne (1962)

Select References

Harriet Edquist, 45 Storeys (1993).

Simon Reeves,  "A Tale of Two City Motels",  Australian Motel Owners' Journal, Dec 2010, pp 9-11.