Notable buildings

Renewal of the Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre | Scott Carver | NSW | Photographer: Lynton Crabb

Notable architecture

Heritage of our built environment

Since the 1930s the Institute has been an active advocate of the responsibility of the architectural profession to contribute to the proper conservation, adaptation, re-use and ongoing management of the natural and cultural environment, and in particular, the heritage of our built environment. Factors which contribute to determining a building’s heritage significance may be based upon aesthetic, historic, social, spiritual or technical grounds.

Internationally significant architecture

Internationally significant public architecture

The following nine projects form the Institute’s nomination to the International Union of Architects’ (UIA) World Register of Significant Twentieth Century Australian Architecture.

The task of compiling the data was completed by Eric Martin FRAIA.

Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is a dramatic expression of the genius of a then little-known architect, Jørn Utzon, whose subsequent international fame was in part a result of the design of the building. It is also a testament to the high-quality completion of the work by Hall, Todd and Littlemore; to the technical support of engineering firm Ove Arup and Partners; and to the inventiveness of M R Hornibrook, the contractor of stages of two and three.

The Sydney Opera House is exceptionally significant because of:

  • its spectacular quality as sculpture in the round, both by day and night
  • its inspired design solution in response to its setting
  • the picturesque quality of the peninsula setting
  • the way in which its fabric reflects the contemporary philosophy of creating refined forms from machine-made components
  • the way in which the plastic arts, geometry and technology were drawn on to create a structure at the leading edge of endeavour
  • the majestic quality of its public spaces contained by powerful structural forms
  • the evidence of its fabric in expressing its place in 20th-century architecture (not excluding the troubled history of its construction)
  • the seminal influence of some of its design and construction techniques
  • its function as a performing arts centre of world renown.

The building’s almost mythological status as a cultural icon arises from all the above, as well as from the high public interest in its protracted and controversial development, and to the venue’s power to attract national and international artists, patrons and tourists.

Project team

  • Project Design: Jørn Utzon
  • Structural Engineering: Ove Arup & Partners
  • Electrical Engineers: Zeuthen & Sorensen, Julius Poole & Gibson (Frank Matthews)
  • Civil Engineers: Christiani & Nielsen
  • Mechanical Fire & Hydraulic Services: Steensen & Varming
  • Theatre Techniques: Sandro Malmquist
  • Acoustics: Dr Vilhelm Lassen Jordan initially
  • Quantity Surveyor: Rider Hunt
  • Constructions: Civil & Civic Pty Ltd, MR Hornibrook (NSW) Pty Ltd and Hornibrook Group.

New Parliament House

Parliament House is a landmark building which has become an icon of Canberra. It is a building of great creative achievement, designed by Mitchell Giurgola and Thorpe (Aldo Giurgola was awarded The Royal Australian Institute of Architect Gold Medal in 1988).

As the home of the Australian Parliament and the seat of government, this building has a significance unique among buildings in Australia, which is quite independent of its architectural, aesthetic and townscape values.

The fundamental significance of the building lies within its concept of making a national place. It functions both as a working place for the parliament and as a symbol and ceremonial place for events of national importance: a symbol of national unity and commitment to the democratic process of government.

The building’s specially commissioned art, craft and furnishings reflect the history, cultural diversity, development and aspirations of the nation. The building is pre-eminently sited on Capital Hill. Its siting and design re-states the original profile of Capital Hill, with its curved walls reaching out to encompass the radial avenues established in the 1912 Walter Burley Griffin plan as the primary axes of the city. The building, particularly the curved walls and flagpole, is a strong symbolic and sculptural element in the landscape. It was awarded The Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) National Sir Zelman Cowen Award and the RAIA (ACT Chapter) Canberra Medallion in 1989 and the Civic Design award in 1990.

Download the full citation.

Project team

  • Project Design: Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp (Canberra)
  • Structural Engineering: Irwin Johnston & Partners, Melbourne
  • Civil Engineers: Maunsell & Partners Pty Ltd, Canberra
  • Consulting Engineers (Services): Associated Consulting Engineers for the Parliament House
  • Interiors: Mitchell Giurgola & Thorpe Architects, Canberra
  • Lighting: George Sexton Associates, Washington DC
  • Quantity Surveyor: Donald Cant, Watts, Hawes & Lee Pty Ltd, Canberra
  • Acoustic Consultants: Louis A Challis & Associates, Sydney
  • Concrete Constructions: John Holland Joint Venture, Canberra.

Newman College

Newman College is one of the best examples of the architecture of Walter Burley Griffin in Australia. Griffin is an architect of world renown with outstanding examples of planning (eg Canberra) and architecture in several continents.

The college has a strong and evocative form. It opens up to the university ovals but is shielded from the outside environment of the street. It has an innovative use of stone and a structural form of the reinforced-concrete dome was one of the earliest and largest domes of its type at the time.

The creative use of stone, with smooth surfaces and a rough base, blend to an unusual and organic form which harmonises with the landscape.

The overall design of Newman College is a quality design of outstanding merit and beauty.

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Project team

  • Project design: Walter Burley Griffin
  • Engineering: Walter Burley Griffin
  • Construction: Bart Moriarty.

ICI House (former)

The design of ICI House illustrates a tendency in Melbourne up until 1960 to inventively blend, assimilate and reformulate international ideas with local concerns. The war-induced overlay of industrial imperatives in construction and delivery was enthusiastically embraced in an aesthetic of repetitive efficiency. Internally, industrially produced surfaces and veneers and individually commissioned artworks replace embellishment by craft.

ICI House was a landmark in the planning of the City of Melbourne. The building was more than double the previous height restriction enforced in Victoria and the design was permitted under the Uniform Building Regulations changes in 1955 because the site coverage was examined as a percentage of the total site area. This led to plot ratio determinations for city sites and the eventual redefinition of the central Melbourne skyline.

The garden (along with its component parts – the Lewers fountain and water feature) is significant due to its role in determining the plot ratio that allowed the breaking of the height limit as well as defining the original formal entry to the building.

ICI House represents architects Bates Smart and McCutcheon’s most refined work in their typological development of the post-war glazed skyscraper. It is a rare and surviving monument to the ideals of corporate modernism of the 1950s – the corporation as embodied by an all-glass curtain-walled tall building – the post-war realisation of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s crystal skyscraper projects of the 1920s. Yet its architects employed an aesthetic of efficiency associated with the mobilisation of the construction industry, the science of building systems and design through teamwork – a direct product of wartime experience – which followed the German Expressionists’ transcendental idealisation of glass as the utopian material of the future.

Today ICI (now ORICA) still occupies several floors of the building, a testament to the longevity of its flexible floor plate and its modernist aesthetic of clean lines and corporate efficiency. In 2013 the building was awarded the Victorian Enduring Architecture Award.

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Project team

  • Project design: Bates Smart and McCutcheon
  • Engineering: Harvey H Brown
  • Construction: EA Watts Pty Ltd
  • Garden Design: Landscape architect John Stevens and sculptor Gerald Lewers
  • Contracting Authority: ICIANZ (Imperial Chemical Industries Australia and New Zealand).

High Court of Australia and National Gallery of Australia precinct

In 1972 a competition was held for the design of the High Court. This was the first open design competition held in Canberra since the international competition for the plan of Canberra in 1912. The competition was won by Edwards Madigan Torzillo & Briggs. Christopher Kringas was head of the design team with documentation substantially completed at the time of his untimely death in 1975. After the death of Kringas, Hans Marelli, an architect with EMTB, led the construction administration of the project.

The National Gallery concept was for a complicated building, located in the eastern corner of the Parliamentary Triangle, consisting of varying levels and spaces arranged on four major levels having a structural spatial order based on equilateral triangles. The requirements of the brief and the conceptual ideas were articulated in an open display of structure and structural materials.

The firm Harry Howard and Associates was commissioned to undertake the landscape design with the principal design firm, Edwards Madigan Torzillo Briggs (EMTB). The design team for the landscaping consisted of the principal designers Colin Madigan (EMTB) and Harry Howard, along with Barbara Buchanan (Harry Howard and Associates), Roger Vidler (EMTB) and James Mollison (Gallery Director). The water feature of the Marsh Pond was designed by Robert Woodward. Harry Howard had worked with EMTB as an architect and understood the language of their architecture, yet was inspired by the Australian bush and the need to humanise and localise the landscape experience for visitors (Buchanan 2001). The design consisted of Summer, Winter, Spring and Autumn gardens blending into each other.

Fluctuations in the political and economic climate delayed the beginning of the construction of the Gallery until 1973. The Gallery was ‘moth-balled’ for 18 months to finance the continuation of the High Court. The High Court was completed in 1980 and the National Gallery in 1982.

In the early 1990s, under the direction of the Gallery Director, Betty Churcher, subdivision of some galleries was undertaken with the insertion of mezzanine floors and changing or re-cladding wall surfaces, in order to create new galleries to suit the exhibitions. Other changes to the building included re-roofing with a metal deck and the office space under the new roof, and extension of the bookshop. A temporary restaurant appropriated the Marsh Pond terrace and, at a later date, an access road and small car-park to service the temporary restaurant were installed.

A new wing, designed by Andrew Andersens, was constructed in 1997 of concrete panels with some use of granite cladding. It is used for temporary exhibitions. The new extension included a courtyard garden sculpture designed and established by the artist Fiona Hall.

The Institute of Architects awarded the Canberra Medallion to the High Court in 1980 and the Australian National Gallery in 1982. The buildings were further recognised by the Institute in 2001 in its listing of the two buildings for national significance.

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Australia Square

Australia Square is one of the first modern international styled office towers in Australia by one of Australia’s and the world’s leading architects, Harry Seidler. Harry Seidler was awarded the Royal Australian Institutes of Architects Gold Medal in 1976.

The building established new principles in design and construction through its distinctive circular form and the creation of a large public open space at ground level.

The public space is established by a plaza that is set above street level and steps down throughout the site. It is defined on the east by a six-storey rectangular building acting as a foil to the circular tower. The public areas include cafés, fountains, artwork (Le Corbusier tapestries, Calder Sculpture) and are one of the earliest examples of the development of comfortable public open space on private land.

The structural system was developed with one of the world’s leading engineers, Pier Luigi Nervi, and features technological advances of the time such as patterned ribbing and tapering exterior columns in quartz faced precast concrete as permanent formwork. The tapering columns add emphasis to the height of the tower, further emphasising its elegance. At the time it was built between 1961 and 1967 the tower was the world’s tallest lightweight concrete building.

The circular form was structurally extremely efficient and the consistency of floor plan, the use of precast facade and in situ core lead to floors being erected in five working days which set new standards in office tower construction.

Australia Square Tower is an elegant building which has maintained its aesthetic appeal and is still regarded as a landmark building in Sydney and an icon of Australian architecture

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Project team

  • Project design: Harry Seidler & Associates
  • Engineering: Pier Luigi Nervi in conjunction with Civil & Civic
  • Construction: Civil & Civic.

Shine Dome

The Shine Dome (formerly Becker House) is an excellent example of structuralist architecture, which has remained an icon of Canberra from the time it was designed.

The Shine Dome is significant for its association with the post-war development of the Australian scientific community at an international level. It is directly related to significant Australian scientists who were members of the academy or held office on its board. (AHC 1998)

The Shine Dome was designed by prominent architect Sir Roy Grounds, a principal of the noted architectural practice of Grounds, Romberg & Boyd. Sir Roy Grounds was awarded the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Gold Medal in 1968 and Robin Boyd the RAIA Gold Medal in 1969. The dome’s design represents Grounds’ design philosophy, reflected in the buildings form, planning and structural integrity, and in Grounds’ response to the environment. (AHC 1998)

The construction of the reinforced concrete dome was a significant technical achievement of its time. (AHC 1998) In diameter, the dome was large by world standards and larger than any dome previously built in Australia.

Upon completion, the Shine Dome became a symbol of modern Canberra. Since then it has developed into an important landmark and tourist destination in the city.

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Project team

  • Project Design: Grounds, Romberg & Boyd
  • Structural Engineering: W L Irwin & Associates
  • Construction: Civil & Civic
  • Electrical & Mechanical: WE Bassett & Associates, Melbourne
  • Acoustics: Bolt, Beranek & Newman Inc. Boston, USA
  • Quantity Surveyors: Rider Hunt & Partners
  • Landscape: Professor LD Pryor
  • Superintendent of Parks & Gardens Furnishings: Bettine Grounds.

Sidney Myer Musical Bowl

The Sidney Myer Music Bowl is of considerable historical, social, technological and cultural significance.

The Bowl was the first major purpose-built outdoor venue to be constructed in Melbourne and was designed to accommodate a completely new scale of live outdoor performance events. Since opening in 1959, it has been the scene of a wide range of memorable events and performances.

Named for its benefactor, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl is among the best-known projects of the Sidney Myer Charity Trust, and the one which is perhaps most strongly associated with its founder. Its planning, design, and construction were overseen by other members of the Myer family, most notably the late Kenneth Myer, Sidney’s son.

The Bowl is also of outstanding aesthetic and technological significance. Structural expression and material experiment were popular among Melbourne’s more avant-garde architects in the 1950s, but this interest was expressed mainly through residential buildings. In terms of larger-scale public buildings, only the Olympic Swimming Pool bears comparison. Both are notable experiments in the use of structural steel, and in the architectural expression of structure through form.

The Bowl’s structural design appeared to echo the thinking of German architect-engineer, Frei Otto, whose book on the subject, Das Hangende Dach (The Hung Roof), was published in 1954, yet it predated experiments in tensile-stress construction by Otto and others by almost 10 years.

At the time of its construction, the Sydney Myer Music Bowl was one of a small number of structures in Australia to combine a tensile structural system with a free-form roof, and was by far the most important in terms of its scale, sophistication and boldness of structural expression. The project represented an enormous achievement for its architects and structural engineers and involved input from a number of technical and scientific consultants, including members of the Aeronautical Research Laboratories and CSIRO Forest Products Division.

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Project team

  • Project Design: Yuncken Freeman Bros Griffiths & Simpson
  • Structural Engineering: WL Irwin & Associates
  • Construction: John Holland.

Cameron Offices

The Cameron Offices, located along Chandler Street, Belconnen Town Centre is a significant example of the Late Twentieth-Century International Style (1960-) and the Late Twentieth Century Brutalist Style (1960-).

The following design features are of particular significance:

  • the precast post-tensioned ‘T’ floor beams with the integration of the lighting and air conditioning
  • the landscaped courtyards with native Australian plants and water features
  • the structural system for the office wing’s floors where the Gallows beams support the floors by hanging ‘columns’
  • the stepped floors at half levels, overhang of the upper floors for shading to the north
  • Corbusian (ribbon) window motif, assertive cantilever and lengthy expressed reinforced concrete balustrades along the ‘Mall’.

The office complex is Canberra’s, and it appears Australia’s, first and possibly only true architectural example of ‘Structuralism’ where buildings are conceived as integral and contributing elements of an overall urban order rather than separate and individual elements. Although the town plan for Belconnen was later altered during construction of the complex, it still exhibits to a degree this theory making it significant.

The structural system incorporated in the office wings where the floors are supported by columns to the north and are hung from ‘Gallows’ beams to the south is a technically innovative solution. The use of post-tensioned precast concrete for much of the structure was a relatively new building type.

The architecture of this office complex may contribute to the education of designers in their understanding of Late Twentieth-Century Architectural Styles.

John Andrews is recognised as one of Australia’s leading architects of the modern movement. He was awarded The Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1980.

This office complex was his first and is his largest project in Australia. It is one of the two most important buildings designed by him in Australia, the other being the American Express Tower, Sydney.

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Project team

  • Project Design: John Andrews
  • Structural Engineering: PO Miller, Milston & Ferris
  • Mechanical Engineering: DS Thomas & Partners
  • Electrical Engineering: McCredie, Richmond & Johns
  • Landscape Architects: Richard Strong & Associates
  • Design Architect: Steve Morehead
  • Documentation: Morehead Strong & Sigsby
  • Construction: TC Whittle P/L.

Internationally significant residential architecture

The following 20th-century residences make up the Institute’s nomination to the International Union of Architects’ (UIA) World Register of Significant 20th Century Australian Architecture and to the Australian Government National Heritage List.

Click on the project name to download its PDF citation.

Nationally significant architecture

Nationally significant architecture

The following buildings form the Institute’s list of Nationally Significant 20th Century Architecture. The task of compiling the data was completed by the Institute’s National Heritage Taskforce in June 2011.

Click on the project name to download its PDF citation.


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