From the bush to the big cities, feast your eyes on building design as bold, eclectic and rich as Australia itself.
By Jennifer Pinkerton
Australian architects have designed some of the most unusual and forward-thinking buildings in the world, each one representing a small slice of our national identity. Here, 19th century colonial era sandstone theatres, stations and halls sit beside the utopia-dreaming modernist movement's boxy yet curvaceous glass and concrete homes, courts and art galleries. More recently, brash and colourful stadiums, high-rises and museums with futuristic feels have appeared. And naturalist homes and hotels are opening themselves to the elements, working with the landscape and – in some cases – incorporating the Aboriginal experience of country. Explore outstanding Australian architecture with this collection of must-sees.
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales
Arguably the best of the bunch, the Sydney Opera House graces Sydney Harbour like a gargantuan modernist sailboat anchored at Circular Quay. Designed in the mid-1950s by a then unknown Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, it features three separate glass-walled buildings that resemble open shells. Utzon’s design, entered in an international competition, was initially rejected by three judges, but reputedly picked up by the fourth judge, Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen. Judges of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize described the Opera House as a “symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent”.
Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria
Voted the sixth best public square in the world by the Landscape Architects Network – above the likes of Times Square in New York – Federation Square is built beside Melbourne's busiest train station on top of a working railway. Not everyone likes the look of the square: it's landed on a few "ugliest buildings" lists. Experts seem to agree, however, that the square has an uncanny ability to attract people, culture and buzz. The Ian Potter Art Gallery, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and a giant public screen all live here, as does a cluster of popular restaurants and bars. Influenced by the idea of "federation", bringing disparate parts together to form a synchronised whole, the square's iconic fractal facade uses sandstone, zinc and glass cut-outs within a triangular pinwheel grid. It evokes cracked earth.
Wanangkura Stadium, Port Hedland, Western Australia
Great architecture isn't limited to Australia’s capital cities. In the remote town of Port Hedland in northern Western Australia, a sweeping stadium – a whir of bright blue – sits atop the red Pilbara region dirt. The intention, architecture firm ARM says, was “to create an oasis in the desert”. Wanangkura Stadium has won awards for public architecture and is crafted from enamel panels that endure harsh conditions such as tropical cyclones and high temperatures. “The entrance looks as if pixels have been punched out of the facade and left scattered on the ground to expose an orange interior of colonnades, entries and gathering spaces,” says ARM, which designed the building to be viewed from afar.
Council House, Perth, Western Australia
Considered Perth's best example of modernist architecture, Council House is an 11-storey building in the city centre, near St George's Cathedral and the Swan River foreshore. Opened in 1963 and designed by two young Melbourne architects, Jeffrey Howlett and Don Bailey, the Council House has floor-to-ceiling double-glazed windows in aluminium frames on all four walls, as well as T-shaped sunshades. The latter turn the building into a "colourful cube in the sky" at night, when the shades are illuminated with neon lights.
Rose Seidler House, Sydney, New South Wales
Alongside Glenn Murcutt, mentioned below, Viennese-born Harry Seidler is arguably Australia's most revered architect. He was a master of the modernist movement and his buildings often met with waves of opposition, as was the case with Rose Seidler House in Sydney’s northern suburbs. At the time of completion in 1950, the house – designed for Seidler's parents, Max and Rose – was the “most talked about house in Sydney”, according to Sydney Living Museums. Its exterior is set away from the street and boasts a "TV box" frontage. Rooms all peep into sections of surrounding rooms to create intrigue and flow, and six windows look out onto the bush.
Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre, Nowra, New South Wales
Glenn Murcutt, winner of international architecture's biggest award, the Pritzker Prize, has based his career on embracing Australian conditions, treading gently on the earth, and letting light flood interior spaces. Designed with two fellow architects for Australian artists Yvonne and Arthur Boyd in 1997, the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre – an artists' and students' retreat – is perched on the hillside above the Shoalhaven River near Nowra, a 2 1/2 hour drive south of Sydney. Though from afar, the design looks simple, it was described as “a masterwork” in Murcutt’s 2002 Pritzker Prize announcement. A giant entry hall opens out onto the valley, and rooms in the accommodation wing each feature a window framed in protruding exterior wooden blades, providing occupants with a personalised, unreplicated view of the landscape outside.
South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, South Australia
With a "disco bling aesthetic", the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute looks as if it might have flight facilities, too. Having been described as everything from a spaceship to a giant cheese grater, the sparkling building, next to Royal Adelaide Hospital, appears to float, thanks to its raised platform base. The bling comes from a diamond-shaped facade that cleverly – and sustainably – adjusts to sun, heat, glare and wind to maintain ideal interior temperatures and light levels. Inspired by the skin of a pine cone, the building, according to website ArchDaily, “responds to its environment like a living organism”.
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