Here’s Rachael’s list of some of her favourite top mid-century architectural gems in Canberra.
Roy Grounds’ iconic 1959 Shine Dome in Acton is my favourite building in Canberra. I love everything about it: the arches, moat (and ducks), the auditorium with its bespoke furniture and string walls for insulation, stunning oversized hanging lights and curved timber walls. It was the first Canberra building to be added to the National Heritage List.
In a city of design, with an abundance of iconic architecture, the work of Italian-born, Canberra-based architect Enrico Taglietti (1926-2019) is some of our most distinctive. Enrico’s sculptural shapes and angles, cantilevered planes of roof and deck, and concrete can be seen in houses, schools, churches and commercial buildings. My favourite Taglietti building is the 1977 Australian War Memorial Annexe in Mitchell. You can’t go inside but it’s impossible to take a bad photograph of this iconic building, so it’s worth the drive. Look out for the Memorial’s Annexe annual open day to take a peek inside.
Wybalena Grove is a group of over 100 townhouses sited in natural bushland in Cook, designed by Dysart in 1974. It epitomises modern architecture in the late 20th Century Sydney, regional style. Designed by architect Michael Dysart, Wybalena was built by a private group of Canberra residents who pooled their resources to explore the idea of ‘living cooperatively’ and respecting the surrounding environment – there are lessons in this beautiful project for today.
This mid-century modernist building in the city centre by Whitehead and Payne Architects (1963) was the first fully enclosed air-conditioned shopping centre in Australia. Its award-winning refurbishment by Universal Design and Mather Architecture is a beautiful celebration of contemporary retail experiences teamed with a deep respect for the original design. When you’re there, look up and check out one of Canberra’s best-kept local secrets: renowned modernist Frank Hinder’s stunning glass mosaic ceiling at the City Walk entry to David Jones at the Canberra Centre.
In 1959, Roy Simpson of Yuncken, Freeman Architects designed the Civic Offices as the centre of Canberra’s cultural and administrative life. The North Building is now home to Craft ACT – a design centre with a gallery and shop showcasing Canberra’s thriving contemporary craft artists and designers. Nearby Civic Square features fabulous gold mosaic columns underneath the twin office buildings and Tom Bass’s important work of mid-century Australian art Ethos (1961).
Known for his bold, brutalist designs, John Andrews is one of Australia's most internationally renowned architects. The Cameron Offices complex was Andrews' first and largest project in Australia and is one of the two most important buildings he designed in Australia. The other was the American Express Tower, Sydney. My favourite Andrews’ building is the Callam Offices (1973, completed 1981), a futuristic office block.
Few people appreciate the international design collaboration by world renowned architect Harry Seidler and Pier Luigi Nervi, one of Italy's most influential modern architect-engineers. Studio Nervi designed the T-beam and I Beam in reinforced concrete for the Edmund Barton Building (designed 1969, completed 1974) which became a hallmark of Harry Seidler’s work.
The architecture of the National Gallery of Australia and its world class collection feeds my soul and stirs my heart. Just outside Colin Madigan’s 1981 brutalist masterpiece of a building is James Turrell’s skyspace, Within Without (2010), one of my favourite spaces in Canberra especially at sunset.