The 1901 federation of sovereign states and territories that formed the Commonwealth of Australia centralized cultural developments. A new nationalism subdued regional differences. A new federal capital, Canberra was chosen, as it was equidistant between the cities of Melbourne and Sydney. These two metropolitan cities became the primary settings for major 20th-century architectural movements, although many gems have been built throughout the whole country: the modernist Education Department Building (1982, Perth, Western Australia), by Cameron Chisholm and Nicol; Student Union Building, University of Adelaide (1973, South Australia), by Dickson and Flatten; St Ann’s Geriatric Hospital (1979, Hobart, Tasmania), by Heffernan Nation Rees and Viney; Queensland Art Gallery (1982, Brisbane), by Robin Gibson and Partners; and the contextual “Pee Wees at the Point” restaurant in tropical Darwin (1998, Northern Territory), by Troppo Architects. The most beautifully crafted building in the nation is the Postmodern Parliament House complex in Canberra (1988, Australian Capital Territory), by the Italian-American Romaldo Giurgola (Mitchell Giurgola and Thorpe), nowadays a resident of Canberra.
The architectural forms of the vast terminal buildings for the suburban electric railway networks in Melbourne and Sydney were indicative of fin-de-siècle tension between Arts and Crafts Movement principles and a shift to rational Classicism. The ornate Flinders Street Station (1911, Melbourne), by J.W.Fawcett and H.P.C.Ashworth, was an Edwardian Baroque masterpiece and emulated not only buildings in London but also some in Otto Wagner’s Vienna. The entry on a diagonal to the street intersection has a generous semicircular arched opening below a band of squat columns compressed between a heavy lintel and sill, both being familiar tectonic elements in Henry H.Richardson’s and Louis Sullivan’s Chicago of the 1880s. The sedate facade of the Central Railway Station in Sydney (1908), by Walter Liberty Vernon, has a heavily rusticated base in front of an austere neoclassical elevation.
Garden suburbs grew rapidly, starting early in the twentieth century. The detached house in its own garden became the norm. The middle classes abandoned their 19thcentury innercity terrace houses, renting them to industrial workers of the inner belt of factories and warehouses. Brick-walled and terracotta-roofed Federation Style bungalows that amalgamated English and American Queen Anne traits dominated the new grids of Melbourne’s tree-lined streets. Typically, the Arthur Norman house (1910, Kew), by Ussher and Kemp, combined elements of Richard Norman Shaw’s English Domestic Revival and the American Shingle Style and included the latter’s diagonal compositions in plan and silhouette.
Exceptions in Melbourne were Robert Haddon’s Art Nouveau red brick Anselm (1906, Caulfield) and Harold Desbrowe Annear’s half-timbered Chadwick House (1903, Eaglemont), with inventive Arts and Crafts details and curved forms. In Sydney, W.Hardy Wilson revived an elegant Regency colonial domestic architecture, Eryldene (1913, Gordon), which has his famous Chinese garden pavilion. During the late teens and the 1920s, architects led the way with the ubiquitous California bungalow-type homes in the suburbs of both cities. The major central city buildings at this time were the reinforced concrete Capitol House office block and the adjacent Capitol Theatre (1924, Melbourne), with its crystalline plaster ceiling. This complex was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, who had settled in Australia in 1914 to achieve the realization of their 1911 competition-winning design for the city of Canberra.
After the Great Depression, the images of modernism were embraced in Australia in the mid-1930s. Initially, the styling of the outer fabric of the suburban house was affected, rather than its planning. Having visited the United States, Harry A.Norris employed an expressive Jazz Moderne for the reinforced concrete house Burnham Beeches (1933, Sassafras, Victoria). Roy Grounds, in designing Portland Lodge (1934, Frankston, Victoria), showed fascination with the linear timber houses of William W. Wurster of California. Having worked in England, Sydney Ancher, in the Prevost House (1937, Bellevue Hill, New South Wales) incorporated the open living room idea and the curved dining screen element found in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Tugendhat House (1930, Brno, Czechoslovakia). Ancher’s younger office colleague in the post-World War II years, Glenn Murcutt, took as his exemplar the Farnsworth House (1950) by Mies and consequently created a vibrant series of climatecontrolled universal-box houses (1985, Magney house, Bingy Point, New South Wales) that also reflect Alvar Aalto’s involvement with materials and their potential for exquisite empathetic detailing.
In Melbourne’s central business district, Marcus Barlow in the Manchester Unity office block (1932) displayed his enthusiasm for the work of Raymond Hood, for this example providing a corner marker based on the Chicago Tribune Tower (1922), with Chicago Gothic verticality in the two street elevations. Norman Seabrook in the MacPherson Robertson Girls High School (1934, South Melbourne) gave testimony to a pilgrimage often made by Australian architects to the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Hilversum Town Hall (1931) by Willem Marinus Dudok of the Netherlands.
Despite the privations of World War II, a large, reinforced concrete block of flats of great sculptural power, Stanhill (1950, Queens Road, Melbourne), by the Swiss-trained architect Frederick Romberg, was eventually completed. The irregular plan and block massing, reminiscent of the superstructure of an ocean liner, was composed of International Style figures in an accomplished and idiosyncratic fashion. This compares with the rationally simple indented crescent of “urban co-operative multi-home units” in reinforced concrete (1951, Potts Point Sydney) by Aaron Bolot, a former employee of the Griffins.
The estate of three family houses at Turramurra, on the out-skirts of Sydney, by the Gropius- and Breuer-trained, Austrianborn Harry Seidler, reformed and consolidated International Modernism in Australia. The Rose Seidler House (1950, Wahroonga) is similar in plan to the American East Coast houses created by his teachers, and its appearance also reflected De Stijl principles. However, Seidler imaginatively overlaid aspects of Le Corbusier’s 1920s imagery, specifically, of the white cube thrust up on thin piloti, the cube cut and sliced, and the ramp as an element of the architectural promenade. Seidler, in his own house (1967, Killara), enriched the idea of circulation, and the forms became robust and muscular in reinforced concrete.
Counter to Seidler’s international rationalism, Peter Muller, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, and Bruce Rickard independently created site-sensitive houses around Sydney that were largely based on the characteristics of the Usonian houses of Frank Lloyd Wright. Muller composed Kumale (1956, Palm Beach) out of circles, and Rickard formed Mirrabooka (1964, Castle Hill) of rectangles. Hoyts Cinema Centre (1969, Bourke Street, Melbourne) was designed by Muller. Melbourne architects Chancellor and Patrick also referred to American organic sensibilities, but in their former ES&A Bank (1960, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne), the massive corner piers and vertical concrete ribs were typical of the Griffins’s work, not Wright’s.
Daring use of tensile steel proved to be more feasible than fanciful shell concrete conceptions for the Olympic Swimming Stadium (1956, Flinders Park Melbourne), by Kevin Borland, Peter McIntyre, John and Phyllis Murphy (1982, Borland Brown alterations), and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl (1959, Kings Domain, Melbourne), by Yuncken Freeman Brothers Griffiths and Simpson (1999, Gregory Burgess refurbishment). Inspired by expressionistic works by Eero Saarinen, Bruce Goff, and Paul Rudolph, structural experiments and formal adventures by Melbourne architects in the 1950s were discerned as a “Melbourne School” by the prolific Melbourne commentator and architect, Robin Boyd. In “The State of Australian Architecture” (1967), Boyd also identified a “Sydney School” of “nutty crunchy textures,” referring to a disciplined but picturesque firsthand interpretation of English Brutalism by architects such as Ken Woolley. His own house (1962, Mosman) consisted of exposed timber-floor terrace levels stepping down a heavily vegetated natural bush site, enclosed by klinker-brick walls and terracotta Roman roof tiles.
Boyd was a staunch advocate for the Modern movement and used absolutes derived from the writings of Walter Gropius to measure and criticize his contemporaries. He grew to understand, however, that eclectic diversity was real. His The Puzzle of Architecture (1965) reviewed the plurality of theories and solutions in the world architectural scene. Sharing Gropius’s belief that Japanese architecture of the 1960s fulfilled the dream of a universal modern architecture possessing a regional flavor, Boyd wrote Kenzo Tange (1962) and New Directions in Japanese Architecture (1968).
The Sydney Opera House commission, in an international competition judged by Eero Saarinen, was won by the Danish architect Jorn Utzon (1957). He proposed free-form layered roof shells, which proved to be structurally indeterminate. Utzon developed a reinforced concrete ribbed structural system finished in curved white ceramic tiles, each “shell” being a segment of a sphere. Political maneuvering soon deprived Utzon of design control, and he resigned in 1963. The interiors and glass walling were finished by Hall Todd & Littlemore (1973).
Australian architects have built abroad, including Sydneytrained John Andrews. His seminal Scarborough College (1965, Toronto, Canada), and Gund Hall, Graduate School of Design (1968, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts) are like rigourous zoning and circulation diagrams realized in elegantly detailed reinforced concrete and glass. Another significant geometrically abstract work was Seidler’s Australian Embassy in Paris (1977), dominated by two curved-in-counterpoint blocks of office suites. Ken Woolley assembled relaxed reinforced concrete pavilion forms in a tropical garden in the Australian Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (1985, Ancher Mortlock Woolley). Embassy architects from Melbourne have included strong architectural references to the host countries. Daryl Jackson, for the Australian Chancery complex, Riyadh (1989, Saudi Arabia), used grillwork-shaded courts and robust heavy walls. Denton Corker Marshall in Beijing (1992, Peoples Republic of China) used as a theme Chinese courtyard houses, with solid wall enclosures and large-scaled square openings. Their design for Tokyo (1991) is a sparkling assembly of metal blockforms reflecting the vitality of new Japanese architecture. Hank Koning and Julie Eizenberg from Melbourne successfully practice in Los Angeles, California.
The dichotomy of geometric-abstract versus free-style modes still haunts Australian architectural production. Giurgola, in the new parliament buildings in Canberra (1988), integrated a classical severity and repose, with an “itinerary” of “fragments” embedded in a hill. With the RMIT University Building #8 (constructed on top of a low-rise student union building by John Andrews ), Edmond and Corrigan (in association with Demaine Partnership ) introduced a variety of pop figures into the ground of rectangular block wall facing the major Melbourne thoroughfare of Swanston Street. Peter Corrigan studied at Yale University during the Charles Moore and Robert Venturi era, enhancing his predilection for startling shapes and juxtapositions, polychromy, and contrasting patterns. Next door is the restoration and additions for Storey Hall (1995, former Hibernian Hall, RMITU) by Ashton Raggatt McDougall, which contributes another masterpiece in the tradition of Melbourne expressionism. Pea-green and purple paint was sprayed on the multifaceted raw concrete facade, to which a network of castbronze computer-generated geometric figures was attached. These two buildings contributed compatibly to the wall of the streetscape.
The values of craftmanship and organicism have also survived in current work by architects in various cities. Rex Addison, in his own house (1999, Brisbane), freely interprets the regional qualities of the typical timber and corrugated-iron 19th-century tropical Queensland house. Richard Leplastrier in a house for the Australian novelist Peter Carey (1982, Bellingen, New South Wales) provided an airy elevated timber pavilion beside a native forest. Gregory Burgess lived on site with aboriginal people before designing their Brambuk Cultural Centre (1990, Halls Gap, Victoria), a birdlike undulating corrugated-iron roofscape supported on peeled tree-trunk poles in-filled with timber-clad framing. Similarly, Gregory Burgess designed the aboriginal landowners’ information centre at Uluru (1998, Northern Territory), an icon for Australia at the end of the millennium.
Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.1. Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.
ART NOUVEAU; GROPIUS, WALTER; SEIDLER, HARRY; WRIGHT, FRANK LLOYD
Boyd, Robin, Kenzo Tange, New York: Braziller, 1962
Boyd, Robin, The Puzzle of Architecture, [Carlton, Australia]: Melbourne University Press and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1965
Boyd, Robin, “The State of Australian Architecture,” Architecture in Australia, 56 (June 1967)
Boyd, Robin, Australia’s Home: Its Origins, Builders and Occupiers, Melbourne: University of Melbourne Press, 1952; Penguin Books, 1968
Boyd, Robin, New Directions in Japanese Architecture, New York: Braziller, 1968
Johnson, Donald Leslie, Australian Architecture 1901–1951: Sources of Modernism, Sydney: University of Sydney Press, 1980
Taylor, Jennifer, Australian Architecture Since 1960, Sydney: The Law Book Company, 1986