Sydney Architecture – Is it justified to draw an analogy between our cities and museums, as they both curate entities of a timeline that entails layers of its physical, social and cultural changes? Is it justified to say that cities were made in history but cities also have a history of their own? Is it justified to say that buildings within the city can essentially act as those artefacts in the museum which illustrate a timeline, which prompts certain events in their very authenticity of form? And, if it is justified to say that the social, political, and cultural matrix of any city builds and transforms throughout its history? 

Maybe or maybe not, because each city has its own past, a collection of several events that shape the outcome of how it appears to us now, where we tend to move around pretending that yes we know our cities when we barely acknowledge and understand its reality. Out of multiple layers, the built environment of cities becomes one source that characterizes it. Similarly, the Sydney architecture has witnessed an immense transformation in its timeline, there exists a process behind the outcome of how it appears to its citizens now in the current times, and that process is its history.

Architecture of Cities: Sydney: Australia's oldest city Sheet1
Sydney Harbour _©

After the arrival of Europeans to the city, the history of Australia was associated with the history of colonial settlers, though there was noted and documented rapid transformation in terms of progress and change, Sydney’s architectural style becomes an intriguing case to determine the rapid development from remote, untouched bay to world city. It all started with where today the ferries and cruise ships dock at Circular Quay, flanked by the Sydney Opera House. 

In 1770, Lieutenant James Cook arrived on the HMS Endeavour and after initial hiccups with finding fresh water and appropriate space to set up camp, Sydney was the first settlement, named after then British Home Secretary Lord Sydney, it was inaugurated in 1788. That was the beginning of a new beginning, as colonial history began. 

Architecture of Cities: Sydney: Australia's oldest city Sheet2
Elizabeth Farms _©
Architecture of Cities: Sydney: Australia's oldest city Sheet3
Rangers Cottage _© Art and Culture

The foundation of many buildings and structures was propelled to provide colonialists with a better set of social living conditions. As established in 1793, the Elizabeth Farms was the source of fresh food to the very first colonialists. Later in and around 1796, the Old Cottage and the Rangers Cottage were established not solely for aesthetic intent but also to serve a purpose. They were low-rise structures with shaded porches surrounded by land that was once wild but also cultivated to feed the new colony, but today with the ever-expanding boundaries of Sydney it has nearly been swallowed. 

One of the most important architectural streets becomes Macquarie Street as it stands as proof of the fact that after living a few years in tents and makeshift buildings, the people essentially envisioned a true city. The most famous governor- Major General Lachlan Macquarie arrived in Sydney in 1810, soon after his arrival, he started to plan a proper colony, with this idea came up with some first civic buildings and street lines with public structures. 

Architecture of Cities: Sydney: Australia's oldest city Sheet4
The Macquarie Street _© The Powerhouse Museum Collection

The Great War of 1918-1945 put on hold many projects, as the community concerned with the circumstances at hand at that point of time turned its resources such as time, money, and energy towards the war. But before the financial crash and the great depression of the 1930s entered a decade of growth which includes the extension in transpiration like electrification and development of the railways and the construction of the Harbour Bridge. The end of the war signaled the beginning of a housing boom in new outer lying suburbs like Brookvale, Castlecrag, Lindfield, and Gordon in the north; Beverly Hills, East Hills, Regents Park, and Miranda in the south and south-west; and Concord, Seven Hills, and Wentworthville to the west. 

Architecture of Cities: Sydney: Australia's oldest city Sheet5
In transition Harbour Bridge _© National Museum of Australia 

The effect of the socio-political dynamics of the city was evident enough in the buildings and structures that were taking shape. Federation-style cottages that were so popular before were replaced by a new typology of homes known as the Californian Bungalows, which was distinctively the most popular architecture of that period. When Sydney’s suburban regions were taking a new shape, the skyline of the city witnessed some radical changes as well. 

With the influence of Western Culture as the ideal form for growth, many modern office blocks and commercial premises replaced the then-existing warehouse-style buildings of the previous century. 

By the end of the Great War, the tallest building the Trust building in Sydney was at the height of 66m and by the beginning of World War II, there was visible clear domination of high-rise buildings. This revolution from horizontal span to a vertical span in structures didn’t solely as a character of the commercial building but equally exhibited in the residential projects too. As they were developed and constructed in the form of apartment buildings, they tend to have some advantages over free-standing homes, out of which the prominent one was that they were less expensive.

The Trust Building
The Trust Building _©

With the high influence of western society, later Sydney added some exceptional modern architecture to its skyline, out of which Sydney Opera House built between 1959 to 1973 becomes a significance to the identity of Sydney. The city of Sydney curates a wide collection of architectural styles throughout its timeline including the Georgian Revival, Classical Revival, Stripped Classical, the Chicago Esque, the Art Deco period, and many more. 

The timeline of Sydney certitude that the idea that nothing lies in isolation, the architecture of the city was built in the form that achieves a certain set of longings of the people who inhabit it, and how the history is not merely facts stated chronologically in terms of their occurrence but the various aspects and layers that comprise the now Sydney. 

The now Sydney
The now Sydney _©


  1. Skylife. 2021. SYDNEY’S HISTORY IN ARCHITECTURE. [online] Available at: <> .
  2. State Library of NSW. 2021. Architecture: nineteenth-century Sydney. [online] Available at: <> 
  3. Orth, M. 1975. The Influence of the “American Romanesque” in Australia. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 34(1), 3-18. doi:10.2307/988953
  4. 2021. Sydney CBD – Accommodation, Events & Things to Do. [online] Available at: <> 
  5. 2021. Google Arts & Culture. [online] Available at: <>

An Architecture and Design student, Aastha spends most her time studying fascinating architectural spaces. Every building tells a story, she says. When she's not reading about them, she's asking existential questions on pretty much everything. Life, Time and evenTruth. You name it.