Sydney is the oldest city in Australia, dating back over 200 years. The architecture of Sydney is a diversity of various architectural styles. It is an amalgamation of old and new architecture throughout its history. Development in Sydney’s architecture is extensively juxtaposed between two eras, beginning with modest local materials with a lack of international funding and present-day modernity with an expansive skyline marked by high-rise buildings and skyscrapers spotted at street level with reminiscing affluence of the Victorian era.

Architectural development of Sydney, Australia - Sheet - Sheet1
Development in Sydney-Sydney Town Hall built using sandstone in the early days _©Timeout

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, the British established a colony in Sydney cove, right after the First Fleet had sailed from Portsmouth. The early years of the colony were mainly resided by convicts and their guardians who had served their time. The colony had experienced a shortage of food supply, with no knowledge of the climate or soil. With no support from the British government and no architects, builders, or tools to construct the houses in the colony, amateur builders rose to the task of finding suitable materials to work. Those significant buildings that were constructed showed poor workmanship and constant maintenance. In 1790, Lieutenant William Dawes produced a town plan for Sydney but was ignored due to limited resources and the often-lawless society. The layout of Sydney still depicts the lack of planning. Hence, the earliest significant buildings in Sydney were simple Georgian buildings suiting the climate (by deep verandahs), local materials, and craftsmanship.

In 1810, Governor Macquarie promoted the idea of a successful society of free citizens in Sydney. Thereafter, he implemented a basic building code with minimum standards for new buildings and the requirement of a plan to be submitted. By the end of his tenure, Macquarie had overseen the construction of 92 brick buildings, 22 stone buildings, 52 weatherboard houses, over 2000 miles of road, 4 bridges, and 7 quays and moles. In 1814, when Francis Greenway arrived in Sydney, Macquarie and Greenway started a partnership that led to the construction of fine public buildings including Hyde Park barracks, St. James church, and a few more. 

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Development in Sydney-Queen Victoria Building designed using simple Georgian style of architecture _© Wikimedia Commons
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Development in Sydney-Tusculum in Potts Point design by John Verge in the 1830s _© Wikimedia Commons

During the mid-1800s, the neoclassical Georgian style was replaced with an ornate and eclectic gothic revival architectural style. Renowned architect John Verge was prolific in the 1830s and designed buildings including Tusculum in Potts Point, Camden Park, and Elizabeth Bay House. Colonies embraced the neo-Gothic style with an increase in the economy in the 1840s. The University of Sydney is one of the examples that manifested the ornate gothic revival style. During the 1850s, architecture in Sydney was integrated with foreign styles, mostly from Great Britain. Victorian-style architecture primarily represented responsibility, formality, and materialism. In the 1860s, the architecture in Sydney was focused largely on functionality concerning climate and surroundings. An increase in Italian immigrants led to residential buildings with the use of ornamentation, plastering, arcades, loggia, squared massing, and square towers. The simple colonial architecture was replaced by decorative facades with high ceilings and intricate moldings.

In the 19th century, Australia witnessed the Great Depression and World War II which severely affected the housing colonies. This resulted in a shortage of materials, and skilled labor. As a result, young architects practicing in Europe had returned to Australia with simplicity to design and construction along with logistic structures and free planning. Harry Siedler, an apprentice of Walter Gropius at Harvard, influenced internationalism in Sydney. Numerous architects comprising Bill Lucas, Bruce Rickard, Neville Gruzman, and Ken Woolley favored organic and natural construction built on steep slopes away from the city in natural bushlands. The Central Business district in Sydney lifted the restrictions on height and thus began the development of high-rise buildings in the city. 

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The skyline of Sydney transformed due to the Central Business District _©Wikimedia Commons
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Development in Sydney-The Sydney Opera House _©Wikimedia Commons
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Development in Sydney-One Central Park by John Nouvel _©Archdaily

The Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon opened in 1973. Under harsh circumstances, Jorn left the building only partly constructed which was later finished by other architects. The Sydney Opera House located on Bennelong Point in Sydney harbor is among the World Heritage Sites. In the late 1900s, the Sydney Tower was constructed on the tallest point in the city. The observation tower provides a splendid view of the entire city. Sydney is home to many architectural wonders. Located in Chippendale, One Central Park is a mixed-use building constructed in 2014 as a part of the Central Park urban renewal project. Being awarded in 2013 as a 5-star green star – Multi-unit residential design, certified building by the Green Building Council of Australia, it consists of two high-rise apartment buildings with vertical hanging gardens. With height restrictions being lifted in the 1950s, thus began the era of high-rise buildings that would expand the skyline of Sydney. 

Sydney has the largest skyline in Australia, with 146 high-rise buildings over 90 meters. Over the years, the AMP Building at Central Quay became Australia’s tallest building. Nevertheless, due to its proximity to the airport, the building height restrictions stood at 235 meters in that vicinity. Centrepoint tower standing at 309 meters tall is the largest structure in Sydney housing restaurants and observation decks. Among the list of skyscrapers in Sydney, the tallest of them include MLC Centre, World Tower, and measured up to its spire tip is the Citigroup Centre constructed in 2000.

Development in Sydney-The Sydney Tower being the highlight of skyscrapers in Sydney _©ArchitectureAU

Bridges are indeed captivating structures in Sydney. Although there are no suspension bridges, Australia accounts for 23 main bridges within Sydney. The bridges are a modest culmination of trusses, girders, and cables. Sydney Harbor inaugurated in 1932 is the most iconic bridge in Sydney that goes through the North shore to the CBD across Port Jackson. Influenced by the design of New York’s Hell Gate Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge is the sixth-longest spanning arch bridge in the world, measuring 440 feet (134 meters) from top to water level. Located in Rozelle, the Anzac Bridge, spanning Johnston’s Bay between Pyrmont and Glebe Island, is an 8-lane cable-stayed bridge forming a fan-like pattern contrasting the modern-day suspension bridge.

Development in Sydney-Sydney Harbor Bridge in its spanning beauty _©Lonely Planet


  1. Archdaily [Online]

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  1. WikiIndia [Online]

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  1. State Library NSW [Online]

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Abha Haval is an Architect who has a vivid imagination of this world. She believes that every place has a story to tell and is on a mission to photograph the undiscovered whereabouts of various cities and narrate the story of its existence.