If one were to describe the first thing that came into their mind when asked about Australia, it would be ‘wildlife’ or ‘vegetation.’ Some might mention ‘Steve Irwin,’ the famous Australian zookeeper. However, no one would miss the iconic building, ‘The Sydney Opera house,’ which is one of the icons of modern architecture. The onlookers appreciate modern Australian architecture as it imparts lasting memories for foreign travellers with buildings that serve as landmarks. In academia, modern Australian architecture is appreciated for its history and development.

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Sydney Opera House_ ©St Gials Hotel

General History of Australian Architecture 

Preceding the European settlement in Australia, ranges of Indigenous architecture were prevalent across the continent. The colonisers overlooked the vibrant traditional architecture of Aborigines at the beginning. Later, explorers such as Sir Thoman Mitchell and Charles Sturt recorded vernacular building designs of aborigines, which included stone houses grouped in proximity to form a village. The urban settlement in mainland Australia was a derivative of the colonists’ European architecture, which only reflected British sentiments overlooking the traditions of Australia. 

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Government House, Sydney, Australia_ ©Maksym Kozlenko

Later, with time, the need to adapt to climate brought variations in eurocentric designs. The period between 1840-1890 was known for its Victorian-style housing, characterised by verandahs, clean brickwork, and single-story building. The federation-style architecture followed Victorian-style architecture, which was prominent until the 1930s. This style was instead a symbol to celebrate the public status of Australia with pride after its unification in 1901. This style would incorporate buildings that depicted grandness with the use of materials. 

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St. Mary Star of the Sea_©Procure

Onset of Modernism

The impact of the second world war devastated Australia economically, construction materials were scarce, and affordability of luxury took a lot of work. The migrants built their places with a one-room shed on the land, building everything themselves. The migrants would take influence from the art deco movement worldwide and form individual styles corresponding to that region. Of all these diversities, orchards in the backyard and outbuildings were standard features. The Australian art deco movement is characterised by enhancing brickworks, mottled tiles, and parquet floors. The art deco movement in Australia was independent of any English impressions of the art and architecture; thus, a stage for creative design would be set. 

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Terraces on Denham Street _©Sarda

On a larger scale, modernism stood tall, which had found its way to Australia in the 1920s. The impacts of the economic crisis stirred the need for modern design breaking the orthodox design methodologies. Austrian- born architect Harry Seidler arrived in Sydney in 1948 to design a residence for his parents, who had settled in Australia during the war. Siedler designed the famous ‘Rose Seidler House’ in Wahroonga, which served as the foundation for modern Australian architecture. Alongside Siedler, Architect Robin Boyd, born in Melbourne, built residences that met the needs of the times. Using eaves, large windows, and long and unbroken flat roofs with concrete as the primary material characterised the residences designed by these architects.

Rose Seidler House

Rose Seidler House consists of exploding planes that enclose a typical house and turns it into a freestanding plane. The house looks like a block floating in the air from a distance, with some parts always visible. It is characterised by the use of concrete and large glass openings. The mimicry of the ideas of the French Architect Le Corbusier is seen with a block-like form that has free plans and large windows. The material selection, such as concrete and glass, also closely resembles the worldwide modernist movement, which marked the formal beginning of modernism in Australian architecture. 

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Rose Seidler House _©Nicholas Watt

Robin Boyd and his contribution

Robin Boyd is another prominent figure alongside Seidler, greatly honoured for his contribution to Modern Australian architecture. Boyd is famous for his works in small-scale designs of countless residences all over the capital of Australia. Boyd was a communicator and writer alongside an Architect and is most famously known for his book, ‘The Australian ugliness.’

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The Baker House_©Cheyne Toomey and Chris Murray

Built by Boyd, Baker House is a separate case study for modern Australian architecture. The design comprises a square plan with twelve cylindrical colonnades on the periphery. The centre of the plan has a courtyard, roofed with a flywire, which serves the purpose of harvesting rain. The building exterior has large openings on the outer perimeter, followed by smaller windows in the courtyard. The perimeter walls lead up to a verandah, one of Australia’s key features of modern architecture. Boyd has taken influences from Louis Kahn, adapting the principal character of having large openings. 

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The Baker House Exterior_©Chewy

The popularity of Large Scale designs

Modernism correctly touched the buildings of Australia once commercial-scale buildings were being designed. Of such buildings, Riverside Center, located in Brisbane and built by Harry Seidler, is one of many examples. The building is characterised by extensive glass and concrete on the external facades with a fair matchbox-shaped form with curves on the edges. Similarly, the Council House in Perth is another distinct figure in modern architecture. The exterior has a glazed entrance with T-shaped modules on the facade, incorporated as sun-shading fins, marking it as a fine example of International Modern architecture. 

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The Riverside Center_©John Gollings

Another modern design that stood out in time and set out itself as a hierarchical motif in the planes of Canberra is the Australian Academy of Sciences located in Perth. The structure has a dominant Shine Dome that envelopes the circular space beneath. Today, the copper-clad dome has turned grey in colour, and the entire structure stands out to the test of time, serving as the beginning of contemporary architecture in Australia. 

Australian Academy of Sciences at Dusk_©Stuart Lindenmayer

The future of Australian Architecture 

The modernist movement in Australian architecture had a noticeable impact on the country’s built environment, with modern designs defining many cities and towns. Today, many of these buildings are recognised and appreciated for their contributions to the modern architecture of Australia and are protected as heritage sites. Annually, many tourists flock to Australia and appreciate the beauty of contemporary designs, which is only possible with the proper foundations set by modern architecture. Australia’s economy has flourished since the onset of the modernist movement, and the recent design trends have adapted to the rising need for urbanisation and sustainability.


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A passionate writer and an aspiring architect, Bibek Khanal is an architecture student from Nepal who finds comfort in making illustrations and writing poems. His heart is set on appreciating arts and architecture relics. Being a part of the architecture and the people around is a riveting experience for him.