Australia's major new arts, theatre and 'culture palaces' from Canberra to Melbourne to New York, and the architects who designed them, are among major winners at this year's top architecture awards.

A total of 32 awards and commendations were awarded last night at the Australian Institute of Architects' National Architecture Awards in Melbourne. Twelve categories were represented by projects in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, NSW, Western Australia, South Australia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Presenting the awards and commenting on this year's winners, jury chair, Howard Tanner, said: "2009 represented a strong year for architecture, with new benchmarks set in a number of key categories - such as commercial architecture. In public architecture, educational projects spanning primary to tertiary facilities were also outstanding, with many Australian universities now comprehending the need for world class facilities to attract students."

Topping the list of winners, is the recipient of Australia's top annual national architecture award - the 2009 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture, awarded this year to the National Portrait Gallery in the ACT by Sydney-based practice Johnson Pilton Walker (JPW). In a double win for the firm, the gallery also received a National Architecture Award for Interior Architecture.

Tanner said: "The monumental concrete edifices of the National Gallery and the High Court dominate this precinct, to which the National Portrait Gallery is the new family member. Smaller, more precious, it seeks to resolve a public presence and public gallery with the intimate, often domestic-scaled nature of portraiture. He added: "The building, while a triumph in cultural terms and popular appreciation, is clearly too small for its public role and purpose - a reflection of contemporary governments' aspirations and budgets." Accordingly, the architects have designed the building for extension to the west in a series of pavilions.

National Awards for Public Architecture were also presented to educational facilities in Sydney and Melbourne - the All Saints Primary School at Belmore in NSW by Angelo Candalepas Associates and the Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy by Architectus Melbourne.

Melbourne's newest and iconic centre for the performing arts - the Melbourne Recital Centre and MTC Theatre Project by ARM - was awarded the Emil Sodersten Award for Interior Architecture, with the jury saying "all three performing arts venues achieve a very high standard of architecture in terms of excellent functionality within distinctive and memorable interiors".