Architecture is a reflection of a country’s culture, history and progress. Six architectural experts from the University of Melbourne have listed out their personal favourites from some of Australia’s most iconic builds, and explain why the design resonates with them.
1. The Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, 1959 - 1973
Paul Loh, Director of Power to Make, Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the Melbourne School of Design and expert in digital technologies and fabrication
The Sydney Opera House. Architect: Jørn Utzon/ Engineer: Ove Arup. Picture: Wikimedia
“It was the first building in the world to use computing to resolve its complex structural calculation, including the first software for analysis roof design. All the structural elegance can be seen in the soffit of the shell structure and under the monumental step that marks the ground floor foyer entrance.
“Renowned architect Frank Gehry aptly described the Sydney Opera House as a building well ahead of its time and far ahead of available technology, a true example of a building that changed the image of an entire country.”
2. Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, Victoria, 1923 (designed) – 1934 (completed); 2002 (contemporary additions)
Dr Rebecca McLaughlan, Research Fellow and design teacher at the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, with an interest in designing for wellbeing
The Shrine of Remembrance. Architect: Phillip Hudson and James Wardrop (original design); Ashton Raggatt McDougall (contemporary additions). Picture: John Gollings
“In the wake of World War II, we came to understand that memorials are not just about honouring memory, they play a necessary role in communicating complex and confronting ideas.
“Entering the Shrine via the sunken landscape courts – boarded by heavy, dusty red masonry – provides a striking juxtaposition to the original building and one rich in metaphorical readings. It evokes visceral imaginings of suffering behind sand-bagged walls, of bloodshed and futility, and of longing for a distant landscape.
“Encountering the Shrine from below incites humility and gratitude; it reminds me that individual hardships are the intangible stories that sit behind the losses numbered within. As a New Zealander and recent immigrant to Melbourne, the Shrine of Remembrance reinforces the shared narratives that bring us closer together.”
3. The Academy of Science, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, completed in 1959
Professor Alan Pert, director of NORD Architecture and Director of the Melbourne School of Design
The Australian Academy of Science. Architect: Roy Grounds Construction: Civil & Civic/ Structural engineers: W L Irwin & Associates. Picture: Wikimedia
“Also known as the ‘Shine Dome’, this structure includes a large conference hall with raked seating, council room, offices and a fellows’ room all moulded into a simple circular plan and housed in a concrete, copper-clad dome.
“From the walkway between the moat and the inner walls, the arches provide a 360-degree panoramic sequence of 16 views of Walter Burley Griffin’s capital city and the hills beyond. A complex series of acoustic baffles suspended from the ceiling and built into the walls resolved some of the sound issues associated with the circular structure; however, this system resulted in a totally unexpected problem.
“The elegant eucalyptus sound baffles created a form of optical interference, rendering half of the people in the room nauseous. Eventually Dr Victor Macfarlane came up with the idea of filling in the visually offending gaps with strings which fixed the optical problem without spoiling the acoustics. All of the interior details and materials have somehow managed to stand the test of time and, yes, it still works.”
4. Eddie Koiki Mabo Library, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, 1968 (Stage 1); 1976 (Stage 2)
Professor Philip Goad, architectural historian, Chair of Architecture and Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor at the University of Melbourne
Eddie Koiki Mabo Library, James Cook University. Architect: James Birrell. Picture: Andrew Rankin/ Image courtesy of James Cook University
“The Eddie Koiki Mabo Library has a haunting sense of monumentality. It’s a great lump of a building.
“I like its over-sized parasol roof, the almost primal circular cut-out windows and the semi-circular porch openings at the building’s corners that suggest deep shade and cool retreat from Townsville’s dry heat. There’s a certain power about this very direct, even crude simplicity: it speaks to the undulations of the age-old landscape which surrounds the campus – big strokes for a big landscape.
“Though for me, it also has an echo of Roy Grounds’ National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. But in Townsville, it’s tougher, even brutal. James Birrell was happy to reference local heroes and then radically depart from them. Its renaming in honour of Eddie Koiki Mabo in 2008 sealed its iconic status for good.”
5. The Phoenix ‘skinny’ Tower, Melbourne, Victoria, 2014
Professor Valerie Francis, specialist in Construction Management, civil engineer, Chair of Construction and expert in the field of work-life balance in the construction industry
The Phoenix Tower. Architect: Fender Katsalidis Architects. Picture: Fender Katsalidis Architects
“Built on the site of the old Phoenix hotel, this 28-storey apartment building stands on an impossibly narrow block on Flinders Street, which is just 6.7 metres wide.
“What is fascinating about this building is that it was built using an innovative methodology utilising a customised concrete ‘jump form’ system. This system is commonly adopted when constructing high-rise elevator cores; and the way the system has been extended and applied to the building structure on this site is truly fascinating.
“The building was literally extruded, relying on hydraulic action to lift formwork components. In a world increasingly dominated by off-site construction, this building was an exception, triggered by specific site conditions and fuelled by local ingenuity. The methodology behind the Phoenix Tower shows that it’s possible to achieve soaring building heights; previously thought of as too difficult, for small inner city lots.”
6. The Cowra Japanese Garden, Cowra, New South Wales, 1978-1979 & 1984-1986
Associate Professor Anoma Pieris, architectural historian and expert in South and Southeast Asian architecture
The Cowra Japanese Garden. Designed by Japanese landscape designer Ken Nakajima. Picture: Anoma Pieris
“The Cowra Japanese Garden is a key site for heritage diplomacy in Australia; a simulation of the Japanese homeland in the town of Cowra.
“The kaiyū shiki – strolling garden was initiated by community members led by Don Kibler, a builder trained in architectural drawing and with the support of both the Japanese and Australian government as well as other organisations. The site, with its connection to the Cowra Japanese War Cemetery and the former Cowra Prisoner of War Camp No.12, conveys important messages of pacifism by uncovering less palatable histories of Australia’s wartime responsibilities.”