Reason 3 to #LikeCanberra – Architecture

by The Editor

Number 3

Over the last 97 days we have been developing a list of things we like about our little town. The philosophy is simple – it’s those moments of clarity when, doing something routine, you suddenly gain an awareness and an appreciation of your surrounds. We’ve attempted to refrain from commercial enterprises and individuals; rather, the list was intended as a loose examination of the elements that give our city its character.

Now, it’s time for Number 3.


Parliament House

Canberra – it’s got an ancient indigenous history, however when compared to other Australian cities that arose following European settlement, is fairly young in comparison. One of the clearest signs of our relevant youth is demonstrated in the city’s architecture.

The first of the classic Canberra styles is apparent in many of the single-storey and two-storey duplexes of the inner suburbs. Composed of the classic red brick, these structures are well known by generations of ANU students for their absolute inability to deal with temperatures below 15 degrees and above 20. Still, as these houses become more valuable over time, investors have worked hard to ensure they are much more liveable, therefore ensuring we’ll have our favourite cottages around for many years to come.

Recently we touched on the Brutalist style of architecture that defined many of the national institutions as well as the Belconnen Town centre. Regarded by many to be modern day eyesores, there can be little doubt they have immense physical presence. Perhaps an impending feeling of insignificance may not be ideal as one approaches the High Court (completed 1980), when perhaps a sense of equality would better suit our democracy, however, the exuberant dance of joy by Gladys Tybingoompa following the Wik decision provided a wonderful contrast to the looming façade behind her, and drove home the importance of the people’s justice.

High Court of Australia

The year after the High Court was opened, excavation commenced on a preciously vacant site in the centre of State Circle. The future site of Australia’s new Parliament House, the American design took much of the Griffin’s design philosophy into account by ensuring the people were very much a part of the structure. The ability to walk over the grassed roof of Parliament House, as well as hire out the major function area, the Great Hall, for birthdays, weddings and whatever functions you may wish to enjoy.

National Film and Sound Archive

The suburb of Acton – wedged between the city and the Australian National University hosts perhaps Canberra’s most interesting mix of old and New Buildings. Firstly, the classic National Film and Sound Archive (originally the Australian Academy of Anatomy completed in 1930) built in the art deco style stands elegantly on top of the small hill, casting a gaze towards the lake with a somewhat feminine poise. Immediately adjacent is the ‘Shine Dome’ (1959), previously the Australian Academy of Science, and known colloquially as ‘The Martin Embassy’. Its curved, futuristic and fantastic form has made it a children’s favourite for decades.

Australian Academy of Science - The Shine Dome

Now, across Edinburgh Avenue in a space bordered by Parkes Way, resides the forward-looking precinct of New Acton. We’ll have more to say about this area in the days to come, however it is worth noting the mix of heritage-listed Acton House, with the taller and more modern structures that provide a high density mix of residential and commercial space.


However, these are the obvious sites. Many more spectacular examples of architectural flair can be found in our suburbs. Many residential buildings in Campbell and Forrest were designed by prominent Australian architects. They exist without signposts or tourists, rather maintaining a quiet vigil on tree-lined streets. Truth be told, we have a disproportionate amount of architecturally important buildings in this city – a fair result as the site of the nation’s capital.

What about you? What is your favourite Canberra landmark or building?