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  • Writer's pictureVishal Saxena

What are the best buildings in Canberra - An Architects Pick

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

What are the best buildings in Canberra - An Architects Pick ? As an architect we have our choices but there are some building which are universally loved for their uniqueness and architectural merit. Here Hyperspace Architects have chronicled a few of the Buildings we love in Canberra and why we love them.

Australian Parliament photo by Hyperspace Architecture for Blog on Buildings we love in Canberra
Australian Parliament

1. The Australian Parliament, Canberra


Parliament House in Canberra is an emblem of Australian democracy, epitomizes architectural prowess, public engagement, and harmonious integration, it arguably the most beautiful parliament building in the world.


Selected from an international competition's 320 entries, its design embodies national identity and visionary aesthetics. Designed by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp, New York-based architectural firm, with Rumaldo Guirgola being the main architect of the Parliament House emerges symbolically from the landscape on the Capitol Hill across a little distance away from the lake Burley Griffin.


The forecourt of the Parliament house is adorned with a 196-square-meter mosaic by Aboriginal artist Michael Nelson Jagamara, unifies diverse voices. Paradise White Carrara marble-clad Great Verandah provides an opulent ceremonial backdrop, while red Christmas Bush granite pavers embellish the entrance.


The Marble Foyer astounds with 48 marble columns, evoking Australian landscapes' muted tones, accompanied by stone finials inspired by native tree seeds. Marquetry panels by artist Tony Bishop depict Australian flora, complementing the grandeur. Within the Great Hall, Arthur Boyd's tapestry captivates, surrounded by timber walls of limed white birch, brushbox, and jarrah.


The House of Representatives Chamber, mirroring the House of Commons' green, signifies government formation, while the Senate Chamber, reflecting the red hues of the House of Lords and ochre Australian landscapes, showcases Canadian craftsmanship and Tasmanian sculptural elements.


Parliament House's as a building is an absolute master piece of strategic integration with Walter Burley Griffin's original Canberra design aligns with the city's cultural icons, fortifying its significance. This architectural masterpiece fuses tradition, accessibility, and democratic values into a living testament to Australian democracy.


2. Callam Offices, Woden ACT


Designed by internationally known architect John Andrews, the Callam Offices are east of the Woden Town Centre. The building has a unique modular design and almost seems ahead of its time.


In the 1970s five large horizontal walk-up Commonwealth Government office complexes were planned for Canberra; Cameron Offices & Benjamin Offices, both in Belconnen (both partially demolished); Edmund Barton Offices (extant) & McLachlan Offices (demolished), both in Barton, & the Woden Government Offices. The design for Woden was for 26 three-storey, 30m wide octagonal office pods extending north & south along Callam Street, elevated above the flood plain with three separated functional spaces; the offices, utility service zones & circulation connections.


Currently the building houses offices of the ACT government.


The architecture was a clearly expressed ‘system’ all set out on a combined 12m and 9m planning grid. Two three-storey, elongated car park buildings & two ninestorey octagonal office buildings were to be located symmetrically along Callam Street. Each of the octagonal office pods was to be indirectly linked at the mid level by elevated concrete walkways for the public. There were to be smaller ‘tube-like’ enclosed links for the office workers running perpendicular to the public walkways at the first & third levels, on the diagonal. At these levels transition spaces were to allow for variations in office sizes & at the mid-levels to provide glazed public lobbies. The utility services & vertical circulation were placed in attached separate circular service towers between the pods. The complex was to be connected to the Woden civic square via an elevated walkway raised above the street.


Significance

The Callam Offices are a significant example of an office building designed in the Late Twentieth-Century Structuralist style of architecture by one of Australia’s notable architects. The open setting is distinctive of the planning intentions at the time in Canberra. The setting & the architecture combine to produce a building of integrity, illustrative of modern architecture. The offices demonstrate a theme of modern architecture with planning of modular offices incorporating a building system with repetitive distribution of office pods, service zones & connecting pedestrian links. This is combined with floors suspended from above incorporating encased high tensile steel suspension cables. This approach was innovative at that time in Australia.


One of Andrews' most remarkable achievements was his work on "Australia Square" in Sydney, completed in 1967. This ground breaking high-rise building became an iconic symbol of modern Australian architecture, with its unique cylindrical design and integration of public space, retail, and offices.

In addition to his architectural achievements, John Andrews was committed to sustainable and human-centred


design principles. He believed in creating buildings that responded to the needs of their users and considered the impact on the environment. This philosophy was evident in many of his designs, which often featured green spaces, natural light, and thoughtful circulation patterns.


John Andrews' architectural legacy continues to inspire and influence the field of architecture. His innovative designs, focus on community, and commitment to sustainable practices serve as a testament to his enduring impact on the built environment. Even after his passing in 2021, his work remains a source of admiration and study for architects and students worldwide.


References

2. Australian Institute of Architects : Nationally Significant 20th-Century Architecture


3. Avenue Hotel, Northbourne Avenue ACT

Confession: I may be biased as I, alongside Colin Stewart, designed this building. I've chosen to include it as a tribute to the exceptional architect and master planner, Colin Stewart. With numerous buildings across Canberra to his credit, Colin's impact on the city's life and architectural legacy is undeniable. However, designing "The Avenue" between 2010-11 stands out as my pride and joy.


"The Avenue" is a fully exposed concrete precast building that seeks to strengthen modernist architecture with an unabashedly contemporary spirit. Configured in a U shape around a central courtyard, the building has two wings. One faces the main avenue, Northbourne Avenue, leading into Canberra from Sydney, while the other pays homage to a quieter street adorned with cafes and bars - Mort Street.


The building features a layered facade, with the lower part adorned with a thick shrub plantation for noise reduction. Moving upward, the lower floors incorporate glass fins for privacy, while the upper floors boast long balconies providing panoramic views of Ainslie Mountain and the streets below. The balustrades extending beyond the floors on either side symbolize the fast-moving vehicular corridor of Northbourne Avenue.


In essence, "The Avenue" encapsulates a harmonious blend of architectural innovation and thoughtful design. It not only pays homage to Canberra's architectural legacy but also stands as a living testament to our commitment to creating spaces that seamlessly integrate with their surroundings. As this building takes its place in the cityscape, I am reminded of the shared passion and dedication that went into its creation, leaving an indelible mark on the ever-evolving canvas of Canberra's architectural identity.


Colin Stewart passed away in 2019 leaving a stellar body of work and Vishal Saxena is director and the Principal of Hyperspace Architecture with its offices in Canberra.




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