Even a cursory survey of Australian architecture reveals numerous world-renown and iconic structures. A deeper look reveals architectural gems that may not be as well-known globally but are still iconic to those in the design community.
This lineup of famous and not-so-famous Australian buildings (in no particular order) includes favorites highlighted by The University of Melbourne’s Pursuit and some best-kept secrets you’ll want to add to your travel bucket list of places to visit.
19 Iconic Examples of Australian Architecture
1. Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House is destined to come up in any discussion of famous Australian architecture. Built in 1959, the Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic pieces of Australian architecture. The design was originally so complex that critics lambasted architect Jørn Utzon and his “impossible design.” The power of computers for resolving potential structural issues had not yet been realized, but the Sydney Opera House changed that. It became one of the first buildings to utilize computers in this way
Architect: Jørn Utzon
2. Shrine of Remembrance
The Shrine of Remembrance was originally built to honour men and women from Victoria who fought in the First World War. As with many examples of prominent western architecture, the Shrine of Remembrance drew influence from Greece, namely the Parthenon.
Architects: Phillip Hudson and James Wardrop
3. Council House (Perth)
For most of its life, Council House in Perth was home to city officials. Upon its conception in the 1960s, it was hailed as a stunning example of modern Australian architecture. Over the coming decades, however, it fell into disrepair and was at one point the subject of demolition discussions in the 1990s. Thankfully, it was refurbished instead, and its concrete-encased steel frame is still standing.
Architect: Howlett and Bailey Architects
4. Academy of Science at Australian National University
Known by locals as the “Shine Dome,” the Academy of Science at Australian National University offers inhabitants a beautiful panoramic view of its surroundings.
The challenge with a circular structure, of course, is sound. Thankfully, Australian architecture professionals are an ingenious bunch; complex acoustic baffling provided the solution.
Architect: Roy Grounds
5. Phoenix “Skinny” Tower
The Phoenix “Skinny” Tower is an example of modern Australian architecture that has converted even harsh critics with time. While Australian architecture styles have not been pigeonholed by a necessity for ultra-skinny structures like those in crowded New York or Hong Kong, the Phoenix “Skinny” Tower exists nonetheless.
Its quirky design (conceived in collaboration by Fender Katsalidis and graphic designer Gary Emery) helped it become not just tolerated but cherished.
Architect: Fender Katsalidis
6. Cowra Japanese Garden
Iconic Australian architecture draws from a variety of international influences, and the Cowra Japanese Garden is a particularly beloved example. It’s not just inspired by traditional Japanese gardens, it is a Japanese garden. The Cowra Japanese Garden was designed by Ken Nakajima who is known for creating numerous Japanese gardens all over the world.
There’s a symbolic reason the Cowra Japanese Garden is where it is; during World War II, the location housed Japanese POWs.
Architects: Ken Nakajima, Takeo Adachi, and Tatsushi Aono
7. Budj Bim Cultural Landscape
Australia has been inhabited for roughly 65,000 years. It’s no surprise then that there are examples of famous Australian architecture dating back thousands of years.
The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape may not seem like much to the untrained eye but history indicates this site dates back roughly 6,600 years. Aboriginals are believed to have collected lava stones from the Budj Bim volcano and created a sophisticated system for trapping eels as well as constructing homes.
It pokes holes in prior theories that Aboriginals in Australia were solely nomadic. UNESCO currently has the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape on its tentative World Heritage list.
Constructed: 6,600 Years Ago
Architects: Gunditjmara People
Location: South-Eastern Australia, 3.5 Hours from Melbourne
8. Buildings Spanning The Olderfleet to Rialto
This is a collection of five buildings considered essential pieces of Australian architecture on Collins Street in Melbourne.
The buildings were constructed at a time when Melbourne was one of the British Empire’s most prosperous cities. They are wonderfully ornate and combine styles ranging from gothic to classicism. Anyone visiting upscale Collins Street would be remiss not to snap a few Instagram-worthy photos of these buildings.
Architect: William Pitt
9. Boyd Baker House
The Boyd Baker House is remarkable in Australian architecture history for many reasons, one of which is that it’s remained relatively untouched since its construction.
The modernist structure was originally built as a home for Dr. Michael Baker, a mathematician. Today, it hosts private functions and is hailed by architecture experts like Melbourne University’s Phillip Goad as “one of the most important post-war Australian residential buildings.”
Architect: Robin Boyd
Location: Outskirts of Melbourne
10. Eddie Koiki Mabo Library at James Cook University
This piece of iconic Australian architecture is a Brutalist-style building that houses the James Cook University’s library. Its architect, James Birrell, received the prestigious Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal for his work.
Eddie Koiki Mabo Library received its name in 2008, after the iconic indigenous Australian man.
Constructed: 1976 (Stage 2; First Stage Completed in 1968)
Architect: James Birrell
11. St. Mary Star of the Sea (West Melbourne)
St. Mary’s Star of the Sea is a classic example of Australian architecture that holds a very special place in the hearts of its parishioners. St. Mary Star of the Sea is Melbourne’s largest
Originally constructed in light of the Victorian Gold Rush’s population boom, St. Mary Star of the Sea undergoes continual renovations to restore it to its original glory.
Architect: Edgar J. Henderson
Location: West Melbourne
12. Queensland Art Gallery
Australian architecture styles in the 1970s largely sought to revitalize cities near rivers and make them more desirable. The Queensland Art Gallery is one example of famous Australian architecture from this period.
Architect: Robin Gibson & Partners
Location: South Bank, Brisbane
13. Macquarie University Campus
Australia is home to some of the world’s most renowned universities — and those institutions house some famous examples of modern Australian architecture.
The Macquarie University Campus is home to several such buildings. One standout example is the old Brutalist-style library.
Architect: New South Wales Government
14. Foulkes Taylor Showroom
The Foulkes Taylor Showroom’s location near the University of Western Australia has positioned it quite well to become a favourite of those studying Australian architecture.
Of course, its distinctive and artsy appearance doesn’t hurt here either.
Architect: Julius Elischer
15. Woomera Village
Woomera Village is another example of famous Australian architecture commissioned and designed by the government. The village houses service personnel working on Australia’s weapons testing projects. The site’s remoteness (less than 140 people live there permanently) adds to the charm of the prefab architecture that lines its streets.
Architect: Commonwealth Department of Works and Housing
Location: South Australia
16. Beaurepaire Centre
The Beaurepaire Centre was constructed ahead of Melbourne’s hosting the 1956 Olympic Games. It’s gone on to win numerous awards of its own, including following its 2003 revitalization by Lovell Chen.
As is standard for architects repairing important pieces of Australian architecture history, Lovell Chen approached the task delicately and managed to add modern sensibilities to the structure while retaining its spirit.
Architect: Eggleston, MacDonald & Secomb
17. Sanitarium Health Food Company Factory
In 1940, just a few years after the Sanitarium Health Food Company Factory was constructed, it received the Street Architectural Medal from the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects.
Sanitarium (the company) is long gone but the building stands as a testament to that area. The Victorian Heritage Register recognizes it as an important site based on its beauty.
Architect: Edward Fielder Billson
18. Cairo Flats
The Cairo flats form a u-shaped block in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. Numerous notable architects resided in the flats, including Frederick Romberg and John Mockridge.
This was especially fitting since they were inspired by the Lawn Road flats in London, which also housed numerous architects in the 1930s.
Experts today hail it as a testament to the elegant modesty of the era.
Architect: Soilleux & Overend
19. Lobster Bay House
This is perhaps the best-kept-secret among passionate purveyors of iconic Australian architecture. The Lobster Bay House blends quite well into the surrounding rocky landscape, which is surprising given its unusual geometric qualities.
Architect: Ian McKay
Location: Pretty Beach, NSW