Sydney is naturally blessed with some of the world’s best walking tracks in national parks and along bays and beaches.
But the city’s built environment can be just as incredible to discover on foot. Comedian, broadcaster and architecture buff Tim Ross shares his pick of Sydney’s superb architectural wonders, designed by some of the world’s greatest architects.
On Sydney’s north shore
Begin in Wahroonga, on the Upper North Shore, at Rose Seidler House. Completed in 1950, it was the first house designed by one of Australia’s most prominent architects, Harry Seidler. ‘The most talked about house in Sydney’ during the 1950s, the home is an elevated cubiform with glass walls affording views of the neighbouring Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. It’s a true integration of art, architecture and technology. Tours run on Sundays.
Power down to the Lower North Shore to the suburb of Castlecrag. Castlecrag was developed by architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin, winners of Australia’s competition for the design of the nation’s capital in 1912. Stroll any of the streets here and you’ll find a rollcall of incredible architect-designed homes. On any one cul de sac you might see a Walter Burley Griffin sandstone creation, a Harry Seidler or the Castlecrag House, by Andre Porebski, which was built in 1972.
One of the suburb’s many highlights is the Audette House by Peter Muller completed in 1952. Heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic design, here the untreated Australian hardwood, copper, timber and stone merge with the surrounding flora. Look for the ‘snotted’ brickwork (used to soften the texture of the brick walls).
In and around the city centre
In the city centre, head directly for Australia’s first ever skyscraper, Australia Square, an icon of modern Australian architecture. Designed by Harry Seidler and completed in 1967, the circular tower features artworks and sculptures by Sol LeWitt and Alexander Calder readily available for public viewing. You can also take in a revolving panorama of Sydney at the O Bar and Dining on Level 47 of the tower.
Seidler’s nearby MLC Centre, which fronts onto Martin Place, is also unique in that it provides a large amount of public open space at ground level, a rarity in business districts. “Useful and inviting open areas for the enjoyment of people have always been the essence of life in cities throughout the ages,” Seidler wrote. Stop in for a drink at the underground CTA Business Club, its décor untouched since the 1970s.
Now make your way to view the impressive Masonic Centre by Joseland & Gilling, on Castlereagh Street. When completed in 1979 this building demonstrated the core characteristics of Brutalist architecture including the use of geometric forms and dominating scale.
Then head over to Circular Quay and admire the AMP Building by Peddle Thorp & Walker. Completed in 1962, this post-war International Style curved beauty was Sydney’s first to break the city’s 46-metre height limit, imposed from 1912. Glass walls afford spectacular views across the harbour. Look for the Tom Bass sculpture depicting the Goddess of Plenty watching over a family.
The Sydney Opera House is now in full sight. This is truly one of the finest buildings in Australia; our calling card to the world, our symbol of modernity. Climb the granite Monumental Steps — some 10 million visitors do it each year. Then take an hour-long Architectural Tour of the building to discover the story of this architectural and engineering masterpiece.
To the east
Head east to Surry Hills to Paramount House Hotel, by Breathe Architecture. Completed in 2018, the converted 1930s brick warehouse was the former Paramount Pictures Studio and the design captures the spirit and excitement of the golden era of the talkies.
Look up in nearby Potts Point and you’ll spy the Wylde Street apartments, a curved and clean-lined modernist building designed in 1948 by Russian architect Aaron Bolot It’s listed in the Australian Institute of Architects register of nationally significant 20th-century architecture.
Wonder up Macleay Street beyond Robert Woodward’s El Alamein Memorial Fountain (1961) — a huge dandelion of water above a series of four terraced pools — to the Gazebo, designed in the International Style, and completed in 1969. Once a hotel famous for accommodating international celebrities and rock bands, it is now luxury apartments.
Just up the road is the curved mosaic tiled façade of 5–9 Roslyn Street designed by Durbach Block Architects. Awarded the Harry Seidler Award for Commercial Architecture, the building houses a restaurant, nightclub and architects’ offices.
On the city fringe
From Kings Cross you can hop on a train to Central Station and wonder through the cultural hub of Chippendale. See award-winning private home Indigo Slam by William Smart and, next door, Phoenix. When art collector and philanthropist, Judith Neilson (founder of White Rabbit Gallery) commissioned William Smart and Smart Design Studio to design her home, the brief was for a “sculpture to be lived in”. Completed in 2016, Indigo Slam is an extraordinary work of functional art.
It now has a new neighbour, Neilson’s striking Phoenix Central Park performing arts space, by Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects. The building won the highest honour of the 2020 NSW Architecture Awards.
Across Broadway is the University of Technology Sydney’s Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, by Frank Gehry, in Ultimo. Completed in 2015, the sandstone coloured curved brickwork, all laid by hand, is a nod to Sydney’s architectural heritage. Gehry’s first Australian build is affectionately known as ‘the brown paper bag’.
By Destination NSW