We all know that Sydney is naturally blessed with some of the world’s best walking trails, through national parks and along bays and beaches. But the built environment can be just as incredible to discover. Follow this trail to discover some of Sydney’s superb architectural wonders, designed by some of the world’s greatest architects.
Stop 1: Rose Seidler House Wahroonga
Start your tour in Wahroonga on Sydney’s Upper North Shore, where you’ll find Rose Seidler House. Completed in 1950, it was the first house designed by Harry Seidler, one of Australia’s finest architects. After it was built it was considered “The most talked about house in Sydney”; an elevated cubiform, its glass walls afford views of the neighbouring Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. It’s a true integration of art, architecture and technology. Tours run on Sundays.
Stop 2: Castlecrag
Power down to Castlecrag on the Lower North Shore, traipse down its streets and you’ll find a roll call of incredible architect-designed homes. Surprising fact? American architect Walter Burley Griffin (aka the designer of Canberra) and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin played key roles in this suburb’s development. On any one cul de sac you might see a Walter Burley Griffin sandstone creation, a Harry Seidler or The Castlecrag House, designed by Andre Porebski and built in 1972. One of the suburb’s many highlights is the 1952 Audette House by Peter Muller. 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).
Stop 3: Australia Square, Sydney CBD
Hop a train to the city and head directly for this country’s first ever skyscraper, Australia Square, an icon of modern 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, and a revolving panorama of Sydney at the O Bar and Dining on level 47.
Stop 4: MLC Centre, Sydney CBD
Seidler’s nearby MLC Centre, which fronts Martin Place, is also unique in that it provides a large amount of public open space at ground level, a rarity in build-up CBDs. “Useful and inviting open areas for the enjoyment of people have always been the essence of life in cities throughout the ages,” Seidler once wrote. Stop in for a drink at the underground CTA Business Club, its décor untouched since the ‘70s.
Stop 5: Masonic Centre, Sydney CBD
Make your way to 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.
Stop 6: Chippendale
Head west to the cultural hub of Chippendale to find Indigo Slam, the home of philanthropist Judith Neilson. Neilson commissioned William Smart and Smart Design Studio with the brief to create a “sculpture to be lived in.” Completed in 2016, Indigo Slam is an extraordinary work of functional art. It now has a new neighbour, Phoenix Central Park, a performance space and gallery by Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects. Another property of Neilson’s, here architecture, interior design and visual and performing arts enhance one other for an immersive total experience – a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’. The building just won the highest honour of the 2020 NSW Architecture Awards.
Stop 7: Chau Chak Wing Building, Ultimo
Across Broadway is the UTS Chau Chak Wing Building by Frank Gehry (best known for the Guggenheim Bilbao) 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’.
Stop 8: Paramount House Hotel, Surry Hills
Head east to Surry Hills to the 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.
Stop 9: Potts Point
Look up in nearby Potts Point and you’ll spy the Wylde St Apartments, a curved and clean-lined modernist building designed in 1948 by Russian architect Aaron Bolot (1900-1989). It’s listed in the Australian Institute of Architects’ register of nationally significant Twentieth Century Architecture.
Up the road and beyond Bob Woodward’s El Alamein Fountain, (pictured above) a huge dandelion of water above a series of four terraced pools, is The Gazebo, designed in the International Style and completed in 1969. Once a hotel famous for accommodating international celebrities and rock bands, it’s now luxury apartments.
Nearby is the curved mosaic tiled façade of at 5–9 Roslyn Street designed by Durbach Block Jaggers architects. Awarded the Harry Seidler Award for Commercial Architecture, the building houses a restaurant, nightclub and architects’ offices.
Stop 10: Circular Quay
Now cut your way to Circular Quay and admire the AMP Building by Peddle Thorp & Walker. Completed in 1962, this 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.
Finish your great architectural race by climbing those expansive stairs that everyone is welcome to ascend (some 10 million visitors a year do it!) at the Sydney Opera House. It’s truly one of the finest houses in Australia; our calling card to the world, our symbol of modernity. Great architecture is for everyone to enjoy.
Top image credit: Ethan Rohloff; Destination NSW