Is Our Modernist Architecture Disappearing?

“There is no there there.”

Darren BradleyGertrude Stein uttered this phrase when describing an American city she felt had nothing much to offer. She felt Oakland lacked quality. She felt it had no soul. Is Canberra such a city?

Award-winning architectural photographer, Darren Bradley, says ‘no way’.

“Canberra holds a special place in the world, including for its Modernist Architecture,” says Darren, who has written books on the subject and had his photographs widely published in prestigious magazines. “The city has its own true character and evokes a period in our history. That period was post-war. In the 50s and 60s there was a sense of optimism and confidence in the future. Much of the capital’s architecture reflects that and deserves to be preserved.”

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High Court of Australia

Darren is holding a talk this Thursday 27 April, at The Shine Dome, on this very topic. He’ll take guests on a visual journey, showing images of Modernist Architecture that still stand tall in the capital today. He’ll also show images of buildings that have been torn down or changed so radically that the original architects would hardly recognise them.

Hosted by the Design Institute of Australia (DIA), Darren’s talk is boldly entitled: Canberra’s Disappearing Modernist Architecture Heritage. He’ll challenge guests to think long and hard about Canberra’s architectural future and its architectural soul.

Many of us take our special Modernist Architecture for granted. When we hear the term, we often just think the obvious—our cultural institutions, like the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and towering High Court. Do we think of some of our churches, however? Or David Jones in the city? Or so many of the houses found in residential areas such as Red Hill and Deakin? Or even some of the bus shelters built during the era?

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David Jones in the City

“Modernist Architecture is striking because it’s minimalist and functional, yet sculptural and monumental,” says Darren. “It took advantage of new technologies being introduced, which is why we see so much glass, steel and reinforced concrete. It’s why so many of the houses built during the time are large, airy and open—with private gardens.”

During his talk, Darren will open up about how Canberra’s architecture is changing, and not necessarily for the good. He knows because he’s travelled here from the United States every year since 2010 for work. Over time, he has documented, with his trusty camera, our architectural landscape. “Canberra has demolished many precious Modernist structures, or modified them beyond recognition,” says Darren. “I see more and more bland, ultra-modern, anonymous office buildings being erected. This type of architecture can be seen in many cities in the world. How do they add to Canberra’s special character? They don’t.”


National Gallery of Australia

Darren began documenting architecture in his home town of San Diego. He’d lived in France for a while and when he landed back in the United States he immediately noticed a major shift in the architectural personality of San Diego. “So much Modernist Architecture was destroyed or badly modified,” says Darren. “I decided to preserve the memory of what was left through photographs. I began posting images online and immediately gained a following.”

Darren fears that if Canberra doesn’t begin to preserve this part of our heritage—and immediately—that the capital with become ‘no there there’. Who wants that?

The DIA is the voice of professional design in Australia. This year it turns 70 years of age and to celebrate it’s offering a special ticket price to the event (only $15).

Canberra’s disappearing modernist architecture heritage by Darren Bradley.

The Shine Dome

Thursday 27 April

6.30pm to 8pm


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