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6 architectural beauties worth the detour on your next NSW road trip

We're not the only architectural marvel worth visiting this World Architecture Day. Here are our picks of lesser-known buildings to check out on your next pastoral pilgrimage.

Christina Erskine

While our borders remain (mostly) closed, it seems there’s never been a better time for locals to take an intrastate playcation. And fair enough too, because any which way you go you’re spoilt for choice with things to see and do. Speaking of things to see, with World Architecture Day on October 5th, and the Opera House far from the only architectural marvel in the state, why not build in a little detour and make time to eyeball one of these lesser known architectural beauties. 

Written with the support of Arup Architecture Sydney, a long time sponsor of the Sydney Opera House.

Rose Seidler House, Wahroonga

North West of Sydney, 40 mins

Hidden in the leafy suburb of Wahroonga, this Modernist gem designed by Harry Siedler was built in 1950 as dedication to Harry Seidler’s mother Rose, and was designed before the architect had even set foot in Australia. At the time, it was unprecedented in its design. It is now considered the finest example of a mid-century modern home in Australia, built from four basic materials: natural bush stone, reinforced concrete, timber and glass - a result in part from post-war material shortages, stopping him using concrete throughout. 

The ramping entrance - emblematic of modernist architecture, sweeps visitors up into the home, and windows strategically frame views into the surrounding landscape. It also contains one of the most complete and intact collections of post WWII furniture and fittings including designs by Eames, Saarinen and Hardoy which have remained in-situ and as arranged by the architect himself. As a recent immigrant from Austria, Rose’s personal creativity abounds in the garden, with a juxtaposition of typically suburban planting alongside terraced citrus orchards and ornamental plants. The house is on lands of the Darug people, and is available to visit open Sundays 10am to 4pm, however please visit https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au for the most up to date information regarding opening hours.

Phoenix Central Park, Surry Hills

Central Sydney

As the name suggests, Phoenix Central Park rose from a site once occupied from a fire damaged warehouse located in Chippendale. Recently completed in 2020, it’s been widely acclaimed and won the top honour at the NSW Architecture Award this year. Located within the dynamic neighbourhood of Chippendale, this stunning gallery and cultural venue plans to open to the public at some point in 2020 and is the vision of remarkable philanthropist Judith Neilson.

 John Wardle Architects and Durbach Block Jaggers got arguably a dream brief: to create a place that embodied the german term gesamtkunstwerk - "a total work of art". The performance space is designed in the round with a bell-shaped clearing, and meets the east wing gallery via a central courtyard filled with cacti and succulents. The exterior is arresting, made of elongated white bricks that dimple and twist around vaulted openings where inside and outside worlds meet. Phoenix Central Park is on Gadigal land, and you can cast your gaze on it’s exterior any time, day or night.

Retford Park, Bowral

South of Sydney, 1 hr 30 mins

Set deep within the bucolic surrounds of the Southern Highlands, Retford Park is a rendered brick Italianate style residence set on 10 hectares of property. It was built in 1887 by Samuel Hordern (of Horden’s department store fame) and designed by Albert Bond. An agricultural property up until 1964, it was bought by prominent newspaper tycoon, philanthropist and art collector James Fairfax who owned it for more than 50 years before gifting it to the National Trust of Australia in 2016, nine months before his death. The house, complete with a turreted portico and coral-pink facade, is surrounded by picturesque patchworks of hedged gardens. This includes a modernist pool pavilion, and both traditional and contemporary landscape design. Situated on the lands of the Tharawal people, you’re able to tour the garden, or the house and garden, as it is now open to the public.

Narooma Kinema, Narooma

South of Sydney, 5 hrs

A charming heritage listed building owned by the community of Narooma has been named ‘Kinema’ from the greek word ‘moving’. Yes you guessed it: it’s a fully operational cinema and live performance theatre. Built in 1925 as a multipurpose community hall and First World War memorial, there were plans for it to be a grander architectural design before the community forefathers opted for a smaller more cost effective construction, engaging the builder of the Tilba cheese factories. 

By the 1930s, Narooma was considered to be one of the most stylish NSW holiday destinations, attracting Sydneysiders like the Arnotts (biscuits) family to dances in this venue. Having had several changes over the years, the most recent renovations include its vibrant new colour scheme and a decorative trompe l'oeil on its facade which is reminiscent of picture palaces of the past and was designed by a six member panel of local artists. While many towns have lost their arts facilities, this building stands proud and is bursting with community love. The Walbunga clan are the traditional owners of the land Narooma Kinema is on, and you can step back in time and catch a flick any day of the week.

Glasshouse, Tamworth

North of Sydney, 4 hrs 45mins

With its dynamic architectural angles, Glasshouse at Goonoo Goonoo Station is one of a number of buildings across the historic Tamworth agricultural property to have enjoyed a dynamic architectural revitalisation in recent years. Established in 1841 for the production of Merino Wool, the station’s adaptive re-use of the historic buildings has returned life to this once thriving village. The architecture’s materiality of glass and steel provides a dynamic contrast with the soft stone and ochres of the surrounding heritage station. 

The adaptive reuse has also opened up the station for all to enjoy - the The Shearer’s Quarters (among other buildings) has turned into accommodation, the Schoolhouse adapted to a wedding venue, and the Glasshouse to a fine dining restaurant. The layout of the property remains, with wide dirt roads leading you to pockets of buildings which retain heritage stone features, contrasted against striking contemporary extensions. TKD Architects who were responsible for many of the adaptations have been recognised with multiple architectural awards. The station exists on the lands of the Kamilaroi/Gomeroi people, and if the outback appeal of it isn’t enough to get you there, the scrumptious food at Glasshouse will be.

The Maitland Riverlink, Maitland

North of Sydney, 2 hrs

The town of Maitland is perched on the banks of the beautiful Hunter River. Yet this has been the source of anxiety for some community residents. A series of devastating floods most recently in 2007 and 2015 morphed an interconnected relationship, into one of apprehension.  The creation of a ‘gateway’ public building that could both respond to the physical challenges and reinvigorate  the business district was core to the brief posed by the Maitland City Council to CHROFI and McGregor Coxall architects in developing The Maitland Riverlink. It’s designed as a public living room, and it’s just stunning. It welcomes people to experience it, and then pass through it in order to meet the water’s edge. At certain times of day, the angled timber ceiling catches the light bouncing off the river. The Riverlink is placed on the lands of the Wonnarua People, and it provides another excellent reason for you to make time to visit this energetic town.

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