The original inspiration for the brutalist style came from Le Corbusier’s French buildings of the early 1950s. They demonstrated an uncompromising attitude to materials and construction that influenced architecture for several decades. Where buildings in the international style had a certain lightness of style, with plain, smooth wall surfaces, brutalist buildings demonstrated an aggressive, often monumental scale and a strong, muscular character, often with services exposed or contained in a featured semi-cylindrical element. Reinforced concrete showing the imprint of its formwork was the material of choice. English architects Alison and Peter Smithson were among the first to articulate the new brutalism in their Hunstanton School, Norfolk (1949-53).
The first brutalist style building in Australia was the Hale School Memorial Hall in Perth, designed by Marshall Clifton and completed in 1961. It was greeted with a mixture of praise and outrage. The style became more common—if not popular—by the mid 1970s.
One of the best examples in Australia can be found in Canberra—the Cameron Offices by John Andrews. Sadly, this important building has been partially demolished. The most outstanding example in Australia of a house in the brutalist style is the Harry and Penelope Seidler house at Killara, Sydney. The UC Student Residences are the most notable and probably the only example in Canberra.
Churchill House, at 216 Northbourne Avenue in Braddon, was designed by Robin Boyd for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of Australia in 1969-70, and construction was completed in 1971. It was Boyd’s last major commission, and he died prior to its completion. It is one of a small number of larger designs produced by Boyd and was Canberra’s first brutalist building.
Several components make up the complex. The main building, with east and south wings; the separate north wing or pavilion; the central pool and a rear carpark. The main building forms an L shape and with the north wing it encloses a courtyard with a large ornamental pool. The main building is three storeys high with a four storey lift tower at the southeast corner. The north wing and the carpark are two storeyed.
Although it has undergone some alterations over the years, the building still displays key features of the brutalist style with its large areas of blank wall and use off-form concrete, sloping structural fins and precast concrete non-loadbearing wall panels, precast fins for sun protection, and vertical slit windows. Churchill House displays a fairly restrained form in comparison with the major Canberra buildings that followed in this style: Cameron Offices, National Gallery of Australia and High Court of Australia.
The Cameron Offices complex was designed by John Andrews International for the NCDC. Design commenced in 1968 and construction was completed in 1976. The office complex was Andrews’ first and most important work in Canberra. There are also examples of his student residential housing at Toad Hall (1977) and University of Canberra student residences (1973). John Andrews was awarded the RAIA Gold Medal in 1980.
The complex comprises 9 parallel office wings on an east-west axis, linked at the eastern end by a pedestrian spine running north-south comprising 9 mall buildings. Each mall had 3 levels of offices and facilities. The north and south façades of each office have full height and full length glazing. A complex structural system including hanging columns allows sun to enter the courtyards but provides shade to the offices. Each wing of the complex is separated by landscaped courtyards representing the different regions of Australia.
Although parts of the complex have been demolished the building remains an excellent example of a combination of the late twentieth century international style, with its cubiform overall shape, structural frame expressed, large sheets of glass, plain, smooth wall surface; and the late twentieth century brutalist style with its large scale and muscular character, expressed reinforced-concrete, large areas of blank wall and off-form concrete. The office complex is valued by the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) as an excellent example of these styles of architecture by a prominent Australian architect.
The Cameron Offices complex is probably Australia’s only true architectural example of structuralism—where buildings are integral to and contributing elements of an overall urban order, rather than separate and individual elements within it. The offices formed part of the original town plan, where the aim was to provide a compact pedestrian focused scheme on a north south axis that followed the slope of the land from housing to the south through the offices, transport interchange and shopping centre on to cultural buildings and housing on the shore of Lake Ginninderra. Unfortunately the town plan for Belconnen was altered during construction of the complex.