The modernist international style came to prominence again after the end of the Second World War. Unlike the classicism employed in Nazi prestige buildings, it was a style with no undesirable political connotations. In the United States in particular, architects such as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe who had emigrated there during the 1930s were able to further develop their modernist ideas in the immediate post-war period. There was surprising continuity in the ideas and forms of the international style from the 1930s. With new materials and construction techniques, reinforced concrete and glassy facades became symbolic of post-war capitalism.
In Australia, the post-war international style increased in popularity during the 1950s through the curtain-walled, reinforced concrete office block and the flat roofed, cubiform glass walled house. Such houses were considered radical when they first appeared in Sydney. Harry Seidler and Sydney Ancher had several well publicised battles with Sydney councils, who were vehemently opposed to houses with flat roofs. These early examples by Ancher and Seidler were characterised by their extensive use of steel, glass and open planning.
Several Canberra examples of domestic post-war international architecture are of national importance: the Bowden House, by Harry Seidler (1951-52); the Benjamin House by Alex Jelinek (1956); and the Northbourne Housing Group by Sydney Ancher (1959). The most interesting and important Canberra building in the post-war international style is the MLC Building on London Circuit.
The MLC building at 161 London Circuit was Canberra’s first multi-storey office building and was designed by Bates Smart and McCutcheon in association with Moir Ward and Slater in 1959 and 1964. It is one of a number of commercial buildings designed by the important Australian architect Sir Walter Osborne McCutcheon in the late 1950s, including the ICI Building in Melbourne (1957). The building takes advantage of its site—a corner block formed by London Circuit and Petrie Plaza—with a glazed and panelled curtain wall façade wrapping around the corner. The building forms part of a key mid-century space in Canberra’s city centre, along with Civic Square and Civic Offices on the other side of London Circuit.
The building is a very good example of the post war international style with its cubiform overall shape, a modified form of curtain wall, large sheets of glass and the structural frame expressed. The modern design of the office building demonstrates an important development in 1950s Australian commercial architecture as the new international style gained acceptance, and the MLC Building is a very good early example of this new development.
There have been a number of alterations to the building since construction. The original five-storey building was extended to ten in 1964, and the recessed top floor with its overhanging roof was enclosed.