• RAIA Headquarters, Red Hill. Ancher, Mortlock, Murray and Woolley (1967)
  • Pettit & Sevitt Lowline, 33 Cargelligo Street, Duffy (1974)
  • Pettit & Sevitt Split Level, 30 Roseberry Street, Fisher
  • Swinger Hill Stage 1, Phillip. Ian McKay and Partners (1969)

Sydney School architecture

As the international style was making its impact in the central business districts of Australian capital cities, a new type of architecture began to appear in the Sydney region. The late twentieth century Sydney regional style, often referred to as the Sydney School, developed partly as a reaction to outside influences such as the international style and was influenced by organic architecture, brutalism and arts and crafts. It was also concerned with improving the quality of housing for average Australians.

Sydney School houses were often built on sloping bushland sites around Sydney Harbour’s sheltered upper reaches. The sites had a great influence on the architects, with the native landscape being fundamental. The houses typically followed the slope of the site through split level planning with roofs parallel to the slope, creating complex and interesting interior spaces. Natural materials were exploited, with dark tiles, clinker or painted bricks and stained timbers creating a feeling of warmth in the houses.

The sloping bushland sites of Canberra’s developing suburbs were a good fit for the Sydney School and there are many examples of the style in Canberra. The Cater House by Russell Jack of Allen, Jack and Cottier is the most highly regarded detached Sydney School house in Canberra. There are significant and historically important examples of medium density housing at Swinger Hill by Ian McKay and Partners, and Urambi Village by Michael Dysart. Another interesting example of the style is the RAIA Headquarters at 2a Mugga Way, Red Hill, designed by Ancher, Mortlock, Murray and Woolley in 1967. This compound serves as the national headquarters for the Australian Institute of Architects, its ACT Chapter and also has a residential function, formerly serving as the residence for the national director of the AIA.

There are more examples of Sydney School architecture in Canberra than any other mid-century style, chiefly due to the phenomenon of Pettit & Sevitt. The popularity of the Sydney style increased markedly during the 1960s, as project home companies like Pettit & Sevitt commissioned leading practitioners of the style such as Ken Woolley and Michael Dysart to design demonstration houses, which could then be built on sites for clients. Beginning in 1966, a small number of Pettit & Sevitt display houses were built in the developing Canberra suburbs of Curtin, Chifley and Pearce. These houses proved popular in Canberra and over the next decade some 500 Pettit & Sevitt houses were built in the developing suburbs of Woden Valley, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong and Belconnen. Other project home companies also built houses in this style, such as Trend (Neil Renfree) and Habitat (Michael Dysart).


  • Split level planning, native landscape setting
  • Roof following the slope of the site
  • Asymmetrical massing
  • Dark tiled skillion roof or a flat roof
  • Exposed rafters and beams
  • Use of stained or oiled timber, decks
  • Painted or clinker brick walls
  • Timber post and beam construction
  • Clerestory windows, timber awning sash

Canberra examples

Other examples

  • Woolley House, Bullecourt Avenue, Mosman. Ken Woolley (1962)
  • C B Alexander Presbyterian Agricultural College, Tocal. Ian McKay and Philip Cox (1964)
  • Newcastle University Student Union. Ancher, Mortlock, Murray and Woolley (1965-69)
  • Clubbe Hall, Frensham School, Mittagong. Allen, Jack and Cottier (1966)