The 1874 concept by Edmund Wright and Lloyd Tayler for South Australia's parliament house with towers and a dome that showed the colony's aspirations, if not the reality, of its economic wealth. 
Image courtesy of State Library of South Australia

19th CENTURY CLASSIC/GOTHIC REVIVAL for Adelaide's 'little court society' creates a solid
foundation for the city's foray into modernism

"NEITHER SYDNEY OR MELBOURNE COULD COMPETE WITH ADELAIDE for its elegance. Its streets are wide, pleasantly set out, carefully maintained...The post office and the town hall are noteworthy for their architecture.” That’s from Jules Verne’s 1891 adventure novel Mistress Branican, quoting from Desire Charnay's 1880 travelogue Le Tour du Monde.

English author Richard Twopenny in 1883 added: “For its size, I consider Adelaide the best-built town I know, and certainly it is the best laid out and one of the prettiest and most conveniently situated.” Mark Twain in the mid 1890s: “This was a modern city, with wide streets, compactly built; with fine homes everywhere, embowered in foliage and flowers, and with imposing masses of public buildings nobly grouped.”

Beatrice and Sydney Webb in 1898 described Adelaide as: “A charmingly attractive city – wisely planned ... and ... resembles more than any English town we know, a German ‘Residenzsdt’ – the capital of a little principality, with its parks and gardens, its little court society ...”

These impressions show Adelaide, after being basically a shanty town in early colonial decades, starting to enjoy the advantage of William Light’s plan and having the accumulated wealth to express a civic pride motivated by how the city was perceived, especially in Britain.

Architects such as Edmund Wright, E. John Woods and, later, Walter Bagot, leaning towards the classic and gothic revival, created buildings that fitted the vision of Adelaide’s “little court society”.

But Colin Hassell and John Morphett, who gave Adelaide its festival centre in the 1960s, rejected the stuffiness of the Wright-Woods-Bagot tradition. Theirs was the thoughtful side of rejection. (The other side was the mindless razing of so much of Adelaide's built heritage from the 1960s to 1980s.)

The modernists' thoughtful side came from the scholarly Wright-Woods-Bagot tradition, as reflected in Adelaide University's architectural courses. So, although post-1960s Adelaide architecture took a modern direction, its leading global companies, Woods Bagot and Hassell, today build on the underlying intellectual strength of its tradition.



GEORGE STRICKLAND KINGSTON leads government architects also creating private works for the emerging elite in 19th Century

George Kingston builds first major structures and secures mineral wealth to pay for them

George Strickland Kingston, a civil engineer and deputy surveyor to William Light, became the colonial architect for Adelaide's first noteworthy buildings such as
the original part of Government House and Adelaide Gaol. He designed the first monument to William Light in Light Square (1843) and White’s Rooms, Adelaide’s first entertainment venue. His home designs included Cummins House (1841), Kingston House (1840, 1851) and Kurralta “on the hill” (1843) for Dr William Wyatt.

William Weir makes right connections to be top architect in 1840s without qualifications

William Weir designed Port Adelaide’s White Horse Cellar Inn (1851) and Tea Tree Gully council chamber (1855), now on the South Australian state heritage list, with the likelihood his background was a builder – not a qualified architect. He arrived from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1847 and advertised himself as having designed or surveyed “numerous extensive and elegant buildings”. Within a month of arriving, he was elected architect and surveyor for the Adelaide and Suburban Building Society that built homes for sale up to £65. Weir may have been helped by architect Richard Lambeth who'd come from Launceston a year before. Weir continued making the right connections. He was soon architect of the Brothers of the Order, Adelaide Lodge, and a year later became “the church architect” as well as being architect to South Australian Provincial Mining Company and Seaside and Rural Building Association. By 1849, Weir had the biggest architectural practice in the South Australia. Weir did church buildings for the Catholic (Willunga, 1847; Dry Creek, 1850) and Church of England congregations, included St Matthew’s, Kensington (1848), Holy Trinity Church Rectory (1849;) and St Michael’s, Mitcham. He designed St. Andrew’s School, Walkerville, but was beaten by Henry Stuckey for the schoolhouse for the Collegiate School of St Peter in Hackney. Weir and Stuckey worked on the Church of England’s Christ Church, North Adelaide, its rectory and Bishop’s Court, with suspicions they gained these commissions “for political or religious reasons rather than upon performance”.

Thomas English pushes early development of Adelaide as designer and builder from 1850s

Thomas English brought early dynamic to South Australian colonial development as another builder turned architect. The Free Church (1850), later Chalmer's and now Scots, on the Pulteney Street-North Terrace corner, Adelaide, was one of first major commissions for the architect-building company set up by English and his brother-in-law Henry Brown, soon after they arrived from England. Beside becoming a leading South Australian colonial architect, English was a mayor of Adelaide and MP. English’s other notable works included The Advertiser buildling (1859); the Victorian gothic Townsend House, formerly the South Australian Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb at Brighton; Kent Town Brewery (now apartments); Athelstone Institute (1870), and additions to Glenelg Congregational Church on Jetty Road (1870). English was engaged for large holiday houses for Thomas Elder and Henry Ayers at Glenelg, Thomas Graves’ Benacre at Glen Osmond (1863), and Glenara (1873) on The Esplanade, Glenelg South. English & Brown built Adelaide Town Hall from 1862, using stone from the Glen Ewin quarry they bought at Tea Tree Gully in 1852-53. Between 1878-81, Kent Town Brewery owner Edwin Smith employed English and George Soward to rebuild or alter six hotels, including the Old Colonist in Angas Street, Adelaide and the Torrens Arms, Kingswood. From 1880, the English & Soward partnership lasted until English’s death when his son Joseph was made a partner. This group of architects, including Daniel Garlick and his son, later became Jackman Gooden Architects.

Edward Hamilton as colonial architect also serves Adelaide's elite little court society

Colonial architect Edward Hamilton contributed to early work on South Australian Institute building, the Lunatic Asylum at Parkside, the Exhibition building on North Terrace, Adelaide, as well as being involved in Adelaide GPO and Brougham Place Congregational Church. He also designed the Adelaide Club for the colony's new gentry. His work in the 1860s for the “pastoral aristocracy” includes St Michael’s Church for George Hawker at Bungaree, near Clare, and Karatta House at Robe.

Robert Thomas finishes significant buildings started by earlier government architects

Robert Thomas was among the first South Australian colonists in 1836, arriving, aged 16, as articled student to deputy surveyor George Strickland Kingston. As government architect (1866-70), Thomas completed the supreme court buildings (1867) and the Parkside Lunatic Asylum (later called Glenside Hospital, in 1868). His private commissions included Stow Memorial Congregational Church (now Pilgrim Uniting Church) in Flinders Street, Adelaide, and St Augustine’s Church on Unley Road, Unley.

C.E. Owen Smyth major influence on landmark public buildings for North Terrace, Adelaide

C.E. Owen Smyth, although not an architect, deeply influenced design, construction and maintenance of South Australia’s public buildings, especially along North Terrace, Adelaide, as their superintendent 1886-1920. North Terrace buildings overseen by Smyth include the Exhibition Building (1887) designed by Withall and Wells. Smyth himself designed the South Australian Museum north wing and an original version of the Art Gallery of South Australia. He oversaw drawings for the South Australian School of Mines and Industries (now Brookman) building, that opened in 1903, exemplifying Smyth’s concern “with designing the finest buildings possible within financial constraints” Smyth supervised Thebarton police barracks on Port Road, and he designed Margaret Graham Nurses Home (built 1910-11) on Frome Road, Adelaide, for the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Smyth had arrived in South Australia in 1876 and joined the civil service as a clerk to Edward J. Woods, architect to the council of education. When Woods became South Australia’s architect-in-chief in 1878, Smyth was his clerk. In 1886, the architect-in-chief’s department was abolished and Smyth made supervisor of public buildings to watch design and construction contracts to private architects. But Owen did all the works himself, calling them extensions or maintenance. With poor economic conditions in South Australia, he kept costs down by using cheaper red brick with more expensive limestone in the dressings. All materials were South Australian: bluestone from Auburn, marble from Angaston and bricks from Hallett’s yard  in Brompton. 


Alfred Wells inspires South Australian architects' next generation

Edmund Wright hailed as 'our Wren' but worked on biggest projects with others

Edmund Wright’s main achievements – parliament house, Adelaide town hall and general post office – were shared with other architects. But, as alderman and mayor in 1859, Wright –  dubbed “the Christopher Wren of Adelaide” – helped shape the city's  style. In an 1859 paper to the South Australian Society of Architects, Engineers and Surveyors, Wright argued that the province's climate lent itself to Italian-style architecture: flat roofs, large rooms with lofty ceilings and narrow windows.


Wright and Woods win town hall, GPO designs: with Tayler, created parliament house

Edmund Wright's partnership with E.John Woods produced winning designs for Adelaide Town Hall (in 1863) and the general post office. Woods left in 1869, to work full time on St Peter's Cathedral. Wright and Melbourne’s Lloyd Tayler won competitions to design parliament house. Tayler did the creative work. Wright oversaw construction. Woods, as works supervisor, made extensive alterations to the plans. Tayler and Wright had more success with their Renaissance-style Bank of South Australia in King William Street

Thomas's state library building changed by John Woods, affirmed as 'one of the greatest'

Mortlock Wing of the State Library, listed among the world's most beautiful libraries, is credited to Edward John Woods, described as “one of the greatest architects in the Commonwealth”. Woods changed the library's design by government architect Robert Thomas – just as Thomas and Edward Hamilton altered the design by Woods and Edmund Wright for the Adelaide General Post Office. Woods also worked with Wright in the 1860s on Adelaide Town Hall and National Bank in King William Street.


Alfred Wells' buildings sway next generation with Adelaide Arcade and Jubilee Exhibition

Wells became one of Adelaide’s leading architects, influencing Louis Laybourne Smith, F. Kenneth Milne and Henry Ernest Fuller. With Latham A. Withall, Wells designed Adelaide Arcade and the Jubilee Exhibition building (1887) on North Terrace, and the Angas (1894) and Campbell buildings at Adelaide Children’s Hospital. Other works included the the Commercial Travellers Club, North Terrace; the Steamship Buildings, Currie Street, for the Adelaide Steamship Company, and the South Australian Hotel (1899).

Henry Butterfield's high Victorian gothic St Peter's Cathedral gets South Australian look

St Peter’s Cathedral at North Adelaide was the vision of Henry Butterfield, who is credited with starting the high Victorian gothic era of English architecture.  Adelaide’s Anglican bishop Augustus Short selected Butterfield in the 1860s to design St Peter’s but delays in getting Butterfield’s drawings from England meant that Edward John Woods from Wright, Woods and Hamilton had to guide the project. Woods – influenced by the French gothic of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc – changed some of Butterfield’s ideas for design but also the materials. From the foundation stone – out of Glen Ewin quarry – onwards, the cathedral’s look was influenced by local materials such as Tea Tree Gully sandstone, from what is now Anstey Hill Recreation Park, or Glen Osmond stone. Adelaide materials created elements of a distinctive look for the colony’s early buildings. Limestone from quarries along the River Torrens was used for Government House, Adelaide Gaol, old parliament house, Holy Trinity Church and the Catholic bishop’s house on the West Terrace-Grote Street corner. Quarries in the Adelaide parklands provided plentiful clay for red bricks. Bluestone, from Glen Osmond, O’Halloran Hill and Dry Creek, was popular from the 1850s to 1920. The interior of the stone is usually pale grey or beige but is given coloured surfaces by ferric oxide and other minerals in joints and bedding planes. Parliament House, on the corner of North Terrace and King William Street, was built with Kapunda marble and granite from West Island off Fleurieu Peninsula.


in Grote Street, Bonython Hall and North Terrace war memorial

Henry Sibley puts the famous Adelaide city Boer War and Light memorials on a pedestal

Harry (Henry) Sibley, in an Adelaide architectural career cut short by his death at 49, left his mark with two of the city’s most prominent memorials: the Boer War Memorial on the North Terrace-King William Street corner and Colonel Light’s statue on Montefiore Hill. The son of the civil engineer who brought his family from England to South Australia in 1879, Sibley was educated at Prince Alfred College before being articled to Adelaide architect Frederick W. Dancker. In 1902, Sibley, at 35, went into partnership with Daniel Garlick, aged 84, who died eight days later. Sibley continued as Garlick & Sibley until 1904 when Charles Wooldridge joined as a partner. Garlick, Sibley and Wooldridge designed stone pedestals for the Boer War Memorial, unveiled in 1904, and for the Colonel Light statue (1906). The partnership designed Wallaroo Mines Institute Hall (1906), followed by Unley Town Hall, with the construction supervised by Dancker. The practice also did buildings interstate including the large Mildura Workingman’s Club in Victoria in 1908. Sibley and Wooldridge worked on the Hackney tram barn and administrative offices for the Municipal Tramways Trust in 1908. Philip Claridge was employed in the office at this time. Other works included a bandstand, kiosk and shops at Henley Beach. In 1912, Wooldridge left the partnership and Sibley practised solely. He designed three-storey premises in Market Street, Adelaide, in 1915, for the Democratic Club. Sibley was a member of the club that had paved the way for the Labor Party to be formed.

Scholarly Walter Bagot, articled to John Woods, rejects modernism for classical and Gothic

Walter Bagot, praised as “one of the most scholarly architects to practise in Australia", made significant classical Renaissance and Gothic contributions to Adelaide’s buildings in the 20th Century. A St Peter’s College graduate, Bagot was articled to E. John Woods in 1899. He later studied architecture at Kings College, University of London. In 1906, Bagot helped Louis Laybourne Smith found the architectural department at the SA School of Mines and Industries (now University of South Australia). 

Bagot compares his St Patrick's in Grote Street to Brunelleschi's San Lorenzo in Florence

Walter Bagot’s devotion to classical Renaissance and gothic revival was expressed as architect to Adelaide’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese, 1905-26. In 1914, he favourably assessed his St Patrick’s in Grote Street against Brunelleschi’s renowned 15th Century Church of San Lorenzo in Florence. He also contributed to St Peter’s Cathedral 1907-45. Bagot designed a 1922-26 extension for St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, based on the original Gothic plans by Augustus Welby Pugin.


Bagot shuns 'novelty' of modernism even in commercial projects such as Elder Smith

As architect for the University of Adelaide 1910-45, Walter Bagot held to classical forms. His stone-dressed red brick Barr-Smith Library(1933) was in Georgian revival style. Even in commecrial buildings, he shunned the modernism he saw as “the striving for novelty”. In 1917, Bagot designed Dalgety’s offices on Leigh Street, Adelaide, in red brick. This was followed by the classic Executor Trustee and Agency Building on Grenfell Street (1922) and the head office of Elder Smith and Co.  on Currie Street.

Laybourne Smith and Bagot both contribute to designing the North Terrace war memorial

Walter Bagot and Louis Laybourne Smith both contributed to designing the State War Memorial on North Terrace, in the 1930s. Bagot’s original designs had to be redrawn from memory by Laybourne Smith when the originals were destroyed by fire while Bagot was overseas. Bagot is also credited with the Botanic Garden Tea Pavilion (1906) and the Polar Bear House at Adelaide Zoo. Bagot’s work was invariably informed by his scholarly understanding of architectural history.



along with Georgian and Federation styles well into 20th Century 

Kenneth Milne stays with Georgian in his many homes and famous scoreboard

F. Kenneth Milne was another of the 20th Century Adelaide architects who resisted modernism in favour of the Georgian style. Milne’s earliest commissions included the Hampstead Hotel in Grote Street (1910) and his revered Adelaide Oval scoreboard (1911). Milne was president of the South Australian Institute of Architects 1937-39 and a founder of the Architects’ Board of South Australia, He helped set up the chair of architecture at Adelaide University.

Flamboyant John Bruce creates Freemasons grand lodge, Carclew and Electra House

The Freemasons Grand Lodge (1923) on North Terrace and Electra House (1900) on King William Street were two of the most flamboyant creations of John Quinton Bruce. He also designed notable residences including Stalheim on Montefiore Hill, North Adelaide, later renamed Carclew by Langdon Bonython when he bought it in 1908. Bruce won design competitions for the Woodville Institute and for the Citizen’s Life Assurance Building, also known as Electra House, in King William Street, Adelaide.


Railway station a high point for Herbert Jackman, doyen of Australia's oldest firm

Adelaide Railway Station is a monument to the dynamic era (1922-30) for South Australian Railways under the American William Alfred Webb but also a high point for the architecture of Herbert Jackman and what is now Australia’s oldest architecture firm: JPE Design Studio. Besides the railway station, designed in 1925 with his brother Sydney, other significant Adelaide buildings by Jackman included the Tattersall’s Hotel, Hindley Street, rebuilding the Stag Hotel and Charles Moore’s department store. 

SA's parliament house designed in 1874 but east wing not ready until 1939 – without dome

South Australa's Parliament House on North Terrace, Adelaide, is a long-awaited, but still incomplete, triumph of Greek revival architecture. Its winning design in 1874 by Edmund Wright and Lloyd Tayler, had later input from John Woods. The design featured Corinthian columns, impressive towers and a grand dome. Lack of funds saw the towers and dome removed from construction plans. The east wing was completed in 1939 through a £100,000 donation from John Langdon Bonython.



COLIN HASSELL, JOHN MORPHETT RETURN FROM OVERSEAS with a fervour for Bauhaus and modernism to start a revolution 

Colin Hassell joins Philip Claridge as modernity overtakes classically ornate bank buildings

The Bank of New South Wales, opened in 1937 on the North Terrace-King William Street corner, signalled a modern shift in Adelaide architecture. Colin Hassell, who joined the bank's architects, Philip Claridge and Associates, in 1939 would push the modernism further. But the threat in the late 1960s to demolish the classic former headquarters for the Bank of South Australia – later called Edmund Wright House – caused a backlash.

Hassell's modern ideas brought to David Jones store and university's Bragg Laboratories

Colin Hassell led Adelaide’s architects into a design revolution after World War II. On an overseas scholarship, Hassell worked in London architectural offices, surrounded by the “fervour of modernism” and the teachings of the Bauhaus. Hassell, McConnell and Partners created David Jones original store in Rundle Mall, the Bragg Laboratories (1960) at Adelaide University and the Reid Building (being converted to the Botanic High School) for the Institute of Technology (now UniSA) on Frome Road, Adelaide.


Radical John Morphett returns after designing New York skyscraper, Baghdad University

In his 20s, John Morphett was on a team designing a New York skyscraper and Baghdad University – after a Albert Kahn Fellowship at MIT in Boston where he did a master’s degree in the presence of modernist leaders. In 1962, Morphett returned to Adelaide and Hassell, McConnell and Partners. His Bauhaus leanings appealed to Colin Hassell but grated with another partner Jack McConnell who rejected modernism. McConnell was asked to leave and the firm became Hassell and Partners.

Hassell and Morphett take Gropius approach globally after success of Festival Centre vision

Building on their success with the Adelaide Festival Centre (opened 1973), Colin Hassell and John Morphett engineered an international architectural practice. They embraced modernist Walter Gropius’s idea on peer review and teamwork but also welcoming the creative tension of working with so many skills. Through internal and external collaboration, and working across the world with as many as four studios on a single project, Hassell and Partners rode out the 2007-08 global financial crisis.


Rod Roach design-studio approach produces MFS headquarters and other Adelaide innovations

Rod Roach’s Metropolitan Fire Service headquarters (1983), in Wakefield Street, Adelaide, is on the Australian Institute of Architects (SA Chapter) 20th Century significant architecture list. Designed with Woodhead Hall, the project provoked lengthy discussion even after sketch plans were approved in 1976, Two 1989 building, Southgate, on the corner of King William Street and South Terrace with Adelaide’s first graded colour façade cladding, and Westpac House, built for the State Bank of South Australia with Woods Bagot, was the Adelaide’s tallest building in Adelaide even though the original 40 storeys tower (with a lighting tower) had to be reduced by 10 on civil aviation department orders. Roach’s other works include Montefiore Apartments (1981) on Jeffcott Street, North Adelaide; and his “postmodern” Victoria Grove Apartments (1982) and a building for Kinhill de Rohan & Young, both on East Terrace, Adelaide. Roach had designed other office buildings along Greenhill Road during the 1970s and No. 49 Greenhill Road had received an Award of Merit from the RAIA in 1977. The Lincolne Scott building at 28 Greenhill Road, Wayville (corner of Greenhill-Goodwood roads) is notable for its façade of structural steel. Roach has followed an innovative path by arguably creating the first design studio in South Australia. “Less is more” and “form follows function” underpin his whole approach to design. In this, he points to David Jones Store and the Adelaide Festival Centre buildings, created by South Australian firm Hassell Architects in the 1970s/80s.


to the SAHMRI  building, convention centre, Tonsley Park revival 

Woods Bagot among world's best with switch to progressive from traditional base

Woods Bagot was named as one of the world's 10 largest architecture firms in Building Design magazine's World Architecture 100 list In 2015. Woods Bagot is now Australia’s largest architectural firm, with a global design and consulting team of more than 800 working across Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. This is a remarkable switch for a small Adelaide firm steeped in the tradition of classic ecclesiastic gothic in the late 19th Century.

SAHMRI 'pine cone' brings out the best of Woods Bagot global cutting-edge outlet

The SAHMRI  (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute) building, opened at the western end of North Terrace in 2013, reflects the cutting- edge outlook and skill of Adelaide’s global architectural firm Woods Bagot.  The triangulated diagrid “living skin” makes optimal passive use of sunlight, giving SAMRI an international LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certificate – a first for an Australian laboratory building.


Convention centre exploits 21st Century advances in light, colours, flexibility

New $400 million east and west wing buildings for the Adelaide Convention Centre use geometric technology only available in the 21st Century. Hundreds of architects from Adelaide’s global firm Woods Bagot and US architect Larry Oltmanns exploited geometric advances for the west wing. Its facade was inspired by the colours and contours of the Flinders Ranges. Inside, a new multi-functional space, that can be split into six combinations, heralds a world-first three-dimensional lighting grid.


Tonsley Park revival project wins world architecture prize for adaptive use of site

A innovation project to revive the former car-making site at Tonsley Park won a category prize at the world’s largest architecture awards in 2015. The Tonsley main assembly building and pods project at Tonsley Park took out the World Architecture News award for adaptive reuse, chosen from more than 60 international projects and a six-strong shortlist.The awards jury said the winning design by Woods Bagot and Tridente Architects was "an urban renewal project without precedent”.



along with swing back to restoring best of the city's built heritage

New Oval nominated among world's best stadiums but keeps its traditional features

Adelaide Oval has broken through the controversy of making it an open stadium by winning a welter of awards. In 2016, it was a nominated with five others (including London’s Twickenham Stadium and Florida’s Daytona International Speedway) to be best stadium in the world, after being shortlisted for world building of the year at the world architecture festival in 2015. The Oval remake, by Cox Architecture, Walter Brooke and Hames Sharley, was hailed in 2015 with a national award for public architecture.


Modern Reid Building by Hassells to become the core of new city high school on Frome Road

Adelaide Oval remaker Cox Architecture led design of the $85m Botanic High School on Frome Road, Adelaide, around the core of the Reid Building by Adelaide’s first modernist architectural firm Hassell, McConnell and Partners. Led by modernist disciple Colin Hassell, the firm, formed after World War II, designed the Reid Building for the then Institute of Technology (now UniSA). Now HASSELL Studio, the firm continues shaping Adelaide with projects such as the zoo entrance and the Oval's western stand.


Adelaide Uni, UniSA push flexibility and interaction in new health science blocks

Two new university buildings, part of the Health and Medical Sciences Precinct at the western end of North Terrace, Adelaide, reflect the new direction of infrastructure in health sciences education. The University of Adelaide’s Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences Building (AHMS) and the University of South Australia’s Health Innovation Building are characterised by integrating different areas of health.


Stock exchange a fine example of buildings being restored in Adelaide city centre

The former Adelaide Stock Exchange building, between Grenfell and Pirie Streets, is a prime example of 21st Century restoration. A red brick building in Federation/Edwardian style with Arts and Crafts influences (including a stained glass window by William Morris & Co, with three of the six panels after the designs of Edward Burne Jones) it is among the 120 nationally significant 20th-Century buildings in South Australia and on the National and State Trust registers


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