From the earliest years of settlement the Australian colonies kept up to date with international developments in hospital design. Military hospitals served as a model until the publication of Florence Nightingale’s series of notes in the late 1860s. Following World War I, by which time Nightingale’s hospital planning principles were no longer in vogue, architects and hospital boards initially looked to Great Britain and America for models. In the interwar years Australian architects visited hospitals in Great Britain, America and sanatoria in Europe and Scandinavia. Alvar Alto’s Paimio sanatorium was highly influential and was visited by a number of Australian architects during the 1930s including Arthur Stephenson and Walter Bunning. RIBA award-wining buildings such as the 1933 Royal Masonic Hospital at Ravenswood Park were also influential in the design of hospitals in NSW in particular.
The emergence of functionalist architecture can be traced in the design of hospital buildings during the 1930s, appearing in the design of hospitals long before it appeared in domestic architecture. Wide verandahs were already a feature of Nightingale-style ward blocks and this feature was continued in the modern ward blocks. Buildings such as Gloucester House at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital clearly show the influence of the multi-storey sanatoria erected in Holland, Switzerland and Finland. This hospital war block, and the Mildura Base hospital were both erected to contain intermediate patients, rather than charitable cases (in large public wards) and private patients (in individual rooms). By the late 1930s specialised blocks were being constructed such as the King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney designed by Arthur Stephenson of Stephenson Meldrum and Turner (later Stephenson & Turner) in 1937-38 and completed in 1941.
Hospitals were amongst the largest buildings erected in Australia in the immediate post war years, as the allocation of building materials was restricted for longer than the duration of the war. To cater for returning soldiers substantial repatriation hospitals were opened, including the Repatriation General Hospital Heidelberg in Victoria commenced as a military hospital in 1942 and Yarralla (Concord Repatriation General Hospital) in Sydney both of which were designed by Stephenson & Turner. The importance of these modern hospital buildings in NSW is reflected by the Sulman medal which both King George V and the Concord Repatriation Hospital received.
Following the war local governments were able to obtain government funding to erect municipal facilities such as baby health centres and libraries and these were built in a modern functionalist style, rather than in revivals that had characterised many interwar municipal buildings.