Maps/Spectres and Iconic Architecture in Canberra


Projects Credits

Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra
Sally Farrah, Mike Louw, Ben Ennis-Butler & Emma Phillips

The Australian Institute of Architects ACT Chapter
Rob Henry, Gia Ryan Lewis

Canberra Modern + GML Heritage
Amy Jarvis, Rachel Jackson & Edwina Jans



In 2023, UC and the Institute commenced a physical & digital mapping venture for visiting architects attending the 2023 Australian Architecture Conference. The aim was to compile Canberra’s high calibre of architecture into a user-friendly and accessible platform.

Our natural curiosity as researchers led us to unearthing the content of disappeared buildings along the way, and this project emerged from their absence.

Given the capital’s newness, compared to post-war Australian conservation trends and policies, Canberra’s timeline is both condensed and asynchronous. Furthermore, the heritage protection of predominantly modernist or post-war architecture, as opposed to more historic styles, adds further complexity. We realised these factors make Canberra a unique city and case study worthy of examination.

What is being lost in Canberra’s architectural & urban heritage?

The average age of buildings in Australia is about 50 years, when in fact, these constructions themselves could last closer to 100 years. In the room of reconstructed perspectives, the average age of buildings was only 30-35 years. We find adaptive reuse is at a minimum which, of course, has consequences for the preservation of heritage and memory.

Also, this research reveals that significant building stock from the decade of the 1960s has been lost – in fact, 20 of the 50 buildings discovered and shown here. This needs to be evaluated against heritage listing criteria, as this post-war moment represents both a significant moment in Australian architectural history, and produced many high-calibre buildings.

It is important that the Heritage Register can be more amenable to recommendations of mid-century architecture. While many of these are in the Australian Institute of Architects’ Register of Significant Twentieth-Century Architecture, they may evade the ACT Heritage Register, and therefore have uncertain futures.

What is revealed in this ongoing research?

It is interesting to observe the typologies of buildings that belong to certain decades. For example, the motel boom along Northbourne Avenue in the 1950s and 60s is a fascinating development, and sadly, is completely unrecognisable today. These post-war memories and this important car-based experience of Canberra’s heritage has been lost. It also reveals that significant medium-density housing stock has been lost, which is concerning in a moment where we face a housing crisis.

It also might serve to examine and question planning policies that might be having a negative long-term effect on Canberra’s urban development. For example, the city’s unique 99-year leasehold system, zoning, or clauses that promote the same building typology be maintained and specify tight construction timelines, are limiting adaptive reuse opportunities. We hope that this exhibition encourages the potential of architecture, urban, and heritage outcomes of adaptive reuse in Canberra.

Finally, it also hopes to centralise a public record of these archival images and drawings, which are scattered across the ACT, but also can be found in NSW and Victorian archives.

Get involved

Have you any other memories or photographs of projects in Canberra that you would like to tell us about?




This project consists of a printed and digital map of selected Canberra architecture. It is part of an ongoing online mapping project by the research team at the University of Canberra.

This version of the map was produced specifically for the 2023 Australian Architecture Conference held in Canberra.

This project was made possible with grant funding from the University of Canberra’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, Faculty of Arts & Design, and the Australian Institute of Architects, ACT Chapter.