Warringah Council
photo © Christine Francis

Site Overview

site name:
Warringah Council, Civic Centre and Library
Other names:
Warringah Shire Council
Edwards Madigan Torzillo & Briggs
Colin Madigan and Christopher Kringas (design)
Bruce Mackenzie and Associates in association with Warringah Council Parks and Gardens Landscaping (Other Designer/s)
date of commission:
date of completion:
725 Pittwater Road, Dee Why, NSW 2099
Administration / Power (ADM)
protection status:
AIA NSW Chapter Register of Twentieth-Century Buildings of Significance
editor fiche:
Scott Robertson


The Australian Institute of Architects nomination for listing the Warringah Civic Centre on the NSW State Heritage Register noted the following.

Physical description:

The site is located on 3 acres of land at Dee Why, bounded by Pittwater Road, Kingsway and David Streets. The magnificent site rises steeply from the flat coastal plain with large rock outcrops interspersed by native plants. The site was planned as a new acropolis, above Dee why shopping centre. A vital city centre was envisaged, to house as well as the civic centre and library a large auditorium with gymnasium, art gallery and historical museum, a public plaza and war memorial.

The building platforms are supported off the craggy natural rock by concrete piers. On the eastern elevation three soaring precast prestressed piers 12.8 metres high and 800 mm x 305mm in cross section support the projecting top level. The deep waffle slabs were cast against lsotex cement wood chip coffers used as permanent formwork. Roof slabs were waffle slabs with insulation, coal tar pitch and gravel surfacing.

The load bearing structure is of reinforced concrete, The majority of external walls are either 230 or 305 mm insitu concrete bush-hammered lo expose the coarse aggregate. Else where the concrete frame is in filled with brick. lnternal columns, 305mm diameter, were cast in thin gauge seamless steel tubing which was used as permanent formwork and painted. Columns have tapered cruciform shaped capitals cast in demountable steel moulds.

The spine of the building is a central ramp system which gives access to all levels and is surmounted by a skylight.. The central ramp court was seen as an extension of the street into the heart of the building. The ramps are U shaped in section, cast insitu with 150mm slabs and 300mm balustrades. The principal reinforcing is draped post tensioned cables. Expansion joints are positioned at one end of each ramp to provide for the eventual shortening.

The framing for the central roof link across the central ramp is exposed rigid frame steel shaped to architectural demands, Air conditioning ducts are exposed. Three open plan administrative platforms are accessed by the ramps from the enhance and a half level walk up system separates the major administrative departments. The open planning was designed to be meaningful it was hoped it would allow public participation to its highest potential. The Council Chamber was designed to be fully

opened to public viewing and facilities made available for citizen participation in all deliberations of Council. Views to the external landscape of sea, the hills and trees were obtainable from most office positions. Car parking is located partially behind the building with additional areas located to the northwest, west and south below the plateau, reflecting the topography of the site and covered with a dense canopy of trees.

Warringah Civic Centre building consists of a single concrete structure that is visually strong, dramatic and heavily articulated in both internal and external form. The building’s interaction with the essential natural landscape surroundings, its use of off-form concrete expertly handled in design and construction
The landscape concept was devised by Bruce Mackenzie who regarded the site primarily as an example of remnant bushland. Mackenzie was an early advocate of the indigenous design ethos in landscaping. Mackenzie using a technique he had found successful during previous work in 1964 on the Pettit and Sevitt sites for Ancher Mortlock Murray & Woolley, initially surveyed the site to establish its characteristics and best qualities. The siting of the building was based around the identified conservation opportunities, so as to preserve as much as possible of the rock outcrops and remnant bushland.

The different functions of the council are brought together by the broad internal circulation spine or internal street which has great variety in scale and character of spaces.

Statement of significance:

Warringah Council Civic Centre and Civic precinct including Warringah Library is significant for its design achievement as a group of late twentieth century public buildings which were conceived by the same design team as a single entity, to create a venue for these important civic institutions. The complex is stylistically integrated in terms of architectural forms and finishes, and as an ensemble of freestanding buildings in a cohesive landscape setting is an outstanding example of both the harmonious development of a rugged bushland site and of the design of a visually strong and dramatic structure.

The precinct is a place of historic and aesthetic significance as a highly regarded and important example of contemporary architectural and landscape design. The architectural design is an example of late 20th century ‘Brutalist’ style demonstrating a development of the modern movement away from the constrictions of modular structural systems to a more flexible form of architecture. The building in many respects served as a testing ground for the National Gallery and High Court in Canberra for such considerations as bush hammered concrete textures, for complex concrete forms related to structure, circulation routes and mechanical systems.

The Warringah Council Civic Centre is an important large scale and public building of the late 20th century ‘Brutalist’ style of architecture and demonstrates indigenous landscape design in Australia. The landscape design used mostly local native plant material is an example of the Australian Native Landscape design style that reflected aesthetic appreciation for native bushland and was highly influential for several decades following the mid 1960s and can be seen as symptomatic of wider social concerns and changing social attitudes to the Australian environment.

The Civic Centre, designed by Colin Madigan and Christopher Kringas in 1970/1, retains a high degree of associational historical significance as Edwards, Madigan, Torzillo & Briggs’ first major building extensively using reinforced insitu concrete construction. The detailing and highly refined sculptural qualities of the interior and exterior spaces create a high level of aesthetic significance. The concrete detailing is of a moderate degree of technical significance.

Warringah Council Civic Centre, (along with the Warringah Library, the National Art Gallery and High Court) is significant for representing the high point of the distinguished architect Col Madigan, who was awarded the Gold Medal by the Royal Australian lnstitute of Architects for a lifetime effort in the field of architecture in 1981. The building is also important for its association with the architect Chris Kringas who made a major contribution to the design development and as an early design of prominent landscape architect Bruce Mackenzie, a leading figure in the establishment of landscape design in Australia and represents his then innovative ideas of preserving and using the sites’ natural landscape and flora.

Warringah Council Civic Centre demonstrates a moderate degree of technical significance through the use of post-tensioned and reinforced concrete. lt demonstrates a clear progression of aesthetic and technical development and a consistency of approach. lt has potential to reveal information about construction techniques, materials, regulations and planning issues of late 20th century concrete ‘Brutalist’ construction.

The site is also of high social significance at a local level to the surrounding community as an area of native bushland. The site is also of a moderate level of social significance to the wider design and construction community as an influential and highly regarded example of architecture and landscape design. The significance of the site is reinforced by the fact that it remains largely intact, with only minor alterations to the initial design scheme having been undertaken.

Evaluation (from the RAIA listing)

Technical evaluation:

The Civic Centre building has technical significance due to intact fabric that demonstrates past building techniques and technology. Off-form concrete building technology was used extensively by the architects of the building when they constructed the prestigious National Gallery of Australia and High Court buildings in Canberra.

Social evaluation:

The building does demonstrate a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in NSW for social and cultural reasons. The citizens of Warringah identify with the building as a symbol of their community. The dismissal of the Council by the State Government on a number of occasions only serves to highlight the conflicts of interest which are only too evident in Local Government administration. The Fabian principles of the design architect, Col Madigan are well known and demonstrated by the egalitarian allotment of space within the building. The telephonists room and the staff lunchroom have pride of place at the north-east corner of the building with good insolation and superb views out over the commercial area below to the beach and the Pacific Ocean as well as to the ocean headland to the north of Dee Why. The ordering principle of an internal street/ramp was a common design focus in the 1970s and was part of the architects’ attempt to bring an egalitarian social agenda to the workplace.

Cultural and aesthetic evaluation

The appearance of the building high up on its rocky site as a modern-day Acropolis and with its dominant concrete blades/columns is of high aesthetic significance. The Warringah Civic building is a unique and highly significant example of late 20th Century Brutalist architecture on a large scale.

The Warringah Civic site is also of a high level of aesthetic significance as an early example of the indigenous landscape design ethos that was influential throughout the following two decades. The site is unique for the high level of retention of the native bushland setting achieved in a large scale public building site, and as a record of the influential work of landscape architect Bruce Mackenzie.

The aesthetic significance of the site is reinforced by the fact that it remains largely intact, with only minor alterations to the initial design scheme having been undertaken, The site has received multiple awards and is regarded as having attained a high degree of creative and technical achievement and is still highly regarded for its aesthetic characteristics and for its high degree of creative and technical achievement.

photo @ Christine Francis
photo @ Christine Francis