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Take a tour of Australia's most beautiful public buildings

From the Money Box Building in Sydney to GOMA in Brisbane, how many have you visited?

All across Australia stand imposing and impressive public buildings that have come to symbolise our towns and cities.

They've stood the test of time, played a central role in our communities, and have more than a few stories to tell. They are also a spectacle to behold, visually breathtaking and packed with local or national stories. 

Here, we've rounded up just a few of our favourite public buildings we think you should visit, and the unusual facts behind their existence.

St Georges Terrace & Barrack St, Perth

Once the West Coast’s beating financial, judicial and legislative heart, The Lands, Titles and Treasury Chambers (collectively known as The State Buildings) bear little resemblance to the world of bureaucracy and red tape.

Filled today with boutique retail stores, trendy restaurants, a chocolatier, a yoga studio, cocktail bars and an upmarket bakery, The State Buildings are now arguably more highly regarded than ever.

Whether you’re looking through the colonial palisade of the Treasury Building - now a luxury design hotel - or saluting the rising sun in what used to house the archives of the Titles department in the 1930s, Perth’s history has been dotingly preserved through an incredible attention to architectural detail.

Tip: Set aside a few minutes to order a coffee in the café on the first floor of the Titles building, which was previously the State Telegram Office.

The ANU School of Art, 2 Childers St, Canberra

Stretched across an impossibly flat expanse of an equally impossibly clipped lawn, this stark, white, minimalist, Deco behemoth is a symphony of sweeping curvaceous wings and rectilinear facades.

Today, although more than a century has passed, not a single wrinkle has tarnished the suave architectural treasure of the Australian National University’s School of Art Buildings.

Cavernous and warren-like in structure, you can happily spend hours searching for the country’s next big thing as you stroll through the many student galleries and sculpture gardens.

Tip: If you can aim to visit the ANU's School of Art before noon, walk up the spiral staircase inside the clock tower to look out through the clock face onto the vista in front. The structure is so expertly positioned that at exactly 12-noon it will not cast shadows in any direction.

Darwin Town Hall Ruins, Darwin City

Though definitely not as exhilarating as any other building on our list, a visit to Darwin’s Town Hall ruins will leave much more of an impression.

Built originally in 1869, a mere 14 years after settlers arrived in the region, this rather unassuming and rough building was entirely reduced to rubble on Christmas Eve, 1974.

Having staunchly withstood over a century of tempestuous tropical weather, 64 air raids during World War II, and a bombing, it was the ravage of Cyclone Tracy that tore the fabric of the building to shreds.

The state’s oldest building underwent major restoration in 2016.

Tip: When visiting the site, make sure you pick up a few small pieces of broken brick from the ground and feel the texture. Although having the appearance of being rough to the touch, the stone has a natural porcelain feel that when broken apart is pure white. If you drop it on the ground, the stone makes a ringing sound similar to champagne flutes.

Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Melbourne

Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building is the first public building in Australia to be granted a World Heritage listing - and when you visit, it’s not hard to see why.

Built originally in grand colonial style to host the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880, the builder of the project was David Mitchell, better known for being the father of Dame Nellie Melba.

Having survived many different guises in public life - from its current status as host to any number of community and trade events in the city, all the way through to being one of the key venues in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics - thankfully the rich history of the structure has been lovingly restored.

With extensive galleries, wings and a dome ceiling that will give any European cathedral a run for its money, this building holds a central position in the history of Australia, including acting as host for the very first sitting of the Commonwealth Parliament in 1901.

Tip: Make sure you stop by one of Melbourne’s many famed restaurants and cafes en route during your visit - but whatever you order, get it to go! Take some time out of your day to sit in the Carlton Gardens that surround the Royal Exhibition Building for an impromptu private picnic to soak in the best view of its architectural spectacle.

Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Stanley Pl, Brisbane

One of the most inspired architectural triumphs of the past decade, Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) threw open its doors to mass critical acclaim, breaking a record which still stands to this day for the highest attendance numbers to any art gallery within Australian history.

The five-storey cubic form of the building is topped with an imposing yet elegant up-curved aerofoil blade roof.

Elaborate staircases and vast expanses of glass panelling all operate to cleverly ensure the sun and UV rays do not filter through to damage the masterpieces on display.

Tip: Look at the walls to the entries of each of the separate galleries. With the appearance of polished concrete, these thick walls are in fact safes made out of zinc - a material with a chemical compound that actively contributes to ensuring the longevity of the millions of dollars' worth of artworks neatly stacked within.

St Peter’s Cathedral, 27 King William Rd, Adelaide

Rightly touted as being the city of churches, Adelaide is brimming with incredible feats of architecture. St Peter’s Cathedral towers among the rest, and is considered by the nation’s architectural tastemakers to be one of our country’s finest examples.

From the impressively tall windows, to the delicate spires that can often be viewed from around the city, St Peter’s Cathedral was erected in 1869 in French Gothic Revival style.

Heavily restored throughout the last thirty years, it stands uniquely among this country’s historic cathedrals for its open embrace of Australian timbers rather than the English oak befitting most Anglican piles.

Tip: By far one of the most impressive elements of the building is the stained glass windows displayed throughout. Made on site in Adelaide throughout the 19th and 21st centuries, they showcase the incredible tradition of craftsmanship of the area.

The Commonwealth Bank Building (AKA The Money Box), 5 Martin Place, Sydney

There was a time when every child who opened an account with the Commonwealth Bank would receive a small tin moneybox in the shape of its flagship branch located in Sydney’s Martin Place. Over time, the building’s moniker, 'The Money Box', stuck.

Designed in an Art Deco meets Doric revivalist style by J & H.G Kirkpatrick, this stirring civic building has – as the role of public life in the city changed over time – withstood several odd reinventions.

Tip: If you're lucky enough, walk up to the very top floor to take in the view. Today, you won’t be able to cast your eyes very far, so you’ll just have to use your imagination because when the structure was first built, The Money Box was considered the first large scale skyscraper in Australia.

 
 

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