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Canberra’s modernist soul

Wendy Johnson

There’s a bus shelter near my house and I’ve just struck a new relationship with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve not started to take the bus (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s that I now realise the bus shelter is part of the Modernist Architecture movement and an important part of Canberra’s special character. And my new-found knowledge is thanks to an energising chat I’ve had with award-winning photographer Darren Bradley.

Darren visits Canberra from the United States several times a year for work and is fascinated with architecture built in the 1950s and 1960s. He’s trekked all over the world documenting iconic and celebrated architectural buildings and Canberra has struck a chord.

Darren Bradley

Darren Bradley

“From where I work, I look across the street at Modernist Architecture buildings and am fascinated by how they transform throughout the day,” says Darren. “The architecture of this era was designed to reflect the sun and to cast shadows. The buildings change constantly. It’s like watching a light show.”

This Thursday, 27 April, Darren will present a visual journey of Modernist Architecture showcasing his photographs and discussing how Canberra is trading off its architectural soul. The Design Institute of Australia has organised Darren’s talk, which is appropriately taking place in a modernist structure—The Shine Dome.

To talk to Darren about Modernist Architecture gets you rather excited, and looking at his photographs makes you see our capital in a new light.

The High Court by Darren Bradley

The High Court by Darren Bradley

We’re not just talking about the cultural institutions that grace our city like the High Court, the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery. We’re talking about the buildings we walk past every day without pausing to reflect, like David Jones in the city, some of our churches, many of the structures around the university, and residential houses, including in two areas Darren especially appreciates, Deakin and Red Hill.

When you look at Darren’s photographs you can’t help but connect with his passion.

“This architecture absolutely needs to be protected,” he says. “It’s the modernist soul of the city and evokes a special period. It’s part of why Canberra is so unique and it’s a shame some of it has been destroyed.”

We all know Canberra is planned, but do we appreciate just how much care the architects and planners took to create a cohesive view of the city?

“These buildings, whether commercial or residential, are sculptural concrete forms. They’re striking in so many ways. They’re minimalist but monumental at the same time,” says Darren.

Darren loves modern architecture because it always services a function, solves a problem and speaks to the context of its environment.

Yarralumla Church by Darren Bradley

Yarralumla Church by Darren Bradley

“This architecture conveys the sense of optimism that was evident post-war,” he says. “It represents a unique period of our history where people were optimistic about the future of the world. That’s why the housing built during the period was comfortable, light, airy, with big windows and private gardens. You see this in many spots in around Canberra.”

Photography was originally just a hobby for Darren. He began shooting architecture when he returned to San Diego from living in France. On his return, he noticed how many modernist buildings had been demolished or modified so significantly they weren’t recognisable as belong to the era. “I started to shoot them to save their memory,” says Darren. “I began posting my photos online and people started to notice and follow me, so I continued.”

The Design Institute of Australia is Australia’s peak industry body for professional design. It represents Australian design and designers domestically and internationally. The DIA, in celebration of its 70th birthday this year, is selling tickets to the event for just $15.

the essentials 

What: ‘Canberra’s disappearing modernist architecture heritage’ with Darren Bradley
When: Thursday 27 April, 6.30 to 8.30pm
Where: The Shine Dome
Tickets: $15. Book on Eventbrite

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author

  • DIA – ACT Branch

    Thank you HerCanberra,

    What a unique opportunity to hear Darren speak at a very fitting location. If you didn’t hear yesterday’s interview on ABC 666 with Genevieve Jacobs there are sure to be some interesting talking points that will carry on from this event.

    Get in quick, the tickets have almost sold out!

    – Design Institute of Australia ACT Branch.

  • Sheridan

    The discussion is on 27 April – not 17th 🙂

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