Architect's drawing of the Woden Town Centre. growth-overview-feature

Canberra’s growth — a brief overview

The 1930s and 1940s

Canberra was little more than a country town during the 1930s, with a population of around 10,000. In 1941 there were as few as 400 privately owned houses, with the vast majority of housing construction government driven. There were probably only two privately practising architects in Canberra up until the late 1940s (Kenneth Oliphant and Malcolm Moir). The ideas of mainstream modernism came slowly to Australia and there was little private building in Canberra during this period. Consequently, only a very small number of inter-war functionalist houses survive from this period, some being influenced by the architecture of Mies van der Rohe in Germany and W M Dudock in Holland.

The 1950s

The population of Canberra grew to 50,000 during the 1950s. The decade saw the establishment of the Australian National University, gradual movement of government Departments to Canberra and the creation of the NCDC. The arrival of academics and senior government officials from Sydney and Melbourne accompanied these developments and it was not unusual for them to commission architects from their home cities to design their new houses in Canberra. At the same time, the NCDC increased the amount of commissioned government work for public building, also attracting leading architects to Canberra. As a result of these influences, there are excellent examples of post-war Melbourne (Grounds and Boyd) and post-war international architecture (Sydney architects Seidler and Ancher). Some are of national importance. The presence together in Canberra of work by important Sydney and Melbourne architects is also of particular interest.

The 1960s

With the NCDC in full swing, the 1960s witnessed growth rates of 10% per year in Canberra and by 1970 the population had climbed above 140,000. The city was transformed, with the development of new satellite towns in Woden and Belconnen, the creation of Lake Burley Griffin and the commencement of national institutions in the central national area. The decade saw further important examples of Melbourne regional and post-war international architecture designed and built, together with the emerging Sydney regional style and beginnings of medium density housing. The first medium density housing development sponsored by the NCDC in Swinger Hill created a sensation when it was opened for exhibition on two weekends in April 1972, attracting over 20,000 visitors.

The 1970s

Canberra’s high growth rate continued in the early part of the decade and large scale office development accompanied a rapid expansion of the town centres in Belconnen, Woden and Tuggeranong. By 1976 the population had reached 203,000. The Sydney regional style became more widespread in the early part of the decade, particularly in developing bushland suburbs such as Aranda. The 1970s also saw a further increase in medium density development as the NCDC began actively promoting the idea of townhouse living.

1980 and later

The city of Canberra matured in the 1980s, with the population approaching 300,000 and greater diversity apparent in lifestyles, employment and recreation. The suburbs and town centre of Tuggeranong were constructed to the south, and the new town centre of Gungahlin planned in the north. Meanwhile, real estate values in inner suburbs increased significantly, reflecting a growing awareness and appreciation of the city’s history and heritage. The marked increase in the regeneration of central suburbs has provided opportunities for architects, and produced a number of interesting and award winning houses in this period. But it’s a two-edged sword: this regeneration also threatens some significant older houses with demolition and redevelopment.