US photographer Darren Bradley focusses on Canberra architecture

Monday 24 April 2017
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Is Canberra trading off its architectural soul? It’s a big question, and a serious one.

A multiple award-winning architectural photographer, Darren Bradley, fears the answer is yes. And the implications are big since once heritage is gone, it’s gone.

This Thursday, 27 April, Darren will present Canberra’s Disappearing Modernist Architecture Heritage in a very appropriate place—The Shine Dome. He’ll take guests on a visual journey of Canberra’s most glorious modernist architecture, showing images of some buildings still with us, some now gone forever, and some to face destruction.

Darren knows a thing or two about Modernist Architecture, which he says makes Canberra so unique and he challenges everyone who lives here to think about the future of our city’s architectural identity.

Darren has travelled internationally snapping famous and iconic buildings, concentrating on many designed and erected in the 1950s and 1960s. And, armed with his camera, he’s also snapped many during his business trips to the ACT from the United States (he’s travelled to the capital two to three times a year since 2010).

“Canberra has such a special character and evokes a very special period in history,” says Darren. “There are wonderful sculptural, concrete forms here that have a monumentality about them. To dilute this character by building ultra-modern, bland, anonymous office buildings you can see in practically any city these days won’t improve Canberra. It will detract from it, which seems absurd to me.”

Heritage is a hot topic these days, with the ACT Chief Minister recently on record saying he doesn’t support “our entire city being frozen in time on the heritage list.”

One captivating aspect of Modernist Architecture is its relationship with light. “These buildings were carefully designed by architect to reflect sun, cast shadows and change their appearance throughout the day,” he says. “They change constantly, creating patterns."

The buildings are also striking because they’re minimalist and functional. The architectural style responded to sweeping changes in society, including the infectious sense of optimism that arose in many Western countries post World War II. And they took full advantage of new technologies, including the use of glass, steel and reinforced concrete. 

“You can see this in Canberra’s cultural institutions, like the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and High Court,” says Darren. “Nothing conveys ‘gravitas’ like towering, brutalist forms like the High Court. These are special buildings.”

Here in Canberra we also see examples of Modernist Architecture in churches, like the Yarralumla Uniting Church and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. And we see it in many houses that hold places of pride in areas like Red Hill and Deakin.

“The issue is that Canberra has demolished many precious Modernist structures, or modified them beyond recognition,’ says Darren. ‘If the city keeps going at this rate there won’t be much left.”

Darren began photographing architecture when he returned home to San Diego after living in France for some years. He was taken aback by how much Modernist Architecture had been destroyed or changed beyond belief in San Diego. “I decided to start documenting what was left, and soon after I began posting images online, people began to follow me and react,” says Darren.

Darren is no longer in ‘hobby mode’ when photographing. He’s been widely published and most recently won the prestigious Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in Los Angeles for ‘Best Architectural Photograph 2017’. And he’s published several books on mid-century architecture, including a travel guide for West Coast USA.

The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) is hosting Darren’s talk. The DIA is the voice of professional design in Australia. This year it turns a grand 70 years of age. To celebrate this special birthday, the DIA is offering a special ticket price to the event.


Architectural imaghes via

Canberra’s disappearing modernist architecture heritage
by Darren Bradley

The Shine Dome, Acton
Thursday 27 April
6.30pm to 8pm