National Heritage List inscription date 21 September 2005
In 1959 Canberra became home to what was then the nation’s largest dome, housing the Australian Academy of Science. At its completion, the Academy building had became one of the most widely known buildings in Australia. Half a century on, the ‘Shine Dome’ remains a standout of Australian architecture; it marked a radical departure from the heavy concrete buildings of the period.
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The futuristic structure was designed by one of Australia’s best known architects of the era, Sir Roy Grounds. It is believed to be the only true example in the country of Geometric Structuralism, an architectural movement which used tension to maximise the function of the structure.
The Shine Dome’s copper-clad sides slope down to arched supports that disappear into the surrounding moat, creating mirror reflections of their curves and shadows. The seemingly ‘floating’ dome weighs 710 tonnes and accommodates three storeys in its 47-metre diameter but needs no support from internal walls. The heavy lifting is done by the beams, piers, footings and moat in a triumph of engineering.
The multi-award winning building’s bold modernist exterior, complementary interior, surrounding moat and garden setting all contribute to its national heritage value. Inside, curved walls and spaces emphasise the geometry of the roof and the muted, natural tones are sensitive to its lawn and gum tree surrounds.
A symbol of optimism, energy and experimentation
The Shine Dome, formerly known as Becker House, was built at a time of resurgent optimism after two world wars and the Depression. Internationally, the space race had begun, mainframe computers had reached the market, and technology had entered the home. Traditional architectural boundaries came under challenge here and overseas, and architects, engineers and planners in Australian capital cities were among the first to find new ways of doing things.
The Australian Academy of Science, which commissioned the building as its new home, captured the energy and experimentation of the period in its choice of design. The Academy wished to ‘avoid the safe and conventional.’ The academy’s founding members include luminaries such as physicist Sir Marcus Oliphant, veterinary scientist Dr Ian Clunies Ross, explorer Sir Douglas Mawson and medical researcher (later Nobel Laureate) Frank Macfarlane Burnet. The Shine Dome represents a link to their legacies, their time, and the national urge to innovate.
After it was completed in 1959, the Australian Academy of Science Building became the unofficial logo for a modern Canberra. The unique design of the building has spawned a series of affectionate nicknames including the Plum Pudding, the Mushroom, the Igloo, the Turtle, the Dome, the Eskimo Embassy, the Flying Saucer and the Martian Embassy.
The Australian Academy of Science Building is open for inspection by appointment or during open days throughout the year.