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MLC Building (c. 1968)
MLC Building (c. 1968)
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The beauty in buildings

In the first of a short series of articles showcasing some of the significant examples of 20th Century architecture in the CBD and North Adelaide, Meagan Cox (City of Adelaide’s Project Consultant – Heritage) shares her insights into a trio of city buildings built from the early 1940s through to the mid-1950s.


Adelaide is renowned for a cityscape that champions the past as much as it embraces the future. Striking contemporary glass-clad structures stand alongside historic buildings exquisitely showcasing the beauty of natural materials including sandstone, bluestone and marble.

While there is little doubting the community’s widespread affection for iconic 19th Century buildings of the ilk of the Adelaide Town Hall, St Peters Cathedral, Beehive Corner and Edmund Wright House – more recently I’ve sensed a growing appreciation for the architecture of the mid-20th Century as an integral part of Adelaide’s history, culture and built heritage.

It is sometimes a little harder for us to accept that places which may have been built in our own, or our parents’ lifetimes, are now called ‘heritage’. The architecture of the period between 1836 to 1920; the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Adelaide in particular, are well represented on heritage ‘lists’, but less so the more recent architecture of the 1930s onwards.

I’m excited to introduce, or perhaps re-introduce you, to a few of my favourite examples of buildings constructed in the mid-20th Century in the City of Adelaide – each demonstrating different design movements and aesthetics.

Former South Australian Brewing Company (Offices): 222-230 Hindley Street, Adelaide
State Heritage Place

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Featuring the work of architect F. Kenneth Milne, these offices were built in 1940-41, during the war years, as the administrative headquarters for the South Australian Brewing Company Limited. The builder was Wm. (William) Essery & Sons; a firm Milne often recommended.

Former SA Brewing Company Offices
Former SA Brewing Company Offices

The brick building is complementary to the streetscape and is an unusual rendering of the Georgian style with a strictly disciplined arrangement of windows and crisply detailed dressings in what appears to be artificial stone. Its design is loosely derived from Classical detail reflecting the desire of architects during this period to interpret rather than copy stylistic detailing. In many ways, this building anticipates Milne’s later works.

With the consolidation of the company’s two production facilities onto the Southwark site at Thebarton, the West End Brewery on the southern side of Hindley Street was demolished in 1982 and in 1984, this building was sold. It’s now home to the University of South Australia School of Law.

Milne is one of South Australia’s most well-known and prolific 20th Century architects, however it seems he was reluctant to embrace modernism, gradually retiring from practice in his 70s, during the period 1956-62.

Deep Acres Apartment Building: 283-293 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide
State Heritage Place

Deep Acres residential complex
Deep Acres residential complex, North Adelaide

Built in 1941-42, Deep Acres is arguably the finest example of pure ‘Modernism’ design to be found in Adelaide.

Retaining a huge degree of integrity, it’s one of only a few substantial, private apartment buildings designed and built in Adelaide at the time – and represents the development trend towards higher density accommodation in the Depression/early Second World War period.

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The apartments are associated with influential architect Jack Hobbs McConnell, or “Mac” as his friends called him, the pioneer of the Modern Movement in Adelaide. Although he would not call himself a Modernist architect, he did believe in the principles of the movement – architecture based on common sense and function.

Deep Acres exterior
Deep Acres exterior | Image: realestate.com.au

Deep Acres is also a notable example of the work of the major building firm Fricker Brothers, which constructed many important buildings in South Australia.

The building’s exterior appearance demonstrates many of the hallmarks of the style including the absence of ornamentation, use of modern materials, streamlined detailing and the incorporation of a flat roof – considered bold at the time. The porthole windows (seen at left), original internal joinery and the use of terrazzo are definitely among my favourite features.

Former MLC Building (Beacon House): 181-191 Victoria Square, Adelaide
State Heritage Place

MLC Building
MLC Building

The MLC (Mutual Life & Citizens Assurance Co) building is well-resolved and of architectural importance as an early example of the ‘international style’ in Australia. Considered one of Adelaide’s most significant modern landmarks, the building was designed by Melbourne-based architects Bates Smart McCutcheon and constructed between 1955-1957.

The building exhibits a high level of creativity and technical advancement in the successful integration of services, the lightweight unencased steel structural frame, the ‘curtain wall’ glass cladding and the modular construction. It was also one of Australia’s first buildings with open-plan offices.

MLC Building c. 1968
MLC Building c. 1968

At completion, MLC lauded the building, claiming that …

‘ . . . the beauty of our structure of pale green, purple and silver, holds and delights the eye from all quarters, and in sunlight or under grey skies it is undoubtedly the outstanding building of Adelaide’.

In 1957, a weather ‘beacon’ was installed on the roof. Its red and white lights were controlled remotely by the weather bureau and a small pocket card produced for the public explaining how the different signals indicated the weather forecast – very handy in an era when most cars didn’t have transistor radios!

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As the first major addition to the city skyline after World War II, this 61-year-old ‘skyscraper’ is looking just as good now as the day it was constructed and truly holds its own against some of the nearby modern iterations.


The South Australian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects has established a register of notable 20th Century South Australian Architecture so, for more information on this subject click here.

 

Meagan Cox

Meagan Cox

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