In Review: AAA Sydney City Walk

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By Deborah Singerman

On one of those unexpectedly cold April mornings after days of heat (I rued wearing shorts), the variety and perspectives of this city walk kept me on my chilly toes. Four of us, including guide Hong Nguyen, a University of New South Wales architecture graduate, wandered around the top end of town, starting at Customs House in Circular Quay and ending up at the museum of Sydney.

The other two tour participants have been on several AAA walks (and, keen as, were going on the Redfern walk the next day). Nguyen said her groups often consisted of locals taking along interstate and international friends. The tours mix of historical buildings and places, a sandstone stretch, and some of our major modern office blocks and plazas, are a good instruction to Sydney.

Having discovered that the designated site for penal settlement of New South Wales (NSW) further south at Botany Bay did not have a reliable fresh water supply nor secure anchorage, whereas Sydney Cove offered both, this is where official possession of NSW occurred. (The freshwater creek became known as the Tank Stream.)

The shore base (at the Rocks, which we did not visit) is where goods and people started to arrive until another spot with a perfectly clear view of ships arriving, took precedence. The magnificent heritage-listed, classical revival colonial building, a Customs House before Federation, has had storeys added to the original three, a look based on London’s Customs House. It has also had function changes including state government departments, cultural events rooms (such as the former customs’ shopfront, the Barnet Long Room named after colonial architect James Barnet who added a balustrade colonnade to the building in 1885), and a thriving City of Sydney-council owned cultural centre, with a top bar and stunning views. We did not visit this on a Saturday morning but peered down to the glass-roofed ground floor model of Sydney, which is regularly updated to reflect the city’s changes.

We walked up Loftus Street and Bent Street taking in public buildings such as the original Department of Lands building, designed by Barnet, built in different stages, and lined with detailed statues but not as many as hoped for because the money ran out during the 1880s Depression. Sensibly, the map room was on the top floor to benefit from any daylight (no floor-to-ceiling windows in those days).

For a change of mood and landscape, we passed Bert Flugelman’s 1979 controversial, modernist sculpture, en route to Australia Square, the first of the Harry Seidler towers Nguyen described (and enjoyed). She left us in no doubt that the Viennese-born architect had a tremendous influence on the city. 

Modernist, practical, bold, and with his visionary client, Lend Lease founder Dick Dusseldorp, an active force, from 1967 onwards Seidler stamped the footprint with his love of open spaces, European-style piazzas, raised steps, outside seating areas with bright umbrellas, and circular concrete skyscrapers, using fast-working formwork, with clever use of beams and columns, and a street setback to reduce gloomy outlooks and wind tunnels. 

At 50 storeys high, Australia Square was Sydney’s tallest building and the world’s tallest reinforced concrete structure. We also passed by the MLC Centre, and its prominent street setback and plaza, and later on, the more concealed, No 9 Castlereagh Street, an office with a light, airy outlook, strong structure and striking glass work. 

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A saunter through Angel Place, at that time of day empty, and we were able to see the paving describing the birds in the cages above, now extinct or endangered, with their forgotten songs appropriately tweeting (in the best sense of the word) near the City Recital Hall.

Up steps from Angel Place to 4 Martin Place, an entree to the grand open space of Martin Place, with different shades of paving showing the various time scales of its development. The late 19th century GPO (General Post Office) sandstone building, designed under Barnet’s guidance, was said to be the grandest building in the Southern Hemisphere, and its scale and grandeur are still breathtaking. The carvings below the underhangs, alone, are something to behold.

No longer a post office, the GPO is a cornucopia of dining and leisure and hotel linkages, and its heritage-listed facade is an arresting sight. Another moving sight is embedded in the paving itself, Reflection, remembering the Lindt Café victims, Tori Johnson with hydrangeas and sunflowers for Katrina Dawson.

Nguyen finally brought the group to much newer but, in their own way, just as important built contributions to the city: 

1 Bligh Street (Ingenhoven Architects of Germany and Architectus of Australia), circular, free-standing, at the end of a block, with views galore and top Green Star-rated energy-efficiency, recycled water, solar and chilled beam thermal comfort, masses of natural light, and an external vertical garden; 

the Renzo Piano-designed commercial and residential Aurora Place, with wintergardens with an operable louvre façade, and distinctive customised terracotta panelling; and 

the Museum of Sydney, on the site of the first Government House, which, among other things, embeds displays of the original foundations and outside, has a cluster of Janet Laurence-designed poles representing 29 Aboriginal clans, and a wall, grading from rough sandstone at the bottom to smooth at the top, a low-key but effective way to ponder on the meaning of taking the rough with the smooth.

You too can discover Sydneys CBD on the AAA's next Sydney City Walk on Saturday 8 June.


Location: Meet outside the Customs House entrance, 31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay, NSW 2000 
Date: Saturday 8 June 2018
Time: 10.00am - 12.00pm
Tickets: $30 (Public) / $25 (Concession) / Free (AAA Members and Company Members)

Click here to secure your tickets for the tour.


AAA Volunteer Deborah Singerman is a writer and editor, with extensive experience interviewing people, researching stories, finding angles and then disseminating the information for different readerships.

She offers professional writing and editing services for articles with content that can be adapted for websites, blogs, magazines and university journals.

Check out her website at:


  • Article: Deborah Singerman
  • Image 1: Australia Square Tower, designed by architect Harry Seidler
  • Image 2: Forgotten Songs sound installation by artist Michael Thomas Hill and research scientist Dr. Richard Major

Iconic Buildings of the 20th Century Talks - Ronchamp Chapel

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On Thursday 20 June 2019, the AAA presents the first in its series of talks, called 'Iconic Buildings of the 20th Century'. Hosted by Brickworks Studio, you will be enthralled, as Tone Wheeler, architect and President of the Australian Architecture Association, reveals the stories of how three iconic buildings were conceived and executed.

The first talk focuses on Ronchamp Catheral designed by architect and artist, Le Corbusier.


Ronchamp is Le Corbusier’s most famous building, but most people only know it from one photo (pictured above), and this singular view leads to a limited understanding of just how brilliant this building is.

The chapel is a result of an intense process, both personal and pragmatic, and a detailed understanding of that process can lead to a completely different view. 

We will acquaint ourselves with the history, and then to do an analysis of Le Corbusier’s design thinking, his ideas and concepts that gave rise to the form, and we will thoroughly crawl over ever part of the building. 

It was extraordinarily radical, controversial and confronting, and many leading architects were horrified, but later held it up as one of the greats of the 20th Century. 

Come to this detailed 'behind the scenes take' to find out why it is such an important work of art and architecture.


Time: 6.00pm (6.30pm start) - 8.15pm
Date: Thursday 20 June 2019
Location: Brickworks Design Studio, 2 Barrack Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Cost: $55 Earlybird (public) / $60 (public) / $50 (AAA Members)

Drinks and canapes will be served before the talk commences.

Click here to buy your ticket for the Ronchamp Chapel Talk.



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On Thursday 8 August 2019, don't miss the second talk in the AAA 'Iconic Buildings of the 20th Century' series. Hosted by Brickworks Studio, you will be enthralled as Tone Wheeler, architect and President of the Australian Architecture Association, reveals the stories of how three iconic buildings were conceived and executed. The second talk focuses on Louis Kahn's Salk Institute.


Louis Khan’s mid century buildings are enigmas.

Architecture students wonder what the fuss is about: the austere highly geometric forms, the starkness, the unyielding formality.

The rigorous texts that accompany the works and Khan’s reputation as a great teacher don’t seem reflected in the buildings. And then on a visit their ‘first Kahn' their attitude reverses: these are the greatest works of architecture of the 20th C. 

They become devotees and almost religious proselytisers for the buildings, which only adds to the confusion for those who haven’t ‘accepted the religion of Kahn’. 

This talks cuts through the rhetoric to explain, in greatly illustrated detail, the ideas, the experiences, and ultimately the extraordinary humanity that this building in particular exhibits. Tone has visited the building several times (and many other Kahn buildings), and believes that an enthusiastic study of the building can convey the power of the architecture without the costs of a visit.


Time: 6.00pm (6.30pm start) - 8.15pm
Date: Thursday 8 August 2019
Location: Brickworks Design Studio, 2 Barrack Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Cost: $55 Earlybird (public) / $60 (public) / $50 (AAA Members)

Drinks and canapes will be served before the talk commences.

Click here to buy your ticket for the Salk Institute Talk.

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The third and final talk in the series will focus on Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers' Centre Pompidou.


The most visited building in Paris, in a city that boasts the Louvre, the Musee d”Orsay and the Musee du Quai Branly. In fact the most popular museum in the world!

So everyone knows the Centre Pompidou, colloquially known as Beaubourg, right? Wrong, and more than most could believe.

In this talk we go back to the competition (Tone has a copy of the original brief) and look at the ideas of the time.

Did you know that a now well-known Australian architect came second? And what bought Renzo Piano from Italy and Richard Rogers from London together to create a building that many believe is a turning point in Modernism?

Not just an ‘inside-out’ building, not just a great place to see Paris, and not just a backdrop to the most lively space in Paris, it is a formative work of art, a tour-de-force of architecture.

Come and hear the background to this extraordinary building that will give you a completely different perspective on this great site.


Time: 6.00pm (6.30pm start) - 8.15pm
Date: Thursday 26 September 2019
Location: Brickworks Design Studio, 2 Barrack Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Cost: $55 Earlybird (public) / $60 (public) / $50 (AAA Members)

Drinks and canapes will be served before the talk commences.

Click here to buy your ticket for the Centre Pompidou Talk.


  • Article: Vanessa Couzens / Tone Wheeler
  • Image 1: Ronchamp Chapel, designed by Le Corbusier
  • Image 2: The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, designed by Louis Kahn
  • Image 3: Centre Georges Pompidou, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers
  • Images: Supplied by Tone Wheeler