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Architecture

Architecture

Architecture

 

Completed in 1959 and reflecting some of the more adventurous architectural ideas of that time, the Shine Dome (previously known as Becker House) remains one of the most unusual buildings in Australia. The dome—roof, walls and structure combined—dives down beneath the still water of its moat to give the sense that it is floating. From the walkway between the moat and the inner walls, the arches provide a 360° panoramic sequence of 16 views of the capital city and the hills beyond.

For its unique architecture and status as a landmark, the Shine Dome was included in the National Heritage List on 21 September 2005. For many years the dome has been an iconic landmark of the national capital. It has featured in news backdrops, on posters, postcards, teatowels and even as a souvenir fridge magnet. The Shine Dome, which has won a number of national and international architecture awards and citations, continues to fascinate visitors to Canberra.

 

Architecture

Unique features and challenges

 

The radically different building created radically different problems for the architects and engineers involved. Some doubted it could be built. Nobody knew how to calculate the stresses created by a 710 tonne concrete dome perched on 16 slender supports. This was vital, because if they got it wrong the whole dome might collapse when the building supports were taken away. In the end they grappled with the problem by building a one-fortieth scale model to see if it would work.

Those who trusted the model were proved right. When the massive concrete dome was built and the forest of wooden formwork and supports removed, the top of the dome dropped less than a centimetre as it took its own weight. It was a triumph for those who worked on the calculations and the model.

But getting the 'roof' on was only half the battle. In the centre of the dome was a lecture theatre for 150 people—and the big concrete umbrella did some strange things to sound. Again, the problems were new ones, and it took a great deal of work by acoustic engineers to get the sound right. The solution was to use a complex series of acoustic baffles to control the sound. Some were suspended from the ceiling and others built as part of long wooden panels on the walls. After much trial and error, the sound problem was solved.

Then a whole new and totally unexpected problem emerged. It became apparent that the elegant eucalyptus sound baffles gracing the walls created a form of optical interference, rendering about half of the people in the room nauseous. It took quite some time to find a solution, but eventually a Fellow, Dr Victor Macfarlane, who worked at the John Curtin School of Medicine at the ANU, came up with the idea of filling in the visually offending gaps with strings. This fixed the optical problem without spoiling the acoustics.

The concrete roof of the dome is sheathed in copper—and under the copper is a layer of vermiculite which partly insulates the interior from outside temperatures. This provides a degree of thermal inertia and the temperature of the dome's underside is roughly an average of the outdoor temperature of the previous 24 hours. It can become unpleasantly hot after a February heatwave or chilly after an August cold spell. However, a natural gas heating system helps keep the building warm in winter. In the summer the sloping roof shields the windows from direct sunlight.

 

Later additions

In 2000 the dome was completely restored and updated with a new cooling system. These major works were supported by a donation of $1 million from a Fellow, Professor John Shine, and a grant of $525,000 from the National Council for the Centenary of Federation. In recognition of this donation, the building is now named the Shine Dome.

Architecture

Awards

The Sulman Award

Although the original citation is not available, the following information is taken from Andrew Metcalf's book, Architecture in transition—The Sulman Award 1932–1966, with permission of the author.

Roy Grounds’ light shone early, burnt brightly and always laid down a different beam.By 1928 he had finished an indentureship training, won a housing competition with Geoffrey Mewton and been awarded an Institute of Architects travelling scholarship. Unencumbered by the classical architectural education that would have been normal for the time, he sat down to plan a trip and came up with the USA – not just the USA but tinsel town: he spent the next two-and-a-half years working as a set designer for RKO and MGM studios. Although we have little idea of what he did specifically, if ever there is an industry where anything is possible and dreams come true, it is the film industry. With this background and a well-known fascination with circular and triangular geometry, Roy Grounds eventually matured into one of Australia’s more noticeable architectural individualists. On the way his partnership with Mewton revived and then closed between the wars and he eventually teamed up with Frederic Romberg and Robin Boyd in the early 1950s.

The Australian Academy of Science project was Grounds’ first large building: its brief called for a large conference hall with raked seating, council room, offices and a fellows’ room being the second-largest space. Grounds rather deftly moulded all of this into a simple circular plan with circumferential circulation inside and out, and housed it all in a concrete, copper-clad dome. To contain the dome’s lateral spreading he devised a massive concrete ring beam (built as a moat) that straps everything together like the hoop on a wine barrel.

This building is part of a rash of domes built internationally in the 1950s and 1960s like Saarinen’s Kresge Auditorium at MIT and later, Nveri’s large stadiums in Italy. In historical terms Grounds’ dome was one of the early ones and today it functions precisely as designed. All of the interior details and materials have somehow managed to stand the test of time and yes it still works.

 

 

Name of building: Becker Building [Shine Dome]
Address: Gordon Street, Canberra City, ACT, 2601
Date of listing: May 1984 Listing status: Registed

Block: 25 Section 75 Division: City
Category: Institutional (Scientific)
Style: Structuralist
Date of citation: May 1985
Revision no: 7

Designer: Roy Grounds of Grounds, Romberg & Boyd, Architects; W E Bassett & Assoc. (Mechanical); Bolt, Beranek & Newman (USA) (Acoustics); Rider, Hunt & Partners (Quantity Surveyors); W L Irwin & Assoc, Design Department (ANU); Department of Engineering, University of Melbourne
Date of design: pre-1956

Client/owner/lessee: Australian Academy of Science
Builder: Civil & Civic Contractors Pty Ltd
Level of significance: National

Completed in 1959 and reflecting some of the more adventurous architectural ideas of that time, the Shine Dome (previously known as Becker House) remains one of the most unusual buildings in Australia. The dome—roof, walls and structure combined—dives down beneath the still water of its moat to give the sense that it is floating. From the walkway between the moat and the inner walls, the arches provide a 360° panoramic sequence of 16 views of the capital city and the hills beyond.

1958

Statement of significance: Displays, in a most innovative manner, an exemplary understanding of the time, place and requirements for Canberra. A significant example of Australian architectural achievement which has become a symbol of Canberra. A finely conceived and executed synthesis on an uncompromising envelope and a specific function. The careful detailing is of a very high quality, internal details are designed specifically for the function contained, and the carefully detailed furnishings and fittings contribute to the good acoustics. The design complements its setting and reflects its Canberra environment of rounded hills. Won the 1959 Sir John Sulman Award, RAIA NSW Chapter, and the 1961 Canberra Medallion, RAIA ACT Chapter (the only ACT building to win two awards).

Description: A shallow arcaded concrete dome, sheeted in copper. Peripheral arches in the dome spring from a moat which serves as a ring beam. Integral, formed plywood seating reflects the circular interior. Auditorium (Becker Hall) [renamed the Wark Theatre] seats approximately 156. The Adolph Basser Library is situated in the top of the dome. The copper-sheathed concrete dome, 46 meters in diameter, weighs 710 tonnes and rests on 16 arches. When opened, the building was described as being of "unconventional, futuristic design". The Academy of Science was established by Royal Charter in 1954. Its Fellows are eminent scientists in physical or biological sciences. An original notice described the building as 'Conference Chamber and Offices'.

Condition: Building; sound. Some staining showing, Interior; reasonable. [Renovated in 2000-2001]

Documentation:

Photographs: Yes
References: AIA, CG, GCB Nominator: RSTCA committee Name: P J Corkery Address: 24 Ambalindum Street, Hawker, ACT Firm: CCAE. SED Phone no.: (06) 252 2580

The Shine Dome is one of seven projects which the Royal Australian Institute of Architects has nominated to the World Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture, 2000.

 

Significant buildings of 20th Century

The Shine Dome is one of seven projects which the Royal Australian Institute of Architects has nominated to the World Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture, 2000.

 

 

The distinctive Dome structure was designed by Sir Roy Grounds, and after its completion, became a major Canberra landmark. The quality of the design was recognised by its award of the 1959 Sulman Medal by the RAIA, and the Meritorious Architecture award for the Canberra area in the same year. The design addresses the objectives of the design of the National Capital, with a form and colour that blends into the tree canopy and topography. The dome is an innovative structure, reflecting the bold modernism of the era, but sensitively complementing the surrounding landscape. A circular moat surrounds the building, providing an emphasis with the natural setting. The circular form continues into the interior, with curved walls and spaces emphasising the geometry of the roof. Interiors reflect the muted, natural tones of an emerging new fashion.

The dome continues to be a striking contribution to the architectural character of the city. It continues its original use, successfully serving the needs of the Academy, and stimulating the visiting public.

The prime architectural purpose for this award is to reinforce to the profession and inform the public that what we build makes a significant contribution to the built environment and creates the cultural heritage of this city.

The 25 Year Award is made in the present, so it goes to buildings which serve their user and society well in their present form. Inherent in the award is a recognition of changes both in society and in architectural response. All things date, and the award codifies not only changes in fashion and taste but also changes in the expectations of client and society.

There are three areas in which the contribution of the building is to be measured:

  1. Form/function context
    Was it (and is it) a good response to its program? Did such things as the planning, external form and internal spaces meet the expectations of the promoter and society at the time and does it continue to do this? Did it (and does it) sit well in its environment?

  2. Construction/materials/finishes/craftsmanship
    Is it well built, using materials appropriately? Innovation versus traditional techniques and materials are commented on, but the real test is whether it was well put together. Does its construction and finish indicate care and skill, and how has it fared as an object of use?

  3. Architectural integrity
    If it meets criteria 1 and 2, does it have an added value as a cultural symbol? Does it have an intrinsic worth through form or style, or as an example of architectural development in theory or construction? Does it merit special note because it adds to Canberra heritage in its form or setting or by its contribution to a particular building type—is it a good example of its type?