Design Canberra Festival 2020 logo

Photo: Tom Moss
Photo: Tom Moss

DESIGN Canberra 2019: The name is Monaro


“Wonderful, immoral, tempting and terribly satisfactory.”

These are the words used by Prime Minister Robert Menzies to describe Monaro Mall at the official opening on 6 March 1963.

Some 15,000 Canberrans were tempted to visit Australia’s first fully enclosed, airconditioned shopping mall that day—and it’s remained popular ever since.

But Monaro Mall is more than a shopping centre to many Canberrans. Always a focal point, it has hosted celebrities–including Skippy in the late 1960s–and mounted displays, including one that gave Canberrans the opportunity to see colour television six years before the rest of Australia.

Over the past 56 years, it’s grown to become a central place to meet, shop, watch a movie or catch up with friends for a meal.

Mather Architecture and Universal Design Studio acknowledged this vibrant history in their recent award-winning redevelopment of the Monaro Mall for the 21st century.

“Monaro Mall is listed by the Australian Institute of Architects as one of Canberra’s 20th-century significant buildings. It was a beautifully designed building back in the 1960s and the project team wanted to celebrate its original purpose while giving it a new lease on life,” says architect Jeremy Mather.

Under the leadership and vision of Queensland Investment Corporation, the owner of the Canberra Centre, the shared project was brought to life by a team of experienced architects, designers and builders.

“Recognising the changing nature of retail, we focused on creating precincts where people can experience a blend of commercial and cultural. For example, we created a precinct where beauty and lifestyle retailers can display their individual brand identity but also feel a part of the original Monaro Mall. Our design ensures there is a common language that helps create a sense of belonging.”

The team achieved this by restoring the original marble façade and mosaics. They continued the feeling of luxury inside by installing marble and terrazzo tiles along with feature lighting focusing on specific design elements, to create a sophisticated and welcoming precinct.

“We took a holistic approach by looking at the building across three levels to ensure a strong connection between those levels and the entry points of Petrie Plaza, Bunda Street and Ainslie Avenue Mall. We drew on Canberra’s postmodern and brutalist influences in the redevelopment and the original David Jones entrance from City Walk. Retailers are now outward facing to the streetscape, and the natural light streams through the large windows into the Mall.”

This was an ambitious and challenging project, with a high level of technical complexity involved in working within the confines of the existing building.

“This was also a great example of collaboration within the project team who brought their own unique perspectives and experiences to deliver a new experience for retailers and customers.”

For anyone wanting to know the location of the popular Light Touch Wall, previously installed over the hoarding in the Centre during the redevelopment, many parents will be able to direct you to the Parents Room on the ground floor.

“We wanted to make this a permanent fixture so installing the interactive wall within the Parents Room was a fun way of creating some entertainment for children that wasn’t a TV on a wall,” says Jeremy.

“From a design perspective, the Monaro Mall redevelopment has been highly successful in terms of bringing Canberrans back to that part of the building to enjoy the lovely design and the natural light during their retail experience.”

“I’m looking forward to leading a walking tour of the Monaro Mall on Tuesday 19 November as part of the Canberra Centre’s exclusive partnership with DESIGN Canberra. As an architect, I’m a huge fan of DESIGN Canberra, it’s a wonderful way of showcasing the contribution that design makes to Canberra and our everyday lives.”

The Canberra Centre’s commitment to quality design and excellence in heritage architecture is reinforced by its role as the exclusive major DESIGN Canberra partner in 2019 and 2020. During the DESIGN Canberra Festival in November, the Centre will host signature exhibitions, designer activations and artist installations in and around the Monaro Mall.

To book your spot at Jeremy Mather’s free walking tour and view other events at the Canberra Centre, visit

HerCanberra is a proud media partner or DESIGN Canberra 2019.

This article originally appeared on and was republished with permission.

Associated Events: 

Utopia Design Auction Exhibition 

HOME:MADE exhibition

HOME:MADE opening event

CBD by Design Architects Tour

Public Art Walking Tour

Brave Botanics workshop