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Photo: Martin Ollman
Photo: Martin Ollman

Shine Dome: design luminary

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 Shine Dome was designed by prominent architect Roy Grounds, a principal of the noted architectural practice of Grounds, Romberg and Boyd. Its design represents Grounds’ design philosophy, reflected in the building’s form, planning and structural integrity, and in Grounds’ response to the environment.

The 710 tonne concrete 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. The construction of the reinforced concrete dome was a significant technical achievement of its time. In diameter, the dome of the Academy was large by world standards and larger than any dome previously built in Australia.

The dome came about because the Australian Academy of Science needed a home. Six architects were invited to submit plans to a competitive process. A design committee settled upon the most radical design by Grounds, Romberg and Boyd, who were seen as the most influential Australian architects of their time. Roy Grounds was the sole architect on the Shine Dome: it was his design that won the commission.

A Canberra landmark since its construction, the Shine Dome has received numerous awards and is one of seven projects the Royal Australian Institute of Architects has nominated to the World Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture.

The Shine Dome is significant for its association with the post-war development of the Australian scientific community at an international level. It is directly related to Australian scientists including 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.

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