Who is Australia’s first true
Modernist architect?

Is it possible to name Australia’s first true Modernist architect? It’s a contentious question, but for a bit of fun, we did a quick canvass of some of the Australian architectural community’s thought leaders, including Ian Innes, Director Heritage and Collections at Sydney Living Museums, Katelin Butler, Editor at Houses, Tim Ross, social commentator and mid-century architecture obsessive, and Colin Griffiths, architect and long-time associate of Harry Seidler, to see who they identified as the originator of Australian Modernist architecture.

The Davies House, Willoughby, designed by Arthur Baldwinson in 1951. Source: State Library NSW.

Featherston House, designed by Robin Boyd in 1967. Photo: © Mark Strizic.

Ian Innes on Sydney Ancher and Arthur Baldwinson


“Some clever architectural historian will shoot me down I’m sure,” said Innes. “But I would cite Sydney Ancher (1904-1979) and Arthur Baldwinson (1908-1969) as the two most obvious local architects coming under the influence of European Modernism, meeting resistance from local authorities to their designs and building groundbreaking projects. Increasingly, much of their built legacy is being lost and they have not remained as well known as the subsequent generation of card-carrying Modernists who achieved greater publicity and recognition.”

Katelin Butler on Harry Seidler and Robin Boyd


“Harry Seidler (1923-2006) and Robin Boyd (1919-1971) are considered to be the most highly influential Australian Modernist architects,” said Butler. “In particular, Robin Boyd adapted modernism to suit the Australian way of life – both in the city and the country. He wasn’t only creating a uniquely Australian modernism, he was also writing and talking about it. He strived to make architecture accessible and affordable to a broad range of people, most notably in his instigation of The Age Small Homes Service. I’ve had the privilege of visiting numerous houses designed by Boyd and each of them demonstrates an innate understanding and celebration of living in Australia.”

Photographic portrait of Margaret Lord, Professor Denis Winston and Walter Bunning, 1953. Photo: Norman L. Danvers.

Colin Griffiths on Arthur Baldwinson and Walter Bunning


We asked Seidler’s right hand man for his perspective: “Before Harry Seidler had even thought about coming to Australia and building his mother a house, Arthur Baldwinson and Walter Bunning (1912-1977) were doing very innovative things. Admittedly, this was small scale as no one had much money in those days. It would have been an enormous undertaking for anyone to commission a modernist home, and so explorations into modernism were very isolated exercises, and is probably why these early explorations aren’t as well known by the younger generations today.”

Night view of front, 15 Bogota Avenue, 1958. Photograph by Max Dupain. Courtesy Max Dupain and Associates. Stanton Library


Harry Seidler with model of Melller House, Castlecrag, 1950.

Tim Ross on Sydney Ancher and Google


Ross graciously bowed out of this one: “Certainly Syd Ancher deserves to get more recognition for his work. As for who is Australia’s first true Modernist architect, that’s for the historians, not me – in fact, it would be a question best answered by Google.”



Google on Harry Seidler


Interestingly, Google thinks that Harry Seidler is Australia’s father of modernism; throwing his name to the top of the search results, with an entry by Wikipedia crediting him as “one of the leading exponents of Modernism’s methodology in Australia”. That could, however, be a clever case of geolocation, as this writer is based in Sydney – we wonder what would happen if a Melbournian typed the same question into Google?

We’d love to know who you think Australia’s first true Modernist Architect is – join the conversation on Facebook and Instagram.