Art Gallery NSW AGNSW

Sydney Icons

These portfolios contain historic architecture and iconic buildings in Sydney Icons created over the past 25 years.

The Architecture of Sydney Icons is not characterised by any one architectural style, but by an extensive juxtaposition of old and new architecture over the city’s 200-year history, from its modest beginnings with local materials and lack of international funding to its present-day modernity with an expansive skyline of high rises and skyscrapers.

Under the tenure of early nineteenth-century Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the works of Francis Greenway were the first substantial buildings for the fledgling colony. Later prominent styles were the Victorian buildings of the city centre created out of local Sydney sandstone, and the turn of the century Federation style in the new garden suburbs of the time.

With the lifting of height restrictions in the post-World War II years, much of central Sydney’s older stock of architecture was demolished to make way for modernist high rise buildings. Some of the most notable new buildings were designed by the Austrian-Australian architect Harry Seidler, as well as by international architects such as Jørn Utzon, Jean Nouvel, Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster or Frank O. Gehry.

The British established a colony in Sydney Cove in January 1788 after the First Fleet sailed 9 months from Portsmouth. The early years of the colony suffered from a sense of provisionality and the attitude of the majority of convicts and their guardians that they would return to Britain once they had “done their time.” The colony was poorly equipped, had little food supplies, and did not understand the climate or soil. For its first two years it faced starvation. In 1790, Governor Phillip began the process of freeing convicts and granting them land, such as that at Rose Hill 20 km inland which provided a stable food supply to the colony.