Sydney Architecture Images- Central Business District

Qantas House 


Littlemore and Rudder


1 Chifley Square Rudder




Post-War International


curtain wall


Office Building


A superb use of the curtain-wall glazing system. Fluid in its movement. Worked well in modernist dialogue with the Miesien State Office block (now demolished).
Qantas House, No. 1 Chifley Square, Sydney, designed in 1950 by Felix Tavener of Rudder Littlemore & Rudder, Architects and completed in 1957 represents the highest stand of architectural response to its urban setting and client needs through its form, composition and construction.

A variant of the Post-War International style of architecture, Qantas House represents transitional aspects of 'moderate' 1930s European modernism, combined with the latest in post-war curtain wall technologies and materials and is the best design response to its setting in Australia from this period.

Although altered internally, its external façade remains largely intact. The graceful double-curved façade is coherently ordered and its shape reflects and visually reinforces the implementation of a long-planned extension to Elizabeth Street. It became the inspiration for the eventual completion of the ironically named, but no less significant, Chifley Square, modelled on a town planned scheme of of some eighty years before. Quantas House is a key defining element in this important, planned, urban space; it provides an appropriate visual termination to important vistas and it visually links to adjoining important buildings and streets.

Historically significant as the first planned world headquarters for Qantas Empire Airways, at the time Australia's only, and Government-owned, international airline, the building, and in particular the aerofoil-shaped aluminium mullions of its curtain wall, gives form to Qantas' forward looking and expansive image at a time when air travel was taking off. Qantas Airways remained as its sole occupant for twenty-five years and remains associated with the building through its lease of the ground floor. The building is highly regarded by the people of Sydney for its inherent aesthetic qualities and its association with Qantas, an Australian corporate icon.

Qantas House is a fine example in the Australian context of intact, post-war, multi-storeyed office buildings from the first phase in the 1950s, and is from the small group in Sydney of this group designed prior to the amendments to the Heights of Buildings Act in 1957 that heralded the subsequent 'high-rise' phase. It has particular rarity with Australia for its unique shape, the outstanding quality of its curtain wall façade and its contribution to its urban setting. As such, it is considered to have heritage significance at a national level.

A well known and much loved city landmark, Qantas House is an icon of its time; a quintessential Sydney building that represents a brave future and a strong sense of history and of place.
Date Significance Updated: 26 Feb 04
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage Office intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance for these items as resources become available.
Following WWII, Australia acquired a new status and prosperity which arose from the country's vast natural wealth. The Liberal government fostered economic growth and the desire for 'progress' was widely embraced. The optimism and energy of the time were illustrated by new office buildings which provided an internationally recognised symbol of the country's aspirations and abilities and transformed both the patterns of landuse and the skylines of Sydney and Melbourne.

The years following WWII had seen a surge in the activities of Qantas and the company had achieved stature as a major world airline. Qantas House symbolised Australia's progress in aviation generally and the aeronautic future of Qantas Airways in particular. The construction of the building during this period reflected the increasing importance of international travel to the increasingly affluent middle class in Australia. The building was opened by Prime Minister Robed Menzies 'with great fanfare' on October 28th, 1957. (Jahn, Graham, Sydney Architecture, p 162.)

In its new company headquarters, Qantas wished to project a progressive image with the use of the latest imported curtain wall technology combined with Australian materials such as granite, marble and a variety of timbers. Oantas House was the first office building to use Australian black granite from Adelong and Bookharn green granite from the Yass area. Marble was sourced in the country town of Mudgee and the Wombeyan Caves area. Queensland maple was used extensively throughout the building and other timbers featured included walnut, mahogany and sycamore. As well as being chosen for aesthetic and patriotic reasons, there were economies to be achieved through the use of materials which could be found close at hand.

The desire to reflect a specifically Australian character was rare in office interiors of the 1950s. In keeping with the prevailing International Style, the Australian theme in Qantas House was reflected more in the choice of materials than in the way they were used.

In her report 'Post World War II Multistoried Office Buildings in Australia (1945-1967)', Jennifer Taylor states that the 'aesthetic ideas informing the design of multistoried office buildings in the '50s and '60s in Australia essentially belonged to architectural traditions developed in the Bauhaus, Germany in the late 1920s and early '30s and transported to America after the closure of that school by the Nazi government, where they blended with America's own traditions associated with multistoried building design. These ideas form the mainstream of architectural modernism, and are characterised by a value placed upon clarity, rationality, honesty, efficiency, functionality and technology. The external skin of the building was often the vehicle for a potent expression of such values. The glass curtain wall was prized as representing the complete release of the external fabric from its structural role'. (Taylor, Jennifer, Report: 'Post World War 11 Multistoried Office Buildings in Australia (1945-1967): External Skin/Cladding', p 4)

Buildings demonstrating the new curtain wall technology began to appear in Australian cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, from 1955. Qantas House (completed 1957), with its sweeping curtain wall attached to a reinforced concrete frame, is therefore an early example of the influence of this contemporary American technology and aesthetic in Australia. The building is significant in that it embraced this construction and aesthetic within the constraints of the 150' height limit which remained in place in Sydney until 1963.

As might be expected during a period of expansion, investment in office buildings had been growing during the late 1950s. In general, however, the buildings themselves were of low budget and limited dimension. They were usually infill structures of limited height, were built right to the building line and provided minimal pedestrian amenity. Context was generally seen as inconsequential and plazas associated with these buildings tended to divorce rather than unite the building with the city.

Within this context, the curved form of Qantas House, which addresses and shapes Chifley Square, is rare. Its form broke from the standard flat facade of most contemporary office buildings with its sweeping glass wall and dramatic cantilevered entry awning (now lost). Its curved fagade and more three-dimensional aesthetic distinguish it from the other buildings in the 9r up.

Jennifer Taylor also states that, at their most progressive, 'the new office blocks principally were f ree-standing or virtually so, and by 1957 Australia could boast designs as aesthetically and technologically advanced as any outside America, and not far behind developments there. An interesting hybrid of infill and freestanding solutions occurred in response to certain sites, notably corner locations, where innovative buildings appear to strive to break free of the constraints of the physical restrictions. The curving forms of the Qantas Building ... provide the most exuberant example.' (Taylor, Jennifer, Essay: 'Post World War 11 Multistoried Office Buildings in Australia (1945-1967)', p 7)

Australia's affair with these early curtain walls was short-lived, and they reached their peak of development and prestige in the early 1960s.

Qantas House was judged the best new building in the British Commonwealth by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1959, and was awarded the Bronze medal.

With special thanks to

Case Studies

Qantas House, No 1 Chifley Square, Sydney - Revised Heritage Impact Statement, 2002

Deutsche Property Funds Management

Qantas House, No. 1 Chifley Square, is an icon of twentieth-century architectural design and is much loved by Sydneysiders. Designed in 1950 and completed in 1957, it is now included on the NSW State Heritage Register.

Godden Mackay Logan completed a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the building in 2002 and is now engaged in providing heritage advice and assessment in relation to a current refurbishment project. This case study looks at the preparation of the CMP that included discussion with the original architect for the building.

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