History Lesson – The Academy of Science

Loose Brown 23 August 2008 5

This awesome building was designed by Roy Grounds who had previously worked in the US as a set designer for RKO and MGM Studios in Hollywood. The Academy of Science project was his first attempt at designing a large building.

His brief called for a large conference hall with raked seating, council room, offices and a fellows’ room. Grounds moulded all of this into a simple circular plan with circumferential circulation inside and out, and housed it all in a concrete, copper-clad dome. The dome features a massive concrete ring beam (built as a moat) that straps everything together like the metal band on a wine barrel.

There were concerns during construction in 1959 that the roof would simply fall in before completion.

The objective of the Academy is to promote science. It does this through a range of activities including awarding outstanding contributions to science, educating and raising public awareness of science, contributing to the formation of science policy and creating opportunities for international scientific exchange.

The Academy set the bar high when it was founded, selecting many of Australia’s brightest and best minds as foundation members – people like Frank Macfarlane Burnett (Virology and immunology, Nobel laurate) Ian Clunies Ross (Parasitology, release of myxomatosis, Clunies Ross Drive heh heh) Sir Douglas Mawson (Geology, Antarctic exploration), Sir Mark Oliphant (Physics, key role in development of atomic bomb).

That these minds all came together regularly in Canberra to discuss their cutting edge science is a little known feature of this town.

And each year sixteen new scientists, judged by their peers to have made an exceptional contribution to knowledge in their field are elected to Fellowship of the Academy of Science. The research these people are working on now will undoubtedly shape our future.

An interesting bit of trivia – A paper held in the Academy was written to Sir Mark Oliphant. It says, Dear Sir Mark, thank you for your letter and the plan of the headquarters building for the Academy of Science. I am very depressed about Canberra architecture. Whether your building will elevate my spirits I do not know, but I doubt it. But good luck. Kind regards, Robert Menzies.

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5 Responses to History Lesson – The Academy of Science
Granny Granny 9:51 pm 23 Aug 08

Wow! I wish they had it online.

plausibly_deniable plausibly_deniable 9:45 pm 23 Aug 08

Visitors to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney should check out a really excellent exhibition on Modernism in Australia, which includes some images and video of the AoS under construction. Amazing to see how empty Canberra was in 1959 – there are hardly any buildings visible in the background. http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/exhibitions/modern_times.asp

Granny Granny 1:52 pm 23 Aug 08

Now you mention it, that’s a very good point! I think they could use a good marketing person.

I went there once for something pretty obscure.

New Yeah New Yeah 10:23 am 23 Aug 08

Nice write up. The AoS seems to have dropped off the radar as a Canberra attraction. Back in the day I remember seeing Canberra tea towels that had a picture of the AoS on them.

Granny Granny 3:26 am 23 Aug 08

So I wonder if Menzies approved of the architecture in the end? I don’t think it warrants depression, surely.

I have always liked the building, ever since Alexander Bunyip wanted a slice of the pie. I would never have guessed it was copper, though. It looks so grey!

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