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Canberra School of Music

Canberra School of Music Location Map
Canberra School of Music Detail Map
Canberra School of Music 1Canberra School of Music 2Canberra School of Music 3

Location Map

Detail Map

 Canberra School of Music

 Canberra School of Music

 Canberra School of Music

Place Identification Number


Site Category

Historical European Site

Site Type



Block 13, Section 28 Acton ACT.  William Herbert Place, Acton, ACT 0200

ANU Heritage Classification




Australian National University

Heritage Listings

  • Royal Australian Institute of Architects: R031
  • ACT Heritage Register (Nominated)
  • Commonwealth Heritage List: Place ID – 105636
  • National Trust of Australia (ACT) Classification List: Classified


Completed in 1976 to a design by Daryl Jackson and Evan Walker architects which was commissioned by the NCDC.  The front sculpture is by Norma Redpath.


As early as 1926, the Secretary of the Federal Capital Commission, Mr C.S. Daley, proposed the establishment of a conservatorium of music in the new Federal Capital.  Nothing eventuated at the time due to Canberra's small population and the advent of the Depression and Second World War that slowed the anticipated growth of Canberra.


In 1949, the Prime Minister J.B. Chifley, displaying a firm belief of the importance of the arts in the community, called for a meeting of representatives of the cultural societies of Canberra and a Committee for Cultural Facilities was set up with Sir Robert Garran as Chairman.  The committee developed a program for the development of the arts in Canberra and listed five items regarded as essential priorities: a large theatre; a large concert hall; an art gallery; a music school and an art school.  All of these facilities were proceeded with and established over the following 25 years.


In the 1950s the Committee on Cultural Development (previously the Committee for Cultural Facilities) initiated discussions with the Department of the Interior on the possibility of School of Music being set up in Canberra by the Commonwealth Government.  William Hoffmann, as ACT Supervisor of Instrumental Music, conducted a survey and consulted with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the ANU.  A recommendation for an independent music school, established and administered by the Department of the Interior, was made and endorsed by the Government.


Ernest Llewellyn, prominent Australian musician, composer, conductor and educator was appointed Director of the new School of Music, in May 1965, and the old Manuka Mothercraft Centre, Manuka Circle was secured.


In 1964, Llewellyn had written a report for the Department of the Interior on the establishment of a music school in Canberra in which he was adamant that a high level, comparable to the general education standards in general in Canberra and at the ANU, be maintained in its planning and establishment.


The Canberra School of Music was officially opened on 20 September 1965, by the Minister for the Interior, the Hon. J.D.  Anthony.  The school started operation the following day with 42 single study students.  Llewellyn gathered teachers who were also some of the finest performers in Australia at the time.  By the end of 1966 there were 256 students.


In the early 1970s Llewellyn started to push for the second step of his plan, a building in a central location in the city, designed specially for its needs, and incorporating all the facilities which he believed a broadly-based music education institution should have in the second half of the 20th century.  His vision included a 'building complex unique in Australia specially designed for complete training in the performing arts to complete professional standard’.  With the support of the Department of Education and Cabinet Ministers and the favourable economic conditions in Australia there was an impetus to support Ernest Llewellyn's far-reaching plans for a new building for the School of Music.


In 1970 the National Capital Development Commission selected a central site - the old oval of the Canberra High School, between the ANU and the city centre.  Daryl Jackson of Melbourne was chosen as architect and construction began at the end of 1972.  Ernest Llewellyn had included a large concert hall, around which the teaching studios, lecture theatres, library and administration areas were placed.  The concert hall, described as a 'teaching theatre' had a very large stage, orchestra pit and backstage facilities with stalls and galleries seating 1,500 people and Canberra got its new concert hall as part of the School of Music.  The hall, now the Llewellyn Hall, has remained the city's principal concert venue for visiting and local performers, organizations and entrepreneurs.


In 1976 the Council endorsed the introduction of a 4-year degree course, an important step in the academic development of the school.


By early 1976 most of the teaching and administrative areas of the new building were occupied and the School of Music was opened officially on 24 September 1976 by the Governor General, Sir John Kerr.


John Painter, Director of the NSW State Conservatorium of Music, was appointed the Director of the Canberra School of Music in 1985 and it was in the same year that jazz studies were formally commenced.  In 1986 the original Manuka building became the Manuka Campus of the School of Music and the Primary Music Department, the Jazz Department and the Composition Department moved into these buildings.  By this time there were 26 full-time lecturers, 39 part-time teachers, a total of 582 students and 196 children in the Primary Music program.  In 1988 the Canberra School of Music and the Canberra School of Art were amalgamated to form the Canberra Institute of the Arts with Professor Peter Karmel as Executive Chairman of the Board.  The Institute of Arts amalgamated with the ANU in 1989 and presently operates as the Australian National University's National Institute of the Arts.


The School of Music plays a central role in the artistic community of Canberra.  Staff and students at the School are involved in the musical life of Canberra at all levels, giving performances, teaching and working with community organisations.  The Llewllyn Hall, ANU Arts Centre and other venues in the School of Music complex are the home for many local arts organisations including the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, the Canberra Choral Society, Canberra Youth Music, the Llewellyn Choir and SCUNA (ANU Choral Society).  The School of Music has established partnerships with all the major music festivals staged in Canberra.  These include the Canberra International Chamber Music Festival, the Canberra National Multicultural Festival, the Festival of Contemporary Arts and the National Eisteddfod and has an excellent relationship with many of the Embassies located in Canberra, many of which assist in the Visiting Artists Program.

Physical Description

The School of Music was designed for the National Capital Development Commission in 1970 by architects Daryl Jackson and Evan Walker.  Daryl Jackson's work at this time can be paralleled with the work of the US architect Paul Rudolph and his 1960s interpretations of the later work of Le Corbusier.


The building is a six level building, oriented inwardly to the core of the site, with the public and administration areas wrapped around the more acoustically sensitive performing and teaching areas as a barrier against the noise.  In vertical relationship of areas the spaces which tend to generate greater noise problems are located on Levels Five and Six.  It was originally anticipated that there would be significant external traffic noise from an arterial road but this was never built.  Daryl Jackson described the design in the following way 'The School's boldness of form is due to these factors as well as a desire to produce an assertive cubist arrangement whose parts explore landscape and figurative metaphors, to create architectural presence'.  The building has white off form concrete walls, concrete framing and floors with white concrete blockwork infill and no large areas of glazing, apart from glazing to the external circulation routes around the 1,500 seat auditorium and a metal deck roof.  There is a sculpture by Norma Redpath adjacent to the entry.


The heavily sculptured forms of this building come from the phase in Daryl Jackson's work when he pursued ideas of rendering large mass in a way he called 'cubist', using common materials, particularly off-form concrete and masonry.  In addition there are a number of other items which are manipulated sculpturally, such as the external expression of stairs as cylindrical tubes and a visually weighty cantilevered room at the upper levels of the building as if it were a garret.


The School of Music is also known for the 1500 seat Llewellyn Hall, long the best used venue for classical music in Canberra.  For logical acoustic reasons the concert hall is buried at the core of the building's mass to shield it, particularly from Marcus Clarke Street to the east.  The result of this design move is most obvious to the west on the Childers Street side where the foyer spaces are expressed as large glass panels in the facade.  An addition to the School of Music, is the Peter Karmel Building, opened in 2001.  The work of MGT Architects, this building is discreetly separate – both in a site planning and architectural manner - to the original building.


The Peter Karmel Building was designed as a new freestanding addition to the Canberra School of Music to accommodate numerous practice and performance functions for the School, with specific accommodation of the Jazz and Percussion Departments and the Australian Centre for Arts and Technology (ACAT).  The two-storey building forms a new Entry Court to the School of Music complex and provides integrated connections between practice and performance spaces in both the original School and new addition.  The facade design commission by artist Marie Hagerty was intended to be an opportunity for the artist to work with the large-scale architectural forms in their three-dimensional landscape setting to create a patterning, ‘marking’, and enlivening of the glazed and solid surfaces of the building's exterior.

Sequential Summary of Use

1976 to present: Canberra School of Music

Statements of Significance

CHL Criteria A: The place has significant heritage value because of the place’s importance in the course, or pattern, of Australia’s natural or cultural history:

The Canberra School of Music is associated with the development of the arts and, in particular a school of music, in the National Capital.  It is part of the Australian National University Institute of the Arts along with the Canberra School of Art and the Australian Centre for Arts and Technology.



The whole building and its use as a school of music.


CHL Criteria D: The place has significant heritage value because of the place’s importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of:

(i) a class of Australia’s natural or cultural places; or

(ii) a class of Australia’s natural or cultural environments:

The Canberra School of Music, constructed in 1976 is a building of architectural significance designed in the Late Twentieth-Century Brutalist style with strong sculptural forms.  A strong assertive cubist architectural arrangement and massing effect is achieved by expressing the stairs, changes of level and the internal functions.



The building's Late Twentieth-Century Brutalist style demonstrated by the strong sculptural forms, cubist massing, expressed stairs, level changes and internal functions.


CHL Criteria F: The place has importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period:

The Canberra School of Music's internal planning arrangements are also significant influences in the architectural presence of the building.  The building solves its functional and siting problems with skill taking into account the internal acoustic requirements and the external noise levels, and using limited glazing.  A sculpture by Norma Redpath, adjacent to the entry, compliments the sculptural forms of the building.



The building's internal and functional planning and its site resolution and the sculpture by Norma Redpath.


CHL Criteria G: The place's strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons:

The building is of particular social importance in Canberra providing the Llewellyn Hall, a concert hall of 1,500 seats, which is the city's principal concert venue for visiting and local performers, organisations and entrepreneurs.  The Canberra School of Music is used and valued by several associated local and national musical community groups and organisations.



The whole building generally, plus the Llewellyn Hall in particular as a public venue.


CHL Criteria H: The place has significant heritage value because of the place’s special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in Australia’s natural or cultural history:

The Canberra School of Music is associated with the prominent Australian architects Daryl Jackson and Evan Walker who designed it for the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC).  Daryl Jackson was awarded the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1987.


The Canberra School of Music is associated with the vision and work of Ernest Llewellyn, MBE, CBE, pre-eminent Australian violinist, conductor and music educator who was the founding Director from 1965 - 1980.



The whole building in so far as it demonstrates the architectural input of Daryl Jackson and Evan Walker.  Also the whole building as the realization of Ernest Llewellyn's vision.


ACT Heritage List Criteria A: It demonstrates a high degree of technical or creativeachievement (or both), by showing qualities of innovation, discovery, invention or an exceptionally fine level of application of existing techniques or approaches:

The building is significant as a place which demonstrates a high degree of technical and creative achievement.


ACT Heritage List Criteria C: It is important as evidence of a distinctive way of life, taste, tradition, religion, land use, custom, process, design or function that is no longer practiced, is in danger of being lost or is of exceptional interest:

It is important as both an academic and community facility.


ACT Heritage List Criteria G: It has strong or special associations with a person, group, event, development or cultural phase in local or national history:

It is important for its associations with notable persons.

Conservation Documents

Ratcliffe and Armes (1993): Australian National University Heritage Study: Volumes 1 and 2.


Consultation Requirements

  • Department of Environment and Water Resources 
  • National Capital Authority
  • ACT Heritage
  • National Trust of Australia (ACT)

Works and Activities

There are no specific works or activities currently occuring at this site that may affect its heritage values

Cross-References to Other Records

AC0039 – Canberra School of Art

Links to External Agencies

Commonwealth Heritage List – Canberra School of Music

ACT Heritage Register

Royal Australian Institute of Architects Register of Significant Twentieth Century Buildings

National Trust of Australia (ACT)