Mt Stromlo Director's Residence

ClientAustralian National University (ANU)

LocationMt Stromlo

The Director’s Residence, originally known as Observatory House, was first completed in 1928 as a home for the founding director Walter Geoffrey Duffield and his family.

It was designed by the Federal Capital Commission and was regarded as one of the grandest homes in Canberra, complete with a Steinway grand piano, an elaborate jarrah staircase and individually designed fireplaces and sinks in the bedrooms.

The residence was a key social venue in the early days of Canberra, playing host to Prime Ministers, politicians, industry chiefs and even international royalty, including the Prince of Siam.

Over the years it was home to seven other Observatory Directors and several other families, including the Braddick family, who occupied the home when the 2003 firestorm hit.  Unfortunately the firestorm virtually destroyed the building, save for the façade.

Shaw Building Group was engaged to reconstruct the Residence in January 2014, with a budget of $994,000.  The Scope of Works was simply to do as much as possible to stabilise and weather proof the existing ruin, provide public access, and to provide an interpretive AV to explain the significant heritage value of the building.

The above outcomes and far more were achieved, and the facility is now a museum open to the public.

This project had several challenges that had to be met and overcome:

    • Heritage requirements
    • Political sensitivities
    • Budget issues
    • Structural complications
    • Environmental difficulties
    • Access issues

The project was delivered on time and within budget, without compromising the quality and integrity of the original design intent. It has provided local contractors with the opportunity to work on and preserve a significant heritage listed building originally constructed in the 1920’s. This is an opportunity rarely afforded these days. All involved now have an insight into the methods of construction for the period and have had an opportunity to replicate them.

The reconstruction has not only preserved this heritage listed building, but has given a sense of the long history of Mount Stromlo and the varied purposes it has been put to. It has provided a feeling of the Australian National Capital of yesteryear and the quality architecture of the federation period. The work done by the SBG team will ensure that this 1920’s heritage listed building will be enjoyed for a long time to come.

The attention to detail and final quality of the completed Residence are testament to the personnel that worked on the project, particularly looking back at the rather limited expectations expressed at the beginning of the project as to the Scope of Works that could reasonably be achieved.

You will see in the gallery, the photos of the fire damaged residence, and the restored building.


  • Australian Institute of Building [ACT]  |  2015  |  Commercial Construction up to $1M category  |  Winner
  • Australian Institute of Building [National]  |  2015  |  Commercial Construction up to $1M category  |  High Commendation
  • National Trust of Australia  |  2018  |  Award for an Outstanding Project