‘Modernist Adelaide Tours’ show off the city’s mid-century modern architecture

Stuart Symons is passionate about his city. So much so that he started out photographing many of Adelaide’s modernist buildings and sharing those photos on Instagram.

From this passion, a walking tour slowly developed, which has attracted hundreds of like-minded followers. Stuart recently won an award as Adelaide’s ‘Emerging Historian’ and now shares his knowledge of mid-20th century buildings and the modernist movement that spawned them.

Stuart starts his Modernist Adelaide Tours at Crack Kitchen. Light and open-plan spaces were key for bank staff who first worked here in the ’50s. Perhaps those bank staff marveled at the MLC Building down the road – Australia’s first fully air-conditioned skyscraper in Australia. It’s on the State’s Heritage List. Some might ask why? Modernism polarizes opinions – so what is it?

Stuart says it’s because the designs were based on new technologies like reinforced concrete, steel and glass. They also designed buildings that were more honest, functional and all about end purpose — not decorative like in the past.

Soon the modernist trend saw public servants leaving their old headquarters, like the Treasury Building – now the Adina Apartment Hotel – for the newly built State Administration Building. Like the great inland explorer John McDouall Stuart, modernists were making inroads into a new frontier.

The rebellion went to extreme lengths with the construction of the Forensic Science Centre and the Education Department Building – a style known as ‘Brutalism’.

By late morning, Stuart’s modernist tour devotees rendezvous at a bessa brick house in Torrens Park. The architect, Keith Neighbour, was a pioneer. It’s all about simplicity and function over form, with open planning and a vast array of windows bringing the outside in. No dingy, boxy rooms here. Innovations like straw ceilings helped with insulation and noise absorption.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for this group, Adelaide’s modernist moments hit the mark. Stuart Symons’ Modernist Adelaide Tours run regularly, often taking you into private homes like the one we visited. For details head to his website.