A PUBLIC toilet, a lawn and a zoo entrance were among the quirky winners at this year's National Architecture Awards, but ultimately the judges could not ignore the country's hottest art gallery.
Tasmania's multimillion-dollar Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) was awarded the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture by the Australian Institute of Architects in Perth on Thursday night.
The building – widely acclaimed as a cultural showpiece since opening last year – was designed by Fender Katsalidis Architects in collaboration with the eccentric art collector David Walsh.
It is carved into a hill on the banks of the Derwent River and includes a green roof, sculpture terrace and grand internal sandstone walls.
The jury chairman, the Sydney architect Brian Zulaikha, of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer architects, praised the temple-like, largely underground structure.
“This beautiful, poetic and still very functional museum is imposing but it's not unfriendly. You feel like you're entering a new world of art.”
The project was one of dozens around the country Mr Zulaikha and his fellow judges visited.
In Sydney, No. 1 Bligh Street, by Architectus and Ingenhoven Architects, received the Harry Seidler Award for Commercial Architecture as well as a sustainability award for its double-layer facade and central atrium, which promotes natural light and ventilation.
“It's probably one of the most interesting commercial buildings to have been built in the world in the last year or two,” Mr Zulaikha said. “ [It] enables people to walk through it without actually feeling as though they're going into an office building.”
In Victoria, Monash University's student housing in Clayton won the Frederick Romberg for Residential Architecture (Multiple Housing) award.
The same architects, BVN Architecture, took home the National Award for Public Architecture for a new fire-resistant community hall in Narbethong, a town devastated by the 2009 Victorian bushfires.
The shed-like Shearer's Quarters, a Tasmanian property for travelling shearers, received the Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture (Houses).
Many of the award-winners, such as the RMIT lawn and Taronga Zoo entrance, reflected a strong sense of community, one jury member, Amy Muir, of Muir Mendes architects, said.
Even the Perth Cultural Centre amenities, nicknamed the “Loovre”, were praised for their quality materials and fine detail. “They're an absolute joy to be in,” Ms Muir said.
The judges were looking for projects that felt as good as they looked. “Good architecture really sings. This comes down to proportions, the use of scale, the detailing of a project, the natural light and how a building sits and responds to its context.”
The awards demonstrated how far Australian architecture had come, Mr Zulaikha said.
“It's now equal to anything in the world,” he said. “I don't think I can remember a year where the quality's been this high.”
SELECTED 2012 NATIONAL ARCHITECTURE AWARDS
Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture: Fender Katsalidis, Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania.
Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture (Houses): John Wardle Architects, The Shearer's Quarters, Tasmania.
Frederick Romberg Award for Residential Architecture (Multiple Housing): BVN Architecture, Monash University student housing, Victoria.
Harry Seidler Award for Commercial Architecture: Architectus and Ingenhoven Architects, 1 Bligh Street, Sydney.
Lachlan Macquarie Award for Heritage: Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners, Restoration of Swifts, Darling Point, Sydney.
Emil Sodersten Award for Interior Architecture: PTW Architects, John Kaldor Family Gallery, Art Gallery of NSW.
Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design: Peter Elliott Architecture and Urban Design, University lawn precinct, RMIT University, Victoria.