Schools and Centres Pages

"It is an only-in Canberra building. The architect surely had a sense of humour. It is indescribable really but inside is like a very complex system of wombat burrows arranged to give wombats stimulating intellectual challenges in finding their way about." - Ian Warden, Canberra satirist and one-time resident of Coombs

Aerial view of the HC Coombs Building, May 1967. Photographer Commonwealth News and Information Bureau

The HC Coombs Building was one of the first permanent buildings on the Acton Campus. The design was completed by Mockridge, Stahle and Mitchell and construction took place for much of the 1960s, with additional design work completed in the early 1970s by architects Anthony Cooper & Associates. 

The Coombs Building is one of the most well-known on the Acton Campus, with its distinctive hexagonal design. It was designed as the new home for the Research School of Pacific Studies and Research School of Social Sciences, which had been housed in the Old Hospital Buildings on the Acton Peninsula.

During the design process, JW Davidson, Dean of the Pacific School, and Keith Hancock, Director of Social Sciences, led a committee to seek staff opinions on what the new building needed. Feedback received included the strong desire from one academic for the new building to “avoid the horror of the interminable passage” and give the scholar “some impression of the space, light and landscape” that drew them to Canberra (Brij Lal and Allison Ley 2014).

ANU Registrar RG Osborne speaking with members of the ANU Academic Advisory Council, Sir Keith Hancocl and Professor Raymond firth dueing the Easter Conference, 1948 (ANUA15-1)
Aerial view of the HC Coombs Building, c.1960s (ANUA226-411-40)

Of the six designs that were shortlisted, two were seriously considered and both were based on a hexagonal design. The first was a design by the Grounds, Romberg and Boyd and the second was a design by Mockbridge, Stahl and Mitchell. 

Ultimately, the latter was selected as it best allowed for future expansion. This was demonstrated when the original design, which consisted of two hexagonal buildings, was expanded with the addition of a third hexagonal building to house a lecture theatre and laboratory.    

The building’s name was a tribute to Herbert Cole “Nugget” Coombs, a renowned economist and public servant and ANU Chancellor from 1968 to 1976. Coombs was also highly influential in the establishment of the University.  

HC Coombs Lecture Theatre, undated (ANUA226-411-29)
HC Coombs Building tea room
HC Coombs Building Terrace, August 1964
The original drawings for the Coombs Building Courtesy ANU Reporter
Coombs Under Construction, Courtesy ANU Reporter
Coombs with Whitlam 1981

The Coombs: A House of Memories

The Coombs: A House of Memories

One of the most remarkable and memorable publications on this landmark heritage building is The Coombs: A House of Memories. This series of essays by past and present inhabitants of the building, co-edited by the Late Professor Brij Lal of CHL, is a "fly-on-the-wall peek" into ther history and journey of not just the building, but its relationship with so many people it was home to over the years. 

The Coombs Refurbishment Project


The Coombs Building Refurbishment Project is an exciting infrastructure project designed to transform teaching and working spaces at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University.