Phytotron Building

Our main Canberra site is located at Black Mountain. It will be part of the new National Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Precinct, which is currently under development.

Description and plan (including name and location)

Block 3 Section 2 Acton and Block 4 Section 85 Acton on Deposited Plan No. 8378
Street Address: Clunies Ross Street, Acton, ACT 2601
Building 005 – Phytotron and Phenomics Centre

Discrete heritage place identification number for each place

Place ID: 105560
Place File No: 8/01/000/0541

Details of ownership or other tenure arrangements

The site is occupied on a 99 year Crown Lease. All buildings on the Black Mountain site are owned by CSIRO.

Summary description of any significant physical characteristics and elements of the place

The building has a row of glasshouses facing north with a masonry southern half containing a variety of other facilities. The building has four levels. The controlled environments for research are achieved in the 15 glasshouses as well as 400 refrigerated cabinets which are either used in conjunction with the glasshouses or located in another part of the building.

The Phytotron seems to display some of the features of the Post-War International style, such as cubiform shapes in the patterning of the south elevation, plain, smooth wall surfaces, and external sun control hoods.

Sequential summary of the use of the place

1962 - Current: CSIRO

Statement of significance, identifying heritage values and specifying any that are Commonwealth Heritage Values

The CSIRO Phytotron, a building in which plants can be grown in controlled climatic conditions, was built in 1962, and was the third major phytotron in the world. As no further major phytotrons were developed after the 1970s, due to a change in the study of plant adaption, and with several other phytotrons now demolished, the CSIRO Phytotron is a rare, early surviving example of a large scale phytotron which combines glasshouses and controlled environment cabinets. (Criterion B2)

The CSIRO Phytotron has been associated with the specific scientific work of the former Division of Plant Industry that included the study of pasture development diseases in tobacco and other crops, the analysis of the control of flowering plants, and the nature and improvement of yield potential. Some of this work is considered to be of international standing. The phytotron demonstrates a major step in the development of the scientific of plant adaptation to climate and other environmental variables with all previous studies conducted ‘in the field’. (Criterion A4) Australian Historic Themes 3.17 Inventing Devices, and 8.10.5 Advancing the knowledge in science and technology.

The Phytotron is of importance as one of a group of major expensive scientific facilities of the post-war Commonwealth Government scientific endeavour that include the Parkes Radio Telescope, Homopolar Generator at ANU and the Lucas Heights reactor. (Criterion A4) Australian Historic Themes 8.10.5: Advancing the knowledge in science and technology.

Although influenced by the two preceding phytotrons in Pasadena, USA and Paris, France, the CSIRO design was the first to use large controlled temperature glass houses in combination with control environment cabinets.  It has technical importance for its early use of solar panels. (Criterion F1)

The Phytotron is important for its association with the designer Roy Grounds.  Although not a major example of the Post-War modern architectural styles or Grounds' architectural work, it well demonstrates Grounds’ design skills with its innovative laboratory functional features and the modern style architectural expression of the building with smooth wall surfaces and cubiform patterning in the sunhoods. (Criterion H1)

A record of any other heritage listings


Dates and natures of any works, maintenance or other activity that is relevant to conservation of heritage values


Property or information access restrictions/requirements

The building is currently occupied by CSIRO. Access is limited and must be arranged through CSIRO Business and Infrastructure Services. For access to this premises, please e-mail

Consultation requirements relating to the place


Relevant conservation documents or references

  • 2013 Heritage Issues Report and Statement of Heritage Impact prepared by Rappoport Pty Ltd.
  • 2005 CSIRO Black Mountain Heritage Study (Stage 1) prepared by Duncan Marshall, Madelaine Maple, Alistair Grinbergs, Brendan O’Keefe and Michael Pearson.
  • 2005 Conservation Management Plan prepared by Duncan Marshall and Marilyn Truscott.
  • 1997 Heritage Places on the CSIRO Black Mountain Site Report by Duncan Marshall and Dr Robert Boden.

A record of when information has been updated

1997, 2005 and 2013.

Records of any objects that are significant by association with the place, indicating their current location and/or archived records of particular importance to the heritage values of the place



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