The original drawings for the Coombs Building.

The original drawings for the Coombs Building.

A maze of rabbit warrens and possums

BELINDA CRANSTON surveys the complexities of a 50-year-old building called Coombs - a place where being lost can lead to discovery.

Ask any taxi driver in Canberra to take you to the HC Coombs Building, chances are they'll know exactly where it is, but won't necessarily be able to name the streets that frame the building.

As anyone familiar with the building knows, it's easy enough to find but not always easy to locate particular rooms.

Or the way out, for that matter.

The multi-level, trio-hexagonal labyrinth of 600 rooms sees scores of lost souls pleading for directions from sympathetic onlookers.

Officially opened on 11 September 1964, Coombs – as it's known – is the work of architectural firm Mockridge, Stahle and Mitchell, a Melbourne-based trio behind a collection of primary and secondary school buildings across Canberra.

Their plan knocked out nearest competitor Grounds, Romberg and Boyd, architects of the igloo shaped Shine Dome.

The group's series of separate pavilions and courts, symmetrically arranged around a central water feature, was deemed too pretentious for Canberra.

Not that Mockridge, Stahle and Mitchell's design was a beacon of practicality.

One complaint that made it to the local newspaper concerned the absence of fly screens in the building.

Design aside, it's the people (and possums) that inhabit Coombs that make the place tick.