Shell House

Shell House

Built for the Shell Company, this demonstrates changes in office development in Adelaide, as well as changes in land use on North Terrace.

The Shell Company was founded by Marcus Samuel (Viscount Beasted) in England in 1897 as a British company to be known as the Shell Transport and Trading Company. At the time the American-owned Standard Oil Company controlled 90 per cent of petroleum production in the world. After a successful merger in 1907 between the Shell Company and the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, the company went on to challenge the supremacy of the American company.

Shell pioneered the oil business in Australia, opening offices here in 1900. In 1905 the British Imperial Oil Co Ltd was registered in London as a subsidiary of the Shell group to conduct its business in Australia. It was renamed the Shell Company of Australia Ltd in 1927. It developed a system of bulk storage in Australia and no other company followed its example of bulk distribution from the terminal ports until 1924.

The construction of Shell’s offices in Adelaide in 1931 reflected the company’s strength and confidence: as Progress in Australia claimed, it was “one of the most encouraging signs in the present state of the depression”. The “up-to-date”, “New Art” 10-storey office building included appointments and finishes expected of a successful business house.

Using their own products, Shell had “oil-fired boilers, control of which was completely automatic”, and “the installation of the hot water radiator type, supplied from boilers in the basement, heated with automatically controlled fuel oil burners, the system being so designed that the burners are controlled by the temperature of the rooms”. Finishes included terrazzo floors, a marble entrance and a red sand cement finish. The company’s policy was always to favour local material first before obtaining what was needed from around Australia before looking for British Empire products.

The architects were McMichael and Harris. Eric McMichael opened his own architectural practice in 1910 after being first articled to Garlick and Jackman, followed by three years for the Works and Buildings Department.

Architecturally the building was notable for its interior rather than its exterior. Inside it was remarkably original, with open stairwells, original lifts and lobbies, bronze work to balustrading, memorials, terrazzo work, and largely original office tenancies on several floors. Externally, it is severe and largely unadorned, particularly the upper floors.

The building now operates as a Max Mara store at ground level, with the rest being part of the Myer Centre.


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This is one of several mutually complementary structures on North Terrace that together form one of the most significant multi-storey building groups in the City of Adelaide, demonstrating changes in high-rise construction from the turn of the century to the 1940s.

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Images of Shell House

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Eric McMichael, Harris
Anderson and Company
Building materials
Architectural styles
3.12 Inter-War Period (c. 1915–c. 1940), 3.19 Skyscraper Gothic
1931 - 1932
Architecture and design features
balustrade, terrazzo
Engineering features
Rundle Mall
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Shell Company
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Commercial, Office
AS2482 classification
11510 - Business House - Offices
Public Access
Business/trading hours
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5081/689 F30802 A11
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State Heritage listed
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
NTSA registered
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
3.1 Economic Cycles
3.1.8 New Technology and City Development
3.3 Financing Adelaide
3.3.5 Company Headquarters
Australian Curriculum references
Year 6: Australia as a Nation


  • Page, M, Sculptors in space, 1986, p. 149; Progress in Australia, 2 March 1931, pp. 10-12; Shell Company of Australia Limited, Shell in Australia, 1928, pp. 9, 10, 15, 32, 33.

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