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The beauty in buildings - part 2

Cultural Heart

In her second article showcasing significant 20th Century architecture in the CBD and North Adelaide, Meagan Cox (City of Adelaide’s Project Consultant – Heritage) shares some insights into an important trio of city buildings completed between the early 1950s and 1962 – including South Australia’s only structure designed by the internationally renowned Australian architect, Robin Boyd.

In 1908, the Model School, the Teachers Training School and the State Secondary School, ‘The Advanced School for Girls’ – all located in Grote Street – amalgamated to form Adelaide High School.

With increasing enrolments came overcrowding, and a decision was made to erect a new building, on the site of the old observatory, for the ‘Adelaide Boys High School’ with the design to come from a nation-wide competition. Sixty entries were received, with Sydney architects Edward B Fitzgerald and John K Brogan taking out line honours in 1940 with an entry that was explicitly progressive in aspiration and handsome visually.

With the outbreak of war, construction on the new school was delayed until 1947. Completed in 1951, the building stands as Adelaide’s most notable large-scale example of modernist architecture. The design seemingly inspired by Willem Dudok’s Hilversum Town Hall in the Netherlands, built in 1931.

The original scheme was expressive of circulation and organisation – consisting of a sweeping, curved main block facing east towards the city, two linear radial wings extending westward into the Park Lands and a school hall next to the entrance.

In 1977-78 the school became co-educational and in 1982 new additions, sympathetic to the original, were opened. A new wing (the Charles Todd Building) was also added in 2015. The new building appears grown from the same seed as the original, however reflects and responds to the change in educational architecture over the past 64 years.

Robin Boyd CBE (1919-1971) was an architect of the ‘new breed’, who aspired to develop a functional style suited to Australia’s climate, landscape and lifestyle. He also wrote several widely acclaimed books including his attack on the visually cluttered and stylistically confused appearance of our cities and suburbs, ‘The Australian Ugliness’ (1960).

Many of his most influential works as an architect are his numerous and innovative small house designs – Walkley House in North Adelaide being a prime example. Boyd promoted inexpensive, functional, partially pre-fabricated homes incorporating modernist aesthetics.

As the only structure in South Australia designed by Boyd, Walkley House was built for his friend and fellow architect, Gavin Walkley, to take in the magnificent Adelaide Hills view and make a statement about what both believed was the ideal future for suburban housing.

At the time of its design (1955) and build (1956), the house featured many aspects that were very new – especially in South Australia, such as the steel frame and the curtain wall of glass. The builder had a rather worrying time coping with unfamiliar construction and the neighbours all disapproved of the design as the surrounding context was, and still is, one of mid-19th Century stone buildings.

The house is a significant example in Adelaide of the ‘International Style’. It is quite a simple, well planned and modest home. The three bedrooms on the first floor seemingly floating over the floor-to-ceiling glazed ground floor living areas, all juxtaposed by the simple lattice brick construction at the rear. There’s a strong expression of the structural grid throughout in both plan and elevation and the large windows blur the boundaries between inside and out.

Bragg Laboratories was constructed and opened in 1962 to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Sir William Henry Bragg, a physicist of immense importance.

Bragg spent a considerable part of his early professional life in Adelaide as a Professor of both Mathematics and Physics at Adelaide University and, by 1915, both he and his son (William Lawrence Bragg) had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their research in the field of x-ray crystallography.

The honest but considered post war modernist design of this building by architect Frank Colin Hassell (Colin), of (then) ‘Hassell, McConnell and Partners’, was inspired by the “less is more” approach associated with German-American architect, Mies van der Rohe.

Planned on a modular grid with an expressed steel structure, the building contains a lecture theatre, laboratories and a central atrium for light, ventilation and circulation space and features good quality fine detailing and modern materials. The laboratories are deliberately designed and detailed to make the building elements appear as slender and planar as possible in accordance with the minimalist philosophy of the time.

Hassell was one of the generation of architects who led the architectural profession during the ‘design revolution’ in Adelaide following World War II. His buildings conveyed his belief to avoid “anything that is false”.

The Architecture Museum in the City West Campus of the University of South Australia is a unique repository of architects’ and allied professionals’ records and a dynamic hub of research into South Australia’s architectural and built environment history. The Architecture Museum is located in the Kaurna (K) Building.

Article by

Meagan Cox