"NEITHER SYDNEY OR MELBOURNE COULD COMPETE WITH ADELAIDE for its elegance. Its streets are wide, pleasantly set out, carefully maintained...The post office and the town hall are noteworthy for their architecture.” That’s from Jules Verne’s 1891 adventure novel Mistress Branican, quoting from Desire Charnay's 1880 travelogue Le Tour du Monde.
English author Richard Twopenny in 1883 added: “For its size, I consider Adelaide the best-built town I know, and certainly it is the best laid out and one of the prettiest and most conveniently situated.” Mark Twain in the mid 1890s: “This was a modern city, with wide streets, compactly built; with fine homes everywhere, embowered in foliage and flowers, and with imposing masses of public buildings nobly grouped.”
Beatrice and Sydney Webb in 1898 described Adelaide as: “A charmingly attractive city – wisely planned ... and ... resembles more than any English town we know, a German ‘Residenzsdt’ – the capital of a little principality, with its parks and gardens, its little court society ...”
These impressions show Adelaide, after being basically a shanty town in early colonial decades, starting to enjoy the advantage of William Light’s plan and having the accumulated wealth to express a civic pride motivated by how the city was perceived, especially in Britain.
Architects such as Edmund Wright, E. John Woods and, later, Walter Bagot, leaning towards the classic and gothic revival, created buildings that fitted the vision of Adelaide’s “little court society”.
But Colin Hassell and John Morphett, who gave Adelaide its festival centre in the 1960s, rejected the stuffiness of the Wright-Woods-Bagot tradition. Theirs was the thoughtful side of rejection. (The other side was the mindless razing of so much of Adelaide's built heritage from the 1960s to 1980s.)
The modernists' thoughtful side came from the scholarly Wright-Woods-Bagot tradition, as reflected in Adelaide University's architectural courses. So, although post-1960s Adelaide architecture took a modern direction, its leading global companies, Woods Bagot and Hassell, today build on the underlying intellectual strength of its tradition.
AMBITIOUS GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS DEFY SOUTH AUSTRALIAN COLONY'S EARLY STRUGGLES
William Weir designed Port Adelaide’s White Horse Cellar Inn (1851) and Tea Tree Gully council chamber (1855), now on the South Australian state heritage list, with the likelihood his background was a builder – not a qualified architect. He arrived from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1847 and advertised himself as having designed or surveyed “numerous extensive and elegant buildings”. Within a month of arriving, he was elected architect and surveyor for the Adelaide and Suburban Building Society that built homes for sale up to £65. Weir may have been helped by architect Richard Lambeth who'd come from Launceston a year before. Weir continued making the right connections. He was soon architect of the Brothers of the Order, Adelaide Lodge, and a year later became “the church architect” as well as being architect to South Australian Provincial Mining Company and Seaside and Rural Building Association. By 1849, Weir had the biggest architectural practice in the South Australia. Weir did church buildings for the Catholic (Willunga, 1847; Dry Creek, 1850) and Church of England congregations, included St Matthew’s, Kensington (1848), Holy Trinity Church Rectory (1849;) and St Michael’s, Mitcham. He designed St. Andrew’s School, Walkerville, but was beaten by Henry Stuckey for the schoolhouse for the Collegiate School of St Peter in Hackney. Weir and Stuckey worked on the Church of England’s Christ Church, North Adelaide, its rectory and Bishop’s Court, with suspicions they gained these commissions “for political or religious reasons rather than upon performance”.
TWO GIANTS OF 19th CENTURY ADELAIDE ARCHITECTURE EMERGE
Wells became one of Adelaide’s leading architects, influencing Louis Laybourne Smith, F. Kenneth Milne and Henry Ernest Fuller. With Latham A. Withall, Wells designed Adelaide Arcade and the Jubilee Exhibition building (1887) on North Terrace, and the Angas (1894) and Campbell buildings at Adelaide Children’s Hospital. Other works included the the Commercial Travellers Club, North Terrace; the Steamship Buildings, Currie Street, for the Adelaide Steamship Company, and the South Australian Hotel (1899).
St Peter’s Cathedral at North Adelaide was the vision of Henry Butterfield, who is credited with starting the high Victorian gothic era of English architecture. Adelaide’s Anglican bishop Augustus Short selected Butterfield in the 1860s to design St Peter’s but delays in getting Butterfield’s drawings from England meant that Edward John Woods from Wright, Woods and Hamilton had to guide the project. Woods – influenced by the French gothic of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc – changed some of Butterfield’s ideas for design but also the materials. From the foundation stone – out of Glen Ewin quarry – onwards, the cathedral’s look was influenced by local materials such as Tea Tree Gully sandstone, from what is now Anstey Hill Recreation Park, or Glen Osmond stone. Adelaide materials created elements of a distinctive look for the colony’s early buildings. Limestone from quarries along the River Torrens was used for Government House, Adelaide Gaol, old parliament house, Holy Trinity Church and the Catholic bishop’s house on the West Terrace-Grote Street corner. Quarries in the Adelaide parklands provided plentiful clay for red bricks. Bluestone, from Glen Osmond, O’Halloran Hill and Dry Creek, was popular from the 1850s to 1920. The interior of the stone is usually pale grey or beige but is given coloured surfaces by ferric oxide and other minerals in joints and bedding planes. Parliament House, on the corner of North Terrace and King William Street, was built with Kapunda marble and granite from West Island off Fleurieu Peninsula.
ADDING TO SIGNIFICANT ADELAIDE CITY BUILDINGS AND MEMORIALS IN EARLY 20th CENTURY
Harry (Henry) Sibley, in an Adelaide architectural career cut short by his death at 49, left his mark with two of the city’s most prominent memorials: the Boer War Memorial on the North Terrace-King William Street corner and Colonel Light’s statue on Montefiore Hill. The son of the civil engineer who brought his family from England to South Australia in 1879, Sibley was educated at Prince Alfred College before being articled to Adelaide architect Frederick W. Dancker. In 1902, Sibley, at 35, went into partnership with Daniel Garlick, aged 84, who died eight days later. Sibley continued as Garlick & Sibley until 1904 when Charles Wooldridge joined as a partner. Garlick, Sibley and Wooldridge designed stone pedestals for the Boer War Memorial, unveiled in 1904, and for the Colonel Light statue (1906). The partnership designed Wallaroo Mines Institute Hall (1906), followed by Unley Town Hall, with the construction supervised by Dancker. The practice also did buildings interstate including the large Mildura Workingman’s Club in Victoria in 1908. Sibley and Wooldridge worked on the Hackney tram barn and administrative offices for the Municipal Tramways Trust in 1908. Philip Claridge was employed in the office at this time. Other works included a bandstand, kiosk and shops at Henley Beach. In 1912, Wooldridge left the partnership and Sibley practised solely. He designed three-storey premises in Market Street, Adelaide, in 1915, for the Democratic Club. Sibley was a member of the club that had paved the way for the Labor Party to be formed.
MIX OF FLAMBOYANT ARCHITECTURAL APPROACHES IN FIRST HALF OF 20th CENTURY
F. Kenneth Milne was another of the 20th Century Adelaide architects who resisted modernism in favour of the Georgian style. Milne’s earliest commissions included the Hampstead Hotel in Grote Street (1910) and his revered Adelaide Oval scoreboard (1911). Milne was president of the South Australian Institute of Architects 1937-39 and a founder of the Architects’ Board of South Australia, He helped set up the chair of architecture at Adelaide University.
Adelaide Railway Station is a monument to the dynamic era (1922-30) for South Australian Railways under the American William Alfred Webb but also a high point for the architecture of Herbert Jackman and what is now Australia’s oldest architecture firm: JPE Design Studio. Besides the railway station, designed in 1925 with his brother Sydney, other significant Adelaide buildings by Jackman included the Tattersall’s Hotel, Hindley Street, rebuilding the Stag Hotel and Charles Moore’s department store.
South Australa's Parliament House on North Terrace, Adelaide, is a long-awaited, but still incomplete, triumph of Greek revival architecture. Its winning design in 1874 by Edmund Wright and Lloyd Tayler, had later input from John Woods. The design featured Corinthian columns, impressive towers and a grand dome. Lack of funds saw the towers and dome removed from construction plans. The east wing was completed in 1939 through a £100,000 donation from John Langdon Bonython.
THE BREAKTHROUGH FOR THE MODERN ADELAIDE ARCHITECTURE IN LATTER 20th CENTURY
The Bank of New South Wales, opened in 1937 on the North Terrace-King William Street corner, signalled a modern shift in Adelaide architecture. Colin Hassell, who joined the bank's architects, Philip Claridge and Associates, in 1939 would push the modernism further. But the threat in the late 1960s to demolish the classic former headquarters for the Bank of South Australia – later called Edmund Wright House – caused a backlash.
In his 20s, John Morphett was on a team designing a New York skyscraper and Baghdad University – after a Albert Kahn Fellowship at MIT in Boston where he did a master’s degree in the presence of modernist leaders. In 1962, Morphett returned to Adelaide and Hassell, McConnell and Partners. His Bauhaus leanings appealed to Colin Hassell but grated with another partner Jack McConnell who rejected modernism. McConnell was asked to leave and the firm became Hassell and Partners.
21st CENTURY BLESSES ADELAIDE WITH BREAKTHROUGH MAJOR BUILDINGS
Woods Bagot was named as one of the world's 10 largest architecture firms in Building Design magazine's World Architecture 100 list In 2015. Woods Bagot is now Australia’s largest architectural firm, with a global design and consulting team of more than 800 working across Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. This is a remarkable switch for a small Adelaide firm steeped in the tradition of classic ecclesiastic gothic in the late 19th Century.
BLENDING THE BEST OF THE MODERN AND HERITAGE