Reviewed by Richard Tutin
Wherever we go in the world, we are surrounded and often entranced by the buildings that make up cities and communities. We marvel at their construction whether it is the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China or the houses and public buildings of Paris, Rome or New York City. While we are taking it all in, we often forget that Australia has many examples of great and interesting architecture. It is the story of how it has all come together that Davina Jackson has told in this detailed and comprehensive history.
Jackson begins the story by reminding us that Australian architecture began long ago. We often forget or don’t realise that any building, shelter or structure is a form of architecture. So the dwellings built by our own First Nations people were designed with the local weather and other conditions in mind. From Jackson’s perspective we are only now recognising the effort that First Nations people put into building structures that adequately served their community’s needs.
The beginning of European settlement brought a lot of change to the Australian landscape. The designs and materials that blended in well in the northern hemisphere do not always adapt to the often harsh Australian environment. Jackson adroitly guides readers through the design adjustments and how local wood, stone and clay were utilised to begin what has come to be known as typical Australian architecture. While overseas roots and influences have often been retained in many buildings and structures around the nation, Jackson constantly points out how architects and builders have responded to the demands of local conditions particularly the weather which, in Australia, is extremely diverse or just extreme depending on where you live.
Jackson also tells the story of the development of professional training avenues for aspiring local architects over the past one hundred years. She is careful to include the names of those whose contribution to the architectural landscape of this country as part of this extensive history. Some of these names are well known as much overseas as here in Australia. When it comes to Queensland, I readily recognised the names of local architects who I have come to know over the years.
I noticed the omission in this history of one significant building of the Brisbane city skyline. St John’s Anglican Cathedral was begun in 1906 on its site in Ann Street and was completed and consecrated in 2009. Its architect, John Loughborough Pearson, based the design of the Cathedral on the English Gothic style that had developed during the Victorian period. The fact that Pearson was based in England and never visited Australia may account for the omission of the Cathedral from this history. It may show the difficulty of the author in deciding what to include and what, regrettably, to leave out in this volume.
It is though a fascinating story that Jackson offers us. Its detailed description of buildings and people shows that Australian architecture has a rich history. It hopefully will encourage readers to look more carefully at the buildings of where they live and visit. They are reminders of our past as well as being part of our present while encouraging us to consider the future as we respond to the landscape around us.
Dr Davina Jackson is an international writer of books, exhibitions and websites on architecture, technology, and urban geography themes. She edited Australian Architecture from 1992 to 2000 and was founder of annual city light festivals in Sydney and Singapore. After a multi-disciplinary design professorship at the University of New South Wales, she has guest lectured at MIT, Cambridge, TU Munich and other universities in America, Europe and Asia.
Australian Architecture: A History
by Davina Jackson
Allen and Unwin