John Andrews Symposium

The University of Melbourne held a symposium on John Andrews over the weekend of Oct 19th – 20th. The event opened with a public lecture which I was not able to attend, however I made it to the morning presentations which included a talk by John Andrews himself. The event is an ARC-funded research project undertaken by various professors including Paul Walker and Philip Goad from the University of Melbourne.

The atmosphere was quite different this time to other public talks I have been to. Although it is advertised to the public as a free event, I have a feeling I was possibly the only student there..after talking to one of the organizers I was told the symposium was more of a celebration of Andrews work for him and his colleagues and friends. This explains why most of the attendees were quite elderly. However I was glad to have gone as I did not know much about Andrews work before – the striking image of the modernist Scarborough College on the poster caught my eye and I was keen to find out more. This was one of the reasons the event was put together also, as many people felt his work has been largely overlooked in the past years.

A highlight from the day was a presentation given by Andrews and this is what I will write about. He talked calmly sitting in his wheelchair at the front giving insight from the very beginning of his career through to the many built works he had completed. Coming from a family history of monumental masons, Andrews joked he preferred to serve living people and not dead ones (his father and grandfathers built tombstones ). At Sydney University Andrews was taught by George Molnar who inspired him as a critic, and not an architect . This is an interesting point as it shows you may be a good teacher but not necessarily a great architect and vice-versa. Andrews showed us his thesis project which was an air terminal in Sydney. He credited George to pushing him to think about things he otherwise would not consider, with the main focus on the roof treatment to allow as much light in as possible.

Upon graduation from the University of Sydney Andrews went to Harvard for a year where he obtained his Master of Architecture. As a student he entered the Toronto City Hall competition with some other classmates. Again the scheme featured a roof that was light and allowed in an abundance of light. Although they did not win Andrews went on to work for the architect that did. And so began a fruitful career in US and Canada. He later went on to design Gund Hall (!!) which is the architecture studio at Harvard. Another notable building is the CN tower in Toronto – a continuous vertical pour that took 1.5 years.

In the early years of working Andrews discovered that in the widely taught motto of “God is in the plan” was also true for sections. The solution to design problems can be solved in section as in the case of Scarborough College. Designed in section, Andrews was able to introduce natural light and allow inhabitants to clearly see where they are no matter where they stand in the building. Everything is organized with the site and environment in mind – lecture halls face the northern windswept side while faculty offices project out in the south for solar protection. The tiered form also provides natural light into the ‘interior streets’ and a full height court which is the main meeting place. The successful outcome gave Andrews the reputation which lead to many future commissions thanks to this early work.

Upon returning to Australia age 36, Andrews set up his practice. The works include student housing, offices and convention centres. Andrews is truly one of the last great modernists today. All his buildings were designed and documented by hand, ” no god damn computers were near any of these buildings I’m showing you” he said. Perhaps the best word to describe this incredible body of work is ‘performance.’ The 1982 book written on him by Jennifer Taylor was titled John Andrews: Architecture as a performing art. The word was suggested by Andrews himself who sees ‘performance’ central to architecture – how the building performs, the rationality in structure, materiality, all perform together to achieve complete accomplishment of the commission. More information on John Andrews can be found on the powerhouse Museum website here:


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