Posted by MartineNiTailliuir, Sunday, 21 October 2018
Peter Barrett of the University of Melbourne recounts typing “Leighton Irwin” into the computer catalogue in the Architecture, Building and Planning library named in Irwin’s memory, and finding no records of the man listed. He followed up with enquiries about Irwin to academics and staff and was met with similar blank responses. Only a small plaque, on a stone sculpture located awkwardly outside the entrance to the Library, commemorates a man whose career extended in architectural education at Melbourne University, for over thirty years. Putting a face to this name was then Barrett’s objective. He went on to write in Melbourne University Mosaic an article focusing on the rich career of Leighton Irwin.
Irwin’s story begins in Eastwood, Adelaide where he was born. His father was Edward Henry Irwin, a stock and station agent, his mother Helen Mary Downes a daughter of Major Francis Downes. The family moved to Melbourne when Leighton was eight years old. Five years of schooling followed at Haileybury College in Brighton, Melbourne. He undertook a Diploma of Architecture in the engineering faculty at the University of Melbourne under Anketell Henderson. Only a handful of students studied architecture at that time mostly as extensions to engineering studies. Leighton Irwin may well have been enrolled at the University but there is no evidence that he completed or was awarded the Diploma of Architecture prior to 1920. There is evidence that Irwin completed subjects through the Melbourne Technical School between 1909 - 1913.
Leighton Irwin’s long and distinguished career as an architect commenced in 1910 at the age of 18, when he was articled to architect F.L. Klingender, a position he held until 1914. Later he worked for the established architectural firm Bates, Peebles & Smart. A major design project of Norman Peebles was the Domed Reading Room of the now State Library of Victoria in Swanston Street.
Records detail Irwin’s previous military service as two years in the School Cadets followed by fifteen months in the 17th Battery, 6th Brigade. Irwin was a Provisional Lieutenant, gazetted on 1st January 1916, when he applied for a commission in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
In November 1916, in Sydney, aged 24, Leighton Irwin was granted a commission in the AIF as 2nd Lieutenant Field Artillery. A month later on 1st December he married Freda Gwendolyn James before embarking with reinforcements for the 1st Field Artillery Brigade. He left for Plymouth, England on the R.M.S. Orontes five days before Christmas 1916. Records indicate that he marched into No 3 Camp at LarkhiIl where he was stationed until August 1917. During this time at Larkhill Irwin was promoted to Lieutenant.
Larkhill Camp, in Wiltshire on the Salisbury Plain, was established in 1899 specifically for artillery practice. By mid-1916 Australian troops were the major occupants of the camp where they did their acclimatization and final training before posting to France. And so it was that Irwin followed suit from the port of Southampton to Rouelles, France in August 1917. Records are minimal about his time on the Western Front however his subunit saw action at Pozieres, Bullecourt, Menin Road, Broodeseinde, Passchendaele, Hazebrouck, Amiens and the Hindenburg Line.
A month after the Armistice, (11th November 1918), General John Monash established the Non-Military Employment Branch of the AIF Department of Repatriation and Demobilisation. One branch of this scheme supported demobilised military personnel who were architects or students of architecture prior to war service, for study, albeit briefly, at the Architectural Association Schools in London.
THE ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION SCHOOLS, LONDON
The Architectural Association was formed in London in 1847 and by 1901 it was offering formal full-time training in architecture. Motivated not only by a sense of duty to those architects who were serving in the war effort the Architectural Association Schools determined that it would extend the offer of reduced fee arrangements to any architects of the AIF which the Australian Government should care to send. The greatest concentration of Australian and New Zealand students occurred at the end of WW1, when some 78 men, recently demobilized from military service in the trenches of Europe, attended under special programs between 1918 and 1920. Many of the Antipodean students were enrolled for a short period of time, some as little as seven weeks but most had at least some architectural training already, if not were fully qualified. The enrolment of such experienced architectural students at the Architectural Association Schools was not designed to necessarily give them further qualifications, but as a government supported reorientation program to help them return quickly to civilian life. Almost by accident, this program became an important means by which knowledge was transferred, profoundly influencing a generation of young architects who would take the experience back to their countries of origin and in turn influence others. One such attendee was Leighton Irwin. Irwin was granted leave of absence with full military rates of pay and subsistence allowance. This allowance was 6/- per day, and he was issued with a £3 suit and 3/- cap.
Irwin enrolled and attended at the Architectural Association Schools in the second half of 1919 but not into 1920. His application form for Associateship suggested he’d spent six months at the Architectural Association Schools prior to his June 1919 application but there are no records to verify this. He was initially placed in the fourth year class in 1919 before being transferred to the Architectural Association Atelier (Architectural Studio) where he came into contact with a very specific network and transfer point of architectural knowledge. It was his first and only experience of this type of curriculum and approach, and his only experience of exclusively studying architectural design within an institutional setting. It seems Irwin’s engagement with the Architectural Association Schools was for a comparatively short period of time possibly four and a half months. He later passed the Royal Institute of British Architects (R.I.B.A.) examination.
Irwin left Liverpool on H.T. Megantic returning to Australia in 1920. He was gazetted from the A.I.F. on 6th June 1920.
CIVILIAN LIFE IN AUSTRALIA
Irwin’s repatriation records are minimal but he had an accepted disability relating to post gassing effects, Pulmonary Fibrosis, and other than a reference to the issuing of some non-surgical aids he sought no further treatment from the Repatriation Commission after 1921. He did however apply for a grant under the War Service Homes Act and later was in receipt of a pension.
ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION IN MELBOURNE
Fresh from his London experience Leighton Irwin was immediately engaged with the University of Melbourne Architectural Atelier as Assistant Director. This was the beginning of his extensive contribution to architectural education. The opening of the Atelier in early 1919 came immediately at the end of World War 1. Evolving mainly in response to demands by architectural students for change in architectural education, Leighton Irwin imported many aspects of the pedagogy and organisation that he found in the Architectural Association Atelier in London to the new Atelier in Melbourne. Aspects that closely echoed the Architectural Association Atelier included the membership structure; the prospectus model, and grading and assessment of students’ work. Leighton Irwin became director of the University of Melbourne Architectural Atelier in 1925 and held the position until 1951. His educational involvement included chairman of the Board of Architectural Education run by Royal Victorian Institute of Architecture, which supervised the standard of education of architects with Victoria’s tertiary institutions, and president of Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
Alongside this Leighton Irwin had a successful career as a practicing architect. In 1922 Irwin formed a partnership with the architect Roy Kenneth Stevenson. Irwin and Stevenson were engaged in a variety of commissions including war memorials, ecclesiastical, library and domestic buildings. Interestingly, Irwin's own Spanish-flavoured, double-fronted villa in Brighton, won repute for the firm. Irwin’s hospital commissions commenced in 1930 with Mildura Base Hospital completed in partnership with Stevenson. In 1934 the partnership was dissolved and Irwin began to run his own practice, almost entirely with hospital boards as his clients.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a new aesthetic in hospital design was driven by a handful of European sanatoria. With a minor boom of hospital building in the 1930s Australian hospitals changed quickly to reflect European trends. Some of the earliest buildings in Melbourne to have the long horizontal bands of reinforced concrete of the Modern Movement were hospitals. Modernist European architects developed the idea of long balconies where patients would recover with the help of sun and fresh air. Central to these developments was a distinct shift away from clinical interiors.
Leighton Irwin Architects was a firm that specialised in reversing the clinical atmosphere of hospitals. The firm’s success lay with Irwin’s early implementation of these Modernist European developments on his hospital designs. Irwin introduced an interior design section in the 1930s as well as adding mechanical and structural engineers to his team. He introduced a model-making shop so his team could assist clients visualise the completed building more easily than they might with working drawings. Irwin had considerable knowledge of international developments in hospital architecture having toured extensively in the United States, England and ‘several months’ in Germany, a tour organised by the Architectural Association in London.
Leighton Irwin contributed many articles to journals on architectural subjects and he was on the editorial board of a Stuttgart based trade journal, a key organ for encouraging and publicising the development of hospital modernisation.
Irwin undertook nearly 40 separate hospital projects in Australia between the early 1930s and the immediate post Second World War period. Among the most distinguished of these were the Prince Henry’s Hospital and Nurses Home in St. Kilda Road in Melbourne which opened in 1940; Royal Hobart Hospital, Tasmania, (1939); Broken Hill Hospital, NSW, (1939), and the Heidelberg Military (Repatriation) Hospital (1942).
Leighton Irwin died at Richmond, Victoria in 1962. He was still active in community work and in his profession at the time of his death. A sum of 500 pounds from Irwin’s estate was bequeathed to the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects which went towards establishing a fund for an architecture library at Melbourne University. The Leighton Irwin Memorial Library was officially opened by Sir Robert Menzies on 30 October 1969.
In his article Barrett refers to newspapers reports marking the death of Leighton Irwin remembering him foremost as a ‘noted hospital architect’ but many believed then, as they do today, that his contribution to the architectural profession through education was equal, some believe greater, than his work as an architect.
Added to this we can also acknowledge his personal resilience following his war experiences to lead a rich, productive and successful life. He was survived by his wife and daughter.
Barrett, Peter, 'Leighton Irwin: director of the Melbourne University Architectural Atelier.', in Melbourne University Moasic: People and Places, University of Melbourne, Dept. of History, Melbourne, 1998, p. 367.
Julie, Willis, ‘The Architectural Association and the Architectural Atelier’ in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand:30, Open, edited by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast, Qld: SAHANZ, 203), vol.2, p961- 972.
“Specialist in the art of hospital design’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 2008; John Colahan Griffin, Artist, Architect, 7-6-1920 20-6-2008’.
Graeme Butler, 'Irwin, Leighton Major Francis (1892–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography online, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/irwin-leighton-major-francis-6804/text11771,published first in hardcopy 1983.
Mildura Base Hospital, Mildura, Vic (1934). Architect: Leighton Irwin Source: RVIA Journal, Sept., 1933.