My first encounter with the work of Bates Smart in architectural discourse was via the last chapter of Robin Boyd’s polemic The Australian Ugliness. Boyd uses Bates Smart & McCutcheon’s rebuilding of Wilson Hall at the University of Melbourne (1952-1956) to describe the tendency towards “Featurism” in mid-century Australian architecture. Reading Philip Goad’s empirical study of Bates Smart’s one hundred and fifty years of practice, I now realize that this encounter could easily have occurred through the modest mid-century Modernity of the firm’s MLC building in Brisbane’s CBD (1955), which I admired as a student. For Queensland, the curtain wall technology pioneered by the firm in their Melbourne-based practice in the 1950s is overlaid with a modular brise-soleil. In Goad’s book the building is situated within the firm’s postwar development of the skyscraper type and the canon exemplified by the landmark ICI House (1955-1958) in Melbourne ›› By Goad’s own account this book is an ambitious project. It surveys the prodigious output of the firm from the arrival of its progenitor, Joseph Reed, in Melbourne in the 1850s to the contemporary practice of Bates Smart. Changes in aesthetics, economics, personalities, patronage and technology are charted across both the practice and the discipline of architecture. A substantial visual catalogue of drawings and photographs accompanies this detailed and insightful history. The chapters are arranged by chronological divisions but are overlaid with a discourse that situates the work of each period in relation to both theoretical concerns and practice realities. To this end George Tibbits, Miles Lewis and Julie Willis contribute chapters one, two and three respectively.
The book provides a unique way of understanding the impact of a single firm on the architectural fabric of the city of Melbourne. This impact is apparent at a number of moments, from the public institutions built for an emerging metropolis in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the development of a postwar corporate architecture and, most recently, in the collaboration with Lab Architecture Studio on Federation Square.
This is not the first history of the firm, and in his introduction Goad imagines the book becoming an outline into which other more detailed studies might be added. As an account of architectural achievements in Australia over the past one hundred and fifty years, this is an impressive piece of scholarship. As the history of a single architectural lineage it is remarkable.