Brisbane architects’ bid to save modernist university building
ArchitectureAU Editorial 17 Jan 2022
“A pair of architects have launched a bid to heritage protect a 1970s university building built among the bush on Griffith University’s Nathan Campus in Brisbane, which the university plans to demolish.”
Extract from the Application submitted to the Queensland Heritage Register
The Australian Environmental Studies Building at the Nathan Campus of Griffith University was designed by John Simpson, the Brisbane-based director of the architectural practice of John Andrews International Pty Ltd. It was completed in 1977 and accommodated first students in 1978 as the home of the new university’s School of Australian Environmental Studies, providing Australia’s first degree in this discipline.
The design was the culmination of Simpson’s and Andrews’ considerable international experience in integrating new principles of tertiary education into university buildings. Griffith University’s vision of a new campus in a natural setting, with inter-disciplinary methods of teaching was closely aligned with Simpson’s design philosophy, initiated in his work with Sir Basil Spence at the new University of Sussex, and refined in other projects such as Scarborough College in Toronto, Gund Hall at Harvard and the Chemical Engineering Building at the University of Queensland.
The building responds to its sloping site and natural setting, and accommodates traditional teaching areas and offices, but also provides outdoor areas of courtyards and roof terraces and circulation designed to connect to other buildings and encourage student interaction.
It makes an important contribution to the evolution of tertiary education in Queensland when Brisbane’s second university aspired to new teaching methods, particularly in environmental studies, in a natural bushland setting, and this coincided perfectly with the selected architect’s philosophy and international experience of university design.
The architectural practice selected for the building was John Andrews International, a practice formed by an internationally famous Australian architect based in Sydney with a branch office in Brisbane. John Andrews (1933 -) graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Sydney in 1956, winning a scholarship to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and graduating with a Masters in Architecture in 1958. After traveling widely, he established John Andrews Architects in Toronto in 1961. After preparing the master plan for Scarborough College, a satellite campus for the University of Toronto, he designed its premises whose spinal planning and powerful concrete forms established Andrews’ reputation as one of the most innovative architects of his generation. Subsequently, he carried out major award-winning projects in Canada and USA.
On returning to Australia in 1969, he established John Andrews International, a practice at Palm Beach, Sydney with members of his former staff from Toronto including John Simpson who later opened a branch office in Brisbane where the firm attracted commissions in Queensland including the School of Australian Environmental Studies. Awards won by their Queensland buildings are the Bronze Medals for the Chemical Engineering Building UQ, 1976, the Education Resource Centre, Kelvin Grove College of Advanced Education, 1979 and an Honorable Mention for the School of Australian Environmental Studies, Griffith University in 1980. John Andrews’ contribution to Australian architecture was recognised by the RAIA Gold Medal in 1980 and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1981.
Design and project architect for the School of Australian Environmental Studies was John Simpson (1936 -) who graduated from the Glasgow School of Architecture in 1958 with the Silver Medal. He worked with Sir Basil Spence from 1961 to 1963 including on Sussex University before he moved to Canada. After joining John Andrews in Toronto, he worked on Scarborough College and was awarded a Masters in Architecture from Harvard in 1967. He collaborated with John Andrews on the design of Gund Hall for the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, the Behavioural Sciences Building, Tufts University, Boston and numerous other North American Buildings.
Simpson moved to Australia in 1972 to become a founding director of the Australian-based architectural practice, John Andrews International. He was responsible for the Chemical Engineering Building, University of Queensland (1973-6) and the School of Australian Environmental Studies at Griffith University (1975), In 1983 he established John Simpson Associates Pty Ltd and was appointed Master Architect for the South Bank Corporation in 1996. Awards won by his own practice include two FDG Stanley Awards for educational buildings. He was President of the RAIA Qld Chapter 1994-96 and was awarded the Board of Architects Silver Medal for Architect of the Year in 1997. He was awarded honorary doctorates by the Queensland University of Technology in 2003 and the University of Queensland in 2008.
(Read the full application, October 2021, pdf)