IAN McKAY 1932-2015
Architect / Environmental Designer

One of Australia’s most exceptional but least celebrated architects, Ian McKay, died last week in Byron Bay. His deliberate low profile aside, Ian was propelled by innate talent, strong views, innovative thinking, independence and an intense love of his profession. As it happened, he had not one career in architecture but two: the first from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies and the second, quite different practice, from 1980 onwards.

Growing up in a farming family in Coonabarabran, in central-western NSW, Ian developed a deep connection with nature and the land that sustained him throughout his life. After schooling at Scots College, Sydney, he studied architecture at the University of New South Wales, where he was intuitively drawn to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. He was also indelibly impressed by an early trip to Japan, by the way the traditional architecture meshed with the landscape and the craftsmanship of its construction. He later said that “what craftsmanship expresses is commitment – and life without commitment is a denial of living.”

After graduating in 1954, Ian was already a rising star in the early sixties when Tocal Agricultural College and Leppington Boys Home, which he designed together with Philip Cox, were both honoured with the Australian Institute of Architects’ Sulman Medal. Their shared intention had been to make truly Australian architecture and Ian remained proud of the heritage-listed Tocal buildings, describing them as ’Australian to the core.’ In 1965, Ian also qualified as a town-planner. He produced a number of medium-density housing developments in Sydney and Canberra, where his Swinger Hill project was described by Robin Boyd as ‘the first substantial revolt against suburbia ever to be made in Australia.’

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