John Andrews is unique among Australian architects in establishing a prominent career and reputation in the USA and Canada. Even today, long after his return to productive practice in Australia, a Google search turns up more North American references to Andrews than Australian ones. John Andrews has received lifetime achievement awards from the architects' associations of Canada, USA and Australia.
The architectural historian Philip Drew writes: 'To measure AndrewsÂ? significance is not easy. His offices have been extremely prolific, with inevitable, and not unexpected, disparities in architectural quality. At his best, notably in the decade after 1963, the year in which he established his own office, he earned his status as an undoubted international star and an architect who expressed himself with great forcefulness and verve. He was the first Australian to achieve such recognition...' [Architecture Australia, May/June 2000]
Andrews is a leading member of arguably the last generation of modernist architects. Instead of the formalist symmetry promoted by Gropius, Mies and their followers (among whom Harry Seidler was prominent) Andrews joined Louis Kahn and Jose Luis Sert in creating an architecture of circulation and usage created through geometric, repeated spaces. With design for functioning communities of building users and residents the major aim, Andrews' architecture usually involved intense dialogue with his clients, a practice recorded in the title of Jennifer Taylor's biography of Andrews: 'Architecture as a performing art'. In Andrews' own words, 'I'm a problem solver, not a producer of monuments to myself'.
John Andrews' return to Australia presented a challenge to the Australian architecture profession, which in the 1970s enjoyed little in the way of international recognition or commissions. Andrews' North American education and success had formed an approach to architecture that was more confident and less concerned with stylistic controversies than that of his local peers. His work defied easy categorisation as a personal or generic style.
As Andrew Metcalf has written, 'Andrews displayed a concern for design process characterised by rational analysis, the production of simple, geometrical plan and section types, and robust concrete and masonry construction. He was uninterested in fashion, rather he was concerned to find the 'right' outcome working from first principles in each commission'. ['Canberra architecture', Watermark Press, Sydney, 2003, p.158.]
While the classical modernism of the mid twentieth century produced some universally applicable building genres - notably the curtain-wall office tower and the interlocking plan apartment block - the succeeding generation of modernists reacted against the generic sameness of these structures and their frequent insensitivity to urban context. As a result, Andrews' generation of architects is notable less for an identifiable style and program than for varied responses to location and use. The peaks of this approach can be found in the work of Jorn Utzon, Kenzo Tange and, more recently, Renzo Piano. John Andrews is also a central and widely applauded figure in this reinvention of modernism.
Charles Pickett, Curator Design & society.
John Andrews (b.1933) grew up in Sydney. His father was a stone mason whose business struggled during and after World War II. A cousin of the designer Gordon Andrews, John Andrews attended North Sydney Boys High, worked as a builders labourer and studied architecture at the University of Sydney.
In 1957 Andrews won a scholarship to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, completing a masters degree in 1958. With fellow students he entered a design competition for a new Toronto City Hall. When the entry was selected as a finalist Andrews moved to Toronto; he worked on the City Hall project with the winning architects.
Andrews also taught at the University of Toronto and in 1962 was commissioned to design a new campus for the University. Known as Scarborough College, the new campus attracted international attention for its novel solutions to the specific needs of staff and students, especially its integration of building, circulation and landscape design. In deference the fact that the academic year occupied Toronto's severe winters, Andrews designed internal pedestrian streets bathed in natural light, contained within a massive castle-like structure formed of site-cast concrete.
According to the journal Canadian Architect, the new campus 'with its iconic chimneys and massive use of site-cast concrete caused initial controversy when viewed as architecture that is a massive, introspective and snaking complex overlooking a valley located far from the cultural centre of the region in Toronto...But Scarborough College was an ambitious social and architectural exercise that has become an architectural landmark and a defining example of 1960s architecture in Canada', [Canadian Architect, February 2004.] Featured on the cover of Time magazine, extolled by luminaries including MOMA's Phillip Johnson, Scarborough College created Andrews' reputation.
Andrews' success was perfectly timed for the 1960s boom in university education. His work responded to changes in university and college cultures, notably independent and unstructured student activity, and was influential on numerous new campuses. Andrews went on to design tertiary education residences and schools at Guelph University, Ontario, Brock University, Ontario, the University of Western Ontario, Kent State, Ohio, Smith College, Massachusetts, as well as campuses at Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne. His most prestigious education commission was George Gund Hall (completed 1972), a new home for his alma mater, the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Its terraced workspaces and glazed roof form an appropriately bravura home for a high-profile design school, while its interior creates interaction between staff and students of varied disciplines.
Other prominent North American commissions included African Place, Expo 67, Montreal (1967), Toronto's CN Tower (1976), until recently the tallest structure in the world, the Miami Seaport passenger terminal (1970) and the Intelsat Headquarters, Washington (1988).
In 1972 Andrews returned to Australia, having won a commission to design a new group of government offices at a green field site at Belconnen, Canberra. Although the commission specified five fifteen story office towers to accommodate 4000 workers, Andrews convinced his clients to accept an entirely new solution of seven low-rise terraced office pavilions organised around landscaped courtyards. The pavilions were connected by walk ways and pedestrian bridges. The Cameron Offices, as they were named at their completion in 1977, was the first structure built at Belconnen and was designed to be integrated with the new town centre; however a town centre and shopping mall was eventually constructed some distance from the Offices, compromising its pedestrian-friendly design concept.
Andrews renamed his practice John Andrews International, maintaining a North American office at Washington, DC while situating his Australian office near his home at Palm Beach, Sydney. Attracting several commissions from the University of Queensland, Andrews opened a Brisbane office led by John Simpson, a Scottish architect who had worked for him in North America.
His Australian projects included the American Express Tower (also known at different times as King George Tower and the NRMA Tower) at the corner of King and George Streets, Sydney (completed 1976). Andrews's sole office tower and winner of an RAIA Sulman Prize, this tower was an innovator in energy-saving design, given visual form by its plexi-glass 'sunglasses' facade. The building consumed just 60 per cent of the energy consumption of other towers. In addition its diagonal siting and triangular floor plan enhanced pedestrian access to the corner site.
The American Express Tower also gained popular press for its 'loos with a view'; toilets and other services were grouped in the structural towers at each corner of the triangular floor plan, affording them spectacular city views.
As Conrad Hamann has written, during the 1970s Andrews was 'the great hope of Australian architecture' [Cities of Hope, OUP, Melbourne, 1993, p.139]. With Cameron Offices and the American Express Tower, Andrews delivered two innovative and spectacular buildings. However the economic downturn of the late 1970s and early 1980s cancelled, delayed or diminished several projects, notably the RMIT Student Union and Library at Swanston Street, Melbourne, left part-completed due to funding shortfalls.
The subsequent 1980s boom brought a torrent of work, but arguably the moment had passed for Andrews' public profile, with major buildings expected again to make aesthetic and cultural statements, as well as creating functioning spaces. Harry Seidler also suffered in the postModern climate, however Andrews was fortunate in being able to introduce what was effectively a new building genre to Australia, designing convention centres in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. The Adelaide centre is particularly notable as part of a complex which also includes a hotel, casino and exhibition centre in and around the city's 1920s railway terminal. Sydney's Darling Harbour project was a similar opportunity to recast a major city precinct, and Andrews' Convention Centre, his last major Sydney building, won wide praise. According to Bill MacMahon the centre. 'with its strong, precise geometry,,, and general clarity of execution, is simply the best building in Darling Harbour' [Bill MacMahon, The Architecture of East Australia, Stuttgart, Axel Menges, 2001, p.81.]
Andrews also continued introducing his North American university expertise to Australian campuses. One of his first such commissions, for student housing at the Australian National University, proved difficult. Andrews encountered official resistance to a design promoting an informal, independent student lifestyle. Instead of large dining halls and common rooms, Andrew's colleges grouped a small number of students' rooms around a shared common room and kitchen, combining independence and sociability, The result, named Toad Hall by its student residents, remains perhaps the best known of his several Australian campus projects and was the prototype for numerous similar campus buildings. This expertise in multi-unit dwellings was also employed by the Housing Commission of NSW, who commissioned Andrews to design a large low-rise public housing complex at Little Bay, Sydney in 1980.
Many of Andrews' projects were created through the design of a set of spaces which was then repeated, their arrangement creating the building's external appearance. A similar way of working was used for several of his office commissions where, instead of high-rise towers, hexagonal or octagonal plan spaces were arranged into groups of low-rise modules separated by courtyards. Examples include the Callam Offices complex (formerly Woden TAFE), the Octagon offices, Parramatta, and the Intelsat headquarters, Washington, a commission won via an international design competition.
Andrews retired from full-time practice after a bout of ill-health during the early 1990s. In 1979 he had designed a farmhouse for a family farming property at Eugowra, 370 kilometres west of Sydney. Incorporating a windmill, solar heat and water collectors, the Eugowra house is an innovative marriage of climate-sensitive design and traditional homestead forms. In 1995 Andrews established a vineyard at nearby Canowindra.
During the late 1990s Andrews' name returned to prominence due to redevelopment plans affecting two of his major projects. Andrews had included retail structures at the street level of the American Express Tower in preference to the bare plazas then in vogue for office towers; part of this space was terraced below street level in the expectation that it would be connected underground with adjacent buildings. When this did not happen, the plaza was rendered partly redundant and the building's new owner proposed a substantial redevelopment. Although many of the redevelopment plans were rejected by the Sydney City Council in deference to the quality of the original design, the tower lost its distinctive sunshade facade.
Andrews was furious that an awarded and widely praised building could be so casually mistreated:"To add insult to injury ... the refurbishment is to be the work of Rice Daubney, designers of the pink and blue Coopers & Lybrand office tower, which Mr Andrews says has 'no depth, no guts, no idea ...' " (Anne Susskind, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September 1997)
In 1999 the Federal Government, concerned at Canberra's oversupplied office market and depressed construction industry, sold the Cameron Offices complex to a private developer, which was permitted to demolish the offices despite their protection under heritage laws. After lengthy controversy, most of the complex was demolished. leaving intact only the two pavillions facing Cameron Avenue, now occupied by CommSuper. One of the landscaped courtyards is also extant and has been restored. Of the space formerly occupied by the other five pavillions, the area to the south of the remaining pavillions is occupied by an apartment development. The space once occupied by the two northern pavillions is now an asphalted carpark.