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Ken Woolley

Ken Woolley? and Paul McGillick, by Fiona Susanto

Born 29 May 1933

Ken F. Woolley AM, B.Arch (Hons) LAIA, (born 29 May 1933 in Sydney) is an influential Australian architect. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he is best known for his contributions to project housing with Pettit and Sevitt, the Wilkinson Award winning Woolley House in Mosman, and his longstanding partnership with Sydney Ancher and Bryce Mortlock. He is regarded as being a prominent figure in the development of the Sydney School movement and Australian vernacular building.

Woolley studied at the University of Sydney after attending Sydney Boys High School, and graduated in 1955 with First Class Honours in Architecture and three medals. As an undergraduate student, he worked as a trainee at the NSW Government Architect’s office, moving up to the position of Design Architect once he graduated. He remained in this position until 1963, with the exception of a year spent working as an Assistant Architect with Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in London, during 1956-7.This professional opportunity enabled him to work on some major projects, such as The University of Sydney’s Fisher Library and the State Government Offices, at an unusually young age.

Woolley took on a growing number of outside projects while still working with the Government Architect. He generated a reputation in the field of housing, winning a low cost competition for an exhibition house with Michael Dysart, in 1958. Consequently, both architects were invited to submit designs for a display village of model project houses in Carlingford, in 1961, proving to be a successful event that signalled the architect designed project house to be a welcome alternative to the individually designed and standard range houses of the time.

He began a working relationship with the project housing company, Pettit and Sevitt, the same year, creating house types of high quality design and construction. “Split Level”, “Lowline” and other early forms incorporated design principles through simple lines, natural features and an emphasis on functionalism. They were widely affordable due to the standardised usage of materials: brick veneer construction, Gyprock plasterboard interior wall cladding, Monier concrete tiles and Stegbar aluminium windows. They often used basic grids, rectangular planes, and flat roofs, and were always firmly grounded with room to be easily adapted to various sites and terrains. These sophisticated types underwent various levels of modifications as they were marketed through display villages and later sold to individual buyers, who had a consultation with the architect to discuss the interior and exterior details, as a part of the service. Through these modifications based on the clients’ needs and clever marketing, these houses gained an unprecedented popularity with prominent architects worldwide.

At the completion of the Woolley House in Mosman in 1962, a work he would become most famous for, Ken Woolley emerged as a leading figure in a regional romantic movement often referred to as Sydney Style. This new movement combined the influence of organic architecture, brutalism and the arts and crafts movement together with elements of the International Style, and came to embody the harmonious relationships between man and nature as intimate domestic spaces in the Australian bushland. The basis of the Woolley House design was derived from a series of garden terraces, most of which were covered by sections of timber roof sloping parallel to the land. A geometric order was applied to the plan as a series of 12-foot square units that combine to make up the main central space. Natural materials were exploited, with neutral colour schemes of dark tiles, western red cedar boarding and panelling, and painted bricks, creating a feeling of warmth in the house. The open plan living spaces were connected with volumes containing variations of ceiling height and changes in direction, enabling floor areas to be narrow but for the feeling of space to still be maximised. The house won RAIA’s Wilkinson Award the same year it was completed.

Woolley joined the existing partnership of Sydney Archer, Bryce Mortlock and Stuart Murray in 1964, and with Murray leaving the practice in 1975, the team went on to establish a reputation in the design of special purpose buildings. Notable examples are the Australian Embassy Centre in Ultimo, the RAS Exhibition Hall stand and the Olympic Hockey Stadium at Homebush.

In addition, Ken Woolley worked on notable concrete buildings (Newcastle University Union building and Macquarie University Union building), multi-housing projects (Sydney Square and The Penthouses) and buildings of structure and technology (Town Hall House and the Guided Missile Launching System Repair Facility), with many of them picking up various esteemed awards over the following two decades.[7] Among his many notable buildings in Sydney are the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Ultimo, Sydney University's Fisher Library, the Park Hyatt Sydney, the former State Office Block and buildings on the Olympic site. There is also the Victorian State Library and the Australian Embassy in Bangkok. Woolley was awarded the highest architectural honour in Australia when he received the RAIA Gold Medal in 1993.
Sources: image, Fiona Susanto copy, Wikipedia