An Obituary for Don Gazzard
by Mark Sheldon, 2017

I met Don in 1977 when I went to work with him on the recommendation of Colin Griffiths from Harry Seidler's office, after returning from overseas travels and graduation. Don Gazzard had worked for Harry as apprentice and under-graduate from 1950 -1953. Through Harry's mentorship Don became an unashamed modernist, Bauhaus disciple and pragmatic designer, city planner and conservationist. There were numerous milestones of success and achievement over Don's 67 year career in architecture.  

He was very well known across the profession and greatly respected by his friends and peers, not only for his contribution to architecture and the city, but as an educator, mentor and writer.

In 2006, Don published his memoir 'Sydneysider, an optimistic life in architecture'. In it, he acknowledged those special consultants, peers and friends who he respected and worked with to achieve his great work.  It would be remiss if I did not mention some of them here: Aldis Birzulis, Louis Challis, John Ferris, George Gallagher, Tom Jumikis, Phil Kirkland, Bruce Mackenzie, Peter Miller, Leo Port, Ralph Stedman, Allan Thompson, Barry Webb, Harry Williamson, Colin Griffiths and Keith Cottier. My apologies to those not mentioned who worked with Don during his career.

Don was born in Summer Hill in Sydney on 4th August 1929, and was raised in the inner western suburbs.  Don's father, Percy Arthur Gazzard was one of eleven children, and married May Eunice Tillinghast, and together had three boys, Don, Brian and Barry.

Don topped his year at primary school, and was chosen to a selective high school in Paddington; Sydney Technical High School, located just off Oxford Street near Victoria Barracks, now the University of NSW College of the Arts. Don would remain in Paddington and have a profound impact on its conservation in later years.

On March 1, 1950, Don married Marea Medis who went on to become a distinguished potter and sculptor in her own right as Marea Gazzard. Together they had two children, Clea and Nick.

Don's early studies started in engineering, but he soon found himself drawn to architecture, and in 1950 took a position with Harry Seidler. Don worked with Harry for three years; his teacher and role model, working from the Point Piper Studio. It was a true master apprentice relationship in which he was indoctrinated into the modern movement, and even felt he was part of it. Understandable for anyone who worked for Harry as I also did in 1974/5.

Encouraged by Harry, Don left for Europe and later American and Canada, where he travelled and worked for 6 years returning home in 1960. Whilst in London Don passed the Board's exam and become a registered architect, which was reciprocated by the NSW Board of Architects. He went on to become a Life Fellow of the RAIA.

Whilst in America Don met George Clarke, who was studying planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Returning home Don and George decided what Australia needed was a multi-disciplinary architectural, city planning, urban research firm, and that they would start it. Clarke, Gazzard and Partners flourished with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

During those years, there were many milestone achievements for Don; he won the first Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Wilkinson Award for domestic architecture in 1961 for the Herbert House he designed at Hunters Hill for his sister-in-law and her husband. This led to working with Lend Lease on creating a range of project houses as part of the Kingsdene Estate in Carlingford.

From the early sixties, Don's most important work was that of the Wentworth Memorial Church at Vaucluse, influenced by his travels in the Greek Islands and Le Corbusier's Church at Ronchamp. The building was published by the influential UK Architectural Review. The Church was selected as one of forty buildings chosen to represent the best of Australian buildings of the twentieth century in the millennium series of books. It was listed on Woollahra Council's Heritage Register in 2006.

Don had a conscience for our built environment, and in 1964 designed an exhibition at the RAIA titled 'Australian Outrage', the decay of the visual environment. A book was subsequently published, designed by Harry Williamson.

Don had a long love affair with the then unfashionable inner-city terrace house area of Paddington in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. It was considered a slum and a 1958 plan proposed almost total demolition, replaced with new road patterns and high rise flats. This led to the formation of the Paddington Society with John and Pat Thompson, later joined by others including Keith Cottier.

It took many years and a great deal of political and community action to change views, before the architectural importance of Paddington as one of the largest coherent areas of Victorian terrace housing in the world was realised.  And the rest as they say, is history.

Also, out of 'Outrage' came Don's ideas for public open spaces in the city, in particular Martin Place, opposite the General Post Office containing the cenotaph. In 1968 he wrote to the City Council formally proposing the creation of a civic square. At first this had difficulties, in particular proposing the closing of Main Roads to vehicular traffic.

The idea then became the platform for the Civic Reform Party led by Leo Port, the then Lord Mayor of Sydney. 

This was a ten-year saga of design and politics, until finally all the spaces between George and Macquarie Streets became a pedestrian precinct. An amazing legacy.

In the years that followed, Don designed many great buildings: the Sydney TAA Terminal at Kingsford Smith Airport was one of his most important buildings of the 70's. Initially a temporary building that stood for more than 25 years before it's replacement by the current Qantas Domestic Terminal.

During this period Don also designed his family home on the corner of Hargrave and Elizabeth Streets in Paddington, demonstrating a modern building can fit in perfectly with older heritage buildings as long as scale, form and materials were sympathetic to their context. The house received an RAIA award in 1976.

During my time with Don Gazzard and Associates, we collaborated on a number of significant projects.  A split-level apartment building in the Le Corbusier logic for the Department of Housing as part of the development of Woolloomooloo.  Many of Don's contemporaries of the time also designed buildings there including Ken Woolley and Phillip Cox.

We also designed a number of resort buildings on the North Queensland Dunk Island. These were highly innovative resort structures, meeting new cyclone design requirements and embodying many sustainable design principles around cross ventilation, natural local materials and open space. A sort of modern tropical vernacular.

After two years working with Don, in 1979 I started my own practice, Mark Sheldon Associates.  We remained friends, even collaborating on a few projects and sharing resources. Six years on Don approached me, having acquired a site from the Centre for Photography, Paddington, after its conversion from the Paddington Fire Station to build a new architectural office, and would I like to again join forces. I accepted.  We completed the design and in 1985 Gazzard Sheldon Rosenberg was formed, a year later becoming Gazzard Sheldon Architects after Morris Rosenberg, a long-time employee of Don's departed the practice.

Don and I had a wonderful 10-year partnership together; he was a great mentor and educator. We worked on projects throughout the South Pacific, NSW and Queensland. We won several projects with what was then known as AIDAB, Australian International Development Assistance Bureau, now AUSAID including three 500 pupil public schools on remote locations in the Solomon Islands. These were exemplars of environmental sustainability, employing alternate renewable energy sources. We won the competition for the SPREP, South Pacific Region of Environmental Partnership in Western Samoa, a new terminal building at Fiji International Airport, a new regional airport terminal at Coffs Harbour and houses in Sydney and Queensland.

 For people who loved Don's designs and approach to inside/outside living spaces, we designed a number of houses including a most innovative house at Palm Beach that cascaded down the hillside. Also building on the success of the last stages of Martin Place, we created some great public spaces including the Rowe Street Mall at Eastwood.

We continued our ideas for the City including covering the Pitt Street Mall in a light transparent structure, several major redevelopments for the Department of Defence. Our last buildings designed together included the Multi-Purpose Sports Complex at the University of Newcastle and the Byron Bay Council Chambers and Administration Building.

After the 1991-1994 recession, Don decided to depart from corporate life, spending increasingly more time in Italy with his friend Anna Griffiths, an artist, consultant and teacher. During this time, he also built a new house for himself on his property at Jamberoo.

In 1997 Don and Anna were married at Jameroo.  Ten years later they moved to Melbourne, where Don lived out the remainder of his life. He continued practicing architecture on small private work, made an important contribution to  community activism in St Kilda and started his fortnightly blog. He became a loved and respected member of his local cmmunity and was welcomed warmly into a new extended step-family.

Don and Anna spent 20 loving and happy years together.

Don Gazzard passed away on Monday 15th May 2017 after suffering from cancer and other ailments over recent years. He remained lucid of mind and continued to write his blog until the last weeks.

He leaves his wife of 20 years, Anna Griffiths, daughter Clea Gazzard and son Nick Gazzard and families.   He will be sadly missed.

 

Don in Hat

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