80 years and counting…
Russell & Yelland are 80 this year! Having a sense of history and continuity whilst being innovative and having a vision for the future is a great combination.
Two mid-career Adelaide-based architects, Charles Alexander (Alec) Russell and Keith Mills Yelland formed their partnership in 1939. They were then both in private practice. Russell had alternated between partnerships and practising on his own and had worked on occasion in association with other architects. Yelland, however, had spent the majority of his professional life in government service and had moved only recently into private practice.
South Australia had emerged from the Great Depression and the state was starting to get back on its feet through industrial revitalisation. Revitalisation policies were put in place initially by R. L. Butler’s Liberal and Country League government and then by his successor, Thomas Playford, who took office as Premier in 1938. Signs of economic recovery benefitted a range of sectors including the local architectural profession. But while future prospects seemed hopeful, the spectre of war in Europe undoubtedly created some disquiet.
It was April 1939 when projects commenced originally by Alec Russell first bore the name Russell & Yelland. How these two men came to form a partnership and found an architectural firm which continues today with its original name remains a mystery. Upon forming their partnership they worked from Mutual Life Chambers, 44 Grenfell Street, Adelaide. Later, in 1954, they moved their office to the Unley area.
Over the years a number of architects worked with Russell &Yelland either in association, for example William Lucas, Russell Ellis and Bartley Bishop, or as longstanding employees, such as Jeff Hurcombe. Alec Russell’s son, John, joined the firm in 1966 when his father suffered some ill health. John became a director in 1970 and Managing Director upon the death of his father in 1975. Keith Yelland maintained a connection with the practice until his death in 1973.
John Held joined the practice in 1976, having worked there as a student in 1973 and 1974, becoming a Director in 1982. Alistair McHenry joined in 1981 and became a Director in 2000. This year we welcome Stewart Caldwell as a third Director following 13 years with the firm.
If Alec Russell and Keith Yelland had foreseen the consequences to the field of architecture from the impending war in Europe they may well have deemed it more prudent to combine forces and exercise economies of scale. For many, the initial years of the war were ‘business as usual’, but gradually restrictions saw private commissions deferred or just diminish. However they were able to maintain operations, despite Yelland’s absence for three years from 1942 whilst he served in the RAAF. Russell continued to have work from previous links in Broken Hill and the Russell & Yelland undertook South Australian wartime projects, including conversion designs for air raid shelters at a number of metropolitan sporting venues.
In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, much of its work came from the commercial and residential sectors. By 1955 improvement in Australia’s economy began to accelerate following the lifting of wartime controls and this translated into more work and wider opportunities.
In South Australia there were few practising architects in regional areas. Russell & Yelland had already developed contacts in Broken Hill and Mildura as well as with the Catholic Diocese of Port Pirie, the last becoming a long term and valuable client. In Adelaide we gained work with local government councils, particularly in Unley and Woodville.
By the 1970s some of the longstanding factors such as client loyalty which had influenced the firm gaining commissions started to change and the awarding of projects became more competitive. Additionally, Australia’s manufacturing sector was undergoing restructuring, job losses and rationalisation, with South Australia suffering more than most. Russell & Yelland managed to weather this storm. We gradually moved our focus away from residential projects to concentrate more on the education and health/aged care sectors.
For our 70th birthday we commissioned UniSA’s Architecture Museum to produce a monograph of our history titled “Designing for Communities” and held an exhibition of early works at UniSA. The contributions of Christine Garnaut and Alison McDougall from UniSA allowed us to again appreciate the wealth of our history.
From 2000 to 2004 Landscape Architect James Hayter joined the firm, with James Hayter & Associates undertaking an number of successful larger projects during their time with us.
In recent years we have undertaken a number of larger projects, including a successful partnership with Guida Moseley Brown Architects for projects in Adelaide, Mount Gambier and Canberra. We also still have a strong regional focus, with thirty current or recently-completed projects in all parts of the State.
The innovation we have seen in technical capabilities in the office is balanced by the desire to produce well-designed buildings which respond to the needs of our clients. In a rapidly changing world, we hope we can maintain this objective for many years to come!