Discovering Mary Colter

On our recent US road trip we arrived at the Grand Canyon, as you do, to see the wonders of nature. What surprised us was there was one person celebrated by plaques, books, tour guides and even the railways – Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (1869-1958). She was the architect of a number of the buildings at the South Rim, as well as many railway hotels in the South-West.

Growing up in St Paul, Minnesota, Mary studied art and architecture at the California School of Design and undertook an apprenticeship in a local architect’s office. Returning to St Paul, she taught drawing and architecture until offered a job with Fred Harvey.  Fred had developed restaurants and hotels to cater for the rapidly expanding railway network in the South-West, and from his interest in regional Indian Arts and Crafts he established a number of gift shops selling this art.

Mary Coulter was employed by the Fred Harvey Company in 1902 as he needed “a decorator who knew Indian things and was creative” – the beginning of a forty year association with the company.

Hopi House
Hopi House

Her first work at the Grand Canyon was Hopi House (1905), a centre for Indian Arts and Crafts. Rather than a generic shop, she designed a building based on the Hopi dwellings at Oraibi, on the Third Mesa of the Hopi Nation. The craftspeople lived in the top floor.

Her love of Indian art started in childhood, and shows in all her works. Having stayed at the Hopi Nation and seen Oraibi (a village dating from the 1100s and the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the US) she designed a fitting tribute to the indigenous architecture of the region.

Hermit’s Rest
  • Hermit's Rest, Grand Canyon - Mary Colter
  • Hermit's Rest, Grand Canyon - Mary Colter
  • Hermit's Rest, Grand Canyon - Mary Colter
  • Fireplace Detail, Hermit's Rest - Mary Colter

Her next building at the Grand Canyon was Hermit’s rest, the end of the south rim trail and terminus for the stagecoach tour. Built in 1914, it grows out of the hillside with lovely details like the stone and timber verandah supports. The fireplace occupies the whole back wall and came complete with soot, dust and artfully placed cobwebs as part of the design.

The Lookout Studio
  • Lookout Studio, Grand Canyon - Mary Colter
  • Lookout Studio, Grand Canyon - Mary Colter

Up early to watch sunrise over the Grand Canyon, I noticed a small building on a rocky outcrop on the canyon rim. It seemed to grow out of the rock, and I assumed it was of fairly recent construction. It was in fact another Mary Colter building from 1914, the Lookout Studio, built the same year as Hermit’s rest and almost timeless in its design and detailing.

The Desert Tower
  • Desert Tower, Grand Canyon - Mary Colter
  • Hopi Paintings inside the Desert Tower

Twenty-five miles to the east, at the entry to the Park, stands the Indian Watchtower at Desert View. Before commencing the design she chartered a small plane, locating and then spending six months visiting numerous prehistoric towers built by the Pueblo Indians.  She built a wooden watchtower at the site the same height as the proposed tower to check the views, and the building was constructed with a steel frame covered with local stone painstakingly selected and laid so no cut were visible. Decorated internally with Hopi artwork painted by young Hopi Artist Fred Kabotie, it is a fitting introduction for visitors to the Canyon.

Bright Angel Lodge
  • Bright Angel Lodge
  • Strata Fireplace, Bright Angel Lodge

On the completion of the Desert Tower Mary commenced work on the Bright Angel Lodge to provide more economical accommodation at the Canyon. Mary designed a stone and log-cabin style building whose central feature was a large fireplace made from the various strata of stone from the canyon arranged in the correct order of the various strata from the canyon river floor to the rim.

Mary’s involvement in her projects included every detail from fittings, furniture and lights through to the crockery and cutlery. Her vision and perfectionism is evident in all her work, even though many of her buildings appear “rustic” at first glance. More importantly, she was influential in promoting regional and indigenous influences in architecture in the US South-West. Previously architects working on new hotels and railway terminals had copied European styles – but her influence is still seen in the work of contemporary buildings in National Parks, and she is certainly not forgotten at the Grand Canyon!

Railway Carriage named in memory of Mary Colter

News from Russell and Yelland

As we look ahead to 2019, we also look back on the highlights of 2018.

Caritas Building at Nazareth College Flinders Park, nestled on a tiny site between the existing school and the River Torrens, was completed just before Christmas. At Cabra College the new Music Centre was handed over at the end of last year, and construction has commenced on their new double court Gymnasium.

Construction of the Copperhouse Court Nursing Home Redevelopment at Whyalla is under way along with the new Senior Students Centre at St Josephs School, Port Lincoln. Concordia’s Nautilus Centre also won a commendation in the Learning Environments Australasia National Awards in May and Hariklia recently featured in a video of the building.

We completed a further six government STEM projects – four in Whyalla, one at Salisbury East High School and another at Seaford Secondary College and new STEM, library and learning areas at Stella Maris Parish School. It’s been great to see how the students have started to use these spaces for many different science and technology projects. Renal Units at Mt Gambier and Whyalla and a number of Master Plans for hospitals headlined our health work last year.

This year Russell and Yelland will celebrate its 80th birthday – so we have a great history to celebrate but much to look forward to in the future!

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Completion of Whyalla STEM projects

Whyalla primary schools – STEM projects

Over the last two years we have undertaken seven STEMWorks projects in government schools, including four in Whyalla Primary Schools: Long St, Hincks Avenue and Whyalla Town.

It’s great to see the students using these new and much improved facilities as they undertake their science and technology projects.

Construction starts at Copperhouse Court Redevelopment, Whyalla

  • Whyalla Aged Care Inc.: Copperhouse Court Redevelopment, Whyalla: Site Plan
  • Whyalla Aged Care Inc.: Copperhouse Court Redevelopment, Whyalla: View from Noble St
  • Whyalla Aged Care Inc.: Copperhouse Court Redevelopment, Whyalla: Aerial View from Hutchens St
  • Whyalla Aged Care Inc.: Copperhouse Court Redevelopment, Whyalla: new Memory Support Unit
  • Whyalla Aged Care Inc.: Copperhouse Court Redevelopment, Whyalla: new Memory Support Unit
  • Whyalla Aged Care Inc.: Copperhouse Court Redevelopment, Whyalla
  • Whyalla Aged Care Inc.: Copperhouse Court Redevelopment, Whyalla

Whyalla Aged Care Inc. operates aged facilities including Yeltana, Annie Lockwood and existing independent living units on their Newton Street Site, as well as Copperhouse Court, which is located at Flinders Aveune, Whyalla Stuart.

The Redevelopment of their Copperhouse Court Nursing Home, comprising a new 14 bed Memory Support Unit along with extensive refurbishment to the existing facility, has  for a total project cost approaching $10m.

New Senior Centre project at St Josephs School in Pt Lincoln commences construction

The new senior centre and a refurbishment and extension to the existing manual arts centre will commence construction shortly.

The senior centre is approximately 1000m² in size and the manual arts refurbishment is approximately 400m². Works are located at Mortlock Terrace in Pt Lincoln.

Whyalla Aged Care Inc: Independent Living Units

 Expression of Interest for Builders

Tenders will be called in February for 16 Independent Living Units at Newton St Whyalla.

The project consists of 16 residential independent Living Units as part of the retirement area. There is one fully accessible designed house with all the others of proportions that will facilitate occupants comfortably with good circulation areas and easy use fitouts.

This is a mixture of 2 and 3 bedroom options based on a five floor plan types. The majority of the houses are hosted together as a duplex style, with a shared party wall joining the garages. There are also a few stand-alone houses within the development. The planning of the site is two rows of eight houses, with one row of direct access off Newton Street. The second row will be accessed via an internal roadway.

Licensed Builders interested in tendering should register in writing with the Architects, including details of similar work undertaken, current commitments and three referees by noon on Friday 18th January 2019.

P.O. Box 3054, Unley, SA  5061 or jfheld@rusyel.com.au

Russell & Yelland announced as architects for Mt Barker Hospital master plan

The Marshall Liberal Government has today appointed the architects who will design the Master Plan for Mt Barker Hospital.The Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said the contract was awarded to Russell and Yelland Architects, who will commence the master planning at the hospital this week.

‘Today’s announcement officially marks the process of the architects engaging local doctors, nurses and other health practitioners on what they believe should be incorporated into the rejuvenated Master Plan for their hospital,” Minister Wade said.

“The Master Plan will outline components of future services that are required to ensure the hospital continues to provide the best care to their local community.

“The region has recently undertaken a robust planning process for services at Mount Barker Hospital and Strathalbyn and District Health Service through the collaborative leadership of local general practitioners, the Health Advisory Council Presiding Member, staff and key stakeholders.

“The planning process identified several health service priorities including accident and emergency services, paediatric services and renal services.

“I am delighted to meet local doctors and nurses today and discuss what is important to them as they begin this important process.”

The State Government last week announced it would be funding $337,000 over four years to increase paediatric services at Mt Barker Hospital, enabling the provision of a specialist to support the current obstetric service.

Liberal Member for Kavel Dan Cregan said the announcement of Russell and Yelland Architects was an exciting first step for the community.

“Our local community has been working diligently to plan which services are required in Mt Barker and I am pleased that Russell and Yelland Architects will now kick-off what we will be some robust planning with our hospital staff,” Mr Cregan said.

“The State Government is committed to upgrading our country services and it’s great to hear that our regional health services are forward planning to best meet the demands of our local community.

“Today is an important step and I look forward to seeing the Master Plan and further engaging with my local community on the plan.”

The Master Plan process will kick-off this week and will be finalised by the end of the year.

Further Recognition for Concordia’s Nautilus Centre

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Fibonacci Lounge

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre- Foucault Pendulum Central Atrium

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Physics Area

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Foucault Pendulum Central Atrium

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Lab display

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre- view from street

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre- view from quadrangle

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Sky Kaleidescope

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre- Solar System Breakout

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Sky Kaleidescope breakout

    Photograph: David Sievers

Concordia’s Nautilus Centre was awarded a Commendation for Educational Buildings in the 2018 Australian Institute of Architects SA Chapter Awards.

The jury citation was as follows:

Possessing a restrained exterior, sympathetic to its surroundings, the Nautilus Centre pushes educational boundaries within and beyond its walls, creating a hub for all. The flexibility of the learning spaces form open yet secluded areas, linking learning theories and concepts to the overall design. The coherence of learning experience engages learners both passively and actively.

The building physically represents contemporary theory and heightens the learning experience by immersing students within a space embedded with concepts and theories. The success of the building is the calmness of abundant natural light and the transparency and visual engagement created by the floor planning.

The Nautilus cleverly opens up teaching and learning, securing a presence within the neighbourhood and ensuring that 21st century learning is on display.

Learning Environment Australasia awards Commendation to Concordia College’s Nautilus Centre

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Fibonacci Lounge

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre- Solar System Breakout

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre- view from quadrangle

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Sky Kaleidescope

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Sky Kaleidescope breakout

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre- view from street

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre- Foucault Pendulum Central Atrium

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Foucault Pendulum Central Atrium

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Lab display

    Photograph: David Sievers

  • Concordia College, Nautilus Centre - Physics Area

    Photograph: David Sievers

Russell & Yelland has been awarded a Commendation in the 2018 Australasian Region LEA Awards for Concordia’s Nautilus Centre in the category of new facilities under $8m.

The Jury commented as follows:

The Nautilus Centre, developed by Russell & Yelland Architects, has its foundation in a carefully considered educational brief. The resulting building is a thoughtful and carefully considered learning environment which exudes the celebration of science, bringing to life theory and practice through telling stories within the fabric of the building.

This is a learning environment that uses the whole building for learning from classroom spaces and labs through to shared space and even the stairwell that rotates around the Foucault pendulum. Breakout spaces and glass writing walls enable the student learning to – be mobile and adaptable.

As one student says: “The open learning spaces, filled with their uniquely textured details, creates a dynamic and flexible learning experience. The cleverly incorporated decorative features, which further arouse my scientific curiosity, is something which my friends all agree makes learning STEAM subjects more accessible.”

Visible learning is celebrated in the Nautilus Centre by bringing the class activity into the more public realms, using glazing and glass display boxes as walls and additional windows between teaching spaces. Deep transparency is achieved across the building creating a sense of lightness and openness, whilst retaining the ability to have individual learning spaces.

With a striking facade and a positive contribution to the campus setting, Russell & Yelland should be proud of creating an excellent new building for Concordia College that will inspire both the future generations of young scientists and the teachers that will utilise the Nautilus Centre.

More information on the awards is available here

Building Confidence: The Shergold-Weir Report and its Implications for Architects

The Shergold-Weir Report argues for better quality documentation and improved oversight. What do the recommendations mean for architects?

In mid-2017 the Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF) asked Professor Peter Shergold and Ms. Bronwyn Weir to undertake an assessment of the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia. The final report ‘Building Confidence’ was recently delivered to the BMF and is available for review here.

The stated goal of the report is to “enhance public trust through effective implementation of building and construction standards that protect the interests of those who own, work, live, or conduct their business in Australian buildings.” The report has a number of recommendations about the whole process of building and maintaining safe and well-constructed buildings, and has special significance in the wake of the Lacrosse and Grenfell Tower fires. It mainly deals with “commercial” rather than domestic scale buildings.

The report also has a number of observations and recommendations, which affect architects in our roles during design, construction and ongoing maintenance of buildings. If implemented it will change many aspects of the construction process, and in doing so it also presents a number of opportunities for architects to re-occupy areas of practice we have lost to other practitioners.

Building confidence and ensuring integrity

“The quality of buildings depends heavily on the competency and integrity of builders. There are many builders that have high standards of competency and integrity. However, the rates of disputes, alleged defects and reports of high levels of illegal phoenix activity are evidence that there are shortcomings in the performance of some builders. These need to be addressed.[p13]

Shergold and Weir are clear that there is insufficient supervision, auditing and expertise in the industry, and too many practitioners willing to take short cuts to save money and time. They also note that there are many conflicts of interest in the way compliance is achieved through private certifiers employed by the client or builder, and an unwillingness for certifiers or the approving authorities to enforce standards during construction. A number of recommendations address those conflicts by better documentation, registration of building practitioners, auditing of those practitioners, and inspections and checking during and after construction.

Registration of building practitioners

While there has been little progress on a true national scheme for registration of architects, our profession is often seen as a model for other building practitioners, where registration and licensing schemes vary widely between states and there is little appetite to harmonise systems or introduce mutual recognition across state borders. It also strongly endorses CPD (not yet a feature of all Architect’s Acts) and subcategories of registration for different building types – something which may be problematic for smaller architectural firms. It recommends strict controls on who can provide performance-based solutions under the NCC and when third-party certification of those solutions is required. Registered practitioners would also be required to have their work audited – so architects’ documentation for building rules consent could be audited by a third party. Building designers would also need to be registered – something which architects have long called for. It also calls for a consistent approach to the registration of builders, specialist subcontractors (especially fire contractors) and engineers.

Quality of documentation

There have been many reports over many years calling for better quality documentation by design professionals.  Shergold and Weir note:

“The adequacy of documentation prepared and approved as part of the building approvals process is often poor. The tendency for inadequate documentation to be prepared and accepted by building surveyors at the building approvals stage has increased, in part because of owners and developers endeavouring to minimise costs on documentation. This issue needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.

… Inadequate documentation can also result in hidden costs or allow builders to cut costs without owners being aware of it.

The integrity of documentation for future use is also compromised when the approval documents do not reflect the as-built building, or when they contain insufficient detail to properly inform building risk and maintenance requirements.” [p28]

Many of the problems noted are blamed on procurement methods, and in particular Design and Construct. The report notes often architects are not retained through the whole construction period.

“…architects and engineers have indicated that they may be engaged early in a project to prepare initial documentation but that their engagement then ends. Detailed construction documentation is prepared by others who may not possess the relevant skills. When products specified are substituted, architects, engineers and building surveyors may not be consulted.” [p31]

The report notes that the process for approving changes during construction is flawed, and that as-built documentation is either non-existent or of poor quality. It recommends that comprehensive digital manuals be required and that they should be stored centrally by government to allow access in the future by owners and maintainers of buildings.

Recommendation 16 of the report states that each jurisdiction should provide for a building compliance process that incorporates clear obligations for the approval of amended documentation by the appointed building surveyor throughout a project. It notes:

“Implementation of this recommendation will be challenging. It requires designers, building surveyors and builders to work to properly document design and construction specifications. This is the lynchpin of a best practice building approvals system and considerable effort will be required to effectively bring about systemic change in this area.” [p32]

Shergold and Weir envisage a very different system to that currently in place – but one that ensures the safety and amenity of the users of our buildings.

What does it mean for architects?

Architects must firstly take responsibility for, and publicly commit to, a better quality of documentation. The skill set for producing such documentation has reduced over the past generation, and the downward pressure on fees has seen it lost as a core business of many architectural firms. It is not seen as glamorous, award-winning or valued by clients, builders or end users. Endless reports on the value of good documentation go ignored, especially when fees and scope are negotiated. Footage of the Grenfell and Lacrosse fires should have awakened a new desire by architects to argue for good documentation, procurement and construction practice.

Our profession already has registration and a relatively good system for dealing with complaints from the public – but does it actually want to fight for a role as a leader in construction industry for integrity, competence and high levels of technical skill? Will we welcome the idea of auditing of our work and accepting criticism of poor documentation without blaming clients, builders and fees? These are moral, not just business choices, and lives depend on it.

Judging by past efforts to achieve any national improvement in the construction industry, the three tiers of our wonderful federated system of government will conspire to stuff it up. As architects, we owe it to the public to advocate for a better, safer and more trustworthy industry.  We need all architects to step up alongside us. You’d better start writing to politicians today if you want that vision for the future.

This article was first published on the Association of Consulting Architects Website