Freotopia > people > Robin McKellar Campbell, 1934-2017

Robin McKellar Campbell

Rob Campbell was Fremantle's senior heritage architect.

In 1966, Rob Campbell established his architectural practice in Fremantle specialising in restoration work, adapting the old Lunatic Asylum for the Fremantle Museum and Arts Centre, writing reports for FCC on historic buildings and townscape, and managing projects on the Round House, Fremantle Markets and verandahs, St John's Church Fremantle, the Old Courthouse, and the first detailed report on the Fremantle Prison. Work in Claremont included the Railway Station and Christ Church in the 1970s.

In the 1980s and 1990s, major projects included Guildford Grammar School Chapel, the Perth Mint Factory Buildings, the Perth Police Courts and the Hackett Memorial Buildings at UWA. He was also consultant architect to the Benedictine Community of New Norcia, providing conservation advice on some 24 significant buildings from 1986 to 2012.

Rob was an active member of ICOMOS Australia, the RAIA and the National Trust (WA), and a long term lecturer in conservation architecture at UWA. His interest in the Convict Establishment in Fremantle led to a PhD on the subject in 2011, and a book Henderson & Coy was completed just before his unexpected passing 20 October 2017. He was a passionate advocate for conservation in Fremantle right up to that last day.

rob campbell

Rob Campbell with archaeologist Jack MacIlroy at Bathers Beach in the 1980s

Heritage loss for city

Ingrid van Bremen:
Renowned Fremantle architect Robin McKellar Campbell (83) died unexpectedly last Friday [20 October 2017].
Mr Campbell restored a swathe of the city’s heritage buildings, such as the Arts Centre, Round House, Fremantle Markets, St John’s Church, Princess May Park and the Prison.
He was a strident critic of recent developments around the city, particularly Kings Square. Feisty to the end, just two days before his death he penned a letter to the Herald flaying Sirona Capital’s proposed FOMO in the square as “Fucking Offensive Mercantile Objective”.
Mr Campbell went to hospital expecting a stay of a few hours, but an undiagnosed infection took a turn for the worse.
Born in South Africa in 1934 and graduating in architecture from the University of Cape Town in 1957, Robin McKellar Campbell was employed in general practice in South Africa, Rhodesia and the United Kingdom (RIBA 1959).
He moved to Australia and completed a master of architecture degree at the University of Melbourne and on arrival in WA in 1964 joined the firm of Oldham Boas & Ednie Brown.
In 1966, Rob Campbell started his own practise and began specialising in restoration work.
Research on the old Lunatic Asylum in Fremantle began in 1968, and the project to bring it back into use as the Fremantle Museum and Arts Centre was completed in two stages by 1972.
The quality of the project was recognised by a RAIA WA Chapter Bronze Medal (1977), and it remains a landmark in the conservation and adaptive reuse of historic places in WA.
In the 1970s, working with the Fremantle City Council, Rob compiled some of the first reports aimed at recognising and protecting the historic buildings and valuable townscape in Fremantle, as well as completing projects such as the consolidation of the Round House (1973) and the restoration of the Fremantle Markets (1975).
A Churchill Fellowship allowed a study break at the University of York (UK 1976), followed by restoration projects such as Claremont Railway Station, Christchurch in Claremont, St John’s Anglican Church Fremantle, and the reconstruction of the street-front verandahs to the Fremantle Markets (1981).
His work on the Old Courthouse on the Esplanade and Princess May Park won Fremantle awards and he completed the first detailed research and report on the value of the Fremantle Prison while it was still in use as a prison.
His commitment to the special character of Fremantle and his work on the history and cultural values of the West End (which included at that time the Round House and Arthur head, the Railway Station, Kings Square and the Prison) led to its listing as a Conservation Area in the Fremantle Town Planning Scheme, its classification by the National Trust, and listing on the Register of the National Estate.
He has understandably been critical of recent developments that have reduced the included protected area, particularly the act of omitting Kings Square from the Stage Heritage Register in 2016.
In the 1980s and 1990s, major projects included restoration of Guildford Grammar School Chapel, adaptive re-use of the Perth Mint Factory Buildings (with OB&E-B 1994) and the Perth Police Courts (with the Building Management Authority 1995).
His expertise in the conservation of stonework was brought to the task of managing repairs to the historic buildings on the University of WA Campus, from Hackett Memorial Buildings to the Arts Building.
He was also consultant architect to the Benedictine Community of New Norcia, providing conservation advice on some 24 significant buildings from 1986 to his retirement from professional practice at the end of 2012.
Through all this time, Rob supported the people in Fremantle who have been trying to protect the cultural values of the Town during its development phases, and has inspired generations of students with his knowledge and passion for the unique history and townscape of the place.
He was a severe critic of proposals for change that did not, at the same time, respect the cultural values.
On Friday, October 20, The Herald and its readers lost a keen contributor to the debates about the future of Fremantle: his last letter was dated October 18.

Fremantle Society mail to members:

27 October 2017: Vale Fremantle Friend — Rob Campbell’s Funeral Today 4.30pm

Coming on top of the distressing news of Dr Linley Lutton’s health, the death of Fremantle’s senior architect is a serious blow to the cultural landscape of Fremantle and its built heritage. No architect knew Fremantle better or studied it more assiduously and wisely.

His funeral will be at Fremantle Cemetery this afternoon at 4.30pm.

The photograph above shows Rob (on the right) leading a group through the former Fremantle Lunatic Asylum, the buildings he restored almost 50 years ago.

The Fremantle History Society noted a year ago that in his career : “Rob Campbell had architectural practices in South Africa, Rhodesia, England, Melbourne and WA. He worked with 0ldham, Boas, Ednie-Brown & Partners, coming to Fremantle in 1965 to help manage a development for the Fremantle City Council. Work became focussed on conservation in Fremantle, Perth, New Norcia. He retired from practice in 2012 and is now an Honorary Research Fellow still engaged with students in the conservation units of the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts at UWA. ”

Fremantle’s Senior Architect Repeatedly Ignored by Council
Fremantle Council is doing a ‘ $270 million’ development project in and around historic King’s Square without doing a conservation plan first.

Rob Campbell did one. Like much of his work, it has been ignored by Fremantle Council.

The Fremantle Society is determined that the wisdom of experts like Rob Campbell and Linley Lutton will not be ignored, forgotten or left hidden from view, but will be made available, and disseminated.

Given the unnecessary $50 million administration building about to commence it is worth repeating Rob Campbell’s comments about it, which have been ignored:

“The latest development of the proposed new administration building conforms to the old story of the Committee set up to design a horse.

Remember this? The architects describing their prize-winning design − “Materially, the building is conceived as a series of sandstone formations rising up to support a delicate glass prism. White planar elements hover above the streets and define a large verandah. The architecture is clear and coherent… the sandstone references the key historical buildings of Fremantle, the white planar massing alludes to the colour of the ocean liners that frequent the Port City…” Over the top?
Sandstone is not typical of Fremantle; the key reference here is the St. John’s Church limestone.

However, the architects had successfully used the white planar elements to pull together the difficulties presented them by the competition brief that demanded too big a footprint on the awkward triangular site. Clear and coherent? Not any more. I hear that Councillors decided that it began to look too much like the Myer building, so now we have a collection of awkward and unrelated spaces and an attempt to disguise this behind a metal curtain. A little old lady’s hat and veil trick, which may improve the wearer’s self-esteem but doesn’t fool anyone else.

This façade treatment is at its worst where it abuts and shows no courtesy to the Town Hall.
Perhaps Councillors should acquaint themselves with the public outcry that accompanied the arrival of the Queensgate building on William Street in 1989, particularly its streetscape relationship to the Town Hall. The Daily News headlined −
“Freo stands by its $10m. ugly duckling, doesn’t know if it will turn into a swan or a turkey”.
The Councillors and Officers who then thought that they were clever enough to produce a swan will now be breathing a sigh of relief and giving thanks to know that the turkey is soon to be gobbled up. The current crop of officials should prepare themselves for similar criticism of the present proposal.

The site is still being over-developed, but we now find that the top floor is surplus to Council’s requirements and will be leased out commercially. (The top floor is higher than the Federal Hotel in William Street that has always been the maximum height marker for the Square) Also, that ground floor space on William and Newman Streets will be leased out, leaving no civic function at street level, and ignoring the opportunity to locate the Library at Kings Square ground level. It begins to look as though Council is abusing its own Town Planning scheme to profit as a developer rather than to set civic standards in this sensitive area of the Town.

While there are several, the most awkward space in the whole scheme is the birdsbeak at the corner of Newman and High. At ground floor level, it is an acute triangle, with approximately seven metre sides and four metre base, behind the entrance doors to a restaurant. Imagine yourself − and the furniture − in this space. .Similarly, in the office spaces on levels one and two above. Useless floor space, and so un-Freo where corners are traditionally comfortably rounded. Worse, the metal curtain oversails the ground floor and leaves an unfriendly canyon of public space below.

It is difficult to imagine the thinking behind the two sunken pools on either side of the basement library, except perhaps that the current officials are too young to remember the pools that stood alongside the Town Hall in the 1970s − and what happened to them on most week-ends.

And where there should be some free space to allow the Town Hall to stand alone in its architectural strength, there is now none.”

(ii) Flawed Heritage Impact Statement

New Council Building gets Heritage Tick of Approval − Herald 1/7/17.

“This headline is based on a Heritage Impact Statement prepared for the City of Fremantle in April.

I am not sure what a Heritage Impact Statement (HIS) is for. It certainly is not a substitute for a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) which is the nationally and internationally recognised structure for assessing and managing the impact of new development on places of cultural significance. (ref.UNESCO; ICOMOS; AICOMOS etc.)

In my submission on the Kings Square development project in January, I pointed out this omission
and included a prototype CMP. Council staff thought so little of this idea that they did not bother to pass it on to Councillors.

This lack of a rigorously argued and structured overall conservation plan and policies for Kings Square is acknowledged in this HIS; instead, the conclusions are a series of straw-man questions or statements on the impact that the new building will have on the existing Statements of Significance listed in the Municipal Inventory for the Town Hall, St. Johns Church, and Kings Square. eg. −

The Town Hall.
Q: Aesthetic value?The building is a fine example of Victorian Free Classical style civic architecture
demonstrating the civic pride and confidence of the Fremantle Community.
A: There will be no adverse impact.
The new proposal is probably not going to change the style category as defined by Irving&Apperly.
The real question is − will it enhance or diminish the way we see ‘this fine example’ on the ground?

Q: Streetscape contribution?The building occupies a strategic position at the intersection of William
and High Streets making a major contribution to the streetscape of the West End of the City.
A: No adverse impact.
The view of the Town Hall from the West End is its most important contribution to the streetscape,
and brevity required in the documentation of the Inventory leaves it at that. But it is not the only value it has to offer. It also demonstrates the Fremantle habit of comfortably turning around corners using curved facades, towers or turrets. This fundamental principle is flatly contradicted at the new building intersection of High and Newman where a most adverse impact on the townscape occurs. That question is not raised in the Heritage Impact Statement.

Q: The Clock Tower?The Town Hall Clock Tower is a well established landmark in Fremantle,
identifying the civic centre of the city.
A: The prominence of the clock will not be diminished.
Perhaps we will still be able to check the time, but in particular, the top floor of the new building will intrude on the architectural view of the tower as a whole on the approaches to the City, and in the closer perspectives from William, Adelaide and Queen Streets, as is well-illustrated in the drawings included in the Heritage Impact Statement.

On the impact of the new building on the townscape of the Square the HIS has not much to say. The latest set of perspective sketches are showing an entirely new and different character to the Square, but this question is not asked in the HIS. However, there is a positive contribution in the statement that − Reopening of Newman Court to traffic will also enhance the urban form of the original square. The reopened street should return to its original name − Newman Street. Yes.

In general, the HIS seems to examine the impact of the new development on the existing paper-work, not the reality of its physical and visual impact on the existing cultural landscape that is Kings Square.”

R.McK.Campbell. July, 2017.

References and Links

Obit and photograph courtesy of the Fremantle Herald, 27 October 2017.

Campbell, Robin McKellar 2010, Building the Fremantle Convict Establishment, PhD, UWA (Faculty of Architecture). Available online to download (not from this site) as a 40MB PDF.

Campbell, R.McK. 2017, Henderson & Coy, Faculty of Architecture, UWA. [book version of the doctoral dissertation]

Campbell, Robin McK. 2019, 'The prehistory of conservation in Fremantle, revisited', Fremantle Studies, 10: 31-44.

Edmonds, M.J. & K.G. Bott, J.E.V. Birch, E.S. Morris, R.McK. Campbell 1971, Preservation and Change, Fremantle City Council.

Edmonds, M.J. & K.G. Bott, J.E.V. Birch, E.S. Morris, R.McK. Campbell 1973, Changing Fremantle, Fremantle City Council.


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