This site is dedicated to the life and work of Edwin Hubert Henderson, architect (1885-1939). Henderson was Chief Architect of the Commonwealth of Australia from 1929-1939.
Henderson spent his first two years in Australia (1910-1912) working in the firm of John Reid and Son. He certainly was fortunate to work for a very prominent member of the profession. Upon his death in 1936, Building magazine paid a glowing tribute:
A fine old gentleman has passed from the ranks of the architectural profession of Sydney. An outstanding figure in his profession for fifty years, and now he is gone the profession is much the poorer. He represented the professional man of former days and to behold his fine upstanding physique, grey beard and kindly eyes was to receive confidence. He represented an age of stability, dignity and uprightedness.Building November 12, 1936 p69
Reid was a Scot, who had worked as a farmer, then a builder before emigrating to Australia in 1884 (Sydney Morning Herald 24 October 1936)
Henderson would have worked in Reid’s George Street offices in the National Mutual Building (or Equitable Building as it was originally known). Reid had been employed as Clerk of Works on this building early in his career, working for American architect Edward Raht. This job would have exposed Reid to new trends in architecture, including the Federation Romanesque style originated by Henry Hobson Richardson which Raht applied to the Equitable Building (1894). Reid started his own firm in 1896. His son Bruce later joined the firm.
Around the time Henderson started, the firm was busy with a range of work (Building 7 December 1909) including larger buildings like the Lyceum Building in Pitt Street, office fitouts and residential flats. What would it have been like working for Reid? What would Henderson have learnt? We know a little of Reid’s approach from his (quite) critical notes on a March 1911 competition for young architects to design a cottage.
Reid emphasised the “merits of restraint and economy” and wanted practical solutions that were both “economical and useful”. His assessment of the students’ submissions focused very much on working within the budget, making the most use of valuable space, ensuring natural light, for a the result that was fit for purpose. He was very stern with those entries that tried to elaborate their designs in ways that were not practical or affordable. The architect must be “held down by hard facts”. For him, the design must “rely on entirely simple and bold individuality, devoid of those efforts which the cost will not admit”. But he did admire “truth of purpose” in design. (Building March 13, 1911 pp90-95 vol 3, no. 42).
This focus on practical solutions was successful but could be criticised for a lack of ambition. In 1916 Reid (together with John Crust) won a design competition promoted by the Sydney City Council work the design of workmen’s dwellings. This competition was focused on urban renewal, but the flats had to earn a particular rent and rate of return. Reid’s design was clearly functional, but Florence Taylor editorialised that the design was for “reform in the physical sense only. The mental ‘uplift’ in the form of open space and the garden, is missing”. Building Aug 12, 1916.
For Henderson, this approach would have been a very useful introduction to his career working for the Commonwealth. Public buildings had to be practical and fit for purpose, and budget was often a strong consideration. Equally however Henderson allowed himself some scope for “simple and bold individuality” in his design work, adding details to the designs that added greatly to the aesthetic appeal and which also helped achieve the impression of dignity and solidity needed in public architecture – the “truth in purpose” that Reid emphasised.
Reid went on to complete a number of significant pieces of architecture, including a range of banks for the Bank of New South Wales. It is unclear if this part of his practice had commenced when Henderson was working for him. Reid completed Wingello House in Angel Place (notoriously the headquarters of the New Guard, an extreme right wing group of which Francis de Groot was a member). Reid’s most prestigious building was the new St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Macquarie Street opposite State Parliament, which he designed with Finlay Munro in the mid 1930s. Reid was an elder of that Church.
Interestingly, Reid designed the Agricultural Building for the NSW Government in the early 1930s, after the commission was taken away from the NSW Government Architect because price estimate was too high – given to John Reid and Sons whose estimate was lower (Building 12 Feb 1931 p50). One can only wonder what Henderson as a government architect would have thought of this!
NSW Heritage Register St Stephen’s Church.
NSW Heritage Register 348-352 George St Sydney