He was a boy from the bush, a passionate believer in all things Australian. Both his parents had come from pastoral backgrounds and Ian seemed to have the power of the Australian landscape flowing through his blood.
My first encounter with Ian was in the office of Bruce Rickard in a Phillip Street terrace opposite the Public Works Department. Ian was the maverick of a group of friends clustered around Bruce, including Neville Gruzman, Tony Moore, Milo Dunphy and many others. Locally, the group was called the Sydney School for their general beliefs in the use of common brickwork and timber that seemed to flaunt the principles of modernism, as determined by the Bauhaus.
The Sydney School stood for nationalism and had an appreciation of our colonial past and a new appreciation of Asian architecture, which had been hinted at by Hardy Wilson and others. Ian had worked in Holland and brought back with him an appreciation of modernist European movements. He worked with Collard Clarke and Jackson and his mate Philip Jackson, before making a decision to start up on his own. La Salle, a vertical shopping arcade in Castlereagh Street, now defaced, was his first project.
After discussions with Ian, we founded a practice together called Ian McKay and Philip Cox Architects in Association in 1963. We embarked on a project for St Andrew’s that would win the Australian Institute of Architects’ Sir John Sulman Medal. It was a modest, single storey building that hugged the landscape, made with common brickwork and metal skillion roofs. It was built around an existing homestead with an encircling veranda and a bark hut. Romantically, we positioned a bell tower, as Ian still had Italy and the hill villages as a pivotal idea for the composition.
Tocal Agricultural College followed and this became the fulfilment of all that we believed in, in terms of sustainability and how it valued Australian culture and landscape. The materials are entirely local: bricks, tiles, timber, pavers. There were few services and it was entirely self-sufficient.
It was joyous working with Ian on this project and we both knew we had achieved something new and fresh in the history of Australian architecture. The nuances of Asia were mixed with the influences of the barn at Tocal designed by colonial architect Edmund Thomas Blacket. The timber structure was developed with Professor Stan Shaw from UNSW.
There were many other projects we did together – Woden Food Centre (now demolished, as is Emerald Hill), Blacktown Presbyterian Church amongst some. Eventually we agreed to separate, as philosophically we were heading in different directions. Swinger Hill was the last job commissioned jointly.
He was a true Australian – laconic, Doric in his beliefs, eyes squinted to the vast Australian horizon, ever-searching for meaning in life and nature through western and eastern philosophies. He was a great architect.
Professor Philip Cox AO
Founding partner, Cox Architects and Planners