Shaping Melbourne

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Walter Mason was born in Ballarat. His father, Francis Augustus Mason, was a successful builder. After a few years, the family moved to Melbourne and Walter spent the rest of his long, productive life in the eastern edge of Brighton: in Gardenvale and East Brighton.

At 14, he enrolled at Swinburne Technical College and joined the militia, the country’s peacetime army.

The young student/soldier spent seven years at Swinburne and the architectural atelier of the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1922.

He served his articles (the compulsory, low-paid apprenticeship) in the office of Harold Desbrowe Annear, a famous residential architect of the period.

At 23, Mason was a registered architect with an office in Collins Street. He married in 1925.

Until the ’50s, white-collar Melbourne stopped at William Street. The architectural profession was confined to Collins, Queen and William streets. Little Collins Street was less popular. Parking outside the office door was more difficult.

Mason was to practise from three Collins Street addresses until he went to war in 1942.

He served in the engineers, rose to the rank of lieutenant and returned to work in 1946.

His practice throughout the ’20s consisted of small industrial commissions and houses in the new suburbs of Malvern and Brighton. His design philosophy stemmed from his atelier training, without a glance at the architectural revolution occurring in Europe.

A postgraduate student, Jonathan Russell, has made a definitive study of Mason’s stylistic significance: a prescient view across a two-generation span.

When the Depression ended the patchy postwar boom years, commissions began to fall away. Somehow, Mason continued to practise when many of his co-professionals closed their offices and worked from home or opened them every second week.

As the ’30s progressed, work became more plentiful and he was soon employing eight assistants. In this era, he designed many period-style houses in Moonga Road and two in Yarradale Road, Toorak.

He also designed three prominent buildings that encapsulated their era.

In 1932, at the gateway to south-east Melbourne, the corner of Alexandra Avenue and Anderson Street, Mason designed a handsome block of flats in a restrained Mediterranean style.

In 1935, he designed flats at 229 Brighton Road, Elwood, in the moderne style. Apart from TV wiring and a few security screens, they remain in mint condition and show the high standards architects insisted on in those years.

The Davis Relova Laundry, at 129 Hoddle Street, Richmond, is now an apartment block. In 1937, it was a rare example of streamline moderne with its runs of steel-framed windows and metal graphics. Its requisite water tank had been turned into a major façade element.

In 1954, Mason subdivided his family property and created Trinity Court in Brighton East. He designed 10 of the houses built there in the then-new contemporary style. Its residents are proud of their attractive court and have produced a brochure extolling its architecture and its architect.

Walter Mason received no awards nor took any role in his profession. He just worked hard, brought up his family, served his country in good times and bad, and built Melbourne.

CV

WALTER MASON | 1901-1992

Swinburne Technical College and University of Melbourne, BArch, 1922

 

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