The start of our firm goes back to the early 1890’s in the Colony of Victoria.
William Scott Purves Godfrey, the founder of the architectural practice of Godfrey and Spowers, was born in Toorak on 6 April 1872. After schooling in Brussels and at Melbourne Grammar, he studied at the University of Melbourne and was articled to Joseph Reed of Reed, Henderson & Smart.
In 1895 he formed a partnership with a surveyor named Howitt, practicing as Howitt & Godfrey. The partnership continued for about six years, at the end of which Henry Howard Spowers, an architect who trained with Charles d’Ebro, was admitted. Shortly afterwards Howitt left the firm and in 1901 the partners registered as Godfrey and Spowers, their offices being at 34 Queen Street, Melbourne.
The early part of Godfrey’s practice with Howitt was in the difficult days after the land-boom of the nineties. There was little to do in the orthodox architectural field and Godfrey turned his attention to the new proposal to sewer the city and suburbs. A degree of specialisation in this field helped materially to promote the firm’s practice and brought a good deal of work through association with house owners who were anxious to have their properties ‘connected’.
Throughout the years before the First World War, the firm’s practice was predominantly residential. A few commercial buildings were undertaken but in the main the practice was of houses for the ‘well-to-do’, with their appurtenant coach-houses and servant’s wings and all the trappings of those times.
The 1914 War, of course, had a significant effect and the practice did not really show much progress until the twenties. It remained predominantly residential, although in the mid-twenties a certain amount of commercial and industrial work was carried out, the most significant projects being the newspaper office still standing on the north-west corner of Elizabeth and La Trobe Streets – the ‘Argus and Australasian’ – and a warehouse in Flinders Lane for Sargood Gardiner Pty Limited. Several smaller commercial works helped to augment the continuing residential output. The foundations were laid in this period of an association with the State Savings Bank of Victoria, for which a large number of branches were built and for which we still act as architects. The Bank of New South Wales also became our client and for many years we were its sole architect in Victoria, building many branches in the suburbs and the country.
In the late twenties several warehouses were built for Messrs MacMillan, Nettlefold, O J Syme, Sir Geoffrey Syme, Norman Grimwade and others, as well as a number of commercial buildings: Kelvin Hall – a winner of a competition, the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company in Collins Street, and some smaller buildings.
The depression of 1930 played havoc with the profession and with the industry and all practices suffered severely. In December 1932 Spowers died and in January 1933 William Purves Race Godfrey succeeded as partner. Our office was fortunate to be commissioned to design the new Melbourne headquarters for the Bank of New South Wales – a large job at the right time and the winner of the Street Architecture Medal for 1936. This project and the South Yarra Club – another competition winner, a large warehouse for Bennie Teare Pty Limited, studios for 3AW, and further works for Associated Dairies, were at the time the most important jobs in keeping the practice alive. All this work was carried out against a background of residential buildings which formed the largest part of the practice.
The team was strengthened over the years by the work of such well-known architects as John Scarborough, Geoffrey Mewton, Leonard Grant, Garnet Alsop, Norman Seabrook and Frank Dale.
In 1939 T C G Hicks, who has been with the firm for about two years, was admitted as a junior partner. He retired from that position in 1941 to join the army and was killed on service in 1942. His loss to the firm is difficult to overstate.
In 1941, after Hicks retired, the practice was suspended. W R Godfrey worked with the RAAF as a civilian architect in Melbourne and Sydney; W S P Godfrey, who was then 69, carried out a few commissions for air-raid shelters and other requirements of ARP authorities until the war ended.
Towards the end of 1944 W R Godfrey returned to Melbourne to recommence practice. He proposed partnership to Eric Hughes and Geoffrey Harley Mewton, both of whom accepted and then to John D Lobb, who also jointed the new firm, which for the next 25 years was to rejoice – to the delight of the profession – in the name of ‘Godfrey & Spowers, Hughes, Mewton and Lobb’. The combination of resources and, of course, the expansion in the activities of the new firm had a marked effect and in the early years of ‘Post War Reconstruction’ the firm’s work grew rapidly.
W S P Godfrey did not continue with the new firm, and retired from practice in 1944. He died in August 1953, aged 81.
The first large job to be undertaken after the war was for the University Women’s College. This was followed by a redevelopment for David Syme & Company of ‘The Age’ office on its Collins Street site, a building for AWA in Queen Street, Allan’s Music Warehouse, the Ashburton Theatre, Arts Block No 2 at Melbourne University and buildings for Toorak College, Portland Harbour Trust and the Law Institute of Victoria. Factories for British Australian Tobacco, Cameron & Sutherland, Silcraft, Green McCandlish, Malleys and others formed a strong core to the output of the next few years.
Eric Hughes was responsible for some valuable projects through his long connection with Freemasonry which ultimately brought about the Masonic Centre in Albert Street, ‘Centennial House’ Geriatric Hospital, additions to the Freemason’s Hospital and other projects. There followed a number of commercial city buildings, among them National Mutual Centre, the Bank of Adelaide, Union Fidelity Trustees, Automobile Fire and General Insurance, the Administration Building at Monash University and the Commonwealth Bank in Bourke Street and it became clear that this type of project was destined to become a larger part of our practice.
In June 1961 J D Lobb retired and in January 1962 the three remaining partners invited John M Davidson, William W Delaney, Kenneth G Hardcastle and Roger V Major to become partners. In October 1964 Hughes died and in June 1965 Major retired from the partnership.
In 1965 the firm transferred to the 17th floor of the recently completed National Mutual Life building on Collins Street – a move which coincided with, or perhaps brought about, a further increase in activity.
Several new projects were undertaken, among them city buildings for Northern & Employers’ Group in Melbourne and Perth, Union Fidelity Trustee Co and Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. New kinds of projects began to attract attention. Town plans were submitted to BHP for Mount Newman, and new planning and architectural developments were carried out for CRA and Hamersley Iron Pty Limited in Western Australia at Mt Tom Price and Dampier Industrial Estate Planning at Altona and Waverley for Slough Estates also became an interesting new field. During this period too, an office building at 350 Collins Street was built for the AMP Society (now the Taxation Office), a bank and office building for the State Savings Bank in Queen Street, a redevelopment on the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets for the Commonwealth Savings Bank and a new building for David Syme & Company – ‘The Age’ – in Spencer Street. A further activity began in Canberra where a branch was opened to carry out ‘Scarborough House’ – a major office building for the NCDC, and shipping terminals were built in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The overall development of Swinburne College of Technology was a continuing interest. City centres were planned at Waverley, Croydon and Portland.
In November 1969 it was decided to incorporate and the firm became Godfrey and Spowers Pty Limited.
During the early seventies branches were opened in Canberra and Singapore (both subsequently closed). Significant projects included the Australian High Commission and Bukit Timah Plaza, the first major regional shopping centre in Singapore. In Canberra we designed several commercial and government buildings. The Melbourne office continued to be engaged for larger buildings such as the National Bank headquarters, the Stock Exchange and National Mutual Building.
John Davidson, Peter Macdonald, Barry Axtens, Bryan Fitchett, Ken Hardcastle and Bill Delaney led the practice through this period of significant growth.
Growth continued into the eighties, with the ‘landmark’ Bourke Place, a 53 storey office complex for the AMP Society, the Melbourne Remand Centre, the Walter and Eliza Hall Research Laboratory Building, Western General Hospital at Sunshine, numerous St. Kilda Road office buildings for Lend Leased and Como, a major residential, commercial and hotel project. In Asia, we worked in joint venture on the headquarters building for the Malayan Bank, Kuala Lumpur and on university projects in other parts of Malaysia.
In late 1992 the recession in Australia caused a major restructure of the firm. We prepared a strategic plan to take Godfrey & Spowers from its local Melbourne base to a large national and international firm of significance.
In 1993 a merger was arranged with Puddy Lee in Perth, and a Sydney office was established.
These changes corresponded with a new corporate branding of the practice as Spowers in 1995.
In 2001, we established The Urban Alliance, with Di Carlo Potts in Sydney and Brisbane, Design Group in New Zealand, TC Design in South Africa and Ronald Lu and Associates in Hong Kong.
Significant projects for the Melbourne practice have been La Trobe University Redevelopment, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research Parkville and Bundoora, EPA Laboratories Mont Park, Monash Parkville Redevelopment, Pacific Theological College Fiji, Axxess Corporate Park, Aurora Apartments, Hawthorn on the Park, Bendigo Regional Institute of TAFE Echuca, Box Hill TAFE Elgar East, 60 L Green Building, Martha Cove Marina, Stonnington Council Depot, Banyule Netball Centre, National Australia Bank, Teletech International, Telstra, BP and a major advisory role on Environmentally Sustainable Design to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. In addition major international competition achievements have been in the Pacific Theological College Fiji, Museum of Victoria and the Wagga Civic Centre.
Spowers enters its second century as a diverse practice with local, national and international expertise, but more importantly as an organisation whose people possess an attitude of listening, analysing and developing solutions for each individual challenge.