John White interview, 14 December 2012

Dublin Core


John White interview, 14 December 2012




Architect John White was born in Wickepin in Western Australia. He talks of his path to becoming an architect and how he studied the subject at Perth Technical College post war before starting his own business in Fremantle. He would become a teacher in the subject at Perth Technical College and at the University of Western Australia.
During the interview he talks of coming to lecture at UWA from 1968 in what was the fledgling architectural course. White became a senior lecturer at the School of Architecture from 1973. He was Head of Department from 1980-86. He has been involved in research into the history of architecture in Western Australia. White was important in the development and building of houses using new practices sympathetic to climate and spatial location. He adopted designs incorporating indoor/outdoor designs commonly seen in houses today.
He speaks at length of his developing career and involvement at the University and the changing face of the course in light of the established architectural course at Curtin University. He speaks of how he sees the University and the current school of architecture in the local and international climate.


White, John


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


John Bannister


John White


Bunbury, W.A.


Interview 1: 56 minutes, 30 seconds
Interview 2: 34 minutes, 4 seconds
Interview 3: 21 minutes, 39 seconds
Total: 1 hour, 52 minutes, 13 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Track 1
00:00:00 Introduction. Background information. Medical family. Background back to 1829 settlement of W.A. Daniel Scott’s daughters. Dr Elliot from Tasmania. Childhood and interest in architecture. Grew up in Fremantle. Playing around the old buildings during the depression. Architecture of the port city. Heritage and history. Grandfather’s house and history. Education and becoming an architect. War time schooling and reserve teachers. Christchurch and Hale schools. Sport. War. Officers from the Sydney dine at the family home.
00:11:24 Father’s connection with the military. House requisition and move to Peppermint Grove. How architecture came into view. Liking drawings. Charlie Hamilton the art critic. Athol Hobbs directs White to Perth Technical College. UWA on the horizon. Thoughts of going to sea. Experience as a cabin boy. Stumbling into architecture.
00:17:16 Memories of the Perth Technical college. Athol Hobbs senior architect and involved in the course. Could not do a university degree in architecture or medicine in Perth. Good practical course and Gus Ferguson was a graduate. Designing buildings as a student. Apprenticeship or articles. Board of Architectural Registration. Architect act and annual examinations. Lecturing in Board of Architecture subjects, especially in design.
00:22:50 Move to Curtin/WAIT. University panache and degree. Changes and competition. Moving over to the competition. Development of career. Designing while learning. Drafting a presentation and learning drawing. Draftsmen, drawing, design, high level of drafting. Learning the art of design in post-war Perth. Art deco and modernism. Standard and metric measurement. New idiom.
00:28:12 The growing industry of architecture in the 50s. Harold Krantz. Building industry restraints after the war. A lot of regulation. Competition with the building industry. Establishing own business in Fremantle. Experience of travel to Europe. Building house for parents. Darlington house breaks the rules.
00:33:50 Ethos of modernism. Process of building modern house in Perth. Budget. Innovation and development in passive solar design. Full time teaching in design. Memories of Perth Technical College and specialised subjects. Geoffrey London. Problems at Perth Technical College. Close student and staff connections.
00:40:32 Development of career as lecturer. The development of the course at UWA. Teaching design. Changing ways of thinking to fit into UWA. Different disciplines and teaching. Architects being taught to teach or to learn the subject. Good staff student ratio. Good contact with staff and students. Studio a time-consuming part of the course.
00:40:44 Becoming lecturer in 1968. The reputation of the UWA and the course. New course starts in 1966. Involved in the new buildings at WAIT. Joining the staff of WAIT. Offered a post at UWA. UWA course had been set up as a strange one. Main staff come from New Zealand. Professor Gordon Stephenson establishes the course. Memories of Gordon – makes sure he gets the first chair. Town planner. Redesigns the UWA campus.
00:48:30 Forms the staff getting involved in the course. Becoming acting head. Important teachers. Roger Johnson, Peter Middleton, Harold Marshall and acoustic research and interest in computing. Designing computer programs. Development of computing early on. Drawing on to screen. Harold Marshall research was not well-regarded. Promotion and loss of academics.
00:52:30 Development of the course 1965. Prescott and the Bachelor of Architecture. Wary of the new course. School of architecture move to Murdoch. Moving over to the opposition. Traditional course was set up. Changes in technique. Connection with course at WAIT and UWA. Women in the course. Some of the best architects are women and graduates of UWA.

Track 2
00:00:00 Gordon Stephenson’s idea for UWA. System of aesthetics and criteria and the avant-garde. Constraints by binding system and scale. Design of fine buildings. Traffic in the campus. The ring road system. Maintaining a landscape. Stevenson part of the commissioning team. Comparisons of the building designs at WAIT. Public works Department loses the contracts. Memories of Gus Ferguson, Tony Solaski* and Tony Brand. Gus Ferguson strong views on architectural design. The direct ear of Gordon Stephenson. Architects and ego.
00:06:58 Interaction with WAIT and UWA. Trying to maintain connections and difficulties experienced. Education committee in competition. Do you need two schools of architecture in Perth? The developments from the 1960s. School at UWA would be more academically based. Encouraging builders to work with students. Inspiration for the UWA School of Architecture. Reaction against too much design teaching. Redirection of the course. The basic theory could graduate with two degrees. Three year and 5 year degrees.
00:12:10 First and second degree. Diploma and Masters. Broad education in social sciences and design. Outline of the planned course for the first two years. Gordon Stephenson. Institute of Architecture. Hijacked by people Gordon Stephenson brings in. Professorial Board debate and Professor Appleyard. Harold Marshall. Selwyn Grave philosopher. People leave the university when Gordon Stephenson leaves without a successor. White left to hold the baby.
00:16:00 Teaching anthropological study of the Trobriand Islands. Staff muddle through to sort the course out. Professor to succeed Gordon Stephenson. Robert Street steps in to resolve problems. Development of the new building. Attracting Commonwealth funding. Location of the new building decided. Laurence Wilson Art Gallery. Gus Ferguson. Losing the building to computer sciences. Isolation of architecture. Nedlands and Perth City council boundary issues.
00:21:15 Isolation of the school. Quality of students fluctuates over a five year period. Len Buckeridge, Brian Klopper stand out. The Asian students and interest from Malaysian Government. Fees and political direction of University. Attracting women into the course.
00:26:00 People brought in from outside the university. Peter Brickell. Interaction with other departments. Geography Martyn Webb and architecture. Degree changes to the course. Technological advances. Importance of computing and acoustics. Harold Marshall, Derek Carruthers physicist, Geoffrey Roy engineer. Students at the ground floor of computing. Comparing to United States. Poorly-resourced university. Position of UWA and Curtin and Murdoch. Prestigious position and competition.
00:33:30 Psychology of design. Variable views. Psychology and visualising design.

Track 3
00:00:00 Leaving University 1988 and career post university. Fighting a developer. Moving to Gingin. Sole architect in small country town. Maintaining ties with UWA. Western towns and buildings book. Getting students involved in projects. Sandy cape developments. Geoffrey London, Simon Anderson and a team of students survey indigenous architecture. Keeping a distant relationship with the University. Townscape studies. Colin Moore. Living in Bunbury.
00:05:13 Involved in heritage work at York. Les Lauder and the Fremantle Society. Development and destruction of Victorian buildings in Fremantle. Resources to restore buildings. Restoration with Ian Hocking in Gingin.
00:09:36 The impression of University of WA. Suburban campus vs. city Technical College. Mixed feeling about suburban campuses. Melbourne example. Academic studies. Views of the modern buildings at UWA. Ambient environment and mediocre architecture. Learning the rule first in classical architecture. Stereotyped Gus Ferguson type design. New staff building like Mussolini’s Roman Empire. Stephenson’s thoughts and the Business School. Control over things that would be built at the university. Computerised visioning of building. Architects satisfaction with the building process.
00:16:20 Rights of an architect. Builders don’t like working for architects. Buildings affecting and creating a place. Thoughts of the buildings at university. Exhibition space at the school. Lawrence Wilson Gallery. Low density of the Nedlands campus. Looking back at time at UWA. Frustration. Full support at the university. Geoffrey London and establishing current school. Enjoying experiences. Not a born administrator.



White, John, “John White interview, 14 December 2012,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,