Peter Bruechle interview, 5 November 2014 and 12 November 2014

Dublin Core


Peter Bruechle interview, 5 November 2014 and 12 November 2014




Peter Bruechle’s father and uncle were electricians but Peter decided to become an engineer. He studied engineering at Perth Technical College where he shared some classes with the architecture students. After graduating, he worked for the Public Works Department building houses and schools before taking a year off to work in London. When he returned to Perth, he worked for the Government again before leaving to set up in private practice. He was managing director of the Consulting Group, Bruechle, Gilchrist & Evans, which he founded, from 1961 until his retirement from it in 1997. In 1997, he was appointed Design Manager on the Emirates Tower in Dubai, which when completed, was the tallest building in Europe and the Middle East. He taught at Perth Technical College on a part-time basis for ten years and lectured on structures on a part-time basis at the School of Architecture at the University of Western Australia for in excess of thirty five years (approximately 1962-1997).


Bruechle, Peter


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Peter Bruechle


Wembley Downs, W.A.


Interview 1: 1 Hour 4 minutes, 6 seconds
Interview 2:1 hour, 5 minutes, 44 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 9 minutes, 50 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Peter’s father was from Switzerland. Peter’s grandfather was a mining engineer. Peter’s father was an electrician and was killed by a falling power pole in about 1954 when Peter was 22 years old. Peter was brought up by his grandmother in Welshpool and attended Queen’s Park State School. Peter’s uncle was running the electrical trades department at Perth Technical College. Peter decided to go into structures rather than become an electrician. He went to Forrest High School in Lord Street, East Perth to do his Junior. Then attended Perth Technical College for a year while Leederville Technical College was being built. Did his Leaving from Leederville Tech and won a scholarship to do Engineering at Perth Technical College. His Master was Erich Shilbury. Shirley Strickland taught Physics. After graduating, he was employed by the Architectural Department of the Public Works Department.
04:47 Perth Technical College was situated on St George’s Terrace. It had some older buildings behind it where Engineering and Chemistry were taught. There were a range of temporary buildings containing the canteen and a workshop. The Electrical Trades Department and the School of Architecture were housed in a new building on Terrace Drive. The architecture students were young whereas some of the Engineering students were mature, returned servicemen. Peter shared lectures with the architecture students and made friends with many of them which helped him later on in his career. Erich Shilbury had been a top engineer in Berlin and worked with Felix Samuely who went to work in London. Peter worked with Samuely in London later on. Shilbury had lectured in mathematics at Wesley College.
08:29 Peter graduated with an Associate in Structural Engineering (Civil) from Perth Technical College in 1953. He went to work for the Government. All of the major buildings in town were being constructed by the Public Works Department. Lew Harding was the Chief Engineer. It was a good job. Peter worked here for 2-3 years and then went to work in London. He worked with Samuely on the new American Embassy Building in Grosvenor Square and Brussels Exhibition buildings in 1958. The building work in London was more esoteric whereas the building work in Perth was more utilitarian.
13:13 Peter flew home and married his fiancée. He returned to work as a Senior Design Engineer with the Public Works Department from 1958-1961. [mobile phone rings] Peter feasted on European architecture such as the Player’s Theatre, a Victorian Music Hall. London still showed signs of bomb damage. A new town was being built at Harlow . Peter was not impressed with some of the building he saw here. Some of the construction was quite different to what he had been used to. He had had a year without pay and went back to designing high schools and such like for the Government.
18:15 Shilbury asked Peter to lecture at Perth Technical College part-time at night. He was working full-time and also running a private practice (PJ’s or private jobs) which you weren’t supposed to do. He took over Shilbury’s final year classes when he was on long service leave. Each government building was designed by a government architect. The principal architect was A E (Paddy) Clare. Government cadetships trained many of the architects around town. Architects and structural engineers worked together on buildings. Norm Gilchrist was the second in charge and became a partner in Bruechle Gilchrist and Evans. Peter also worked on State housing such as the block of flats on the corner of Hay and Outram Streets, West Perth. Neville Coulter was the architect.
24:51 Peter left the government in 1961 and set up in private practice. He rented a room in an office owned by architects Gus Ferguson and Tony Brand. The office was in St George’s House, now The Terrace Hotel. Brand & Ferguson broke up later and Tony Brand went to Forbes and Fitzhardinge as their chief design architect. Peter started taking over more and more of the building and went into partnership with Norm Gilchrist and Ernie Evans. The firm grew and they later moved to new premises in South Perth. Eric Moyle paid Peter for work he hadn’t done to keep him afloat. Moyle later left architecture and became an artist. Peter worked with Ken Broadhurst on car parks and the grandstand at Subiaco.
29:20 Structural engineers at the time were Don Fraser, Leon Halpern and George Kadifa. Peter had some issues with Gordon Barrett-Hill but they became friends. Now there are lots of engineers and architects.

Track 3
00:00 There were two ways to become an architect before the School of Architecture opened at UWA in 1968. You could do a course at Perth Tech or you could study for the Board exams. Peter ran private classes in structures for the Board students. The Board students were thought inferior to the Perth Tech students and all of them later compared to university educated students.
04:36 The first lecturer at the School of Architecture at UWA was Lew Harding. Gordon Stephenson asked Peter to lecture part-time in structures. Peter had designed part of the Physics building at UWA and had got to know Gordon. Peter also did the structure for the Economics building and Marshall Clifton was the architect. Gus Ferguson was the architect for the Law School and Peter designed the structure. There were about 6-8 staff members: John White, Cal Green, John Cullen, Peter Grigg and Professor Hugo Brunt. Structures were regarded as an offshoot. Architecture students did not enjoy the subject so Peter tried to make it interesting and relevant. He took them to building sites such as Central Park. People involved with Central Park would also give lectures. External people also gave lectures in Peter’s course such as Ken Baker from Halpern Glick, George Kadifa, Gordon Barrett-Hill and Wally King, the State Manager of Leighton.
10:54 The core components of the course were materials, applied mechanics and how structures work, sizing hints and so on. Structures did not work in with the utilities. The services tend to run the design concept today. It is a lot more integrated now that computers are used. Peter stopped teaching in 1997. He felt that once computers became popular in the early 90s that he should move on. They did not use models. Computers enable people to design things because they can rather than because they should! He is not a fan of Frank Gehry! Peter feels buildings should have function.
16:38 The Law School at UWA is a first class building. Peter is also enamoured of Allendale Square. He is proud of Central Park. Problems around the building of the core of Central Park were used as a practical demonstration tool for the students. Buildings are problematic after 30 stories. They have to be built strong enough to withstand wind and earthquake, etc. To compensate for that, you need to have a strong core to stiffen the building.
22:00 There is an art to designing really tall buildings. Peter worked on Emirates Tower in Dubai. Emerging communities build tall buildings to show off their prowess but they are not particularly practical.
26:28 Exams were mandatory and Peter set the papers and marked them. He did not enjoy this but he does think that it is a good system of testing. Exams were just part of assessment and the students also did assignments as well.

Interview 2

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Peter was impressed with the early buildings at UWA but some of the government buildings at UWA were done to budget. Gordon Stephenson employed architects that would design buildings more sympathetic to the university environment. Gus Ferguson designed the Law School and the Guild Building. Roger Johnson was the architect for the Economics School. Peter worked with Roger as design engineer on this building. Tony Brand designed the new Music School. To avoid escalating building costs, Tony and Peter decided the building should be constructed in pre-cast concrete. This was the first (and perhaps last) time this method was used on the UWA campus. Peter had been pushing for this material to be used more widely. Central Park and Exchange Plaza were both built with pre-cast concrete. The audio requirements of the Music School were very strict. Some of the modern buildings were the Engineering School designed by Gordon Finn. Peter was involved with some of the structure for the Physics Building when he was still working for the government. Many of these architects were influenced by modern design.
06:19 The School of Architecture was located in make-shift buildings off Fairway. The new school was designed by Gus Ferguson. Physics and Chemistry were done by Public Works. Peter does not like some of the modern buildings designed today. He regards the Law School as being very people friendly. Gus Ferguson spent a lot of time developing off-form materials. The Law School is highly regarded. Off-form concrete was very popular in England. The first off-form concrete building constructed in Australia was Hale School War Memorial Hall. Gus Ferguson was the architect. Inside, he made panels of bomb craters in concrete. He used the materials for the Law School in a different way to make it more liveable. There was a great deal of experimentation done in order to get the right colour concrete. Part of the Economics School was built in off form concrete.
12:24 The Arts Building was designed by Marshall Clifton. The engineer was Don Fraser. They had problems with the foundations. The Law School foundations were dug out and taken away and compacted sand was used for the new foundations. It was cheaper than digging holes. There was once a well on the site so it had to be blocked up. Today the problem would be solved by piling. The Sports Centre was designed by Gus Ferguson to a budget. It has an off form concrete frame with brick structure. Gordon Stephenson wanted all the buildings on campus to link together. Peter was not involved with the new School of Architecture building.
16:54 The buildings at Murdoch university were designed by Gus Ferguson. Peter did some structures at Curtin with Gus Ferguson. A major building was the Administration Building and Tony Brand was the architect. Many of the buildings at Curtin were designed by the PWD architect using off form concrete (including the School of Architecture). Architecture is very much subject to the fashions of the time. The Reid Library at UWA was designed by Cameron Chisholm & Nicol. It is similar to the National Library in Canberra.
21:28 When Gordon Finn designed the engineering school the buildings had roof trusses. Peter learned how to use rigid frames – now known as portal frames. Ferguson used boards with grooves in to hold them together with a slip tongue. Later, compressible plastic foam was used to minimise leakage. Laminated timber did not take off due to problems with the glues. The arches at Hale School are laminated timber. Innovations always cost a lot of money until it is worked out how to do it properly. Pre-cast concrete was used successfully in the Arabian Gulf. Floor could be erected very quickly.
28:08 The climate in the Middle East is very harsh and regulations not as strict. The building industry in Australia is now over-regulated. Personal responsibility is a thing of the past. The concrete was mixed with ice in the Middle East. Most of the concreting took place from 11pm when it was cooler. Desert winds blow sand and dust into the cities. When Peter first went to Dubai in 1972 it was very primitive. At that time, Saudi Arabia was the place that was developing. The tallest building in Dubai was the Hilton Hotel which was 2 storeys. When he returned in 1997 he was amazed by the changes. Peter worked on the Emirates Tower with Derek Robson from Multiplex. There were problems with the concrete that had to be sorted out.
40:15 Construction is a team game and needs to be played as such. Low fees mean people cut corners. Clear lines of authority and responsibility must be established. The construction of Kewdale High School was a team effort. Peter is regularly invited to arbitrate in construction disputes. The Redemptorist Retreat House in North Perth is a new building constructed from old bricks. Rob Campbell turned Fremantle Asylum into an Arts Centre. All the floors needed re-doing. The chimneys and roof structures had to be strengthened. Peter’s rule in BG&E was they could do things they didn’t like and make money; they could do things they liked and lose money; but that they wouldn’t do things that they didn’t like and lose money!
47:47 Peter loved many of his jobs particularly the Music and Law Schools at UWA; Exchange Plaza and of course Central Park due to its innovation. Traditional buildings and Roman and Japanese architecture are inspirational. Inspirational design engineers were Erich Shilbury, Felix Samuely, Norm Gilchrist and Ernest Evans.
54:06 Climate was a factor in construction projects in the North West due to extreme heat or cyclones. Peter was involved with the construction of accommodation at Newman for Leightons. Sir Charles Court insisted that these were permanent towns. Peter also designed a railway tower and shunting yard. Eco sensitive building was never part of the brief, although in Newman he suggested houses be built with concrete materials sourced locally rather than bricks from Perth. Kingston Tower in Canberra was built with pre-cast concrete made in South Australia.
01:01:19 Peter finds adjudicating on construction matters very difficult as the system is so adversarial. He has recently been made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Engineers. He would like to see more teamwork in the construction industry and more selection on merit rather than on money.



Bruechle, Peter, “Peter Bruechle interview, 5 November 2014 and 12 November 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,