Martin Grounds and John (Jack) Kent interview, 9 January 2015

Dublin Core

Title

Martin Grounds and John (Jack) Kent interview, 9 January 2015

Subject

Architecture

Description

Martin Grounds and Jack Kent first met at Perth Technical College studying architecture. They both went on to study at the University of Western Australia.
After graduating, they collaborated on several projects before Grounds Kent Architects was created. Directors Jack and Martin share a vision to create a small, hands-on, design oriented practice that allows them to be dedicated, responsive and connected to their clients throughout the design process. Their philosophy is that wherever possible architecture should involve and reflect local conditions, materials and traditions. Each project should reflect the sense of place unique to its location.

Creator

Grounds, Martin and Kent, John (Jack)

Publisher

University of Western Australia Historical Society

Rights

Copyright holder University of Western Australia

Format

MP3 files

Type

Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Julia Wallis

Interviewee

Jack Kent and Martin Grounds

Location

Fremantle, W.A.

Duration

2 hours, 6 minutes, 58 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Track 1
00:00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis
00:00:47

Track 2
00:00:00 John (“Jack”) Mallet Kent’s father established a book shop in Forrest Place, Perth. Jack was steered towards architecture by guidance counsellors but started a geology degree at UWA. Some weeks into the degree, he switched to study architecture at Perth Technical College.
00:04:28 The architecture department at Perth Technical College was housed in old buildings. Students had access to Perth for recreation. The profession had offices in the city and West Perth. The course used to be 2-3 years full-time and then students were employed for 70% of their time and studied for 30%. When Jack started at Perth Tech, the study was all full time with no practical component. The former model brought the students and the profession together. Every Friday night, the architects met in the bar of the Adelphi Hotel and students could go along to talk to them and ask questions. Today a void exists between academia and the profession.
00:09:28 The teaching at Perth Tech became more theoretically based. Today the responsibility of educating graduates in practical skills falls more on the profession. The profession can invest time into a graduate only to have them seek employment elsewhere when they become competent. However, current graduates do bring digital technology skills into the office.
00:13:50 In Jack’s day, there was no practical element to the course. The emphasis was on academic tuition. Unfortunately some of the teachers at Perth Tech were not competent teachers. 50% of the lecturers were recent graduates and very enthusiastic. The other 50% used old textbooks that were not really relevant to Australian conditions.
00:17:57 Buildings in Perth were quite conventional. The students were interested in the houses being built by architects such as John White, Duncan Richards, Wally Greenham and Bill Kierath. Design exercises in the studio involved some public housing inspired by architects such as Le Corbusier in France.
00:22:32 Martin Haslett Grounds is Jack’s partner in GKA. Martin wanted to become a farmer but realised that you needed land and wealth to make a living! Martin’s father was an architect and his uncle was a famous architect in Victoria. He had followed his father around on many of his jobs. He was an excellent draughtsman. Martin did his leaving at Leederville Technical College. He worked in Port Hedland in the break and then came to Perth Technical College to study architecture in about 1965.
00:28:32 Martin recalled that the students were very bolshie about the education they were receiving at Perth Technical College and that the place was “seething with discontent”. They were kept very busy. Reid Shaw was head of the design studio in first year and was very intimidating. Students worked in the studio late at night and on weekends finishing their projects such as designing a kindergarten. Students took drawing classes in perspective and suchlike at the Fine Arts Department in James Street. Many of these inspiring teachers such as George Haynes, Guy Grey-Smith and Robert Juniper became famous artists. Students studied structures in the Engineering Department at Perth Tech under professional engineers. They hated studying building construction and the history of architecture. Martin and Jack recall being forced to use split Indian ink pens for drafting which the profession had abandoned ten years previously!
00:38:04 Martin did not work during the vacation time. Jack was a cadet at the State Government Public Works Department. He did this for 2 years and resigned. He did not fit in as he wore jeans and a sheepskin coat and he found the PWD too bureaucratic. Cadets signed indenture papers. The whole thing was quite medieval. Students used vacations to complete personal projects.
00:43:56 The UWA course had been running for about two years by the time that Martin was in third year at Perth Tech. He was able to swap to UWA after third year. Some students went to Curtin University. A full time university course did not comprise any practical aspect in an architect’s office. Many students failed units and had to repeat them but you had to pass design. Martin recalled there were 100 students in first year at Perth Tech. By second year, this had whittled down to less than 50. By third year, there would have been about 30 students. The high attrition rate was directly related to the amount of time that students had to study – especially in the design unit. It did not allow them the opportunity to work part time to earn money. Those who stuck it out knew that they would be able to find work – even if it wasn’t in an architectural office.
00:50:51

Track 3
00:00 The Australian Architecture Students’ Association Conventions were annual events. Jack was secretary of the WA branch. He realised how much work organising a conference involved and did not want Perth to host the conference. Martin recalled many of them piling into an old Hillman and driving across to Sydney for a previous conference. The students’ conference was usually held before the Institute’s conference. The Sydney conference was significant but the Perth conference [held in 1966] totally overwhelmed the Institute’s conference. Student conferences were concerned with the education of architects. A significant player at that time was Paul Ritter , the town planner who arrived in Perth in late 1964. He agreed to speak at the conference. Most of the other speakers were from overseas. The conference was hugely successful even though managing the budget was very stressful.
00:08:08 The theme of the conference was Architectural Education. The objective was to highlight the failings of the present educational system. Invited speakers were all interested in education and better educational buildings. Team 10 invitees included Jakob Bakema, Aldo van Eyck and John Voelcker. Some of the invitees were from communist countries. A party travelling from South Africa were banned from leaving the country. It is thought that the CIA was responsible for this. All the presenters were positive and enthusiastic. Martin is amazed that a man of Buckminster Fuller’s repute would bother attending a student conference – especially as they could only pay half the fee that was agreed; he was 73 years old; and had been designing geodesic domes for the American military.
00:16:05 The conference was exciting and stimulating and inspired and motivated Martin for the rest of his undergraduate days. About 500 students attended from all over Australia. They were billeted out in various places including the Showgrounds and Claremont Teacher’s College. The speakers were accommodated at various hotels in Perth. Most of the conference business took place at Claremont Teacher’s Training College. Events were held at UWA and at Yanchep. At Yanchep they had a band complete with scaffolding for a band stand, speakers and lights and food for 500 people.
00:24:43 The conference took place in about April or May. John White and more especially Duncan Richards were inspired by the conference. Duncan Richards did some projects with the students involving geodesic domes. Richards built a house in Darlington using Unistrut material. The course structure at UWA may have also been affected as Sir Harold Marshall was employed to teach acoustics to the students. There was no ‘dead wood’ amongst the lecturers at UWA. Professor Gordon Stephenson was ‘old school’ and architectural royalty in Perth. He would admonish the students for doing extra curricula activities like running a screen printing business out of the design studio, building rockets and organising the T-Square Ball.
00:28:32 Jack organised the Architects’ Ball which was known as the T-Square Ball. It took place in the Embassy Ballroom. It was vast and took months to decorate. It was the social event of the year. One year Martin made the decorations which were life size cut out cardboard celebrities. “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones played in the lift. This was the 1960s, a time of flower power and revolution around the world.
00:32:26 Most of the time at UWA was spent in the studio. It was a new faculty and they were a tight knit group. They felt quite separate from the rest of the campus. The fact they were in temporary mines department transportable buildings from Kalgoorlie provided a special bond. UWA staff encouraged them to explore their own ideas rather than be spoon fed and regurgitate what they had been taught. Sometimes, they could suggest their own projects. Students chose the topic for their 5th year thesis.

Track 4
00:38:01 There was very little mingling between faculties due to the size of the campus. Martin Webb delivered lectures to the students in the Geography Department on urban planning. Otherwise, they were very isolated. Martin recalled putting together a float for PROSH based on the Australian fitness guru Sue Becker. The architecture students in their group didn’t get involved with the Guild. There were student protests (about Vietnam for instance) but they cannot recall these in any detail.
00:43:22 The students still mixed with the profession. They would drop in for Friday night drinks at the offices of Howlett and Bailey Architects. They also had contact with the profession through graduate students. The professional was sold tickets to the T-Square Ball. One of their contemporaries (a student from Malaysia) presented an award to Tony Brand at Forbes & Fitzhardinge for the worst designed building of the year. There was only one girl, Maxine Canning, who lasted the distance. She transferred to Melbourne for the final two years as she felt persecuted by the academic staff. Today the majority of the students are females. There was one female lecturer at Perth Tech. Margaret Feilman was a part-time lecturer in town planning for the senior students at Perth Tech. She had been a rebel in her day.
00:50:03 Stephenson was involved in setting the guidelines for the form and materials of the buildings on campus. The students toured the Law Faculty because the building won a prize for the first successful building using off-form concrete. It was a sensation. The students did not involve themselves in controversies over Perth architecture however some firms had a better reputation than others. By this time, the profession was aware that certain materials were more appropriate for use in Perth’s climate.
00:56:21 Martin and Jack were not really aware of their own style and direction but knew what they didn’t want to do. In retrospect, they probably were influenced by things without realising it which makes it easy for them to work together and agree on things in their own practice. GKA works predominantly in Asia. They try to incorporate the material and culture of a particular country in their design. After graduating, they both worked in separate firms but always kept in touch and were sometimes even in the same building. Their partnership stemmed from a successful resort hotel design in 1989 which won the competition for Four Seasons Resort, Jimbaran, Bali. It was a 147 villas style hotel. Each villa had its own swimming pool which was a new concept. They have concentrated on designing resort hotels ever since.
01:02:11 The work has a great deal of variety because all the sites are different. Fallingwater was an inspiration for Martin and he is sure that sometimes they rework things into their own designs – not to follow them slavishly but to cherry pick design elements. The firm is design orientated and is not driven purely by profit. At Perth Tech it was driven into them that form follows function. Materials should be used appropriately and not do tricks to achieve an end. They are respectful of the materials they use and want their buildings to stand the test of time. The people at the 1966 conference were very ethical and had a sound philosophy and so did Duncan Richards and John White. Martin feels GKA have integrity in their architecture that has been passed down from their student days.
01:09:48 They don’t lecture at UWA as they are travelling constantly but they have had a number of UWA students work at their firm. One of them is now a partner in a London firm of architects. In Bali, they have been responsible for incubating 7 other architectural practices. In 2014, the two top students in Western Australia who won prizes were working for GKA.
01:15:20

Collection

Citation

Grounds, Martin and Kent, John (Jack), “Martin Grounds and John (Jack) Kent interview, 9 January 2015,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024, https://oralhistories.arts.uwa.edu.au/items/show/87.