Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alsop, Rodney Howard (1881–1932)

by George Tibbits

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Rodney Howard Alsop (1881-1932), architect, was born on 22 December 1881 at Kew, Melbourne, eighth and youngest child of John Alsop, actuary and trustee-manager to the State Savings Bank of Victoria, and his wife Anne, née Howard. He early showed great gifts in both drawing and model-making, skills encouraged by his poor health which kept him in passive convalescence; when he was 15 his realistic panorama of the siege of Delhi was put on public display. While still a pupil at Cumloden, St Kilda, he worked on Saturday mornings for the architects Hyndman and Bates.

After an operation in 1899 to ease his asthma, he went with his family on a tour of Europe which embraced English church and domestic architecture, the Paris Exposition (1900) and Italian art centres. On his return to Melbourne in 1901 he was articled with Hyndman and Bates and in 1906, after admission to the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects, he entered partnership with F. L. Klingender; Alsop was reputedly the designer, and Klingender the practical partner.

In 1921 he joined Kingsley Henderson and Marcus Martin in a practice that created the distinctive Temperance and General Mutual Life offices in several State capitals. Alsop is credited with the notion that these buildings should have a tower of similar character and all be the same colour. From September 1924 until 1931, when he joined A. Bramwell Smith, he practised alone.

In all the partnerships, Alsop is acknowledged as a design architect and a sensitive specialist in domestic work. His crowning achievement was the Winthrop Hall in the Hackett buildings at the University of Western Australia; his designs for them had won first place in the 1926 world-wide competition which he had entered with C. H. Sayce. The commission led to a legal dispute between Sayce and Alsop, from which the former withdrew.

Before World War I Alsop's distinctive house designs were dominated by gables in the English domestic manner, but afterwards he turned towards an arcaded Italian Renaissance mode. Like his friend Professor Leslie Wilkinson he endeavoured to develop an appropriate Australian style by expressing the planning requirements of a building in terms of the architecture of southern Europe. Alsop was also a respected designer of furniture and shared a skill in landscape design with his wife Dorothy Hope, daughter of Sir Nicholas Lockyer, whom he had married in June 1912 at Toorak; their only child died in 1915.

Tall and slight, of ready wit and fine features, Alsop was described as 'a true Edwardian gentleman, a man of impeccable manners, and thoroughly good company'. He was admired for his use of simple and unusual materials to create interesting and delightful effects, and his designs often drew together various artists and craftsmen as contributors to the architecture, which to Alsop was always an art. In his mature years, he was a fellow of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and a councillor. He was an active member of its board of architectural education and the first director of the University of Melbourne's architectural atelier. On one of his five trips to Europe he represented the institute at the 1925 International Congress of Architects at Budapest. A number of his papers, including one on the importance of travel to the development of an architect, are published in the institute's Journal.

Alsop died suddenly of bronchitis and asthma on 26 October 1932; he had just been awarded the 1932 bronze medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects for his Winthrop Hall—a singular honour. Survived by his wife, he was buried in Brighton cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • Royal Victorian Institute of Architects, Journal, May 1933
  • Australian Home Builder, Nov 1932
  • Building and Construction (Melbourne), 5 Nov 1932, 23 July 1935
  • D. H. Alsop, Rodney Howard Alsop, Architect (B.Arch. report, University of Melbourne, 1970)
  • P. Navaretti, Index of Architects and Their Work: 1900-1940 (B.Arch. report, University of Melbourne, 1971).

Citation details

George Tibbits, 'Alsop, Rodney Howard (1881–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/alsop-rodney-howard-5007/text8325, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 September 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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