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Koch, John Augustus Bernard (1845–1928)

by W. Forge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

John Augustus Bernard Koch (1845-1928), architect, was born on 27 August 1845 in Hamburg (Germany), son of Johann Christian Koch, joiner, and his wife Friederike Henriette, née Ernst. In 1855 the family migrated to Melbourne where the father worked as a dyer. By 1870 Koch was listed in the Melbourne directory as an architect at Richmond, having served articles with F. M. White and become his assistant. On 26 October 1871 at the Melbourne Lutheran Church he married Anna Püttmann from Switzerland. Over sixty buildings, mainly in Richmond where he was appointed city architect in 1887, and Hawthorn where he lived from 1896, can be attributed to Koch; most were completed in the 1880s and 1890s and display distinguishing German and European motifs.

Appointed architect to the City of Melbourne in 1873, he designed the hay, horses, cow and pig markets and the corn exchange. Later institutional buildings included the two Richmond libraries, the German Club in Alfred Place, and projects associated with the Women's, Melbourne (of which he was honorary architect and life member) and Castlemaine hospitals. Two of his Richmond hotels, the Spread Eagle and the Prince Alfred, survive in addition to some warehouses, factories and stables. These latter utilitarian structures are praiseworthy for their sound construction, firm lines and sparing use of decorative brickwork.

Koch's versatility was considerable. He was at home with the Gothic style while executing plans for the Lutheran Church at Doncaster and for the parsonage next to the East Melbourne Lutheran Church of which he was a member. With commercial buildings he could embrace the Renaissance style: his award-winning Flinders Lane warehouse built for L. Stevenson & Sons has been demolished, but his smaller four-storied Collins Street Record Chambers remains complete, adorned with doric pilasters, dentil cornice, panelled frieze, floriated scrolls and caryatids. His houses and shops can invariably be identified by his use of Hellenistic motifs, including the Greek key pattern, sculpted classical masks, caryatids, acroteria and foliated scrolls and consoles. They were frequently prominently located on parapets and skylines. Labassa at Caulfield represents his most striking achievement in domestic architecture.

Koch was a justice of the peace from 1866, a Richmond city councillor in 1877-85 and mayor in 1883. While a councillor he was chairman of a board to adjudicate on designs for improvements to the Swan Street crossing and station buildings and chairman of the school district board of advice. In 1903-04 he was president of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects to which he delivered papers on professional standards and the need for well-trained craftsmen. He represented the institute at the 1901 Melbourne Congress of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors where the design for a Federal capital was discussed. In 1910 he took his fifth son (Oscar) Bernard into partnership. After serving in World War I with the Australian Flying Corps Bernard carried on the practice under his own name from 1922.

Koch had ceased practice about 1913 to concentrate on his hobbies of carpentry, cabinet-making and inventing. A paper he delivered in 1904 suggests he was a pioneer in the new science of heating and ventilation and in 1912 he patented a combined road-sweeper and watering machine. He was an important member of the Melbourne German community. Short in stature, shock-headed, with rosy complexion and piercing blue eyes, he is remembered by grandchildren as an awesome pipe-smoking figure, clad in smoking-jacket and matching cap, who set up detailed working models of his buildings and inventions. They loved him for his family dinners, German food and customs. His colleagues respected him for his progressive attitudes, ideals, imagination and distinctive work. He died on 30 August 1928 at Hawthorn, survived by his wife, six sons and three daughters, and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Royal Victorian Institute of Architects, Journal of Proceedings, Apr 1903, Mar 1906, Jan 1913
  • Illustrated Australian News, Nov 1869, Mar 1884, Nov 1885
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), Aug 1906
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Sept 1928
  • S. Forge, John A. B. Koch and W. Forge, The Buildings of J. A. B. Koch (manuscript, privately held).

Citation details

W. Forge, 'Koch, John Augustus Bernard (1845–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/koch-john-augustus-bernard-6995/text12159, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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