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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Koch, Wilhelm Rudolph Waldemar (1874–1952)

by Christopher Koch and Gillian Winter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Wilhelm Rudolph Waldemar Koch (1874-1952), architect, was born on 13 September 1874 at Richmond, Melbourne, second of nine surviving children of John Augustus Bernard Koch, a German-born architect, and his wife, Anna, née Puttmann, from Switzerland. Rudolph completed his education at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1891, and probably began training in his father's office.

By 1898 Koch was employed as an architectural draughtsman by the Tasmanian Smelting Co., at Zeehan, Tasmania, and by 1900 he was a qualified architect. He designed the School of Mines, Zeehan, which opened in 1903. On 14 October that year at the Lutheran church, East Melbourne, he married Elinor Burton and the couple moved to Ulverstone, Tasmania. His early work included Furner's Hotel there and the Grand Hotel, Devonport. By 1905 he had set up in Hobart. A fellow (1906) of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and licentiate (1912) of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he advertised as a surveyor and sanitary engineer (1906), town planner (1918) and road engineer (1921). He was a founding member and president (1913-14, 1925-26) of the Tasmanian Institute of Architects. Influenced by the Garden City movement, he helped to establish the Southern Tasmanian Town Planning Association in 1915. He also lectured on architectural history at Hobart Technical College.

Koch designed Richmond Town Hall (opened 1908) and won design competitions for the Children's Hospital (1908) and the Hobart Teachers' College (Philip Smith Hall, 1909). He was the supervising architect for alterations (1912) to the Theatre Royal, Hobart. His other Hobart designs include the A. G. Webster building (1906), Liverpool Street, Tasma House, Collins Street, the university engineering building and St James the Apostle Church, New Town, where the family worshipped.

Domestic architecture by Koch ranged from the important 'Federation' style house, 11 Lord Street (1917), to the modest extension (1924) to a gardener's cottage, Maning Ave, both at Sandy Bay. He designed 15 Stoke Street, New Town, for his family in 1916. Koch was honorary architect for Hobart Sanatorium and executive vice-president from 1914; his plan for the site at New Town showed awareness of modern hospital design and the need for a landscaped setting for a tuberculosis sanatorium (1906, with additions 1910, 1919, 1922).

In 1929 Koch left private practice when he was appointed building surveyor for Hobart City Council. He helped to revise the Building Act (1932), containing comprehensive by-laws on hoardings—which he abhorred. Under the Public Health and Factories Act (1934), he personally inspected all new buildings in the city, an increasingly busy task as Hobart emerged from the Depression. Retiring in 1937, he returned to Melbourne in 1947.

Koch was president (1911-12) of the local Australian Natives' Association, a founder, sometime secretary, of the Tasmanian branch of the Old Melburnians, and a member (captain 1925-26) of the A.N.A. and the Tasmanian rifle clubs. He was a past master of the Tasmanian Union Masonic Lodge and a member of the Buckingham Bowling Club, Hobart. Later he joined the Malvern Club, Melbourne. While he had a somewhat daunting public persona, he was a convivial companion and a warmhearted family man who loved music and the poetry of 'Banjo' Paterson. He actively encouraged the first creative efforts of his grandson the novelist Christopher Koch. Predeceased by his wife, Koch died as the result of a motor accident on 25 August 1952 in hospital in Melbourne and was cremated. Two sons and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Theatre Royal: Grand Re-Opening Souvenir Programme, Sat. Jan 13th, 1912
  • D. Henslowe, Our Heritage of Anglican Churches in Tasmania (Hob, 1978)
  • C. Craig, More Old Tasmanian Prints (Launc, Tas, 1984)
  • M. Roe, Life Over Death (Hob, 1999)
  • B. McNeill and L. Woolley, Architecture From the Edge (Hob, 2002)
  • City of Hobart, Mayor’s Annual Report, 1922, 1929-36
  • Advocate (Burnie), 4 Feb 1903, p 2, 24 Feb 1903, p 2
  • Tasmanian Mail, 14 Feb 1903, p 22, 9 Feb 1911, p 9, 21 Mar 1928, p 14
  • Mercury (Hobart), 26 Aug 1952, p 12.

Citation details

Christopher Koch and Gillian Winter, 'Koch, Wilhelm Rudolph Waldemar (1874–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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