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Seabrook, Norman Hugh (1906–1978)

by Philip Goad

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Norman Hugh Seabrook (1906-1978), architect, was born on 12 January 1906 at Northcote, Melbourne, third of four children of Charles William Seabrook, a clerk from Tasmania, and his Melbourne-born wife Catherine Jane, née Brown. Norman attended Brighton State School, Wesley College, and Hassett's Commercial College, Prahran. While at Hassett's, he worked for the architect A. R. Barnes, with whom he served his articles in 1924-26.

In 1927 Seabrook enrolled at the University of Melbourne Architectural Atelier, then under the directorship of Leighton Irwin. He gained his diploma in architectural design in 1931. On 26 January that year at her parents' Brighton home he married Linda May Millis with the forms of the Churches of Christ. Soon after, he and his wife sailed for England, where he worked in London and Birmingham. While in Europe, they cycled two thousand miles (3219 km) through the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to study architecture.

Back in Melbourne, Seabrook was admitted as an associate of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1933. He set up practice in Little Collins Street and returned to the atelier as senior demonstrator in design. A brilliant renderer, he won a competition to design a girls' secondary school at Albert Park. Sponsored by Sir Macpherson Robertson and completed in 1934 to mark Victoria's centenary, MacRobertson Girls' High School was an early Australian application of de Stijl architectural principles and the first Australian example of the modern functionalist style of architecture developed by the Dutch architect Willem Dudok. The building was characterized by dramatic cubistic juxtapositions of horizontal and vertical forms, all in cream brick, with contrasting bands of blue-glazed brick and vermilion-painted steel windows.

This striking style, later claimed by Robin Boyd to have heralded the '1934 Revolution' of modern architecture in Victoria, became a Seabrook signature. Notable examples of the idiom included his own home at Hawthorn (1934-35); fire stations and associated flats at Brunswick (1937), Brighton (1939) and Windsor (1939-40); commercial premises such as those of Gair Manufacturing Co. Pty Ltd, Melbourne (1935-36), the Bank of New South Wales, Moreland (1936), the Royal Exchange Assurance, Pitt Street, Sydney (1936-37), and a store for Miller & Co. at Hamilton (1937); and the largest rural example of the Dudok idiom, Warracknabeal Town Hall (1939). A technically unusual design was that of Barnett's Building, 164 Bourke Street, Melbourne (1937-38), an early example of a curtain-walled, high-rise building with a roof-top squash court and gymnasium.

In 1936 Seabrook had formed a partnership with Alan Fildes at 84 William Street. Tall and bespectacled, Seabrook was the chief designer: he attracted clients while Fildes took care of production and office management. The practice prospered in the late 1930s with major projects for (Sir) Reginald Ansett, including terminal and hangar buildings (1937) at Essendon Aerodrome. Seabrook also designed another innovative house for himself at Croydon (1941). After World War II Fildes's involvement decreased. Newer associates, among them Eric Atlee Hunt, became prominent in the firm, which moved to Little Collins Street in 1954. In the following year Seabrook, Fildes & Hunt was formed. After Fildes died in 1956, the firm became Seabrook, Hunt & Dale (1958). It moved to Albert Park and then to South Melbourne. The practice undertook further work for Ansett Transport Industries Ltd and St Kevin's College, Toorak, but never regained the momentum for innovation seen in the 1930s. It closed in 1975, following Seabrook's retirement in the previous year.

Seabrook had been divorced on 18 March 1943. Later that day, at the office of the government statist, Melbourne, he married Mavis Black, née Devling, a photographic retoucher and a divorcee. Survived by his wife, and by the daughter of each of his marriages, he died on 9 September 1978 in South Melbourne. He had bequeathed his body to the University of Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Boyd, Victorian Modern (Melb, 1947)
  • D. L. Johnson, Australian Architecture 1901-51 (Syd, 1980)
  • Australian Home Beautiful, July 1935, p 6
  • Art in Australia, 61, Nov 1935, p 91
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9, 13, 14 Dec 1933
  • P. Dredge, Biography—Seabrook and Fildes (research report, 1981, Architecture Library, University of Melbourne)
  • Seabrook and Fildes files (National Trust of Australia, Victorian branch, Melbourne).

Citation details

Philip Goad, 'Seabrook, Norman Hugh (1906–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seabrook-norman-hugh-11645/text20801, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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