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Robert Joseph Haddon (1866–1929)

by Roslyn F. Hunter

This article was published:

Robert Joseph Haddon (1866-1929), architect, was born on 25 February 1866 in London, son of Joseph Haddon, carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth, née Switzer. After serving his articles in 1881-84 with F. Templeton Mew of London, he was employed as an assistant to T. H. Watson for four years. In 1889 Haddon came to Melbourne, joined the firm Sydney Smith & Ogg and was elected to the Victorian Architectural and Engineering Association and the Victorian Artists' Society.

In 1892 Haddon settled in Hobart, where he was appointed an architectural instructor at the Government Technical School and designed some houses before moving to Adelaide in 1894. On 21 January 1896 he married Ada Templer of North Adelaide. They went to Perth where Haddon worked as a first-class draughtsman with the Department of Public Works for two years. While in Perth, Haddon was the secretary of the Western Australian Society of Arts; he had also become a member of the South Australian Institute of Architects and a fellow of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1896. He returned to Melbourne in 1899 and set up his own practice in August 1901. By then he had established his name as an architectural artist; his work for other architects included coloured and line perspectives and the design of building façades. By 1904 his new office was known as the Central Drawing Office and Haddon called himself a consulting architect. In this way his name can be associated with such architects as G. B. Leith and Sydney Smith & Ogg of Melbourne, Laird and Barlow of Geelong and Michael McCabe of Camperdown.

In 1902 he had become head of the department of architecture at the Working Men's College. He influenced many architects through his teachings, and some who were articled in his office later became principals of their own firms. These included Percy Oakley, A. C. Leith, E. M. Nicholls and Eric Hughes. William Alexander Henderson joined Robert Haddon's practice in 1903 and in 1919 became a partner of the firm Haddon & Henderson. His practical interests complemented Haddon's flair for design and architectural drawing.

Haddon was a council-member of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1902-05, and over his lifetime was involved with both writing and drawing for the institute. In 1907 he became a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was a founding vice-president of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria in 1908.

In his designs for offices, residences, churches and other public buildings, Haddon attempted to realize the principles so strongly propounded in his writings. In addition to delivering papers, he wrote a section on 'Australian Planning and Construction' in volume 5 of Modern Buildings: their Planning, Construction and Equipment, edited by G. A. T. Middleton (London, 1905-06). His book, Australian Architecture, was published in Melbourne in 1908. Haddon argued that originality in design was made possible by responding to the unique Australian conditions and by the use of local materials. Each design had to be conceived anew. His aim therefore was to design for each individual client, and to produce a harmonious, balanced composition. He emphasized simplicity in design, stating that ornament should be applied only for a specific purpose, and must fully utilize Nature and its play of light and shadow.

The façades of Milton House, Flinders Lane (1901) and Eastbourne House, Wellington Parade (1901), are composed of carefully placed elements and ornament on plain surfaces, producing overall balanced designs. These two private hospitals were recorded as designed by Sydney Smith & Ogg but contain elements which suggest that Haddon was largely responsible.

His design for his own residence, Anselm, 4 Glenferrie Street, Caulfield (1906), combined elements characteristic of much of his work; balanced asymmetry, the use of towers, bays and bull's-eye windows, steep roofs, attic rooms, open planning and applied decoration in the form of terracotta patterned tiles and florid wrought iron. His principles were closely allied with those of the English Arts and Crafts architects who were propounding simplicity, originality, craftsmanship, structural honesty and a national sentiment.

Haddon's designs became typified by the simplicity of plain façades and the careful use of ornament and positioning of elements to produce a distinctive, and often delicately balanced, composition. This is seen in his house at 9 Sydney Road, Brunswick (1906); his North Melbourne picture theatre, Errol Street (1913); his remodelling of two city office façades, the Fourth Victorian Building Society office at Collins Street (1912) and the Wharf Labourers' building, Flinders Street (1915-16, demolished); and his design for the Swinburne Arts School, Hawthorn (1917). The plain façade of the Collins Street office was contrasted by the use of two large lions' heads and their slavering vertical streams, and by projections placed to catch the northern sun and cast shadows to form an integral part of the façade.

Haddon drew upon both English and American sources. His three Presbyterian Church designs—Malvern (1906), St Stephen's, Caulfield (1926) and St Andrew's, Oakleigh (1928)—were based on Gothic principles but used a more liberal and individual approach. In all he favoured the use of colour: red brick, terracotta ornament and green tiles being frequently used. Haddon's often florid treatment of ornament and his approach to composition have led him to be compared with architects like C. R. Mackintosh of Glasgow who were broadly linked with the art nouveau movement in Europe and Britain. Inasmuch as this style signified an individual relaxation of past forms of composition and decoration and a turning to Nature for inspiration, Haddon was working within its context.

Haddon was admired in professional circles although such work as the Fourth Victorian Building Society offices and the Wharf Labourers' Union building provoked hostile criticism. He was a vocal, dominating figure within his profession but appeared restrained in his private life, spending much time travelling and painting. He produced many sketch-books which remain unpublished.

He died at Caulfield of cardiac disease on 16 May 1929 and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Box Hill cemetery. He was survived by his wife; they had no children. Haddon's estate was valued for probate at £7715. In his will he made provision for a travelling scholarship to be known as the Robert and Ada Haddon architectural bequest, which was the richest of its kind when first awarded in 1934. His practice was absorbed by A. C. Leith.

Select Bibliography

  • Building, Engineering and Mining Journal, 9, 16 Dec 1893
  • Royal Victorian Institute of Architects Journal, Nov 1903
  • Victorian Architectural Students Society Journal, Mar 1909
  • Building (Sydney), 11 Nov 1916
  • Real Property Annual, 1917
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 May 1929
  • D. K. P. Wee, Robert Haddon (B. Arch report, University of Melbourne, 1966)
  • letter by Haddon, 11 June 1902, to the secretary of the Victorian Artists' Society (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Roslyn F. Hunter, 'Haddon, Robert Joseph (1866–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 February, 1866
London, Middlesex, England


16 May, 1929 (aged 63)
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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