Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Samuel Hook (1886–1963)

by Rosemary Broomham

This article was published:

Alfred Samuel Hook (1886-1963), architect and professor, was born on 24 July 1886 at Heston, Middlesex, England, son of Harry Hook, an 'oil and colourman', and his wife Catherine Elizabeth, née Ashford. After the family moved to Bournemouth, Alfred was educated at Boscombe and at the East Bournemouth Science, Art and Technical School; he later studied architecture in London and qualified as an associate of the Royal College of Art.

An established, if impoverished, architect who found the strain of depending on a small private practice injurious to his health, Hook arrived at Cairns, Queensland, in 1909. He worked for the architect Hervey Draper, but from February 1910 was employed as a draughtsman in the Department of Public Works, Brisbane. On 25 July that year he married 29-year-old Alice Guppy with Methodist forms at the city's Young Men's Christian Association building. Moving to Sydney in 1912, he became a draughtsman with the government architect where he remained for fourteen years and rose to designing architect. Among his projects was the structural design of the steel reinforcement for the country trains concourse at Central Railway Station.

Hook contributed to the foundation of the faculty of architecture at the University of Sydney in 1918 and to the development of its curriculum. From 1922 he lectured there part time. Appointed associate professor of architectural practice and construction in 1926, he was 'the practical man' of the faculty, highly regarded by his students as a lucid exponent of structural mechanics. His book on that subject, written for rural students sitting for the Board of Architects' examinations, was available in manuscript form for some years before its publication in 1943.

His practical approach was also evident in the way he endeavoured to improve architects' salaries and working conditions through the Architects' Association of New South Wales, a group formed as a rival to the conservative Institute of Architects of New South Wales. Elected association president in 1922, Hook helped to reunite the two professional bodies, becoming vice-president of the reconstituted institute in 1924 and president in 1926. Intermittently a member (from 1925) of the Board of Architects, he favoured increasing its powers over matters of practice, professional relations and training so as to free the institute to educate public taste and develop architecture as an 'art vital to people's prosperity'. Because small homes constituted 95 per cent of building enterprise, he reasoned that they should be the focus of architects' attention for they constituted 'a national style' through the sheer weight of their numbers. Rather than the highly ornamented designs beloved by builders in the 1920s, Hook preferred quiet, dignified proportion, balance and restraint. He set up a scheme whereby institute members would provide designs at low cost to those building houses on a modest budget.

A founder of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects which was established to foster national uniformity of architectural practice and status, Hook became its inaugural president in 1929 and its first life fellow (1932). He carried that organization almost single-handed through the Depression and World War II, holding the honorary positions of secretary, treasurer and registrar—sometimes simultaneously—until he retired in 1947.

During the war Hook urged boys and girls leaving school to consider studying architecture in order to prepare for 'an era of building and rebuilding such as had never been seen before'. As professor of architectural practice and construction (1946-51) and dean (1948-49), he oversaw much of the intensified postwar training for ex-servicemen and women. Outside the university, he advised the trustees of the Anzac Memorial, Hyde Park, served many years on the Building Appeals Board (chairman from 1942), arbitrated building disputes and was a long-term member of the executive-committee of the Standards Association of Australia.

Always ready to acknowledge the contribution of a broad range of arts to architecture, Hook was a man of diverse talents. From 1936 to 1945 he gave regular lunch-hour talks on the history of music, using gramophone records given to the university by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. He was a member of the Sydney University Musical Society's choral group and a keen amateur organist who was associated with the installation of the university's War Memorial Carillon (1928) and the foundation of the department of music (1948). A speaker of great wit and charm, Hook was also an accomplished writer; in his retirement he wrote a detective story, The Coatine Case (London, 1953), under the pseudonym 'A. J. Colton'. He died at his Randwick home on 19 June 1963 and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Freeland, The Making of a Profession (Syd, 1971)
  • Journal of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales, May 1925, p 4, Aug 1925, pp 1-26, June 1926, p 19
  • Journal of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Aug 1925, p 15
  • Architecture, Mar 1926, p 12, Aug 1926, pp 10, 19
  • Architecture in Australia, 52, no 3, Sept 1963, p 156
  • University of Sydney Union, Union Recorder, 1 Aug 1963, p 185
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3-4 Feb, 3 Mar, 2 June, 13 Dec 1926, 30 Sept 1927, 14 Apr, 26 Sept 1928, 3 Jan, 18 Sept 1929, 22 Jan 1930, 8 Sept 1934, 2 Mar 1938, 18 Mar 1939, 10, 23 Dec 1943, 14, 16-17 Mar, 1 Sept 1945, 14 Dec 1954, 9 June 1957, 15 Aug 1959, 5 Aug 1962
  • Faculty of Architecture Minutes, 1920-1950 and an obituary of A. S. Hook (University of Sydney Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Rosemary Broomham, 'Hook, Alfred Samuel (1886–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Colton, A. J.

24 July, 1886
London, Middlesex, England


19 June, 1963 (aged 76)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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