Yuncken Freeman

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Yuncken Freeman Architects Pty Ltd is an Australian architecture firm. Yuncken Freeman Architects (YFA) has grown steadily over the years particularly from the economic boom from the 1950s to 1980s to be a sizeable firm in Australia. Yuncken Freeman has branch offices in Hong Kong as well as other parts of south-east Asia.


Yuncken Freeman Architects Pty Ltd. began as a practice when Otto (Rob) Yuncken (the son of master builder, Otto Yuncken) and John Freeman left their positions as senior associates in A & K Henderson. They were accompanied in their departure by John's brother, Tom Freeman, and William Balcombe Griffiths, also employees at A & K Henderson. In 1945 Roy Simpson was recruited into Yuncken Freeman on the recommendation of a fellow student during his time at the School of Design in Melbourne University. The new firm, Yuncken, Freeman Brothers, Griffiths & Simpson Architects, was located in the same Henderson Building, near the Mitre Tavern and its area was a social hub for a community of architectural firms, fellow students and friends from the Architectural Students' Society including Leslie M Perrott senior; Marcus Barlow; Bates, Smart & McCutcheon and others.

By the 1940s the operations of the firm was disrupted by World War II, which unavoidably grew to be a much serious threat than before. Rob Yuncken and Roy Simpson eventually enlisted into service, providing planning and design services to the U.S. Army Engineers Corps, for territory reclaimed by General MacArthur’s campaign. When the dust settled in 1946, Yuncken and Simpson returned to Melbourne. Only to find the members of the original group scattered. They did however reunite to continue their practice.

In 1947, Yuncken Freeman Brothers Griffiths & Simpson Architects was appointed by the Victorian Government to initiate an emergency housing project in London. Simpson, who had experience during his days in the U.S. Army, headed the project where he provided designs for pre-built housing that could be assembled by unskilled labour. Fifty years later, these homes are still occupied. He was awarded the Gold Medal in 1997 by the Royal Australia Institute of Architects (RAIA) for his significant contribution to architecture.

From 1963 the firm was known as Yuncken Freeman Architects Pty Ltd. after the Royal Australian Institute of Architects approved the principle of architects practising as proprietary limited companies. Balcombe Griffiths and Roy Simpson (being the youngest of the original group) were the sole survivors of the five original partners, along with descendant John Yuncken, subsequently added Barry Patten and John Gates (1953), Robert Peck and Jamie Learmonth and others. Key staff included Angel Dimitroff (Myer Music Bowl) and Llew Morgan (Eagle Star and BHP House). Patten introduced the firm's characteristic international Modern style, based on the work of Mies Van Der Rohe, as seen in their 411 King Street offices, Eagle Star & BHP House. Robert Peck, as YFA managing director in the late 1970s and a City of Melbourne councillor, chaired the City's new committee on old buildings until he lost his seat in 1979. The advisory committee included representatives from the National Trust, Town & Country Planning Board, Ministries for Planning and Local Government, the Historic Buildings Preservation Council and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).

As with many architectural firms, YFA was forced to sack 15 architects and the 8 directors took a 20% pay cut in the mid 1970s, only 5 years after completion of the State Government Offices. Director, Barry Patten told `The Age' newspaper "The situation is very bad- there just isn't any work available". Five years ago about 80% of their work had been in the private sector and the rest in Government but the situation had reversed by 1975, with government budget cuts and the private sector hardly moving. `We have employed people for years and we are now finding it very difficult to keep them occupied. It is very worrying."

Notable buildings[edit]

  • Canton Union Insurance Company, 43 - 51 Queen Street, Melbourne, Australia, 1958
  • Fedsda House (Norwich Union Insurance Societies) 53 - 57 Queen Street, Melbourne, Australia, 1958
  • Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Kings Domain, Melbourne, Australia 1958

'The Bowl' as it may be known to locals is most definitely one of Melbourne's most cherished icons. Constructed in honour of Philanthropist Sidney Myer, The Bowl aspires to LA's Hollywood Bowl in the United States. With a capacity of 2150 fixed seats and an additional 7500 on the grass slopes, the complex is Australia’s most renowned outdoor music venue. The breathtaking canopy covers not only the stage area, but also the entire fixed seating, covering an entire acre of land.

The Sidney Myer Music bowl is one of three heritage listed buildings designed by Barry Patten during his time at Yuncken Freeman. After gaining employment with the company, Patten presented a flimsy model to the Myer family in order to win the commission of the project for his firm. At the young age of 31, Patten became lead designer of the project with his inspiration for the design drawn from the "cable structures like the Brooklyn Bridge and the section through Statchmo's trumpet."

Upon its opening in 1959, Sidney Myer Music Bowl posed itself as an amazing feat of structural engineering from its tensile structure. A system of cross-cables is used to support over 600 panels that make up the skin of the building. The panels were fabricated from a material known as 'Alumply', basically a piece of compressed plywood sandwiched between sheets of aluminium. With all cables working in tension, the Bowl is basically a giant tent. One main cable is stretched over a distance between two 20 meter vertical poles from which secondary cables pull back to the behind of the structure and are anchored into the ground. Additional cables are anchored to the ground at either side of the structure to stop the building from swaying from side to side. This unique structural system has been said to be like a giant spider web.

In 1958, The Herald proclaimed it "the most startling architectural piece ever seen in Melbourne." Architecture critic Robin Boyd called it one of the "climatic buildings of the period" and praised it for its cultural significance.

Despite the uniqueness and marvel of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl Project, Yuncken Freeman were not pursue any similar projects but instead specialized in prominent International Style office buildings around Melbourne's CBD.

The AON Centre is one of Melbourne’s earliest examples of the International Style in office design and was the key point in the commencement of a series of black clad commercial and institutional buildings designed and produced by the Yuncken Freeman Architects firm throughout the later half of the 21st Century. It won the 1967 Victorian Architecture Medal in the General Building category.[1]

  • Scottish Amicable Building 128 - 146 Queen Street, Melbourne, Australia 1966
  • Flagstaff House 411 - 415 King Street, Melbourne, Australia 1968

Yuncken Freeman office

Typical of the Yuncken Freeman works led by Patten, Flagstaff house is very characteristic of the Chicago Modern. The building uses a simple ribbed steel cage structural system and sits low in Melbourne's skyline. Designed to serve as offices, this building became home to the Yuncken Freeman firm in 1970. The interior was as elegant as the exterior with a vast open plan with basement and two upper levels, fringed by glazed offices. All of the furniture was modular and black, slab sided to present working boxes as drafting tables. Gone were the jutting arms of drawing office machines, replaced by paralines or parallel straight edges, with adjustable acrylic T-squares.

  • LaTrobe University Master Plan Bundoora Campus, Melbourne, Australia - 1964 (Roy Simpson)
  • Cardinal Knox Centre (Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne) 383 Albert Street, East Melbourne, Australia 1969 - 1971 (Roy Simpson)
  • BHP House 140 William Street, Melbourne, Australia 1967 - 1972

Another heritage listed building; BHP House, received the RVIA Victorian Architects award in 1975. Barry Patten took his team to Chicago to work closely with Fazlur Khan and Hal Iyengar in order to develop the first concepts for the project. This took place in the offices of Skidmore Owings & Merrill. A belt truss system was used for the framing of BHP house, but what made it unique was its external expression of structure. Whilst many buildings in America had previously expressed this idea it had only ever served as a means of decoration. BHP House's exterior expression was in fact structural.

  • Eagle House 473 - 481 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia 1971 - 1972

Built as headquarters for the local branch of London's Eagle Star Insurance Company, Eagle House won the RAIA Award of Merit in 1972 and the Alcoa Australia Award for its use of alumium in 1973. The building was regarded as one of Australias most 'elegant and attractive' office buildings. The significance of the building however goes beyond its aesthetic qualities. Eagle House is one of the finest examples of the curtain wall in Australian Architecture thanks to its highly sophisticated skin. Green tinted glass and flush aluminium create a taught wrapping of the facade. The building also depicts one of the first examples of floor to ceiling glazing, unique of its time. Eagle Houses' refined level of detail has earnt it a place of the Victorian Heritage Register.

  • Estates House 114 - 128 William Street, Melbourne, Australia 1974 - 1976
  • State Government Offices 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne, Australia (Patten)
  • Eagle Star Insurance Building 28 Grenfell Street, Adelaide, Australia

Typical of Yuncken Freeman's buildings of this period, Eagle Star Insurance Building pocesses a very modest display. But more important is perhaps the buildings implementation of the curtain wall. ESI Building has been recognized as "a highly refined use of curtain-wall construction" in its "minimalist design".

Urban design projects[edit]

Led by Roy Simpson, various Urban Design projects were produced which were described in his "Hook Address" on receipt of the 1997 RAIA Gold Medallion. These "Three Ensembles" as he put it, "highlight three projects, each different in function and requirements, covering an interesting range of social needs and design challenges, but all sharing the common characteristic of being group developments or precincts. In such developments, the architect rarely has control over what happens immediately across the boundaries but he can link buildings to each other, or arrange them in a multiplicity of ways to create courtyards, formal or informal, in an infinite variety of forms. Multiple developments offer a much wider range of possibilities for ensemble and interaction, each building with the others."

"The first project is the Canberra Civic Centre on City Hill, which includes administrative buildings and buildings for entertainment, the seat of Territory government and local new Law Courts."

  • Canberra Civic Centre on City Hill, Canberra, Australia

"The second is ecclesiastical — the replacement of a collection of obsolete facilities in the grounds of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, with an integrated group of new offices, living quarters for resident clergy, meeting rooms, parking spaces and so on, which form the new Dioscesan Centre. One of the specific requirements was to open up the view towards the Cathedral from the Fitzroy Gardens, which was generally seen by the client as more important than retention of St. Patrick’s College on the cathedral site.

  • Cardinal Knox Centre (Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne) 383 Albert Street, East Melbourne, Australia 1969 - 1971

"The third and final example, and certainly the largest in area, is the master plan commissioned by La Trobe University’s Interim Council in 1964 for the staged development of some 500 acres of run-down farmland on which the new university was to be built. The original Master Plan report warned that the plan should be devised not as an inflexible mould but rather as a guide to the fulfilment of a concept within which adjustments could be made to accommodate evolving needs. Inevitably, over the years, there have been some changes of direction, and some failures to control certain inappropriate developments on the ground. But all in all it is highly satisfying (for Simpson), over 30 years on, to see how well the original plan has coped with a number of major shifts in the University’s circumstances and policies, having far-reaching implications for the physical development of the Bundoora campus."

  • LaTrobe University Master Plan Bundoora Campus, Melbourne, Australia - 1964


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Goad, Philip (2003). Judging Architecture: Issues, Divisions, Triumphs, Victorian Architecture Awards 1929-2003, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Melbourne. ISBN 1863180346.

External links[edit]