Obituary of Allan James Kirkwood LFRAIA ARIBA

Allan James Kirkwood LFRAIA ARIBA, former senior architect at Robin Gibson & Partners passed away on Tuesday 18th February 2020.


Allan was born in Brisbane in 1940 and undertook his architectural training at the Central Technical College and later at the University of Queensland. Alongside his studies Allan was fortunate to work at esteemed local practice Hayes & Scott, a formative experience he valued throughout his career.


Allan’s lifelong interest in theatre design was nurtured while living overseas post- graduation. In London, he worked for prominent architectural firm Powell & Moya on projects including an extension to the Chichester Festival Theatre and later for James Cubitt & Partners where he headed the documentation team responsible for all lecture theatres at the University of Libya, Benghazi.


Returning to Brisbane in 1968, Allan called into Robin Gibson’s Elizabeth Street office to visit former Hayes & Scott colleague, George Henderson. While chatting to Henderson, Gibson joined the conversation and asked about Allan’s experience abroad. On the basis of this informal interview, Allan was offered a job. He remained in Gibson’s office for the remainder of his professional career, retiring in 2006.


Allan brought to the firm advanced technical and administrative expertise and a disciplined design approach, critical as the firm transitioned from small scale houses and shops to larger institutional and cultural projects. He was a calm and generous presence within the office and a mentor to staff.


Major projects run by Allan included the Administration and Psychology Building for the Mt Gravatt Teachers College (now Griffith Mt Gravatt) which received a Citation for Meritorious Architecture in 1974 from the RAIA (Qld) and the Library and Humanities Building for the Griffith University Nathan campus which received the national Library Design Award in 1979.


However, the design for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) was Allan’s greatest achievement. From its infancy in the mid-1970s to the final stage, the Playhouse Theatre, opened in 1998, Allan lead the consultancy team responsible for the design, documentation and contract administration of this significant public building. He approached its design with care and sensitivity, resolving the complex technical, acoustic and staging requirements with considerable design finesse. The result is a suite of theatres, distinctive in character, but united as spaces of great architectural beauty that continue to be appreciated as some of the finest performance venues in Australia.


Such was the extent of Allan’s involvement in its design and realisation, he was later named a co-author of QPAC. As a moral rights holder, he maintained his connection with this building following his retirement in 2006, by providing information and advice for the 2015 State Heritage Nomination and 2017 Conservation Management Plan.


Alongside career in practice Allan was an active member of the Institute of Architects, both at state and national levels, representing the Institute on committees of industry, education and government. A valued and respected member of the profession, his contributions were recognised on several occasions including in 1997 when he was awarded the Institute’s Presidents Award and in 2001 when he received the Australian Centenary Medal. He was admitted as Life Fellow to the Australian Institute of Architects in 2013.


I came to know Allan through my post-graduate research on Robin Gibson. When I would visit his apartment in New Farm, the papers we would be reviewing would be printed in advance and laid out on his table with care, aligned with his laptop computer, all in their proper place. Cups of tea would be offered alongside jam drop biscuits arranged on the plate so the colour of the jam formed an alternating pattern. One only has to stand in the central circulation space of the QPAC building, where the undulating staircases are precisely aligned with the various levels of two completely different theatres, to appreciate how this meticulousness found expression in his built work. His generosity and support were appreciated greatly.


Queensland was fortunate to have an architect like Allan involved in the design of some of its most significant public and cultural buildings.


Allan’s funeral will be held on Wednesday 26 February 2020 at 1:30pm at Mt Thompson Crematorium, Holland Park.


Words by Lloyd Jones