Vale Dirk Bolt FRAIA

It is with sadness that we notify members of the passing of Dirk Bolt FRAIA, who made a considerable contribution to Canberra’s architecture. Dirk will be remembered as a ‘modernist, both for his contemporary ideas of design and his humanistic tendency towards practical ethics and world-wide human justice’.

Born in Holland, Dirk began studying architecture at the Delft University of Technology. He moved to Hobart in 1951 and enrolled at Hobart Technical College, qualifying in architecture and town planning. He married Guusje (Kusha) van der Laan in 1953 and in 1954 he joined the Institute as a student member. He went on to design a number of innovative buildings in Hobart while working at the firm Hartley, Wilson and (later) Bolt. Perhaps the most notable is Christ College at the University of Tasmania (1961-62), the Bathing Pavilion, Sandy Bay (1962) and the State Government Offices in Murray Street, Hobart (1967). The Tasmanian Chapter of the RAIA has acknowledged Bolt’s ‘outstanding service to the Chapter and the Institute over the past years’ by naming the ‘Bolt Award for Urban Design’ in 1964.

Dirk then moved to Canberra, fascinated with the prospect of expanding the capital city. He opened an architectural practice and became a consultant to the National Capital Development Commission. Bolt’s work for the Commission included the planning of neighbourhood centres and group centres. He also contributed, as a member of the design team, to the concept of the Belconnen Town Centre, advocating successfully for the creation of its lake, but he was disappointed with the centre’s eventual layout. Up to the end of 1969 Dirk Bolt and Associates had planned or provided advice on 15 suburban centres in Canberra. These projects were primarily planning commissions, with Bolt involved in basic spatial planning and preparation of control drawings. Some of the neighbourhood centres he designed included higher density housing, the most significant being Torrens neighbourhood centre (1967) and Southlands group centre, Mawson (1970).

Bolt’s multi-unit housing schemes, including the Torrens townhouses and the Hackett courtyard housing, were among the first of their type in Australia. The innovative private houses in Canberra he designed were often planned on proportions based on the golden mean, the flow of space between the inside and outside, the use of natural materials and careful detailing. They include the Butler House, and the Westerman House, both in Deakin (1965) and the remarkable Bahr House in Garran (1966). The Church of Christ, Lyons (1965) and Burgmann College at the Australian National University (1971) attest to his design flair. A definitive monograph on Bolt’s life, detailing his work in Canberra, The Contribution of Dirk Bolt to Canberra’s Architecture and Planning by Graeme Trickett and Ken Charlton was published by the AIA in 2013.

Despite leaving Canberra in 1971, the ‘city as no other’ (as he called Canberra) was never far from his thoughts. In his development work overseas, he took the Canberra experience as a model from which at least some aspects could be applied. The guideline drawings, as used in Torrens and Hackett, proved a useful concept that had various applications. In the 1970s, Bolt worked for international development agencies including UN agencies and the World Bank.

In 1983 he obtained a PhD in Town Planning at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and in 2002 he was appointed Professor of Urban Planning and Management, ITC-Enschede, the Netherlands. In 1994 he entered an ideas competition initiated by the National Capital Authority for an economically sustainable urban development in the Jerrabomberra valley, but his far-sighted concept has not come to fruition. In 2000, Kusha and Dirk moved to Aberfeldy, Scotland and he became involved in the further promotion and development of sustainable building and planning. In 2013 he was a finalist in CAPITheticAL, a design ideas competition for a hypothetical Australian capital city. Bolt’s rationale and background to his urban thinking are further explained in his book Of Towns and Countries: journey of an architect published by Austin MacAuley, London in October 2020.

Dirk Bolt was an architect and planner with a compelling desire to create striking architecture and sustainable social and economic systems of urban design. Our sincere condolences to Dirk’s wife Kusha and family.  He will be greatly missed.