Vale Newell Platten AM LFRAIA

Newell Platten in Mango Avenue Rabaul in 2013. Image from his book: Hybrid Beauty, Wakefield Press

The Australian Institute of Architects is sad to advise that Newell Platten, architect and urban designer, passed away on 26 April 2021.  He was 93. 

Newell Platten was a highly respected and valued member of the South Australian architectural profession.  Born in New Guinea on 16 April 1928 to parents Gil and Isabel, his character was influenced by his Methodist upbringing and his experiences of life in both New Guinea and, later, South Australia.

Having completed his schooling in Adelaide, Platten undertook a Bachelor of Engineering (Architecture) at Adelaide University, graduating in 1951.  As a student, he and fellow classmates, including Brian Claridge and Robert Dickson, were frustrated that Modernism was considered by teaching staff as a passing fad. 

Between 1948, and while still a student, Platten commenced working with Lawson, Cheesman and Doley.  Thanks to being awarded the 1950 Kenneth and Hazel Milne Travelling Prize, he left the practice in 1951 to travel to the UK, Europe, Canada and America.  While in London he worked in the office of Sir Thomas Bennett, also working during his time in Canada.  Time spent in France and Spain developed his love of traditional townscapes.

He returned to Lawson, Cheesman and Doley on his return to Adelaide in 1954, where he was involved in residential, commercial and hotel projects and became a partner in the firm c.1955.  A close working relationship with Maurice Doley fostered his love of natural materials.

The early 1950s also saw Platten become a member of the Contemporary Architects Group (CAG), which included Brian Claridge, John Morphett, Keith Neighbour, Dick Roberts, John Chappel, Laurie Brownell and Alan Godfrey.  Through publication of a book on modern housing and the exhibition of contemporary architecture held as part of the RAIA 1956 6th Australian Architectural Convention, CAG was instrumental in building public acceptance of modern architecture in Adelaide.

Dickson and Platten Architects was formed in July 1958 and continued until 1973.  However, between 1961 and 1963 Platten was an architect-planner with Doxiadis Associates, Athens.  During his two years with the firm he was involved in urban planning and design projects in Pakistan and Ghana.  It is a moot point as to whether Platten sought the position due to his views on urban planning or whether he developed his approach while with Doxiadis.

Dickson and Platten jointly developed a ‘friendly and more relaxed form of modernism’, known as Adelaide Regional (Apperly 1989: 248).  Early work was predominantly residential but over time larger commercial, education, recreation and civic projects were undertaken by the practice. 

The use of red brick, exposed timber structure, expressed off-form concrete straw ceilings, and robust internal carpentry characterised their work and Dickson and Platten developed highly resolved and distinctive detailing over the course of many projects.  Their architecture also demonstrated a concern for human scale and relationships, with the problem driving the design solution and consideration of structure instrumental in shaping the architecture.

In 1973, Platten left the practice to join the SA Housing Trust (SAHT), where he was employed as Chief Design Architect and Chief Planner.  He commenced his seven-year contract with the aim to improve the SAHT’s design standards.  The position also provided the opportunity to provide the benefits of well-designed homes for people of limited financial means and allowed him to explore his design direction free from private sector constraints.

His ability to successfully deliver against these objectives is evident, with the housing recognised for its design quality at the time it was completed and remaining in active use today.  For example, Dr Kent’s Paddock in Kent Town received the RAIA (SA Chapter) Commendation and a Civic Trust Award in 1982 and has subsequently awarded the RAIA (SA Chapter) Enduring Architecture Award in 2007, which recognises buildings that remain of high quality and integrity at least 25 years after completion.

Platten returned to private architectural practice in 1980, undertaking residential commissions including stage 2 of Dr Kent’s Paddock.  He also became involved in tutoring at the University of Adelaide and urban design consultancies, which he continued following his retirement from architectural practice in 1995.

In addition to practice, Platten was a council member of the RAIA (SA Chapter) from 1966 to 1974, a member of the Federal Council from 1972 to 1974 and of the RAIA Publications Committee from 1968 to 1976.  His role as Chair of the RAIA Public Relations Committee led to his involvement in the establishment of the Civic Trust of South Australia, where he held the role of President from 1984 to 1987.  In addition, he was a member of the Architects’ Board of South Australia from 1988 to 1991.

Platten was also involved in several architectural, planning and design bodies throughout his career.  He was a Monarto Development Commissioner from 1973-1980, and a member of the ACT Design and Siting Review Committee and of the National Capital Planning Committee from 1973 to 1979. Within South Australia he contributed to several development assessment and urban design panels and from 1973 to 1976 was a member of the National Fitness Council of South Australia.

Platten’s interests outside architecture focused on family, visual arts, gardens, travel and writing. 

In addition to the numerous projects in which he was involved that received architecture and other awards, Platten was awarded the RAIA SA Chapter’s Sir James Irwin President’s Medal in 1993 and made a RAIA Life Member in 1996.  He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List on 12 June 1995 for service to architecture and to town planning. 

Platten was a passionate advocate for the need for quality environments and appropriate approaches to urban planning.  He was also responsible for an extensive body of work, both as an individual and in collaboration with Robert Dickson and others, which remains highly regarded.  His surviving work and publications provide a compelling example of thoughtful, modest architecture specific to the Adelaide climate that supports and affirms human comfort and provides connection with the landscape.

The SA Chapter extends its sympathies to the Platten family.  Newell will be missed.

The information for this memorial statement was sourced from the UniSA Architects of South Australia database .