Robert Riddel LFRAIA recalls Peter Dickson Heathood LFRAIA (1932-2022)
Architect Peter Heathwood died recently at the age of 90 years. We will remember him in many ways, but for me he was both a gentleman and an inspiration. Born and later practised in Brisbane, he was destined to become an architect. He once confided that at age 10 (1942) he was drawing houses with flat roofs which were to be used as helipads. School work was of little interest and he failed to pass the Scholarship and Junior examinations and sought work with the Brisbane City Council. Fortuitously he followed his mate Robin Gibson to the Works Department of the Council and was mentored by the City Architect and planner, Frank Costello. It was here that he met John Dalton some 5 years his senior and newly arrived from Britain.
He was encouraged by Costello, to enroll in the Architecture course available at the Central Technical College in George Street. To do so he needed to pass his Senior Examination and in 1950 he studied at night and passed it in one year. With about 30 others he enrolled in Architecture in 1951, which was also taught at night. By 1952 there were only a handful left in the class, but they all stayed the distance and graduated in 1956.
In 1952 when the CMO mayor Chandler was defeated by Labour’s Roberts, there was a purge of senior staff from the Council which mysteriously included the junior draftsman Peter Heathwood, who had already decided to move on. The press gave the story front page treatment and Heathwood became a minor celebrity. Robin Gibson who was at Thynne & Hitch, then one of Brisbane’s most progressive architectural studios, suggested he come and work there also, which he did for the next 18 months. He was in good company for as well as Gibson, Don Winson, Ian Charlton and John Dalton were also employed there.
He next moved to the office of Job, Collin and Fulton. The three partners in this practice, had each taught him in the course of his study. After 18 months he moved again seeking as much variety of experience as possible. At Crick, Lewis and Williams his design skills were recognised and he became the designer for the practice and responsible for the design of Festival Hall, (demolished) as well as several Ampol petrol stations. His next employment was with Job & Froud who were engaged on Torbrek at Highgate Hill. Heathwood worked on the 8 story Garden Block which was built first, before the tower block.
At this time (1956) he entered a competition for the design of a house built of plywood. John Dalton also made an entry and, they agreed that if either design won the £3000 prize, they would use the money to start a practice together. Heathwood’s design won and John Dalton documented it while Peter Heathwood went on his honeymoon. He and his bride Helene stayed of course in Lennons Broadbeach hotel, which was newly completed to a design by Karl Langer. The Plywood house of Heathwood’s design was built in 1957 at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds and was visited by thousands, which gave the new practice a most suitable profile as competent modernists. The house survives relocated at The Gap, a Brisbane suburb. Heathwood later extended it after it became home for his sister and brother-in-law.
The Heathwood’s planned trip to Europe was disrupted in 1957 by the impending birth of the first of 4 children. Instead, he then designed and built a house for his family at Galloways Hill. This was also a notable building and published but was later resumed and demolished for being in the path of a projected bridge across the river, which never eventuated. Heathwood’s most. influential work for me, was a house he designed even before he had completed his course to become an architect. When the home of his friend George Speare burned down, Peter designed a simple but radical replacement, on a site at Indooroopilly in 1956. Both were members of the Oxley Sailing Club and George Speare had 5 children. The house had a flat roof with a raised central clearstory and with a continuous lattice screen on four sides spaced almost a metre from the window walls for privacy, sun protection and ventilation. The edge condition meant that the screen met the generous roof overhang and gave the building which was high-set, a particularly modernist aesthetic, but was also a recognisable regional variant. The screen was discontinued at the entry on the NW corner and at the rear diagonally opposite. In both instances, the wall stepped back to form a useable verandah space. This house demonstrated how a modernist pavilion could be adapted to suit Brisbane’s climate and traditions. Tragically this house, which had been widely published and acknowledged as one of the 10 best houses in Australia in 1959, was demolished recently to create 2 vacant blocks.
In 1959, after eighteen months in partnership, Heathwood separated from Dalton and they pursued different paths. The Heathwood practice produced many quality houses on miniscule budgets before the practice grew to have at its peak, 24 employees. Many students were mentored through their course while employed there and the practice evolved to a partnership known as Heathwood Cardillo and Wilson in 1975. Peter’s younger brother Roger joined the partnership in 1972, becoming a director in 1983. Some of its best work included, in Peter Heathwood’s opinion, the Medical Services building at the Rockhampton Hospital and the Law School at QUT, but his favourite remained the Speare house which he insisted was a labour of love.
Peter retired from active practice in 1993. After architecture, his greatest passion was on the water. He had owned several yachts and devoted some months each year to boating activities, He always maintained that he would rather be sailing.
Peter Heathwood remained in good health until the end. He is survived by his wife Helene and children Petrea, Cameron, Tania and Ian.