Robert (Robin) Smith Dods (1868-1920) was one of the most significant early twentieth century Australian architects. While his home and the majority of his work were in and around the provincial city of Brisbane and, towards the end of his life, in Sydney, Dods had trained in Edinburgh and London with some of the more progressive British firms of the period. His philosophy was based firmly on the British Edwardian ‘free style’ movement, which grew out of Morris’s Arts and Crafts. Central to this style was an exploitation of regional differences as being an appropriate basis for any new tradition. His work thus valued the idiosyncratic architecture then developing in Brisbane, where British cultural references were mixed with a sub-tropical climate and a timber building tradition.
Dods felt strongly that tradition itself, though liberally selected and used, was important. Coupled with the belief in fitness for purpose, was a concern with fresh air, health and a sensible response to climate. His chosen aesthetic was also a strong determinant in how the new architecture was to be expressed. After ten years in Britain (1886–1896), Dods had the benefit of a wide vocabulary of architectural motif and the ability to use this in his work. He was very familiar with the direction of visual style in early twentieth century Britain and its interpretation in colonial outposts. He had visited the USA, remained in contact with contemporaries in India and South Africa and corresponded over his lifetime with his closest friend and fellow architect, Robert Lorimer, in Scotland.
Dods’s buildings possessed the qualities of balance and finely honed proportion, yet were mixed with a quirky freshness. In Australia, this ‘new look’ was seen as cutting edge, even revolutionary, by some local architects. Dods’s architecture appealed to the intelligentsia, and by means of his writing and architectural competition work he was able to create a national presence, and an awareness of his work even in Britain.
The dissertation presents research conducted over thirty years into the buildings and archival records of Dods. The author has collected the most extensive archive of Dods material and images of Dods’s buildings in existence for this purpose. Illustrations of the work as built and original drawings are included where possible, as most of these are otherwise unavailable to scholars. A number of measured drawings form part of the thesis. The dissertation commences with a biographical summary and is then organised by building type: houses, ecclesiastical works, commercial practice, hospitals, public buildings and other works, some of which were not built. Each chapter considers the scale of activity, describes the most significant works, and analyses key examples.
Many claims over a long period have been made of Dods’s work, but often on scant evidence. For instance his reception has been largely as an architect of houses, and his work has been fitted into the familiar template of being a prescience of Modernism. This thesis offers the first reliable and comprehensive list of Dods’s works and, based on this, a new assessment of his achievement and significance. In the first instance the research illustrates what has seldom been recognised: the large scale of Dods’s practice and the variety of building types within this practice. The dissertation then demonstrates the high quality of Dods’s work, the strong role of architectural tradition within this work, and his significance in the development of an Australian architecture. It outlines how he brought current British ideas to Australia and adapted them to a local context, first in Queensland (through the partnership of Hall & Dods and as Diocesan Architect to the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane) then in New South Wales (during his time with Spain Cosh & Dods), with different emphasis in each place. By close study of the extant works and those recorded in the Dods Archive, then comparing them with those of his contemporaries, both in Australia and Britain, the dissertation argues for the inventiveness and accomplishment of Dods’s architecture and through such knowledge offers a compelling reason for its retention.