University of Melbourne Baillieu Library - The Architects' Story

By Ken Atkins and Barry Axtens

Professors House
Professors' Road prior to construction of the Baillieu Library
(Professorial house, University of Melbourne, circa 1956-1957, University of Melbourne Photographs, University of Melbourne Archives, BWP/7277.)

The Architects

John Scarborough

The Architect, John Francis Deighton Scarborough, headed a successful partnership under the name of Scarborough, Robertson and Love throughout the 1930's. The partnership won the competition for the Littlejohn Memorial Chapel and followed with much of the development of Scotch College. John Scarborough served as the President of the Institute of Architects in this period.

The outbreak of war saw the partnership disbanded and John Scarborough carried on subsequently under his own name. He taught at the Melbourne University Architectural Atelier during the mid-1940's and developed a close association with many of the professional staff including Leigh Scott, the librarian. This led to the design for the 1948 north-east extension of the Old Quadrangle library and subsequently his appointment as architect for the new library in 1952. At this time his practice was styled 'The Office of John F. D. Scarborough, Architects', two of his associates being Ken Atkins and Ian Hunt.

The Office of John Francis Deighton Scarborough

JFDS ran his office as a harmonious, approximately 15 to 20 person group, delegating responsibility freely, keeping in touch with all members and assisting in resolving issues promptly. He often wrote project specifications, inspected sites during construction and communicated on any necessary action before scheduled site meetings. His instructions were to proceed with tender documentation of the proposed library with the knowledge that full funding was not yet available, and that the funds available were less than half the estimated cost.

During the late 1950's the Scarborough office was involved in the development of new library buildings for the Australian National University in Canberra, and both the State and University of Tasmania libraries, all of which saw the involvement of Ian R. Hunt and Barry Axtens before they left to join other architectural practices.

Ken Atkins meanwhile designed and documented the new main library at Monash University and, in conjunction with Rae Featherstone, Melbourne University staff architect, designed and documented the Brownless Medical Library.

(Interesting note: the successful Baillieu circular stair was repeated in the Brownless with the difference that it has an anti-clockwise rise which was thought to be more friendly by providing for "down on the left" to take the wider outer part of the stair treads. Later smoke control regulations involved some loss of the openness of both these stairs by the addition of screen walls.)

Ken Atkins and Ian Hunt

Ken Atkins 4
Ken Atkins

Ken Atkins and Ian Hunt joined JFDS as undergraduate architecture students in 1947 working in the architect's office during the day whilst attending the Architectural Atelier four nights a week. (The B.Arch. at Melbourne in the immediate post-war period was a five-year course comprising two years full-time study followed by three years evening "Atelier" work under the direction of Mr Leighton Irwin, a prominent practising architect.)

After graduation both Ken and Ian travelled to the UK where they worked in different architectural offices before returning to Melbourne in late 1953 when they both rejoined the Scarborough office.

Ken continued as a partner in the Scarborough practice until his retirement in 1993.

Barry Axtens

Barry Axtens, was a 1951 honours graduate in architecture from Sydney University. After graduation he worked in a London practice on war reparation low, medium and high density housing projects in Hammersmith, Notting Hill and Shepherds Bush. Returning to Australia in 1953 Barry decided to find employment and accommodation in Melbourne, the nearest city to Albury, where the family had been moved by the Army during the war. A phone conversation with Ian Hunt (who he had met whilst in London) and an interview with John Scarborough was a process in stark contrast to finding a position in London when the city already had over 50 unemployed architects.

Coincidentally Barry had met Ken for the first time on the SS Esperance Bay returning to Australia and was unaware that Ken and Ian had been colleagues in 1947. Barry was most impressed with black and white photographs taken by Ken which were on display on the ship. After designing, documenting and managing a number of smaller projects, including several at Scotch College, Barry joined Ian and the four to six person team led by the much older team leader Ed Robinson.

Sketch plans and design development for the Baillieu Library would have been in progress during the period after JFDS was originally commissioned in 1945. These plans would have been based on detailed estimates of users, staff, work spaces, facilities and amenities, in addition to the number of volumes on open access, and in the stacks and compactus, etc. Final planning would have proceeded after the site was nominated in 1952 with major engineering consultancies fully involved.

Barry Axtens was in 1960 offered a position with Grounds Romberg and Boyd and in 1961 worked with Robin Boyd and Frederick Romberg on projects including houses, Jimmy Watsonís, the Zoology building at ANU, student housing at Ormond College and the Melbourne University School of Microbiology building. He was later, after the break up of the Grounds Romberg and Boyd partnership, to move to Godfrey and Spowers Pty Ltd, becoming an associate and later a director. Projects included the science and education buildings and associated theatres at what is now the Burwood campus of Deakin University. Libraries were also designed and built at tertiary institutes, apparently later abolished, at Coburg (State College) and Preston (Phillip Institute). The Preston library was carried out in association with Daryl Jackson and Partners. This association continued after our joint consultancy on the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, which Barry managed throughout the contract. Later projects included major alterations and extensions at the Sunshine site of the Western General Hospital.

The Librarian

Axel Lodewycks is remembered as having been the appointed librarian at a time when it would have been impossible to alter the fabric of the stage 1 building. He attended a number of site meetings with little involvement in discussion or raising any issues arising from the agenda or the minutes of previous meetings. However from time to time the architects would receive without warning a letter recording complaints, requests and requirements. The memory is of a sudden flurry of activity to work through the various items with an expectation of another detailed missive in due course.

The Baillieu Library Site

Professors' houses

Prior to clearing for the Baillieu building, the area between Professors and Medical Roads was occupied by two-storied brick houses for the professors' families. To the west of Medical Road were the hockey field and tennis courts. Stage 1 of Baillieu saw the removal of house no. 2, stages 2 and 3 the removal of house no. 1, which at that time was used by History and Philosophy of Science. The Brownless saw the removal of house no. 3 and the last house went for the medical building.

Stage 1 drawings

Drawings for the new central library were prepared by Ian and Barry followed by site supervision to completion in 1958 of the building now known as the Baillieu Library.

Baillieu Library later development

Ken Atkins worked with Axel Lodewycks in the formulation of future strategies for the expansion of the Baillieu in successive stages, involving two levels to the main centre bays, west and north corners to the same height as the extended centre bays and vertically to 19 levels as a stack block at the north-west corner. As funding for the Baillieu building development became available the stages of extension were spread over the 1967-1969, 1970-1972 and 1973-1975 trienna, whilst the heavy foundations for the 19 level ëstack towerí were included as part of the costs of stage 2 with a consequent loss of building floor area in that stage. Ken directed all design and documentation for these stages and supervised the building contracts.

Some effects of stage 1 on the subsequent development

The first stage of the Baillieu building presented some constraints on later extensions for example:

  • There was no upward extension possible to the window wall east bay of the structure.
  • No structural provision was made for westward extension of the centre block to complete the present rectangular plan from the original "T" shape.
  • No provision was made for extension of air-conditioning equipment on level 4.
  • The site also limited development in that it could extend only to the north, the south being restrained by the Brownless Medical Library, the west by Medical Road and the east by the former Professors Road and of course the grand window facade design.

It did, however, allow for two extra levels on the centre north-south modules and three on the west projecting bays to bring them to the same level as the centre bays.

As stage 2 was predicated on maximising the building within the given restraints, the south-west and north-west corners had to be filled and the north-east extension replaced the small single-storey section that previously housed the librarianís and other offices. The original perimeter columns were not designed for the west extensions and additional columns were needed. Consequently we can see this doubling up in the present floor plan. The foundations for the stack tower have been referred to above and, in the north-west area of the present building, one can observe the larger than normal columns providing for those ultimate 19 levels.

Air-conditioning considerations

All building volume beyond the original stage 1 building needed to be served with its own air-handling, heating and cooling equipment. Electrical demands in this area of the University also required a power sub-station be incorporated in the building. As a consequence a sub-basement plant room was provided under the north-west corner plus a small air-handling plant room at basement level in the south-west corner (actual ground level due to fall in Medical Road). This is served with hot and chilled water piping run from the central plant in the sub-basement via a duct run under the west path. The preferred alternative was to preserve the basement for prime library use. However this would have required a substantial sub-floor duct for air distribution from the main plant at the north end and this was ruled out by cost.

Building fabric

Structural consultants Clive Steele Partners, given the nature of the project and the depressed state of reinforced concrete construction skills in the 1950ís for major work, would probably have been the first to propose steel frame construction, offering the advantages of smaller column dimensions and speedier construction, which would provide a simpler and more flexible structure for both heavy library storage and lighter loads in other areas.

Brick wall

As a time and cost-saving measure the external brick walls were supported not on the traditional continuous steel angle supports at each floor but a cast galvanised two piece series of brackets. Detailed attention was given to this proposal which had been approved by the Melbourne building surveyor. Before the concrete floors were poured metal sockets at regular spacingís were fixed to the formwork and became cast into the slab. When brickwork was laid a galvanised self-draining support bracket was hooked into the socket. Shelf angle or other support was necessary only at the base of the wall.


The curtain wall to the main facade must surely have been one of the first in Melbourne and the purpose-designed mullions spanning heights of close to six metres were the subject of considerable deliberation to produce members of structural sufficiency with an elegant profile and to provide for the high rate of thermal expansion of aluminium. Structural aluminium systems designed and tested by the manufacturer were not available for this stage 1 application.

Whilst double-glazing would have resulted in a more thermally efficient eastern zone of the building, imported double-glazing units had suffered for many years the critical disadvantages of high cost and short service life with an ongoing history of failure until requirements for sealing the units and for their installation in an expanding and contracting frame were fully understood.

Design and documentation would have been influenced by the need to anticipate the possible need to make significant changes to the project. In fact the contract proceeded and was successfully completed despite the basis that a majority scope of tendered works was categorised as ëdeferred itemsí. The reputation of Prentice Builders Pty Ltd must have been enhanced by the successful result after this uncertain start.

Other materials

Special internal finishes were also limited by cost and were selected only in main circulation areas, main entrance and stairs, etc.:

  • Wall paper from Asia was not a significant expense.
  • Italian glass mosaic tiles were cheap, fashionable and suitable for curved surfaces due to small unit size. Such tiles were and are still factory-glued to an open mesh backing in convenient squares for fixing. (The outline of the squares can be seen on the column shown on page 44 of the booklet "A Storehouse of Wisdom").
  • The copper roof of the entrance canopy can be seen from the first floor windows. This covering required careful detailing and good workmanship. To JFDS this would have been an obvious choice for such an application. The roof appears not to have needed repair in its first 50 years.

Based on the recollections of Ken Atkins and Barry Axtens, December 2009. (Revised 3 February 2010)