THE RELUCTANT ARCHITECT – JUNE 2017
Being an architect is the best job in the World. Well, that’s what I think! So its’ a surprise to come across someone who is a reluctant architects, and especially so when a) he’s handed a series of plum commissions without any need to promote his skills and b) he’s someone who clearly enjoyed designing.
John Verge (1782-1861) was a reluctant architect. After a reasonably successful career in England as a builder/developer/building designer (i.e. an architect) he emigrated to Australia hoping to become a gentlemen farmer. That didn’t work out because of insufficient funds and so he had to fall back on his former trade. Between 1830 and 1838 (just 9 years!) he designed and built some of the very best of the colony’s houses.
Tusculum Villa (1831-1837)
Camden Park (1835). And many others of which a scandalously large number have been demolished.
John Verge’s work shows a determination to go beyond merely fulfilling the requirements of the brief – the quality of the construction and the intellectual application evident in his designs surely exceeded the expectations of his client? His buildings speak of an architect getting satisfaction from a job well done – an architect enjoying himself. Here the concave wall of the oval stairhall meets the convex door of the circular saloon beyond.
The layout of Elizabeth Bay House shows John Verge enjoying himself: and oval stairhall in the centre of a rectangular plan, with the first stone catilevered staircase to be built in Australia, and above an oval dome.
And then, when he’d made enough money, he became a gentlemen farmer. His achievements in farming are unknown. His achievements in architecture live on.