Perth local Andrina Treadgold has been on a mission over the last few years preserving the legacy of her celebrated architect father, Geoffrey Summerhayes.
Geoffrey was among an elite band of gifted architects, builders and and designers who changed the face of Perth in the decades following the war.
They brought the clean lines, space and light of Modernism to Perth, and architecturally the city hasn’t looked back. Many well-known homes and public buildings around town were produced on the Summerhayes drawing board, and today stand as testament to the man’s vision.
Andrina has been tirelessly collecting content and images for her book Bringing Modernism Home – The Life of Architect Geoffrey E. Summerhayes, and now her her heartfelt homage to her late father is about to hit the shelves.
The Starfish chatted to her about her literary salute to one of the State’s best architects.
Congratulations on the book. How did this come about?
Thank you, Jacqui, there were several prompts that got me thinking about my father’s legacy.
During his funeral my niece commented on the large crowd and enquired “Was Pa famous?” This comment was the reason I dedicated the book to his grandchildren.
The second nudge was spying a metal replica spiral staircase in a Belgium interior design store and being reduced to tears. The tug to my childhood home was so strong. I had already considered writing his history based on his diaries and notes, so I went home and started researching all the buildings he completed with a spiral staircase – 10 in total.
Finally, the Mad Men TV series resonated deeply with me as it transported me back to the interiors that we had been exposed too as children. My husband quickly tired of me announcing, “We had furniture like that,” as the series progressed.
How old were you when you realised your father was an architect, and what are some early memories of him working?
When does memory start. The Cliff House in The Coombe was designed while I was a baby, thus, much of my childhood was spent clambering over building sites. Dad designed a lot of homes in Mosman Park in the early sixties and we were often taken there on a Saturday to wander, while he completed a site inspection.
How long did the book take to do?
About seven years. I pondered the concept of a book for about two years. I started designing covers and layout, well before I began writing. The actual writing and research took a few years, however due to the economic slowdown and Covid, it took ages to find a publisher. It sat in the bottom drawer for quite a few years.
Must have been a trip down Memory Lane?
It was wonderful to look at all the amazing photos held by Curtin University Special Collections, titled The Summerhayes Collection. Most of these can be accessed via their website. The book morphed from a monograph to a memoir as the years passed. I ended up weaving together a story of Dad’s life living in the mid-century Coombe House, and some of the firms architectural projects, thus lots of lovely memories surfaced.
Who will your book appeal to?
It’s an architectural memoir, so architects and design enthusiasts who are interested in mid-century design. It will also appeal to people who like reading WA history, revolving around Perth’s cultural scene during the sixties and seventies.
You decide to focus on your father’s life and cultural influences, as well as his architecture. Why did you decide to do it this way?
I used Dad’s draft memoir “The Influence of Architects” written in 1989 as a template. He lived such an extraordinary life in his youth. As a young man, he embarked on a study tour of Europe , then went to Princeton University to complete a master’s degree. His personal diaries and letters home were a wealth of information. I also chose some of the more prominent commercial and residential architectural projects to discuss, which added another layer to his story. Historical events that took place over the decades helped give context to the time period.
He travelled a lot over the years and met some of his architectural heroes. Who in particular made an impression on him?
Marcel Breuer. My father had the privilege of being Mr Breuer’s personal guide over a number of days when he was on a lecture tour at Princeton University in 1952. He had many private conversations with him during his stay at Princeton. He also met with Frank Lloyd Wright and had a private tour around his property …..Princeton University opened many doors.
Your dad kept a tremendous amount of momentos and writings over the years. Was it tough to decide what to include?
Yes, it was extremely hard to decide; there is probably another book in all his papers. Once I decided what direction to take, his papers were a huge help, especially as he had post-it-notes all through his writing saying, “This would be good for the book”.
I wanted to honour Dad and write about what he perceived to be important, while adding my own parlance. So many more stories could have been included, but I had a huge amount of faith in my editor Carmen Jenner, who had a strong vision of which stories were going to make the book interesting.
The book’s cover photo is of the fabulous house you grew up in, in The Coombe, which Geoffrey designed. What did you love about that home?
The spiral staircases! We had two. I loved racing up and down these as a child. Also, the light and sense of space. By today’s standards it was not a huge house, but its design allowed light to stream inside via a sky light and huge floor to ceiling windows which gave the impression of a much larger space. It was filled with very modernist furniture which added to its glamour.
Its demolition, around the mid 90s, must have been devastating for the family?
Yes, it was a loss, but it was a greater loss to the era of Modernism. Architecture students used to regularly go and view this house and many others now demolished in the Coombe / Saunders Street precinct, as part of their studies. So many mid-century houses in Perth have been demolished. It’s very sad that Perth people don’t respect architectural heritage.
What are some of your favourite legacies of Geoffrey’s work around our fair city?
My favourites are all his mid-century houses and factories. Sadly, most of these buildings have either been demolished or extensively altered. The West Australian Art Gallery still stands as a beacon in the city for cultural events. He was very proud of the firm getting the commission to work with the PWD and complete this project.
What, if anything, do you appreciate even more about him, having done this book?
His attention to detail in his designs and his methodical approach to life. He was so meticulous in keeping every letter, newspaper and magazine articles about himself and the firm Summerhayes & Associates. Had he not been so methodical, all this wonderful information would not have been at my fingertips.
When is the book out and how can we buy it?
The book will be out the first week of July 2023. It will be available to purchase directly through the link on my Instagram @andrinastyle or email email@example.com and I will deliver free within the metro area. Collins Booksellers in Cottesloe will also stock the book.
Images of Andrina Treadgold and the AGWA: Peter Rigby