The prominent Melbourne architectural firm of Berg & Alexandra was founded in 1963 by returned RAAF servicemen and former University of Melbourne colleagues Raymond Berg (1913-1988) and Douglas Alexandra (1922-2000).
Raymond Berg (ne Schmerberg) was born in South Melbourne on 25 October 1913 and was educated at the Brunswick Technical College, where the principal, Percy Everett - later to become Chief Architect of the PWD in Victoria - initially encouraged him to study architecture. The young Schmerberg became articled to E J & K B Keogh and commenced study at the Melbourne University Architectural Atelier, where he won the Perrott Prize for Architectural Rendering (1934) and the Grice Bronze Medal for Design (1935). After completing his Diploma of Architecture, he was offered a position in the private practice of atelier director Leighton Irwin, where he remained until 1941. During 1939, he travelled overseas and gained further experience in the London offices of Louis de Soissons and Brian O'Rourke. Schmerberg enlisted with the RAAF in November 1942 and was discarged with the rank of Flying Office in 1946. On his return to Melbourne, he resumed private practice and anglicised his surname. In 1949, he was offered a position as Senior Lecturer in the University of melbourne's newly-reorganised Faculty of Architecture under Brian Lewis. Berg held that position until 1962, when he entered into partnership with Douglas Alexandra.
Douglas D Alexandra was born Diomedes Alexandratos in Shepparton on 6 February 1922. Originally from Ithaca, the family had migrated to Australia when Alexandra's paternal grandfather, Efstathios Alexandratos – a ship's captain by trade – followed the lure of the Victorian gold rush and settled in Bendigo. Alexandra's father Andreas (1885-1950) started his own business as a fruit vendor in central Melbourne, which enabled him to bring his two brothers out from Greece. Together, the three men operated a successful cafe in Elizabeth Street until around 1920, when the partnership ended. Andreas then elected to move to Shepparton, where he and his wife Sophie established a new cafe. The young Diomedes Alexandratos enlisted with the Australian Army in December 1941 and, eight months later, transferred to the RAAF. In January 1944, Flying Officer Alexandratos was one of a number of Australian servicemen to embark on a risky Lancaster mission to Berlin; the men, however, failed to return from the mission, and were declared missing. Alexandratos survived, spending a year as a POW in Germany before being repatriated to London in May 1945. Discharged from the RAAF in 1946, he anglicised his name and subsequently completed his Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Melbourne.
Admitted as an Associate of the RAIA in 1950, Douglas Alexandra promptly opened his own office and soon emerged as one of Melbourne's first post-war modernist architects. His first major project, for a maisonette pair designed for his own family and his mother-in-law in Burwood (1951), was published in the Australian Home Beautiful the following year, lauded for the way in which it “breaks away from the old familiar features of this type of dwelling .. by the pleasantly simple design”. His Klotzman House in Ringwood (1953), expressed as an elevated flat-roofed timber box with a stone feature wall, was published even more widely and was considered at the time to represent Melbourne's answer to the Rose Seidler House in Sydney. Such slick modernist dwellings formed the mainstay of Alexandra's practice in the 1950s, and they frequently appeared in journals (notably Architecture & Arts), the property column of the Herald newspaper, and slim monographs such as Kenneth McDonald's self-published The New Australian Home (1954) and Beryl Guertner's 200 Home Plans (1959). Alexandra also undertook a number of significant non-residential commissions, including two modern kindergartens, of especially striking design, at Beaumaris (1955) at Burwood (1957) – the latter located only a few streets away from where he and his young family were living that that time. During this prosperous period, Alexandra also lectured in design at the University of Melbourne.
In 1963, Alexandra entered into partnership with fellow Melbourne University lecturer and established their office in Chelsea House, Flemington Road, North Melbourne – a building designed a few years earlier by a former student of theirs, architect Harry Ernest. The new firm, styled as Berg & Alexandra, went on to design a string of major municipal projects in regional Victoria, including art galleries at Hamilton and Mildura and civic centres at Shepparton and Traralgon. Both men maintained their long association with the University of Melbourne, remaining as part-time lecturers as well as collabotrating with Staff Architect, Rae Featherstone, on major campus projects such as the Raymond Priestly Building (1967) and the completion of the South Quadrangle (1970). Berg & Alexandra also undertook projects for the Commonwealth Bank, the Church of England Home for the Aged and the Mildura Base Hospital. There were relatively fewer residential commissions during this period, although standout examples included Alexandra's own house on the Boulevard at Ivanhoe East (1963), overlooking the Yarra River flats
Raymond Berg, who received the RAIA Gold Medal in 1974, retired in 1983 and died five years later. Douglas Alexandra, who penned Berg's obituary in Architecture Australia, died in February 2000.
"Obituary: Raymond Berg", Architecture Australia, March 1989, pp 26-27.
Select List of Projects
Berg & Alexandra