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JOHN BAIRD (1924-2010)

Biographical Overview

John William Baird was born on 3 August 1924 on a soldier settlement farm in Victoria's Mallee region but, as was the case with many soldier settlers, the farm did not succeed and the family was forced to move to Melbourne.  There, Baird commenced his architectural studies at the Royal Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT) under a rehabilitation course, and subsequently completed a Diploma of Architecture at the University of Melbourne in 1956.  He obtained a position in the prominent Melbourne architectural office of Bates, Smart & McCutcheon, where he was primarily engaged on multi-storey commercial projects.  At the same time, he found time to design a house for himself and his wife at Beaumaris, and also to win a commendation in the 1957 design competition for the "Ideal Family Home".  This would be the first of many architectural commendations that Baird would receive during his career.

Establishing his own practice, Baird initially concentrated on residential commissions, many of which were located in the bayside suburbs near where he lived in Beaumaris.  Amongst these local projects were a distinctive purpose-built arts and crafts centre at the Beaumaris North State School, where his children were students.  Baird continued to maintain a successful sole practice during the 1960s, save for a brief partnership with Salvador Bracero, a Sydney-trained Spanish emigre who taught at the RMIT School of Architecture (where Baird himself would lecture for many years).  Amongst the few known projects designed under the banner of Bracero & Baird was another successful competition entry: a scheme for a group housing development in South Australia, which received a commendation by the judges.  

While Baird's association with Bracero was short-lived, he went on to establish a more successful and enduring partnership with architect John Cuthbert in 1969.  This association commenced with further success in a design competition - this time, winning first prize for a housing development scheme sponsored by the State Electricity Commission. Subsequently, the new partnership concentrated primarily on residential projects, several of which received architectural commendations.  Baird not only won the Bronze Medal for the RAIA House of the Year in 1973 (for the Leonard French House & Studio in Beaumaris), but received citations in the same award for 1975 (for the so-called Low Energy House in Flinders) and again in 1976 (for the Smith House in Beaumaris).  Towards the end of the decade, Baird's firm (known initially as Baird & Cuthbert and later as Baird, Cuthbert & Partners) was re-badged as Baird Cuthbert Mitchell Pty Ltd, with the admission of Colin Mitchell as a partner.  Several now-prominent Melbourne architects gained their early experience in the office of Baird Cuthbert Mitchell in the early 1980s, including Grant Amon and Leon Meyer.  During this period, the office was widely acknowledged as pre-eminent leaders in the field of energy-efficient residential design.  In 1980, a house designed by the firm at Hamilton won the RAIA (Victoria) Award for Category E: Energy Efficient Building.

In 1982, John Baird was commissioned to design a tea-house at Ricketts Point, Beaumaris, which was required to be assembled from pre-made components that could be securely stored on the site during construction.  The success of that project prompted Baird to adopt a similar approach in residential design and he formed his own project housing company, Fairweather Housing, to specialise in energy- and cost-efficient kit homes.  Baird
subsequently developed two parallel streams: a Design Series, where dwellings were created for individual clients using a library of standard components, and a Peake Seriesproviding demountable dwellings based on a modular panel system.  By 1993, more than 200 Fairweather Homes had been erected; today, examples can be found from Footscray to Templestowe to French Island.  The company's range of dwellings brought Baird another swag of industry awards, including an Australian Design Award (1989), an MBA Award (1991) and a National Energy Award (1992).  During the 1990s, Baird introduced Fairweather Homes to the overseas market when several housing projects were launched in Indonesia.

In 1984, Baird
consolidated his long-held interest in energy-efficient residential design when he published a book entitled By Design: Changing Australian Houses, in which he attempted to answer the question: "what alternatives do we have in housing which will be more economic in resource use, will increase housing access and diversity, and provide a more human and inspiring environment?".  

In later life, Baird and his family moved to the small settlement of Smiths Beach, on Phillip Island, where he remained active both professionally and in local affairs.  He designed numerous buildings on the island, including the Information Centre at Newhaven and several houses.  As a founding member of the Smiths Beachcomber Association, he advised on the conservation of sensitive coastal reserves and, with his family, designed and laid out a pedestrian path down the cliffs to the beach.  In 2007, Baird published a novella, entitled A Storm of Birds, partly inspired by his childhood in the Mallee.  He died three years later, on 8 October 2010, at Rhyll.  

Select List of Projects

John Baird



Residence for self, Hume Street, Beaumaris
Residence, Mariemont Avenue, Beaumaris
Aged Persons' Housing for the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Carrum Downs
Residence, Balcombe Road, Beaumaris
Residence, Vista Grove, Toorak
Arts & Crafts Centre, Beaumaris North State School, Wood Street, Beaumaris
Residence, Sandown Street, Brighton

Baird & Bracero
Holiday residence, Clarendon Street, Dromana
Housing development (
Clovercrest Estate), South Australia [competition entry]

Baird & Cuthbert (John Baird, Cuthbert & Partners)




Housing development for State Electricity Commission, Melbourne [competition entry]
Residence, Higham Road, Hawthorn East
Residence, Elphinstone Grove, Kew
Holiday residence, Arthurs Seat Road, Main Ridge
Residence and studio, Alfred Street, Beaumaris
Residence (Low Energy House), Musk Creek Road, Flinders
Rehabilitation Project for Housing Commission of Victoria, 
Nelson Road, South Melbourne
Residence, Surf Avenue, Beaumaris
Residence for the Age/RAIA Small Homes Service [V3199]
Residence, Talinga Crescent, Shepparton

Baird, Cuthbert, Mitchell Pty Ltd
Residence, Kangaroo Ground
Residence for self, South Melbourne

Residence, Leura Road, Hamilton
Duplex residence for Housing Industry Association, Broadmeadows
Communal leisure house, Wonthaggi
Residence, Ararat

Fairweather Homes
Holiday residence (Peake 1), Flinders
Residential units for Bias Putih Resort, East Bali, Indonesia
Housing development for PT Freeport Indonesia, Irian Jaya, Indonesia [project only]
Holiday residences, (Peake 3), Echuca-Moama

John Baird Architect 1957
John Baird, architect, as he appeared in the late 1950s

John Baird House in Beaumaris
Ross Residence at Mariemont Avenue, Beaumaris (1957)
photograph by Simon Reeves, Built Heritage Pty Ltd)

Baird & Bracero House in Dromana
Holiday residence in Dromana by Baird & Bracero (1963)

John Baird House in Brighton
Paynter Residence in Sandown Street, Brighton (1967)

Baird and Cuthbert housing competition entry
Baird & Cuthbert entry in SEC housing competition (1969)

Rickets Point Teahouse John Baird
John Baird's Ricketts Point Teahouse, Beaumaris (1982)
(photograph by Simon Reeves, Built Heritage Pty Ltd)

Further Reading

"Vale: John William Baird 3/8/1924-8/10/2010",
     SBA Newsletter, Summer 2010, p 2

John Baird, By Design: Changing Australian Housing.
Melbourne: A E Press, 1984.

John Baird. "Fairweather Homes: Ten Years with  
    Housing Systems". Architect. April 1993, p 11.

John Baird, A Storm of Birds.  
     Carlton North: Black Jack Press, 2007.