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S G L (BILL) BAKER  (1920-2003)

Biographical Overview

Stanley George Lister Baker was born on 3 May 1920 in the northern NSW town of Mullumbimby. He became interested in aviation as a young man and, prior to the Second World War, worked as a flying instructor at the Royal Aero Club of NSW.  In August 1943, he enlisted with the RAAF and served in the No 2 Flying Squadron.  Discharged in March 1946 with the rank of Flying Officer, Baker enrolled at the Sydney Technical College as a non-diploma architectural student and completed Stage IV of the course in January 1949.  By the end of that year, Baker was employed as a draftsman and living in Canterbury with wife Mary and mother Ethel.  The couple subsequently moved into a house of their own in Sans Souci, relocating thence to Lakemba.  Although Baker became an associate of the RAIA in 1950, his career path took an entirely different path just a few years later when he became a commercial airline pilot with Qantas.  He was to hold that position for more than decade while continuing to work as an architect on (as he once put it) his "free days".  By the mid-1950s, Baker had entered into partnership with another architect, Arthur Edward Levido (1925-2003).  Amongst their staff was a young Glenn Murcutt, who worked briefly in the office in 1956 whilst studying at Sydney Technical College.  Styled as Levido & Baker, the firm focused principally on private residential projects, designed in a hard-edged modernist style typical of the time, and located mostly in Sydney’s prestigious northern suburbs where both men lived.  These included a house that Baker designed for his own mother in Chatswood, published in Australian House & Garden in 1962.  

Needless to say, Baker found it difficult to juggle two vocations.  As he later recalled, "Qantas weren’t too pleased with me when I was doing both jobs at once, and I found I was leaving too much of my architectural work to my staff".  Around 1964, he finally decided to resign from Qantas and return to architecture full-time.  This period coincided with the project housing boom in Sydney, and Baker soon found himself in demand from a number of rival companies engaged in this potentially lucrative industry.  An early association with Lynton Constructions Pty Ltd saw Baker engaged to design a number of houses that were erected on several of the company’s display villages in the St Ives area.  With their designer inspired by what he had seen on his frequent visits to Japan and Hawaii as an airline pilot, these houses introduced a number of oriental and Polynesian-flavoured elements, including exposed roof beams, unpainted plywood panels, stained joinery, shoji screens and Japanese landscaping.  This approach of casual exoticism characterised much of Baker's residential output in the later 1960s and early 1970s.  

Although he undertook a number of private commissions (including two houses that he designed for himself, both in St Ives, in 1965 and 1970), Baker's practice tended to remain firmly focused on project housing.  In 1968, he became involved with a leading Melbourne-based firm,  Contemporary Home Industries (CHI), for whom he prepared a number of a standard designs.  In April 1968, a prototype of the company's stylish Casa Seville house was displayed at the Ideal Homes Exhibition.  Examples of this, and several others in the Casa range, were erected in the CHI display village in Warrigal Road, Moorabbin.  In 1970, Baker designed a house in Beaumaris for the company's managing director, John H D Roberts, which was again in the oriental mode.  Such influences were also evident in Baker's other memorable foray into project housing in Melbourne, when his office was one of three architectural firms (along with Guilford Bell and John & Phyllis Murphy) engaged by Concept Constructions Pty Ltd to each design a house for a small display centre in Forest Hill.  Baker's design, simply titled the Oriental, represented an effective contrast to Bell's minimalist Courtyard house and the Murphys' homestead-like Australian house.

Back in his native New South Wales, Baker continued his involvement with project housing by designing dwellings for such companies as
Edward Gough Pty Ltd, Cawarra Constructions Pty Ltd, Dainton Gough Homes Pty Ltd and Washington Gray Pty Ltd.  He was still a noteworthy leader in the field during the 1980s; in 1984, one of his Washington Gray houses won an award from the Master Builders' Association of NSW and, five years later, another residential project received a plaudit from the Concrete & Masonry Association of Australia for excellence in concrete masonry construction.  Baker lived long enough to see his earlier work attract a certain amount of respect in the housing market, with estate agents' advertisements in the 1990s often drawing attention to the fact that he had designed a particular house.  In retirement, Baker returned to his first love of aviation and, even when aged in his eighties, could still pilot a Lockheed 1049 Super Constellation like the ones he had flown in his early Qantas career.  Baker flew for the final time only two days before his death in April 2003, aged  82 years.

Select List of Projects (all in NSW unless otherwise indicated)

Levido & Baker

Residence, Newport
Residence, Clareville
Residence, Rooke Street, Hunters Hill
Residence, Wallawong Crescent, Pymble

Residence for Mrs Ethel Baker, Chatswood

S G L Baker








Project house (Rangi) for Lynton Constructions Pty Ltd, 1 Jessica Gardens, St Ives
Project house (Polynesian) for Lynton Constructions Pty Ltd, 7 Jessica Gardens, St Ives
Project house (Tiki) for Lynton Constructions Pty Ltd, 9 Jessica Gardens, St Ives
Residence for self, 35 Waterhouse Avenue, St Ives
Project house (Halanui) for Lynton Constructions 
Pty Ltd
Project house (Malihini) for Lynton Constructions Pty Ltd, Douglas Street East, St Ives
Project houses for Dainton Gough Homes 
Pty Ltd
Residence, Tambu Street, St Ives
Project house (Dakara) for Cawarra Constructions Pty Ltd, Dakara Drive, Belrose
Project house (Casa Bonita) for CHI Pty Ltd, Warrigal Road, Moorabbin, Vic
Project house (Casa Montana) for CHI Pty Ltd, Warrigal Road, 
Moorabbin, Vic
Project house (Casa Valenti) for CHI Pty Ltd, Warrigal Road, 
Moorabbin, Vic
Project house (Casa Seville) for CHI Pty Ltd
Project house (Ormiston Mark 1) for CHI Pty Ltd, Qld
Project house (John Oxley Mark 1) for CHI Pty Ltd, Qld
Project house (Matthew Flinders Mark 1) for CHI Pty Ltd, Qld
Project house (Capricorn) for CHI Pty Ltd, Qld
Project house (Coral Court) for CHI Pty Ltd, Qld
Project house (Tropicana) for CHI Pty Ltd, Qld
Project house (Carribean) for CHI Pty Ltd, Qld
Project house (Bambra)
for CHI Pty Ltd, Oleander Street, Glen Waverley, Vic
Project house (Dakara CWA) for Cawarra Constructions, Marlindale Ave, Castle Hill
Project house (Cawarra CWA) for Cawarra Constructions, Kurrajong St, Pennant Hills
Project house (Dakara 21) for Cawarra Constructions, Belrose
Project house (Dakara 22) for Cawarra Constructions, Belrose
Project house (Dakara 23) for Cawarra Constructions, Belrose
Project house (Dakara 24) for Cawarra Constructions, Belrose
Project house (Oriental) for Concept Constructions P/L, Canterbury Rd, Forest Hill, Vic
Residence for self, 16 Flinders Avenue, St Ives
Residence for J H Roberts, Hutchison Avenue, Beaumaris, Vic
Residence, Warrimoo Avenue, St Ives
Project house for Washington Gray Pty Ltd, Langley Heights, NSW
Residence, Finchley Place, Wahroonga

Residence, 300 Hudson Parade, Clareville
Residence, 27 Burdekin Crescent, St Ives
Residence, 49 Torakina Avenue, St Ives
Residence, 96 Douglas Street, St Ives
Residence, 61a Kintore Street, Wahroonga

Rodger House by Levido & Baker
Rodger House at Newport by Levido & Baker (1958)

Bill Baker's mothers house at Chatswood
House for Bill Baker's mother, Chatswood (1962)

Rangi Project House for Lynton Constructions
"Rangi" project house for Lynton Constructions (1964)

Casa Seville project house for CHI Pty Ltd
"Casa Seville" project house for CHI Pty Ltd (1968)

Baker's own house in St Ives
Interior of Bill Baker's own house at St Ives (1970)

Oriental project house for Concept Constructions
"Oriental" project house for Concept Constructions (1970)

Roberts House in Beaumaris
Roberts House, Hutchison Avenue, Beaumaris (1970)
source: photograph by Simon Reeves, 2007

Select references

Wayne Young, 'Vale Bill Baker', Warner Tales: Official Newsletter of the Central Coast Aero Club, Vol 3, No 2 (April 2003), p 4.