The son of a manufacturer’s representative, James Heward Earle was born in Warrnambool on 31 August 1927. Matriculating from Scotch College, he commenced his architectural studies at the Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT) in 1945, transferring thence to the newly-reconstructed degree course at Melbourne University. During this time at university, Earle served as a member of the executive committee of the VASS and also gained experience in the office of Stephenson & Turner. After graduating in April 1951, Earle continued working there full-time before embarking on a trip to Europe that would include visiting the Festival of Britain in London and undertaking a design course in Sweden. Returning in September of that year, Earle initially worked for Muir & Shepherd before taking a position with Hassell & McConnell.
On 27 September 1952, Earle married piano teacher Joan Wright at the Warrnambool Methodist Church, and the couple took up residence in Walmer Street, Kew. The following year, Earle left Hassell & McConnell to establish his own private practice, working from home with two young assistants. Initially, the office focused on small-scale residential commissions (several of which were published in newspapers and magazines) but duly expanded to include infant welfare centres and work for the Methodist church. The latter, which sprung from contacts made through a relative of Earle’s wife Joan, would sustain the practice for decades, encapsulating not only churches but also convention centres, group housing, school buildings and sundry projects for countless Methodist organisations. In 1955, the fledgling practice was rebadged as a partnership, Earle & Bunbury, following the admission of architect Arthur Bunbury (1920-1995), whom Earle had met while both were studying the town planning course at Melbourne University.
In 1960, after Arthur Bunbury was compelled to withdraw from the partnership due to illness, the practice continued under the name of Earle & Associates. For much of that decade, the office focused principally on private residential commissions and ecclesiastical projects, with forays into the design of factories, blocks of flats and hospitals. There was ongoing work at Kingswood College in Box Hill, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Hospital in East Melbourne, as well as for the ES&A Bank Ltd and automotive dealer Bib Stilwell. Continuing involvement with the Methodist church included several projects proposed in Fiji and Tonga. In 1967, the practice became a partnership again with the admission of Grahame Shaw (1928-1985), late of the Housing Commission of Victoria. Renamed Earle, Shaw & Partners, the office continued to broaden its scope by embracing site planning and landscape design, typified by more diverse multi-disciplinary projects such as a co-operative housing scheme at Carlton. Shaw left the partnership in 1972, taking with him two young employees, John Denton and Bill Corker; the three men subsequently banded together to form the new office of Shaw, Denton & Corker, which went on to become the award-winning team of Denton Corker Marshall.
Continuing as Earle & Partners, the office undertook a wide range of projects during the 1970s, largely eschewing private one-off residential commissions in favour of ongoing work for churches, schools, hospitals and banks, as well as landscape projects that included rehabilitation for former quarries. In 1978, the practice was again re-configured, with senior staff members Kel Greenway and Terrence Taylor admitted to partnership in what then became known as Earle, Greenway, Taylor Pty Ltd. After Greenway and Taylor left in 1985, the office reverted to its former name, Earle & Partners, until it ceased operation in 2007. During this late period, Earle’s daughter Elizabeth, who qualified as an architect in the mid-1980s, joined her father as co-director of the practice. Fittingly, Earle’s final project was a house at Balnarring that he designed for his and Joan's retirement.
James Earle died on 29 September 2014, aged 87 years.
Select List of Projects
James Earle (1953-55)
Earle & Bunbury (1955-60)
Earle & Associates (1960-67)
Earle, Shaw & Partners (1967-72)