Of the many notable architects who’ve designed Darling Point buildings, three stand out for reasons you might not expect.
Blacket, the not-quite architect
In 1842 Edmund Blacket sailed from his native England towards a new life in Australia.
While still in England, Blacket worked as a surveyor and draftsman and showed an interest in medieval architecture. In Sydney, he established a small architectural practise and was appointed Diocesan Architect. After this, he took up the post of Colonial Architect, with many commissions following.
Blacket’s love of Gothic and medieval styles is seen in some of his most prominent buildings. His work includes St Andrew’s Cathedral, the University of Sydney’s Great Hall, and Darling Point landmarks Retford Hall and St Mark’s.
So why was he a not-quite architect? Blacket was self-taught. And, some say, it shows. There are apparently errors of proportion and scale in some buildings, while in others there’s a mismatch between the interior and exterior. Nonetheless, his work is still widely loved.
John Horbury Hunt: architect and animal lover
You might not have heard of him, but John Horbury Hunt was an architect ahead of his time.
Hunt was born in Canada in 1838 and trained in architecture in Boston. When his employer’s offices closed due to the Civil War, Hunt decided to move to India. In 1863 he sailed via Sydney, where he met James Barnet, then Colonial Architect, who convinced him to stay in Australia.
The young Canadian quickly established himself in his new home, joining the offices of Edmund Blacket. His flamboyant ideas and designs were very influential. By the 1880s he was president of the Institute of Architects of NSW where he raised the profile of the profession by focusing on, among things, ridding it of “quack architects” (which makes you wonder how he viewed his self-taught boss, Blacket). Hunt’s designs include Tudor House in Moss Vale, Highlands in Wahroonga, Cranbrook in Rose Bay and Cloncorrick on Darling Point Rd.
Hunt was also a passionate advocate of animal rights – he was notorious for beating Sydney’s cab drivers with their own whips if he saw them mistreating their horses. Such was his love for animals that his pony, geese, cats and dogs are buried with him at South Head Cemetery.
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Gruzman, the great challenger
Born in Sydney in 1925 to Russian immigrant parents, Neville Gruzman would become an influential but divisive figure in Sydney’s architectural life.
On graduating from architecture at the University of Sydney in 1952, he designed his first commission: Lapin House. Built for Gruzman’s aunt, the Rose Bay home was once owned by former High Court judge Michael Kirby. In 2020 it sold for more than $16 million.
Gruzman was influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and was fascinated by Japanese architectural ideals. Both these influences came together in Gruzman House, the Darling Point home at 4-8 Oswald Street that he designed for himself and his family in 1958. Set into the rock face, the home features large picture windows and plenty of timber, and boasts what Jørn Utzon called “the best living room in Australia”. He also designed the South Head Synagogue in Rose Bay and the Empire Hotel, home of the infamous Les Girls club in Kings Cross.
Despite his genius, Gruzman’s life was not without controversy. He was openly critical of Sydney’s approach to urban planning and referred to the work of fellow Modernist Harry Seidler as demonstrating an “insensitivity to human need”. In the 1990s he served what has been labelled “a confrontational term” as mayor of Woollahra Council; and he loved a good legal challenge, instigating a total of 30 litigation cases across 40 years. He passed away in 2005.
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