Lost – a prize winning example of mid-century modernism
The storyboard in Bell Tower Park states
The buildings were designed by Philip Cox and Ian McKay and they were the recipient of the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architectural Excellence in 1963. (Information board)
The Sir John Sulman Medal is one of the most prestigious architectural awards in Australia and is presented for excellence in public and commercial buildings in New South Wales by the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects. It was established in 1932 to honour the memory of Sydney architect Sir John Sulman (1849-1934).
In 1963 the Sir John Sulman Medal was awarded to Sydney architect Philip Cox and Ian McKay for their design of the Presbyterian St Andrews Boys Home.
The significance of the buildings on the boys home site was best summarised by the firm Archaeological and Heritage Management Solutions (AHMS) in a 2013 heritage study. They stated:
“The former St Andrew’s Home for Boys is a significant example of the Sydney School architectural style of the mid twentieth century, which was an influential style in its era and was practised by notable Australian architects. The former St Andrew’s Home for Boys was awarded the Sulman Medal (in 1963), the highest award for architecture available in NSW.
Sydney architect Philip Cox designed the home complex with Ian McKay in 1962. Cox is a renowned architect and St Andrews Boys Home was his first project. Author Tom Holland writes that this project was one of number of Cox’s projects that
“The career of Philip Cox spans an era that was the making of modern Australia,” writes Bingham-Hall.
“As the 1960s progressed Australia did wake up, slowly and cautiously, in what might be described as a very Australian way, without recrimination and rancour, without fervour or foment, and without any overt display of neediness or self-reflection,” he adds.
“This survey of the work of Philip Cox treats the post-1950s emergence of modern Australia as its framework, as its posts and beams, and for this most public of architects, it is obliged to demonstrate how his work reflects that narrative, an insofar as it is possible for architecture, the extent to which it symbolised the nature of a national awakening.” (Holland 2020)
Philip Cox described the home this way:
“St. Andrews Boys Home was designed as a country retreat for adolescent boys committed to institutions for juvenile offenders. It was built on pastoral land at Leppington to the South of Sydney, and provides accommodation for a small number of boys in residential dormitories.
The plan of the Home is based on a linear pedestrian spine, linking all the buildings together with a colonade [sic]. Through this extendable quality further expansion is easily accommodated. Each occupant is allocated some personal space in the form of sleeping alcoves grouped together around small courtyards.
The original homestead, “Emerald Hill”, has been retained and restored as the Warden’s residence. The additive quality of the new buildings complement the existing buildings and recall the traditional outbuildings of vernacular settlements. Construction detailing is derived from local vernacular techniques. The building structure is post-and-beam, with exposed roff [sic] trusses and intill panels of brickwork. Rough sawn timber roof trusses and expressed jointing details are drawn from the simple bams [sic] and woolstores of the surrounding countryside. (McMahon 2013)
St Andrews Presbyterian Agricultural College Boys Home, Hume Highway, Leppington
At the top of the hill in the suburb of Emerald Hills in Leppington NSW is a small park called the Bell Tower Park with three bronze statues of small boys.
The park commemorates the memory of the St Andrews Boy Home (closed in 1986) that once existed on what is now the housing estate of Emerald Hills.
The park was opened in late 2019 and is a memorial to the memory of the boys who stayed at the home.
In an adjacent space is a representation of a bell tower that once existed on the site.
The park storyboards outline the history of the boys home with accompanying images of the buildings.
The storyboard in the park states:
Belltower Park and the structures and statues in it celebrate and commemorate the presence of the St Andrews Home for Boys that used to be located on this hilltop.
The Home was established by the Presbyterian Church (now Uniting Church) in 1961 and it closed in 1986. The buildings were designed by Philip Cox and Ian McKay and they were the recipient of the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architectural Excellence in 1963. The Home originally came with a bell tower, from which this Park is named.
More detail on the Home can be found in the Archival Record of the property by Macarthur Developments and lodged with Camden Council.
The St Andrew’s Home for Boys was originally operated by the Presbyterian Church at Manly, NSW. The home was transferred to a 400-acre farm property at Leppington, on the Hume Highway south of Liverpool.
In 1961 the Presbyterian Church commissioned a newly graduated architect from the University of Sydney to design the new boys home on the Emerald Hills property at Leppington. The architect was Philip Cox who collaborated with Ian McKay and set up the firm Philip Cox and Associates at North Sydney. The home was their first commission and for their efforts, they won the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architectural Excellence in 1963.(McMahon, 2013)
The Leppington home catered for twenty boys aged ten to fifteen years. Residents were generally referred following an appearance before the Children’s Court on a care and protection application or in respect of some offence.
Boys were admitted to the home following an assessment by a professional social worker. A feature of the program was its strong community links, with residents attending local schools and participating in community activities. Following the inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977, the home came under the auspice of the Uniting Church. And together with Burnside Homes the institution was administered under the Burnside program. (Thinee and Bradford (1998) Online 2007)
The St Andrews complex was controlled by the Burnside Presbyterian Homes for Children (1955) which was formerly the Burnside Presbyterian Orphan Homes which first made an appearance in 1912.
Holland, T. (2020). “A career celebrated in Philip Cox: An Australian Architecture.” Australian Design Review. Retrieved 1 November 2021, from https://www.australiandesignreview.com/architecture/a-career-celebrated-in-philip-cox-an-australian-architecture/.
McMahon, S. (2013). PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVAL RECORD, St Andrews Boys Home (Burnside) Leppington, 1050 Camden Valley Way Leppington, Lot A DP 420395. Sydney NSW, Inspire Urban Design & Planning Ply Ltd.
Thinee, K. and T. Bradford ((1998) Online 2007). Guide to Records, A guide to help people separated from their families search for their record. Sydney, NSW, New South Wales Department of Community Services
Updated 16 January 2022. Originally published 2 December 2021.
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