Architectural Spotlight: Sir Roy Grounds (1905-1981)

Photo Credit: Henry Talbot, 1959.

Roy Grounds is the architect behind more than 10 heritage listed properties in Victoria. 

Sir Roy Burman Grounds (1905-1981), architect, was born on 18 December 1905 at St Kilda, Melbourne, fourth son of Victorian-born parents Herbert Algernon Haslett Grounds, chemist, and his wife Maud Hawkesworth, née Hughes. Roy attended several schools before completing his secondary education at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. Unsettled in his search for employment, he eventually joined his brother, Haslett, as an articled pupil in the practice of Blackett & Forster. He attended the Melbourne University Architectural Atelier (1927-28) and took night classes at Brighton Technical School, developing an interest in the Bauhaus and architectural modernism.

Four apartment buildings in Toorak, designed by Grounds in 1939-41, attracted attention in Australia and overseas. Clendon and Clendon Corner were elegant in a stripped neo-Georgian mode, with flat roofs, mews paving and open plans. Moonbria and Quamby showed Californian references in their lanai terraces and sundecks. All, however, were distinctive Grounds syntheses in their explicit urban form and adaptation to often challenging sites. Robin Boyd assisted with these projects, and—seeing Grounds as the pivotal figure in the arrival of the ‘modern house’ in Australia—admired their honesty and ingenuity. In 1940 Grounds was registered as an architect.

In 1953 Grounds formed a partnership with his university colleagues Boyd and Frederick Romberg. Over the next eight years the firm designed some of the leading modern buildings in Australia. While working on several houses, at Brighton, Toorak and Mount Eliza, Grounds now concentrated mainly on large projects. In 1957-58 he designed a workers’ village at Glenorchy, Tasmania, for Claudio Alcorso’s Silk and Textile Printers Ltd, Alcorso’s first, circular house (1955) and a second house in 1965. With Romberg he oversaw a fanning sound shell in 1956 for the Sidney Myer Music Bowl (a project completed by Yuncken Freeman Griffiths & Simpson). Through Oscar Bayne he gained the Australian Academy of Science building (Canberra, 1957-59): a remarkable dome in shell concrete drawing on Saarinen’s sculptural architecture, which won the RAIA Canberra chapter’s award (1957) and the Sulman award (1959) and which, in 1984, was nominated for the international register of significant twentieth-century architecture. Other projects in Canberra followed, including the Phytotron (1962) for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and the Botany building (1968) at the Australian National University.

This article was originally published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Click through the slideshow for a visual exploration of his work.

  • Frankel House (1970). Image: Neil Fenelon
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