Russell Ellis was one of the early architects in South Australia to design in the Modern style.
Russell Stuart Ellis was born at Glanville, South Australia on 20 August 1912 to Leonard John Leslie Ellis and Adeline Victoria Hopgood, nee Yarwood (Bird 2007b: 1). He married Gladys and had four daughters, Alexandra, Adrienne, Luise and Nicole.
Ellis studied architecture at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries (School of Mines) from 1930 and in 1934 graduated with an Architectural Draftsman’s Certificate (Walkley 1976: 117) and Associateship Diploma, which entitled him to become an Associate of the SAIA in 1935 (Cheshire and Johnson 1987: 5). During this period the School of Mines was influenced by the American Beaux Arts system of architectural education sand this is evident in Ellis’ finely drafted and water coloured design projects (Collins and Collins 2006). While he was a student he worked for architects Lionel G. Bruer, Norman Fisher and Philip Claridge.
Once Ellis graduated from the School of Mines and Industries he continued to work with Philip Claridge in the practice of P. R. Claridge and Associates with himself and Colin Hassell as associates. This practice later became Claridge, Hassell and McConnell in 1939. From 1941 until the end of the war Ellis worked for the Department of the Interior (Bird 2007a: 18). He stayed in Adelaide until June 1943 when he moved to Darwin, returning in April 1944 (Cheshire and Johnson 1987: 6). In 1945 Ellis took a job working with the Allied Works Council, Department of Public Works, Adelaide where he worked on the replanning of Darwin (Cheesman collection).
In 1947 Ellis joined the practice of F.K. Milne, Dawkins and Boehm as a junior partner. Following Milne’s retirement in 1957 from F. Kenneth Milne, Boehm, Ellis and Bulbeck, Ellis left the practice to work on his own in 1958 (Cheshire 1987: 50). He moved to Whyalla on a contract with Broken Hill Proprietary and worked there between 1966 and 1970. He retired in 1971 and passed away on 2 February 1988.
As a young architect Ellis assisted Claridge with the design for the Port Lincoln Town Hall (1935), designing the Art Deco style moulded plaster frieze (Cheshire and Johnson 1987: 5). Ellis was one of the inaugural members of the Architects’ Club in 1938, the goals of which were to stimulate and educate architects and the public’s interest in architecture (Bird 2007a: 17). They achieved this though newspaper articles, exhibitions and events.
Ellis was one of South Australia’s pioneer modernist architects, designing in the International style soon after he began practicing in the late 1930s. ‘His philosophy required that all aspects of the design be considered at the outset: functionality, roof line, siting, orientation, natural ventilation, solar control, the landscape setting and garden, selection of construction materials and techniques, furnishings and interior decoration, and colour schemes.’ (Bird 2007a: 20). In 1937 Ellis designed a house for his artist sister-in-law L.C. Sauerbier in the south-east of the state, and a mausoleum for the Sauerbier family. Following this he designed the residence for Sauerbier’s friend, Audrey Hardy at Netherby (1938) which featured pale pink brickwork, flat roofs and was in the International style. He designed his own residence at Brookside Avenue, Springfield in the Adelaide foothills which was built c.1942. The two-storey dwelling, although now demolished, featured the functional planning he was to advocate in his published post-war magazine articles.
In the period following the war, from 1945 to 1946, Ellis wrote a series of articles for South Australian Homes and Gardens titled ‘Thoughts on Planning the Immediate Post War House’. In these he dealt with the design of homes, discussed the philosophy behind his designs and advocated open plan layouts and large windows (Cheshire 1987: 48). ‘By then his outlook was decidedly modern’ (Bird 2007a: 20) as he explained to the public his way of designing the ideal home.
It was between 1947 and 1953 that he privately designed a residence for Charles Wright, in Meadowvale Road, Springfield. The client-architect relationship had a significant impact on the design of this residence. Designed in the Modern style the house is a composition of intersecting planes and cubic forms. The walls are painted white to emphasise the massing of elements and a flat roof is concealed behind the parapet walls. The grid like structure of the ‘egg-crate’ wall creates deep shadowing which modulates the front elevation. The Wright residence features functional planning with the living areas to the north of the building and the sleeping areas to the south separated by a large hall which is also the main entry to the house. The Wright residence stands out, along with Ellis’ own residence at Springfield as an early local example of residential Modernism in Adelaide. Influences of early Modernists which can be seen in the Wright residence include those of Gropius and of the Bauhaus (RAIA website).
In 1945 while he was employed with the Allied Works Council, Department of Public Works, Adelaide he worked on the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Biochemistry laboratory building at the University of Adelaide, Adelaide campus. In 1947 when he joined the practice of F.K. Milne, Dawkins and Boehm as a junior partner, he contributed to the design of factories, showrooms and theatres including several Ozone Theatres in various locations through South Australia. Factories included those for Regina Appliances, Edwardstown (1954), Nobby’s Peanut Products, Bowden and Hindmarsh (1958-61) and for Commercial Motor Vehicles Salvage Pty. Ltd. (1966).
Following this move into sole practice in 1958 Ellis completed many religious buildings including alterations to the convent for the Daughters of Charity, Hutt Street, Adelaide (1960-62), Seacliff Presbyterian Church (1962-3) and St Christopher’s Anglican Church, Kilburn (1962). Ellis also designed a series of project homes for the Modern Homes Planning Service in the 1960s. These could be best termed ‘conventional’, with solid brick, pitched roofs and functional planning. Flats designed by Ellis included those for Hugh Pozza (1959) at Glenelg North and Mecham constructions (1965) at Seacombe Gardens. These later designs featured the use of materials such as brick, fieldstone and sandstone, as well as concrete panels and cantilevered concrete projections (Bird 2007a). While he was working in Whyalla on contract to BHP between 1966 and 1970 he designed a YMCA hostel, football clubhouse and oval and an electrical substation (Cheshire 1987: 51).
Russell Ellis was a pioneer modernist architect in South Australia which is evident though both his domestic and commercial works.
Collins, Julie, 'Ellis, Russell Stuart’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=41]