Dean Berry was a distinguished twentieth century Adelaide architect who played a leading role in the restoration of significant heritage buildings whilst also designing buildings in the modern style. He has been described as ‘one of South Australia’s finest sons’ (National Trust 1986: 3).
Dean Walter Berry was born in North Adelaide on 28 January 1904 to Walter Whyte Berry and Amy Dean Berry. He was the great-grandson of John Stokes Bagshaw, a South Australian pioneer and industrialist (South Australian Biographies 1980: 10). He married Catherine Barker in 1926 with whom he had three daughters, Ann, Tricia and Mary; living at Prospect. Berry enjoyed tennis, riding and golf and was a member of the Amateur Sports Club, Royal Adelaide Golf Club, Adelaide Club and the Commonwealth Club (Who’s Who 1983: 99). Dean Berry died on 8 May 1986.
Educated at St Peter’s College, Berry was a keen tennis player and represented the school in intercollegiate athletics (‘Structure Designers’ 1929: 10). He was articled to architect Eric McMichael on 4 February 1921 for four years. Whilst an articled pupil he studied architecture in the evenings at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries under Louis Laybourne Smith and was fascinated by architectural history, a subject at which he excelled. Following their marriage Dean and Catherine Berry travelled to Europe, England, America and Canada during 1926 and 1927 ‘to discover the things I’d read about in my architectural history studies’ (Berry 1981: 4). On this tour he attended the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) annual conference in London where he met architectural historian Sir Bannister Fletcher (Berry 1981: 7).
On their return to Adelaide in 1928 Berry established his own architectural practice. However as this was during the Depression, only minor works came his way. By 1935 Ron Shepherd, a former colleague from McMichael’s office, had joined the practice, as well as an articled pupil, Reg Whitlam. Soon after, Stephen Gilbert came to the office and in 1938 became a partner with the practice renamed Berry & Gilbert. Also in 1938, Brian Polomka began working as a junior draftsman in the office thus beginning a long association between Berry, Gilbert and Polomka. Edgar Barker, Berry’s brother-in-law, was brought into the practice during this period to specialise in the engineering of the buildings.
When World War Two broke out all practice members joined the armed services and Berry closed the office transferring outstanding jobs to fellow Adelaide architect and World War One veteran George Gavin Lawson. From 1942 to 1945 Berry served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Air Force (South West Pacific Area). By 1945, on the partners return from war, the office was re-opened. Dean Berry continued his overseas travels after the war and in 1952 left on a six month study tour of Europe (‘Notes and News’ 1952: 52) where he represented the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) at the RIBA 1952 Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In 1959, with the addition of Brian Polomka as a partner in the practice, the firm was renamed Berry, Gilbert and Polomka Architects. Polomka became the sole director from 1972 to 1982 with Berry acting as a consultant until June 1983 (Obituary 1986). Brian Riches joined the office and in 1981 the practice was re-constituted as Berry, Polomka, Riches & Gilbert Pty. Ltd. In 1986 the firm became part of Woodhead and was completely absorbed by 1988.
When the Architect’s Registration Act came into being in 1939, Berry became the second Registered Architect in South Australia (Berry 1981: 20). He was a member of the Architects Board of SA between 1940 and 1973 (except during his War Service) serving as Chairman from 1946 to 1973. He was an active member of the South Australian Institute of Architects (SAIA), being admitted as an Associate in 1925. From 1929 to 1956 he was a member of the Council of the SAIA, Vice President from 1937 to 1939 and President from 1939 to 1941. Berry was also a member of the Council of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) from 1946 to 1952. He was made an Associate member of the RAIA in 1930, elected Fellow in 1937 and Life Fellow in 1972. From 1946 to 1967 he served on RAIA’s Board of Architectural Education and was Chairman of this board from 1960 to 1967.
In 1937 Berry, together with fellow architect, Jack Cheesman, acted as architectural assessors for the competition to select the design and appoint the architect of the first semi-detached units to be built for the SA Housing Trust (Berry 1982b). However they were unhappy with the judging criteria provided and the eventual outcome. Dean Berry and Vice President of the SAIA, Jack Cheesman, also initiated action to form a Town Planning Institute in 1948. Berry was a member of many other organisations throughout his life including as a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and as a Fellow of the Royal Australian Planning Institute, both from 1951.
The National Trust was one of Berry’s main interests and he was one of its more vocal members, he became member of its Executive from 1962 to 1971. Following his interest in architectural history he was the Foundation Chairman of the National Trust’s Early Buildings Committee and in 1966 he was elected as its President, a position which he held until 1971. Also between 1967 and 1971 he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Australian Council of National Trusts. In his later years, from 1976 to 1986 he was made Vice-Patron of the National Trust of South Australia.
Berry’s concern for heritage can be seen reflected in his contributions to several publications including: Preservation of Urban Landscapes in Australia (1968), Historic Pubic Buildings of Australia (1971) and Historic Homesteads of Australia – Volume II (1976). He was among the first South Australian architects who called for preservation of historic buildings and said that he ‘felt like he was a voice crying in the wilderness', when he 'declared that the historic buildings at the North and South ends of Victoria Square should be preserved’ (Berry 1981: 15).
Berry played a leading role in the establishment of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the University of Adelaide and he was a Faculty member between 1963 and 1967. In honour of Berry, the Architects Board of SA ‘established in perpetuity at Adelaide’s two architectural schools, an annual “Dean W. Berry Prize in Architecture”’ (Obituary 1986).
Dean Berry received the Queen’s Coronation Medal in 1953 and in 1964 he was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his ‘contribution to the profession of architecture’ (Obituary 1986).
Apart from his work within the architectural profession he was an active contributor in many other areas. He was architect for the Botanic Gardens Board. He was involved with Wilderness School, St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Church of England Boys’ Home at Walkerville, the Wyatt Benevolent Institution, the Pioneers Association of SA and the Adelaide Club. He counted amongst his friends Sir Thomas Bennet, the London architect responsible for the building of many new towns following the war.
Berry started his architectural career designing mainly residences, alterations and additions. He recalled that ‘A three storey block of flats in North Adelaide was a windfall from a family friend and a country Church designed on the basis of my Cornish research was built at Angaston. Houses, churches and a mixed bag of minor jobs followed’ (Berry 1981: 9). Berry’s residential work included a house at the corner of Fowlers Road and Bethune Avenue, Glenunga (1934), which was in the English vernacular picturesque style.
Dean Berry’s early Anglican Churches included St Barnabas, Croydon (1929), St Hugh’s, Angaston (1930), and St Wilfred’s, Torrens Park (1933). In 1929 he was described as being ‘chiefly engaged in ecclesiastical and domestic designing’ with examples of his work at St Barnabas described as being in ‘a style common in Devon and Cornwall’ (‘Structure Designers’ 1929: 10). Other Churches to which he contributed included the Church of the Good Shepherd, Plympton in ‘Italian style’, St Cuthbert’s, Prospect, All Hallows, Blackwood, the feature wall panelling at St Peter’s, Glenelg; the pulpit at St Augustine’s, Unley; the altar rails for St Andrew’s, Walkerville and the Lutheran Church, Murray Bridge (1938). A source of inspiration for Berry was English Church Woodwork by Howard and Crosley, which he would ‘thumb through … again and again’ (Andrews 1984: 47). Yet to his detailing he lent an Australian flavour. ‘In much of his woodwork he has introduced Australian motifs, such as gum leaves, in the carving’ (‘Structure Designers’ 1929: 10).
Berry’s work increased following the end of the Depression with Council Chambers and offices at Mitcham in 1934 in the modern style, a requirement imposed by the client. In 1935 he was offered what he considered his first major building project, the Centennial Hall at Wayville, which was commissioned by the SA Chamber of Manufactures to celebrate the State’s centenary in 1936. Unfortunately the project budget was significantly reduced resulting in an unsatisfactory outcome in Berry’s eyes but it was still one of the largest buildings to be constructed in the mid 1930s in Australia (Gasper 1981: 10). Berry also acted as the Advisory Architect to the 1936 Centennial Exhibition (Who’s Who 1936). Prior to the outbreak of World War Two, Berry’s practice gradually attracted more projects including industrial, educational and medical buildings.
Following the war the practice’s jobs included offices, welfare centres, homes for the aged, hospitals, religious institutions, schools, industrial projects, car parks and warehouses. The chapel at Roseworthy Agricultural College was the result of a competition held in 1948 but the building was not completed until 1957 due to a lack of funds. Another educational building was Norwood High School, completed in 1959. The practice also completed a number of Anglican and Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches during this period including the red brick St Barnabas College Chapel at Belair in 1960 and the circular Woodlands Church of England Chapel at Glenelg, completed in 1962.
Savings Bank of South Australia and State Bank of South Australia branches at suburban and country locations were a significant part of the practice’s work between 1962 and 1979. Other commercial buildings included the Royal Automobile Association, Grenfell Street, Adelaide, completed in 1964, Thomas Hardy and Sons Pty. Ltd., office and bulk store at Mile End, also completed in 1964 and the Australian Eagle Insurance Co. Ltd. on Grenfell Street in association with Yuncken Freeman Pty. Ltd., Melbourne, which was finished in 1965. The practice was joint architects with Bogle, Banfield Associates Pty. Ltd. of Melbourne for John Martins car park on the corner of Charles Street and North Terrace in Adelaide, and architects in association with Whitehead and Payne, Sydney, for John Martins department store at Elizabeth in 1965 and bulk store at Lockleys in 1967. This was followed by the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ head office and factory extension completed in 1968. The prolific practice continued its new work with country hospitals at Maitland, Naracoorte, Angaston and Tumby Bay during the 1970s, St Ignatius College at Athelstone in 1975, Southern Cross Homes’ Fullarton Project finished in 1980 and Coober Pedy Hospital, completed in 1981.
Alongside the modern designs by the practice, Dean Berry maintained a commitment to preserving significant historic buildings. When the 1878 Bank of South Australia building in King William Street, Adelaide was threatened with demolition in 1971 public outcry ensued and the building was saved. The work was given to Dean Berry and he supervised the restoration of the building, now known as Edmund Wright House to its former glory. Berry’s travels were influential on his thinking about heritage, he explained that they gave him ‘a tremendous appreciation of the glories of the architecture of a past age … [which] whetted my appetite for the restoration work I did in later life’ (Berry 1981: 6).
Susan Lustri and Julie Collins
Lustri, Susan and Collins, Julie, ‘Berry, Dean Walter’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=8]