RENOWNED Fremantle architect Robin McKellar Campbell (83) died unexpectedly last Friday.
Mr Campbell restored a swathe of the city’s heritage buildings, such as the Arts Centre, Round House, Fremantle Markets, St John’s Church, Princess May Park and the Prison.
He was a strident critic of recent developments around the city, particularly Kings Square. Feisty to the end, just two days before his death he penned a letter to the Herald flaying Sirona Capital’s proposed FOMO in the square as “Fucking Offensive Mercantile Objective”.
Mr Campbell went to hospital expecting a stay of a few hours, but an undiagnosed infection took a turn for the worse.
Born in South Africa in 1934 and graduating in architecture from the University of Cape Town in 1957, Robin McKellar Campbell was employed in general practice in South Africa, Rhodesia and the United Kingdom (RIBA 1959).
He moved to Australia and completed a master of architecture degree at the University of Melbourne and on arrival in WA in 1964 joined the firm of Oldham Boas & Ednie Brown.
In 1966, Rob Campbell started his own practise and began specialising in restoration work.
Research on the old Lunatic Asylum in Fremantle began in 1968, and the project to bring it back into use as the Fremantle Museum and Arts Centre was completed in two stages by 1972.
The quality of the project was recognised by a RAIA WA Chapter Bronze Medal (1977), and it remains a landmark in the conservation and adaptive reuse of historic places in WA.
In the 1970s, working with the Fremantle City Council, Rob compiled some of the first reports aimed at recognising and protecting the historic buildings and valuable townscape in Fremantle, as well as completing projects such as the consolidation of the Round House (1973) and the restoration of the Fremantle Markets (1975).
A Churchill Fellowship allowed a study break at the University of York (UK 1976), followed by restoration projects such as Claremont Railway Station, Christchurch in Claremont, St John’s Anglican Church Fremantle, and the reconstruction of the street-front verandahs to the Fremantle Markets (1981).
His work on the Old Courthouse on the Esplanade and Princess May Park won Fremantle awards and he completed the first detailed research and report on the value of the Fremantle Prison while it was still in use as a prison.
His commitment to the special character of Fremantle and his work on the history and cultural values of the West End (which included at that time the Round House and Arthur head, the Railway Station, Kings Square and the Prison) led to its listing as a Conservation Area in the Fremantle Town Planning Scheme, its classification by the National Trust, and listing on the Register of the National Estate.
He has understandably been critical of recent developments that have reduced the included protected area, particularly the act of omitting Kings Square from the Stage Heritage Register in 2016.
In the 1980s and 1990s, major projects included restoration of Guildford Grammar School Chapel, adaptive re-use of the Perth Mint Factory Buildings (with OB&E-B 1994) and the Perth Police Courts (with the Building Management Authority 1995).
His expertise in the conservation of stonework was brought to the task of managing repairs to the historic buildings on the University of WA Campus, from Hackett Memorial Buildings to the Arts Building.
He was also consultant architect to the Benedictine Community of New Norcia, providing conservation advice on some 24 significant buildings from 1986 to his retirement from professional practice at the end of 2012.
Through all this time, Rob supported the people in Fremantle who have been trying to protect the cultural values of the Town during its development phases, and has inspired generations of students with his knowledge and passion for the unique history and townscape of the place.
He was a severe critic of proposals for change that did not, at the same time, respect the cultural values.
On Friday, October 20, The Herald and its readers lost a keen contributor to the debates about the future of Fremantle: his last letter was dated October 18.
by INGRID VAN BREMEN