A ‘Pise’ of history

By Rhys Williams

A local business is conducting a project to unearth the work of one of the region’s most prominent architects, A.C Macknight – the man responsible for bringing modern Pise technology to Australia.

Corowa’s Regional Design Service is collating data for a research project on Macknight, an architect that lived in Wahgunyah and had offices in Corowa, Rutherglen and Lockhart from the late 1880’s, until his practice closed in 1973.

The prominent architect brought the building technique of modern Pise to Australia, a method for constructing foundations, floors, and walls using raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime and gravel.

Macknight left a vast imprint on the region. As it currently sits, Regional Design Service have put together a list of approximately 50 of his buildings in the area, six in Corowa alone, with more being uncovered by the day.

Aaron Nicholls, business director at Regional Design Service, is hoping this exercise can build awareness around a local architectural pioneer and push towards preserving his work.

“We’re looking to turn up the volume on people’s awareness of the area’s built heritage by knowing that there was a prominent architect here that influenced the style of which our historical buildings stand,” he told The Free Press.

“A bigger picture of that is if they own a Macknight building or they know someone that does, they might then realise the importance of that structure and proceed with caution on how they decide to renovate – it’s protecting it more than anything through awareness.

“The second stage is to work with local authorities to help put protections in place to save what they’ve got for future generations because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

With the help of both the Corowa and Rutherglen historical societies, Mr Nicholls said the research project will be developed into a discussion paper with the possibility of progressing it into a book.

“We want to collate it into an accessible set of data, images, stories and so on, for anyone to enjoy and perhaps develop it into a coffee table book at some stage,” he said.

“If the historical societies come together and provide us with a whole heap of images, if we’ve got a whole heap of blueprints, if we’ve got the stories and the data from the archives, there’s then huge potential for the book to not only be enjoyed by locals but also the wider architectural community.”

Research has been conducted through the Mitchell Library and the Caroline Chisholm Museum in Sydney, but Aaron said a lot of the work has been done on the ground, speaking with locals who own a Macknight home who are happy to welcome him into their home.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few Macknight home owners about the difficulties living in a Macknight house and adapting it to modern times and helping them realise what they’ve got, instead of listening to people who think the best course of action is to knock it over.

“Macknight used the materials that were available at the time to create solid structures which were cool in summer, warm in winter and were built to last, which contrasts a lot of what we see in the area now.

“This is why families have had these houses in their family for a long-time.”

Lori Wood’s Macknight home on Betterment Parade in Corowa has been in her family since it was constructed in 1940.

Lori purchased the home from her mother last year to raise her young family in but wasn’t initially aware of the historical significance of the home.

“I was talking to a friend of mine and she knew Aaron and she had seen that he was doing a project on Macknight, and I was said to her ‘oh I swear why my house is built by somebody called Macknight.’

“I went home and had a look at the old blueprints and realised it was, and that’s when I contacted Aaron and invited him to come check out our place.”

Lori said her appreciation has grown for the home after Aaron was able to provide her with some historical context of the house and also some ways in which she might want to tackle renovations.

“It’s amazing because he’s (Macknight) done so much work around this area - building beautiful homes, businesses and government buildings, and the region should be proud of him.

“We want to keep it close to it’s original because it’s such a beautiful house and was built to a high standard.

“I’m really proud that it’s stayed in the family for all these years and generations.”

If you think you might have a Macknight home, get in touch with Regional Design Service as they continue to expand their research project.