Architects, builders and thinkers

North Sydney is an area where development has unfolded over time, so that vacant sites were still available for new buildings well into the post-war period.

As such it has been home to several prominent architects and it has attracted the work of many more. North Sydney has seen the construction of grand colonial-era homes in various styles, Federation-era bungalows, modern open-plan homes and high-rise flats.

Those who have lived and worked locally include Walter Liberty Vernon, Edward Jeaffreson Jackson, Burcham Clamp, Donald Esplin, Rupert Minnett and Harry Seidler.

Proximity to the city and the harbour, and the presence of so many respectable addresses, no doubt attracted others in the up and coming architectural and planning professions. John Sulman lived in a large Victorian-era villa with water views at McMahons Point from 1914 until his death in 1934. Planning theorist and economist, Professor RF Irvine, lived in Shellcove Road, Neutral Bay, from 1912 until the 1920s during which time he headed a Royal Commission into workers' housing.

And for much of its history North Sydney has been a place of social diversity; home to tradespeople, dairy workers, shop assistants and boat builders as well as professionals, bankers, senior public servants and wealthy merchants. Development, redevelopment, and a varied population that grew steadily until the years after World War Two, provided work for hundreds of builders. Indeed most of the houses erected before the 1950s would simply have been standardised designs created by tradesmen without the input of architects. Builders were more likely to construct speculative houses – dwellings not commissioned by a client but bought after completion by an investor or resident. The prolific RD Shaw often built houses in partnership with his wife, May, who was listed as the client. His letterhead boasted ‘Model Homes. Built To Any Design. Every Suburb. Houses that are Homes’.

There were several builders, like RD Shaw, who feature prominently in building applications and valuation books; those Council documents that serve as the best record of the thousands of dwellings built here over 150 years. James Verrills lived locally, which may explain his prolific portfolio of North Sydney dwellings. So, too, did William Wormald, who served as an Alderman on North Sydney Council and whose sons James, Joshua and Henry followed him into the building trade. Others include WJ Levick and Henry Green, another entrepreneurial builder who found time to serve on North Sydney Council.