Inside the Collection

Built for the Bush- bush architecture

View of Eugowra house by John Andrews
Collection; Powerhouse Museum

The PHM has contributed several artefacts and photos to the exhibition Built for the Bush, currently touring several NSW museums. Curated by Richard Taylor of the Historic Houses Trust, Built for the Bush displays the environmentally friendly character of early bush architecture and its influence on contemporary architecture.

Richard (who used to work at the PHM like seemingly most of the museum profession!) writes:

For Australia’s early rural settlers, building simple, energy efficient homes was a necessity due to their limited access to materials, skills and resources’. Today, ‘traditional 19th century practices are inspiring a new generation to return to these low-energy solutions and minimise the environmental impact of modern housing.

One of the houses featured in Built for the Bush was built at Eugowra near Canowindra by John Andrews. As John donated his design archive to the PHM recently I thought it was timely to feature more pictures and information about the Eugowra house than could be included in the exhibition.

John Andrews designed the Eugowra house during the 1970s and lived in it until recently. At that time John was working on the monumental Cameron Offices at Belconnen as well as other projects in Canberra and Sydney and the central West of NSW appealed as a rural locale within practical driving distance of both cities.  Another motivation was John and wife Ro’s four sons; John and Ro believed the boys would enjoy and benefit from a rural upbringing, more down-to-earth and practical than that available at Palm Beach where the family was living following their return from the United States.

The main stock of the farm was deer. John had enjoyed venison during his years in North America and was one of the first to farm deer in Australia. With other innovative farmers, the farm’s produce helped create the Orange district’s reputation for fine food and wine.

Andrews House, Eugowra, NSW, 1979
Collection; Powerhouse Museum

The Eugowra property included a long-standing timber and iron homestead where the Andrews’ lived for a few years, giving an opportunity to assess the pros and cons of this generic building. In 1979 John designed a new house nearby, with a form closely resembling that of the homestead, low and verandahed, sheltered by a simple sloping roof.  Like the original home, the house is sited to benefit and protect from sun and wind, an important task given that temperatures at Eugowra vary from zero in winter to 40 plus in summer.

The water source is that collected by the roof and stored in its four corrugated steel water tanks placed at each corner of the enveloping verandah. The most innovative feature is the energy tower above the house’s central fireplace. A solar heat collector and pressure tank create a practical and visual statement of the house’s ability to shelter and sustain.

Drawing by John Andrews
Drawing by John Andrews. Collection; Powerhouse Museum


Drawing by John Andrews
Drawing by John Andrews. Collection; Powerhouse Museum

Like its homestead predecessor, the Eugowra house is potentially timeless, an important response to the too-short lifespan of most Australian houses. The average age of most Australian houses is only about 35 years, an unusually fast changeover which produces houses driven by fashion rather than efficiency and comfort.

Although John Andrews was, with Glenn Murcutt and Rick Lepastrier, responsible for some of Australia’s first self-consciously ‘green’ architecture, his motivation was not entirely environmental. As Andrew Metcalf wrote in his book Canberra architecture, Andrews ‘was uninterested in fashion, rather he was concerned to find the ‘right’ outcome working from first principles in each commission’. When applied to larger buildings this method often produced original results including Australia’s first green office tower, the former American Express tower on the corner of George and King Streets.

American Express Building by John Andrews
John Andrews collection; Powerhouse Museum

Most of Andrews’ several office projects rejected the tower format, which he believed was flawed in some respects, including excessive reliance on climate control technology. The tower’s ‘sunglasses’ facade helped reduce the building’s energy bill by almost half.

5 responses to “Built for the Bush- bush architecture

  • I’m not sure when this page was posted up, but I have been searching for years for information about the Eugowra farm House as it was described in an issue of Hobby Farmer Magazine in the early 80’s. One of my workmates years ago lived in Eugowra and every time I asked him about this ground breaking building he had never heard of it and he thought I was crazy.
    The logical straight forward practical descriptin of the house, if I can recollect “The prevailing winds were cooled bey passsing over a dam and then by going past the water tanks then directed through the house then exited up the centre “Energy Tower””.
    If anyone ever reads this I would love to discover more of the designer or anyone that is carrying on his brillant work

  • Bruce, thanks for your response. The house is still there although John and Ro Andrews sold it a few years ago and now live in Orange.

    The house received quite a bit of attention in the architectural press when it was new and there is a lengthy analysis of it in Jennifer Taylor’s bio of John, ‘Architecture a performing art’ published in the early 1980s.

    You could also contact Richard Taylor at the Historic Houses Trust; he curated Built for the Bush and filmed a lengthy interview with John.

  • Hello Charles Pickett
    My name is Judy. We live in Palm Beach that John Andrews designed.
    We’d dearly love to get in touch with John
    Could you help us in any way?

  • I worked for John in the 1980’s and got to visit the house once. It was an amazing house and was a real study in minimalism. I’ve been trying to find the house on Google Earth and simply can’t as the images are simply too low resolution to find it. I’m back in Texas now, but would like to have information as to where the property was. I don’t think that the house was anywhere near a road…

    BTW, this house was published on the cover of Architectural Record (US), which is quite a testimony to it’s form and craft. John was a great guy to start a career with and I’ve run across multiple other people here in the states that worked at JAI (John Andrews International) as well. Small world!

  • Hi there.

    It’s lovely to see this article and pictures of the house on the property John bought from my parents (Lionel and Agnes Hewett) in 1974. My family (David, Ian, Heather and Lynne) grew up in this lovely part of N.S.W. and will forever value our time at “Keimbah”.

    And, yes, up close this amazing house is wonderful to see!

    Ironically, since living in the U.S. since the early 90’s, I have had the pleasure of visiting many of the buildings John designed. Namely, the Intelsat communications building in Washington, DC, Gund Hall (Harvard University) and, of course, the CN Tower.

    Quite an Amazing man!

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