Col Madigan Obituary
Imagination is the beginning of creation
You image what you desire
You will what you imagine
And at last you create what you will
George Bernard Shaw
‘Back to Methuselah’ – Prologue
Col Madigan was a metaphysical architect whose work sought to reveal an evolutionary thinking whilst represent in its forms, universal orders of the immutable forces observed by him through his education as an architect. Heavily influenced by his commitment to the fragile earth and the writing of George Bernard Shaw, he had also acknowledged the significance of his father’s influence in a key speech he had presented in Singapore (the AS Hook Memorial Speech) at the time of him being awarded the most prestigious architectural prize in Australia, the AIA Gold Medal in 1981. Other significant achievements include the receipt of the prestigious Sulman Medal in 1967 for his Warringah Shire Library and in 1970 for the Mitchell College of Advanced Education. He was also the winner of the Blacket Award in 1969 for the Warren Library. In 1981 he was awarded the Canberra Medallion for the National Gallery of Australia and in 2007 the 25 Year Award for the High Court of Australia. In so doing, Madigan through his firm Edwards Madigan Torzillo and Briggs was responsible for some of the most significant and accomplished 20th Century works of architecture in Australia.
Born in Glen Innes on 22 July 1921 of third generation Australian parents, his first efforts as an architect were in his father’s office in Inverell where he started assisting in drawings from the age of 14. His father, Frederick John Madigan had shown him the craft of a great draftsman but importantly had talked to him about the stars and how the sun had given a life force to all things.
Col enrolled in Architecture at East Sydney Technical College in 1937 under Miles Dunphy and Harry Foskett learning, perhaps in one of the last generations to do so, the traditional architectural knowledge and crafts of the profession. His education was disrupted by World War II when he entered the navy in 1939. He resumed his education and completed it in 1950 but not before the unusual move for a student, in forming a partnership with Jack Torzillo and Maurice Edwards two years earlier.
It was astonishing news to many who had worked or had known him for over 55 years, between 1942 and 1999, to discover the revelatory details of his ordeal between 1 December and 10 December 1942. Whilst serving on the Corvette HMAS Armidale, Japanese aircraft sunk the ship in the Timor Sea before it reached its destination at Betano. Perhaps, as Don Watson put it in a book about the ordeal “Armidale 42”, the general sentiment at the time was that “air attack” was usually treated as “ordinary routine secondary warfare”. Col had not made much of the event and even in his AS Hook Memorial Speech, Col did not mention the significant influence, now obvious, the event had on his life. Later he would admit there were few days where he did not recount it and that it had educated him about the practicalities involved in surviving, how to avoid sharks, the moment when a whaler left him and his fellow survivors on a raft; diminishing moments of hope; the day it rained and saved them all from dehydration. How fragile our succees and failure may poise on circumstance and good fortune. Jan Sanbergs, the artist whose work carefully adorns the High Court of Australia’s walls, had shown Col an image in 1996 that had prompted Col’s recounting the event to Jan in confidence. Since 1999, Col had felt freer to tell the story, the influence of which explains his quiet laconic, dexterous, persistent and resilient surviving nature.
In 1950, Col graduated from Architecture School and in 1951, he married Ruby with whom he remained married for the rest of his life. Together they had a son in 1952 who in turn blessed them with a grandson Adam Madigan in 1989.
Cheek to cheek.
In his work as an architect, significant projects include:
-The National Gallery of Australia (Principal in Charge between 1967 – 1988)
-The High Court of Australia (1973 – 1979)
-The Warringah Shire Library (1967)
-The Mitchell College of Advanced Education (1970)
-The Warren Library
-Dee Why RSL
-The UNSW Round House
-The NSW Government Tourist Bureau, Sydney
Significant unbuilt projects include
-Second Place in the Parliament House Competition in Canberra and
-His work and proposals for the extensions to the National Gallery of Australia
During his career Col represented, through his speeches and conduct, an ethical position for the profession; most luminous an example is his refusal of the Opera House brief from the government of the day after Utzon’s departure.
Col retired from practice in 1989 with no event to mark his retirement from the firm for which he had been instrumental in achieving a significant reputation as a leading firm of architects in Australasia.
In the latter years of his life, Col Madigan found himself in a complex controversy relating to his defence of buildings that were the product of his stewardship at Edwards Madigan Torzillo and Briggs International. He would often find himself fighting to be heard by the custodians of the National Gallery of Australia who whilst engaging Col in discussions about the building; did so after the prompting of a significant number of Gold Medalists who had signed a petition seeking that the Gallery engage Col to advise it on its new extensions.
Col never accepted the design by others over the National Gallery Building stating that the work and designs presented were at odds with the ‘evolutionary’ thinking and disciplines his efforts and the efforts of his team had set out to offer. He visited the building for the last time on 11 May 2007 on which occasion he was asked to make comment on the work of the incumbent architect. At that time he made it clear that the work in the drawings produced for that meeting ignored, in his opinion, the advice that he had selflessly provided the gallery the preceding eight years. This was not to say that Col was not supportive of the work of others working in the High Court and National Gallery precinct. Indeed he welcomed the National Portrait Gallery which he had noted, had managed to respect the key principles of the master-plan his team had created some 40 years earlier.
He was saddened by the repeated apparent ignorance of the National Gallery in the face of his significant reports and writings, some of which became increasingly intense toward the end. He was also saddened by the fact that three RAIA Gold Medalists, as well as the National Capital Authority (NCA), supported the current designs in a pier review which silenced his lament on the matter with finality.
The final formal correspondence he made in his life was on 11 April 2008 and it includes an obituary befitting this moment:
“THE LEGACY – 1982 to 2008
AS GOOD AS GOLD
MEDALISTS SIGN A PLEDGE
TO ARCHITECTURE OF THAT NATURAL EVOLUTIONARY EMPIRE
FOR FROM THE SOUTH
WITH A SO CALLED SPECIALIST BY HIS HAND
BRINGS THE ABBERATION UPON THE LAND
MOTIONLESS STILL IS THE N.C.A. DECISION
UNDER ITS CURTAIN OF DARK CLOUD
VANISHED TOO ARE THE THOUGHTS
THE DIM UNSATISFIED LONGINGS
FOR SOME TRUTH ABOUT ARCHITECTONIC ETHICS
SUNK ARE THE TOWERS OF THIS CAPITAL
INTO THE DEPTHS OF VISUAL CONFUSION
AND FROM THIS EVIL EMBARGOED FRAMEWORK
FROM THIS SORROW AND CLOSED DOOR SCHEMINGS
SUNK ARE THE OCEANS OF DREAMS.”
Oceans of dreams are what we will remember when we think of Col Madigan.
Col was a creative man. In the creative sense, we start dying when we start creating; because in creating we must leave a part of us behind.
And in so doing, we have to also come to terms with the cruelty of the world to which our lovingly made creations are left; to which our loving creations are selflessly offered.