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Burt Way Buildings (site)

A group of ten blocks of flats, built during the period 1940 to 1954, once lined this section of Burt Way and Terrace Road (2-8 Burt Way, 96-98 & 102-104 Terrace Road).  The blocks, known as the Burt Way Buildings, ranged from two to five storeys accommodating a total of 86 flats.  They provided stylish, innovative, low-cost, functional inner-city housing at a time when the dominant ideology of the large suburban family home was being challenged and in the wake of World War II when there was a major housing crisis driven by the return of servicemen, arrival of new migrants and low supplies of building materials. 

The land on which the Burt Way Buildings stood was originally owned by Septimus Burt (WA Attorney General during the 1880s and 1890s) and later his son Archibald.  In 1941, Archibald subdivided the estate anticipating, with some foresight, its development potential with the increased demand for housing that would occur once the war was over.  The estate was known as the Burt Estate – hence also the origin of the name of Burt Way.   

The flats that made up the Burt Way Buildings were almost all designed by architect, Harold Krantz, from Krantz and Sheldon.  Originally from Europe, Krantz and Sheldon were very cosmopolitan in their approach having brought with them many contemporary ideas from the continent.  They became leading practitioners in creating affordable yet highly functional, well-designed housing and dominated the design and construction of flats in Perth between the late 1930s and 1960s, building more than any other architectural firm.  Krantz’s talents also extended to designing most of the built-in and loose furniture.  

By the 1990s, the future of the Burt Way Buildings was on shaky ground not only because of their poor condition, mainly due to the effects of concrete cancer and lack of maintenance, but under new regulations the land now had potential for more substantial development.  After several years of negotiations, protests and revisions, finally in 2002 a development proposal was approved by the City of Perth and the all the Burt Way Buildings were demolished.  Now all that remains are the Cypress pines that were planted along the street and in what was once the front gardens and courtyards for the flats. 

Detailed Description

A group of ten blocks of flats built during the period 1940 to 1954 once lined this section of Burt Way and Terrace Road.  The blocks, referred to as the Burt Way Buildings, ranged from two to five storeys, accommodating a total of 86 flats.  Now all that remains are the Cypress pines that were planted along the street and in what was once the front gardens and courtyards for the flats. 

The land on which the Burt Way Buildings stood was originally owned by Septimus Burt (WA Attorney General during the 1880s and 1890s).  After Burt’s death the land, which comprised over three acres with frontages to Burt Way, Terrace Road (formerly Terrace Drive) and Adelaide Terrace, was transferred to his son Archibald who owned it until his death in 1941.  However, before his death Archibald had the estate subdivided anticipating, with some foresight, its development potential with the increased demand for housing that would occur once the war was over.  The estate was known as the Burt Estate – hence also the origin of the name of Burt Way.   

The flats that made up the Burt Way Buildings were almost all designed by architect, Harold Krantz.  Krantz moved from Adelaide to Perth in 1927 to work with his uncle Harold Boas at the firm Oldham Boas Ednie-Brown before setting up his own practice in 1931.  Krantz also worked for a time as a commercial artist.  In 1939 Robert Schlafrig (who later changed his name to Sheldon) started working with Krantz and in 1946, they formally established their partnership.  The only block in the Burt Way Buildings not designed by Krantz was designed by the architectural firm Oldham Boas Ednie-Brown.  However, since Krantz did work at Oldham Boas Ednie-Brown for time, and even after setting up his own practice continued his association with them during the 1930s, working with John Oldham on the design of small blocks of flats and flat conversions, he may well have had some connection to this design as well.   

Having both originally coming from Europe, Krantz and Sheldon were very cosmopolitan in their approach having brought with them many contemporary ideas from the continent.  They became leading practitioners in creating affordable yet highly functional housing.  Good planning, minimum wastage, mass production, no frills or funny shapes, creative use of colour and reduced maintenance were the key concepts of their design approach.  As a result Krantz and Sheldon dominated the design and construction of flats in Perth between the late 1930s and 1960s, building more than any other architectural firm.  While mostly uniform in their plan form and use of materials, and minimalist in their design, the facades were often enriched by specific detailing to give them a more attractive appearance in the streetscape, as well as provide a level of differentiation from each other while still keeping the overall cost affordable.  Another mechanism commonly used to differentiate the different blocks of flats was to name them, for example the Burt Way Buildings were called “Manly”, “Beela” and “Franclair” with the names formed in fancy steel lettering and fixed to the facades.  The attention to detail was not just restricted to the exterior design.  Being an artist as well, Krantz also designed most of the built-in and even loose furniture. 

From as early as the 1930s, the dominant ideology of a single residence for families was being challenged and demand increased for a different type of housing for people with low incomes or those who did not seek traditional home ownership.  In addition there was a growing need to provide accommodation for singles (often called “Bachelor Flats”) and couples living and working in the inner city area as an alternative to the sprawling suburban family home.  Although flats started appearing in Perth before the 1930s, these were mainly created from the adaptation and dividing up of large houses owned by some of Perth’s more wealthy residents.  If they were built new, they still tended to resemble large houses and only provided 2 or 3 flats.  Unfortunately the conversions of the old houses in particular were not always ideal nor properly regulated, with by-laws regarding fire escapes, water closets, kitchens and ventilation often being breached, creating in some situations slum conditions.   

In response to this, architects such as Krantz turned their attentions and skills to designing quality, purpose-built, multi-storey flats.  From early 1940, Krantz started to advertise tenders for multi-storey blocks of flats on the former Burt Estate.  Tenders for a two storey block of four flats at 102 Terrace Road (“Franclair”) were also invited in 1940 by the architectural firm Oldham Boas Ednie-Brown with the lowest tender submitted from Mr Horsnell for £3,148.  However, the outbreak of World War II, and the years during, fairly well put a hold on any flat development in Perth.  Not only did permission have to be granted by the Housing Commission to build flats, the Commission also imposed limits confining expenditure to no more than £3,000 on one block.  A flurry of tenders advertised by Krantz also followed all through 1941, tenders were advertised and received and many were ready to progress to construction.  Given that the blocks were relatively small – 2 or 3 storeys at most – most tenders came within the cost restrictions.  One of the last tenders advertisments in 1941 by Krantz illustrates the extent of the development proposed: 

When these flats have been completed there will be 12 blocks of flats with a total of 96 flats on the recently subdivided Burt Estate and all the lots in the estate will have been occupied.  

However, at the same time, restrictions on flats were again amended by the Housing Commission that now allowed no more than two flats to be built on one block irrespective of cost.  As a result, nearly all of Krantz’s developments had to be put on hold.  This meant that for almost 10 years very few if any new blocks of flats were built in Perth, and the only flat-style development again came from the conversion of old houses into flats which was the only feasible development that complied with the restrictions.  It is likely that “Franclair” (102 Terrace Road) was the only one built of the Burt Way Buildings, making it in just before these additional restrictions were introduced.   

With the housing shortage and lack of affordable housing reaching a crisis point once the war had ended, driven by the return of servicemen, arrival of new migrants and low supplies of building materials, in 1949 the Housing Commission relaxed its restrictions on the erection of flats in Perth.  For the first time since the outbreak of war permission had been granted to build new blocks of multiple flats.  Krantz was in a good position to readvertise his tenders and commence construction of all the flats he had designed nearly a decade before as most of the working drawings and specifications had already been prepared.  However, there were still some conditions imposed by the Housing Commission that would impact on the final design and delivery of Krantz’s buildings: the flats had to provide housing for more persons but based on the same expenditure as a single unit dwelling; the tenants had to be selected and approved by the commission as did the rentals charged to ensure that only persons in dire need would be granted tenancy; and that the cost of each flat was not to exceed £1,150.  Rather than these conditions considered a great impediment, this is where Krantz’s ability to design low-cost functional flat-style housing would come to the fore.   

By the end of 1949, Krantz and Sheldon had been issued permits to build four blocks in the city containing 76 flats in total for a total cost of £85,000.  Two of these blocks were for Burt Way/Terrace Road.  The flats designed by Krantz were usually either U-shaped or L-shaped to allow for an integrated or central courtyard and were constructed of red face brick and tiled hipped roofs.   Internally they generally comprised a sitting room, a hall, a kitchen and a bathroom, and balconies were provided giving views of the river.  Floors were concrete with a wood surface.  With the dividing walls constructed of double brick, the flats were also soundproof and fireproof.   The builders of the various blocks included: R. J. Davies (who also lived in one of the flats), A. C. Porter, Snooks and Son, Motteram and Son, Mr Horsnell and A. James and Co.  Separate contracts were let for the built-in and loose furniture designed by Krantz.  The construction of these Burt Way Buildings was made possible by the formation of syndicates set up by Krantz with many members of the Krantz family ending up owning and/or living in the flats.   

Developments such as the Burt Way Buildings not only contributed to providing accommodation to the many thousands of singles and small families who could not afford their own homes at a time when building costs were high and housing in short supply, but for the first time Perth, as a city, was becoming more cosmopolitan and catching up with the trends from other cities around the world where flats had been built in large numbers particularly in and around the central commercial areas.  These types of development also had other benefits such as saving residents on transportation or the need for a car, and the cost of amenities and services which could be shared among many such as public open space, water and fencing.  

The downside of the affordable housing and austerity of post war building materials, and which would unfortunately signal the eventual demolition the Burt Way Buildings, was mainly in relation to the use of concrete.   External concrete, particularly in those built in the early period of development, suffered from poor coverage, severe exfoliation and eventually the rusting of the reinforcing bars – commonly referred to as concrete cancer.  Owing to the fact that most of the Burt Way Buildings were rented and not owner occupied, and also no longer considered contemporary but outdated, very little regular maintenance had taken place over the years.  As a result, the defects caused by issues such as concrete cancer and the lack of maintenance meant that a considerable amount of investment was required if they were to be saved. 

By the 1990s, the future of the Burt Way Buildings was on shaky ground not only because of their poor condition, but under new regulations the land had potential for more substantial development.  A proposal for a multi-purpose, multi-level development on the site of the Burt Way Buildings was put before the City of Perth in 1996.  With the tenants protesting that they were being ‘thrown out’ the project received unfavourable publicity and the plan was withdrawn in 1997.  A modified development proposal was put up in 2001 which still would result in evictions and demolition but this time development was approved by the City.  The remaining tenants were evicted, although not without some final protesting, and the demolition of all the Burt Way Buildings took place over a period of weeks towards the end of 2002. 

Notwithstanding the demolition of the buildings in 2002, the site remains a significant indicator of a distinct period in the history of architectural philosophy with regards to the provision of stylish, low-cost, functional inner-city housing.  Burt Way Buildings were a rare and exemplary example of this type of housing in Perth central area.  Collectively, they were one of the finest examples of the innovative individual work of Krantz and that of the firm Krantz and Sheldon.  The 12 or so Cypress pines that were planted along the streets and in what was once the front gardens and courtyards are the only physical remnants of the Burt Way Buildings.  

Studies in Western Australian History ed. Frank Broeze, UWA Press, 1992, 

West Australian 7 December 1949 p. 2 

West Australian 5 October 1940  

West Australian 13 September 1941 p. 7 

West Australian 7 December 1949, p. 2 

The West Australian 11 September 1997