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DOUGLAS ALEXANDRA (1922-2000)

Biographical Overview

Douglas Diomedes Alexandra was born Diomedes Alexandratos in Shepparton on 6 February 1922. Alexandra's paternal grandfather, Efstathios Alexandratos – a ship's captain from Ithaca in Greece – had migrated to Australia in the 1880s, and worked in Bendigo.  Alexandra's father Andreas (1872-1950) followed suit in 1901 and started his own business as a fruit vendor in central Melbourne, which enabled him to bring out his two brothers, and later his wife Sophia, from Greece.  Together, the three men operated a successful cafe in Elizabeth Street until 1914, when the partnership ended. Andreas and Sophia then moved to Shepparton, where they reputedly established the town's first cafe.

Graduating from Caulfield Grammar in 1940, the young Diomedes Alexandratos worked in a land surveyor’s office and drafted plans for factories.  In December 1941, the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he decided to join the RAAF.  After training in Australia as an Air Gunner, he arrived in England in 1943 and became a mid-rear gunner in a seven man Lancaster bomber crew.  In January 1944, Flying Officer Alexandratos was on his twelfth bombing mission, this time to a risky Lancaster mission to Berlin.  The plane was shot down over Germany and the crew was declared missing.  Alexandratos survived, spending a year as a POW in the infamous Stalag Luft III, where he played a minor role in the Great Escape.  Discharged from the RAAF in 1946, he anglicised his name and commenced his a Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Melbourne.  His fellow students there included Peter McIntyre, Neil Clerehan, John and Phyllis Murphy, James Earle and Don Fulton.


Admitted as an Associate of the RAIA in 1950, Douglas Alexandra promptly opened his own office and soon emerged as one of Melbourne's first post-war modernist architects. His first major project, for a maisonette pair designed for his own family and his mother-in-law in Burwood (1951), was published in the Australian Home Beautiful the following year, lauded for the way in which it "breaks away from the old familiar features of this type of dwelling .. by the pleasantly simple design".  His Kotzman House in Ringwood (1953), expressed as an elevated flat-roofed timber box with a stone feature wall, was published even more widely and was considered at the time to represent Melbourne's answer to the Rose Seidler House in Sydney.  Such slick modernist dwellings formed the mainstay of Alexandra's practice in the 1950s, and they frequently appeared in journals (notably Architecture & Arts), the property column of the Herald newspaper, and slim monographs such as Kenneth McDonald's self-published The New Australian Home (1954) and Beryl Guertner's 200 Home Plans (c.1960).  Around 1959, Alexandra designed house a for his own family overlooking the Yarra River flats at East Ivanhoe, using an expressed steel structure painted in bright orange.  He also undertook a number of significant non-residential commissions, including two modern kindergartens, of especially striking design, at Beaumaris (1956) at Burwood (1957).  In 1959, he began work on the regional art gallery and library complex at Hamilton - a new building type that was extremely unusual at that time.

During this prosperous period, Alexandra also lectured in design at the University of Melbourne and, in 1962, entered into partnership with fellow university staff member Raymond Berg (1913-1988). The two men opened an office in Chelsea House, on Flemington Road, North Melbourne – a building designed in 1955 by a former student of theirs, Harry Ernest.  The firm, styled as Berg & Alexandra, undertook a string of major municipal projects in regional Victoria, including another regional art gallery at Mildura, a cultural centre at Portland, and civic centres at Shepparton, Traralgon and elsewhere.  Both men maintained their long association with the University of Melbourne, remaining as part-time lecturers as well as collaborating with the University's Staff Architect, Rae Featherstone, on major campus projects such as the Raymond Priestley Building (1967-70) and the completion of the South Quadrangle (1970).  From the 1970s until the firm ceased in 1996, Berg & Alexandra mainly institutional work.  Major clients included the Commonwealth Bank, the Church of England Home for the Aged and the Mildura Base Hospital.   Alexandra, who was a member of the Victorian Racing Club for many years, became the club's principal architect in 1989.

Raymond Berg retired in 1983 and died five years later; his obituary in Architecture Australia was penned by Alexandra.  Douglas Alexandra himself retired in 1996, selling his practice to Hudson & Wardrop.  He died on 19 February 2000, two weeks after his 78th birthday.  In his will, Alexandra made bequests to Caulfield Grammar School and the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Melbourne for the purchase of library books on Classical Greek art and architecture.  He also left a generous sum (and careful instructions) for the catering at his own funeral, "at which shall be served French champagne at a cost of approximately $50.00 per bottle in quantities to ensure that there is at least one bottle for every three guests in attendance, and my favourite foods being stuffed roast chicken and grilled fish". 

Select List of Projects

Douglas Alexandra
1951

1953
1954



1955
1956

1957
1958-59
1959
 
 

1961
Maisonettes for D Alexandra & Mrs M H Nathan, 6 Meyer Road, Burwood
Residence for R Adams, 10 Heather Grove, Cheltenham
Residence for W Kotzman, Alexandra Road, Ringwood East
Residence for S Middleton, 2 Maurice Street, Auburn
Residence for J Nathan, 13 Point Avenue, Beaumaris
Residence for W O Adams, 28 Wellington Avenue, Beaumaris
Residence for E Hattam, 7 Hume Street, Kew
Residence for K Drinan, 27 Orion Street, Balwyn North [extended 1961]
Jack & Jill Kindergarten, 26 Grandview Avenue, Beaumaris
Burwood Pre-School Centre, 48a Alfred Road, Glen Iris

Hamilton Art Gallery and Municipal Library, 107 Brown Street, Hamilton
Residence for B Stockdale, 26 Tashinny Road, Toorak
Residence for W Kotzman, 4 Lydia Court, Balwyn
Residence for D Alexandra, 539 The Boulevarde, Ivanhoe East
Residence for R Reidy, 61 Molesworth Street, Kew
Residence for W Kaufmann, 168 Tramway Road, Beaumaris

Berg & Alexandra
1961-65
1961
1962

1965

1966
1967


1967-70
1968
1970
Shepparton Civic Centre, 90 Welsford Street, Shepparton [altered beyond recognition]
Residence, 4 Sythney Court, Surrey Hills
Residence, 5 Lydia Court, Balwyn

Portland Cultural Centre, Portland  [project only; not built to Alexandra's design]
Nunawading Civic Centre, Whitehorse Road, Nunawading [competition entry only]
Public Hall for the City of Sandringham, Willis Street, Hampton [altered]
Mildura Arts Centre, Cureton Avenue, Mildura
Residence, 64 Richards Road, Croydon North
Arts & Crafts Centre, East Ivanhoe Primary School
Raymond Priestley Building, University of Melbourne, Parkville [with Rae Featherstone]
Dowell Court (Church of England Home for the Aged), 159 Lwr Heidelberg Rd, Ivanhoe
Completion of South Quadrangle, University of Melbourne
[with Rae Featherstone]
Douglas Alexandra
Douglas Diomedes Alexandra in the early 1950s
(source: Architecture & Arts; Reeves Collection)


Alexandra Nathan Duplex Burwood
Maisonsettes for self, Burwood, by D D Alexandra (1951)
(source: Australian Home Beautiful, Reeves Collection)


Kotzman House Ringwood
Kotzman House, Ringwood, by D D Alexandra (1952) (photograph by Simon Reeves, Built Heritage Pty Ltd)


House Beach Road Beaumaris
Scheme for unbuilt house on Beach Rd, Beaumaris (1955) 
(source: Architecture & Arts; Reeves Collection)


Jack and Jill Kindergarten Beaumaris
Jack & Jill Kindergarten, Beaumaris (1956)
(photograph by Simon Reeves, Built Heritage Pty Ltd)


Portland Cultural Centre
Portland Cultural Centre, Berg & Alexandra (c.1962)
(source: Alexandra family collection, Melbourne)


Acknowledgement is made to Douglas Alexandra's son Nathan and daughter Madge, for providing corrections and further information, and also to Fiona Austin, for identifying additional projects.

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