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FRANK DIXON (1923-2013)

Biographical Overview

Born in Sydney on 26 January 1923, Frank Wilson Chatham Dixon was the son of a bank manager who had always wanted to study architecture but, due to poor eyesight, had never done so. When the family moved to Melbourne, the elder Dixon befriended a number of architects including Leslie Perrott, who presented young Frank his first drawing board when he was six years old.  As a teenager, Dixon was unsure whether to become an engineer or an architect and consulted John Gawler, head of Melbourne University's School of Architecture, who recommended that he qualify in both disciplines.  Dixon did so, completing his engineering degree in 1946, and his architecture degree in 1949.  During the intervening years, he applied for the position of Staff Engineer in the leading city firm then known as Yuncken, Freeman Brothers, Griffiths & Simpson (later Yuncken Freeman Ltd), whose principals were so impressed with his unique double-streamed qualifications that he was hired on the spot.  Dixon remained there until 1950, when he left to open his own office as a consulting engineer.

During this early period, Dixon made several forays into architecture beginning with two houses for himself: one in Croydon (1950) and another in Balwyn (1952).  The latter, with a striking butterfly roof, attracted much attention in the developing post-war suburb, and the architect was commissioned to design several other dwellings in the areas.  His three houses in Caringal Street were highly regarded at the time, and all were included in Don Ward's Guide to Victorian Architecture (1956), published for interstate and overseas visitors to the Olympic Games.

With his unique double-barrelled qualifications, Dixon found himself in demand from architects who wished to engage an engineer who also thought like an architect.  During the peak years of his practice in the 1950s and '60s, Dixon worked with architects of the calibre of Leslie Perrott, Middleton & Talbot, Kenneth Crosier, Paul Wallace and Hipwell, Weight & Mason.  From the early 1970s, Dixon developed a working relationship with Brother Emanuel, a Roman Catholic priest and qualified architect, and served as structural engineer on several church-related projects in Melbourne's developing outer fringes.  However, Dixon's most enduring association was that with his former employers, Yuncken Freeman Ltd.  He was the engineer of record for some of the firm's best-known residential projects of the mid-1950s, as well as a number of hospitals and industrial complexes.  From the late 1950s, as Yuncken's office embraced large-scale multi-storey projects, Dixon's expertise was sought for several city office buildings and highrise apartment blocks.  At the time of his retirement in 1985, he could claim four decades of experience as preferred structural consultant to one of Australia's most significant and influential post-war architectural practices.

Dixon's most famous undertaking, however, was the holiday house that he designed for his own family on the Great Ocean Road at Fairhaven.  A local landmark known to several generations of motorists and holidaymakers as "the House on a Pole", this modest hip-roofed house was elevated above the scrubby cliffs on an impossibly slender concrete stalk.  A long-held labour of love for its designer, the project was conceived in the mid-1960s but not fully documented until 1970, with construction (most of it undertaken by Dixon himself) continuing until 1978.  Dixon, who died on 30 October 2013 at the age of ninety, lived long enough to see his iconic beach house achieve cult status and be nominated (albeit unsuccessful) for inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register.   

Select List of Projects

Projects as Architect
Residence for self, Alto Avenue, Croydon [demolished]
Residence for self, 6 Caringal Street, Balwyn [altered]
Residence for H A Kelly, 2 Caringal Street, Balwyn [demolished]
Residence for J D Baquie, 16 Caringal Street, Balwyn [demolished]
Residence for Mrs F Frayne, 3 Madden Street, Balwyn [demolished]
Holiday residence for self (The Pole House), Banool Avenue, Fairhaven
Residence for E H Dixon, 4 Caringal Street, Balwyn

Projects as Consulting Engineer



Residence for A P Pierce, Trawalla Avenue, Toorak [Yuncken Freeman]
Factory for Associated Power Seals Ltd, Heidelberg [Middleton & Talbot]
Huntingtower School, Glen Waverley [Leslie M Perrott & Partners]
Malthouse for Barrett Brothers/Burston & Co, Collingwood 
[Yuncken Freeman]
Office building for Barrett Brothers/Burston & Co, South Melbourne 
[Yuncken Freeman]
Residence, Coronet Grove, Beaumaris [Yuncken Freeman]
Factory for Goldfields Diamond Drilling Co, Moorabbin [Middleton & Talbot]
Office building (Norwich House), Queen Street, Melbourne [Yuncken Freeman]
Retail store, Rutherglen Road, Newborough [Kenneth Crosier]
Residential flats (Troon), Orrong Road, Toorak [Yuncken Freeman]
Residence, The Boulevarde, Ivanhoe East [Hipwell, Weight & Mason]
Residential flats (Fairlie), Anderson Street, South Yarra [Yuncken Freeman]
Office building (Royal Insurance House), Collins Street, Melbourne [Yuncken Freeman]
St Christopher's Roman Catholic Church, Anglesea [Paul Wallace]
Seminary of Christ the King, Scoresby [Brother Emanuel]
Parish School, Scoresby [Brother Emanuel]
Parish School, Woodend [Brother Emanuel]
Residence, Cunningham Street, South Yarra [Wayne Gillespie]
Residence, Portsea [Wayne Gillespie]
Mission House, Ballarat [Brother Emanuel]

Frank Dixon engineer and architect
Portrait of Frank Dixon, architect and engineer
(Source: courtesy Dixon family)

Frank Dixon's own house in Balwyn
Frank Dixon's own house in Caringal Street, Balwyn (1952)
(Source: courtesy Dixon family)

Gibson Residence in Coronet Groeve, Beaumaris
Residence at Coronet Grove, Beaumaris, by Yuncken Freeman with Frank Dixon, consulting enginner (1955)

Frank Dixon's House on a Pole at Fairhaven
Frank Dixon's iconic "House on a Pole", Fairhaven (1970)
(Source: courtesy Dixon family)

This text is adapted from a longer article entitled "Post Modernist: A Tribute to Frank Dixon", which appeared in Spirit of Progress, Vol 14, No 1 (Summer 2013), pp 27-29.  The author is indebted to Frank Dixon for his recollections, and to the Dixon family for illustrations.