A tribute to Richard Travis

11 March 2019

Richard unexpectedly died recently at the age of 73 - he retired rather early for an architect for health reasons and had been in remarkably good health for most of his retirement. He took great pleasure in his close-knit family - Anne, his wife, and sons Campbell and Jamieson and their families especially his grandchildren. 

His professional career began with studies in design then architecture and then a stint in the early 1970s working with the NSW Planning Authority - so his interest in the built environment was broad. As a director of Wills Denoon, a forerunner of the Sydney office of Architectus, Richard always wanted to be part of a multi-disciplinary design team. In the early years the emphasis with Co-Director Peter Wills was on designing within budgets. At that time, the architectural profession was challenged with the stigma of architects not being sufficiently financially aware about building costs - so the company added a team of quantity surveyors for many years to confirm to clients that this aspect of design was taken very seriously. The original directors also wanted to be more involved directly in property development and a development company was established. It soon became apparent that fusing architecture with development in a shared company caused market confusion and so Richard and Peter parted ways. Richard became Managing Director of Wills Denoon Travis in the early 1980s and oversaw amazing growth of the business from around 40 staff to 170 staff with major projects such as Chifley Tower (with Kohn Pedersen Fox) through to the early 1990s. During that time the firm’s name changed from Travis Partners to Travis McEwen Group and included teams of urban planners, urban designers, landscape architects, heritage specialists, graphic artists, and quantity surveyors as well as architects - a true multi-disciplinary design consultancy. 

Richard also undertook a business owners’ course at Harvard University which gave him extra confidence in running a growing business. The early 1990s recession saw some belt tightening and an acknowledgment that to shield the company from the vicissitudes of the property market, Richard saw that the company should be geographically diverse to reflect wider design and cultural interests and allow the firm to work effectively for national and international clients. Richard was a prime mover in establishing an alliance with similar minded firms in Melbourne, Auckland and Brisbane. Out of this alliance, Architectus was born and Richard was the inaugural chairman of the group. We were looking for a name that was capable of being a one-word brand and the first word in our NZ partner’s company name Architectus Bowes Clifford Thompson was the obvious choice. We were now in three Australian capital cities plus Auckland and operating as a federation of like-minded companies sharing marketing information, establishing the brand and endeavouring to provide a high quality of design consistency by regular review of each other’s work and collaborating on larger projects. Since Richard’s retirement, the Australian offices have naturally grown together and have become one company with additional offices in Adelaide and Perth totalling over 400 staff including New Zealand. We mention this company growth and evolving organisational structure because it was fundamentally a shared vision with Richard as a prime initiator that set the ball rolling. Many people have contributed to the success of Architectus which now operates across key sectors and services, including transport, commercial, education, residential, public, interior design, urban design and planning, and digital design and delivery. 

In addition to Richard’s business acumen, he was a talented designer who saw buildings in their planning context. The early part of his career saw him designing several community/local government buildings and office buildings. He illustrated his ideas with simple sketch perspective drawings which confidently displayed the design intent. In some ways it is a shame he did not design more buildings personally. However, he set the direction for very many buildings and oversaw their design inception. His professional legacy was to set the organisational conditions for others to shine. The successive managing directors - Rick McEwen of the Sydney office and now Ray Brown of the Australian group - continued this ethos. Now the catchphrase of our brand is Explore, Collaborate, Create - words that encapsulate how we have always approached our work. 

In 2000 Richard, with Ross Styles, was instrumental in our foray into China. Over a period of 15 years innovative city master plans were created, massive civic and cultural complexes constructed (e.g., Maanshan City Centre including government buildings, an opera house and library - and a wide array of high-density living projects were designed and delivered such as the multiple award-winning Xiang He Lakeside with 2000 dwellings). Many of these were at a scale unheard of in Australia at the time and benefitted from the built form quality and amenity that we take for granted. 

Richard is remembered as a private, quiet, firm, determined, principled and visionary architect interested in the design quality of objects, buildings and cities. An architect needs to be a good businessman and Richard showed how – he was an entrepreneur. He set the conditions for many people to grow and prosper, had a generous spirit, was a voice of balance and reason, pragmatic and always sought a high level of professionalism.

By Michael Harrison, Ross Styles and Ray Brown (business partners of Richard Travis at Architectus)