Architectural historian and writer, Peter Andrew Barrett. Original photo by David Hannah Photography.
Peter Andrew Barrett is a Melbourne-based architectural and urban historian, heritage consultant and writer.
His interest in buildings and the urban environment began at an early age. He spent endless hours as a child exploring the old city buildings in Melbourne’s western end, where his father’s business was tenanted. It was the 1970s and, at that time, ‘the lowbrow end of the city’.
Barrett says his early self-education included ‘scaling rooftops, climbing fire stairs and exploring bluestone alleyways’. This evolved into studying architecture and design, culminating in a Master’s of Architectural History and Conservation at the University of Melbourne.
Barrett’s thesis on trans-Pacific exchange of architectural ideas, technologies and peoples between Australia and California in the 19th century, led him to work on heritage projects in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the mid 2000s.
He says that, though he’s travelled the world and explored its cities, Melbourne is where his heritage practice is based.
‘My office is situated in the Paris End of Collins Street, where the street’s beautiful architecture and urbane character is a great inspiration to my work and writing.
‘Some further study in New York in urban design, and participating in workshops in placemaking in Amsterdam in recent years, has broadened my interest in our cities to think more about how we can make them better using heritage.
‘My work takes me to many interesting buildings and landscapes. It is through my work that I meet many amazing people, often the custodians of these heritage places. In addition to the physical fabric of heritage places, it is the stories associated with them that I love best, and the things I try to tap into with my writing.’
My work involves identifying, understanding and protecting heritage places. Importantly, this also involves assisting with our engagement with heritage places, so they become places that we all know, use and value. I work with other design professionals, including architects, interior designers and town planners, as well as members of the community. Collectively, we all work to achieve outcomes that contribute to a greater understanding and enjoyment of our heritage places.
I initially studied to be an architectural technician, but after graduating realised I was more interested in architectural and urban history. My business initially began by doing freelance drawing, performed from my kitchen table in my small flat in Richmond at that time. After I commenced studying architectural history and conservation, heritage work replaced drawing, as doors opened in the heritage field and my heritage practice evolved.
I like to write in the mornings when my mind is most clear. I still handwrite drafts of most things I am working on. Early in the day I find ideas seem to flow most easily from my head to paper. I usually arrive at my office around noon, and the afternoons are spent in discussions with clients, meetings or replying to emails. I sometimes write a little more, late in the afternoon before I knock off.
Read: Why I’m studying… Professional Writing and Editing
That we are a crusty lot and that we only like ‘old stuff’, that we are a safe-shoe and cardigan-wearing brigade of people. Whereas, heritage people come from a variety of walks of life and backgrounds, and heritage itself encompasses a broad range of places and elements, some even modern or contemporary – like Federation Square or Hosier Lane and its street art.
A love of architecture and urban spaces, but also of people and an understanding that people’s environments play such an important role in their physical and mental well-being. An ability to listen to people and to understand what is important to them about place is also helpful. Plus an ability to look beyond the aesthetics of façades of buildings and think about the people and stories associated with places that make them special, the engineering or technical complexity of a place, or their social importance as a place is used and valued by the community for its amenity.
A shift away from the past practice of seeing Indigenous heritage in isolation to urban history. Rather, we are now becoming more conscious of both histories sharing the same environmental landscape. It is this growing consciousness that our First Nations have the longest connection to our urban heritage places that gives our heritage places a deeper meaning now.
Rochelle Siemienowicz is the ArtsHub Group’s Education and Career Editor. She was previously a journalist for Screenhub and is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia’s longest-running film podcast ‘Hell is for Hyphenates’ and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. Her second book, Double Happiness, a novel, will be published by Midnight Sun in 2024. Instagram: @Rochelle_Rochelle Twitter: @Milan2Pinsk
Sep 19, 2023
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