Sir Eric von Schramek has been described as ‘an invaluable contributor to the advancement of architecture in Australia’, being ‘one of South Australia’s leading exponents of ecclesiastical architecture in the modern idiom’ (Page 1986: 257,255). In addition, his wide involvement in voluntary work both within and beyond the church has been significant.
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on 4 April 1921, Sir Eric had early ambitions to become an artist and painter. Being redirected towards architecture by his parents, he completed a ‘Diplom Engineer in Architecture’ at the Prague Technical University (Sir Eric von Schramek, 2006, pers. comm., 12 October). He emigrated to Germany after World War Two in 1946 and was appointed a town planner in Ober and Mittelfranken, Bavaria, having undertaken post graduate studies at the Technical University, Munich. In February 1948 he married Edith Popper and later that year they emigrated to Australia. Lady von Schramek became an interior designer and went on to lecture at the School of Built Environment, South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT) from 1979 to 1989, and became a member of the South Australian Housing Trust Board (1979-84) (Who’s Who in Australia 2005; ‘New Chapter President’ 1974).
Much of Sir Eric’s work in Germany was in replanning war-destroyed townships including Nurnberg. He also commenced what was to be his lifetime involvement with ecclesiastical architecture, designing two churches for the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Von Schramek’s commitment to the Lutheran and wider church in Australia began in 1948 when he served as Honorary Architect to the Lutheran Church in the Migrant Camp at Bonegilla, Victoria, and designed the chapel there. Moving to Darwin in 1948 as Senior Supervising Architect for the Department of Works and Housing, he was again involved in rebuilding work following the bombing of Darwin in World War Two. In 1951 he joined Evans & Bruer & Partners in Adelaide, becoming a director in 1953, senior partner in Bruer, von Schramek & Dawes in 1960 and Senior Principal in 1963. The firm subsequently became von Schramek and Dawes and was located at 254 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide. Walkley and Welbourn, which had formed in 1951, merged with von Schramek and Dawes in 1971, with the firm becoming incorporated in 1973 (von Schramek & Dawes Architects Planners 1977). They ran an office in Darwin in the CUA Building, 84 Smith Street, from 1973 to c.1985, again being part of the rebuilding of the city following Cyclone Tracey in 1975. Von Schramek remained with the practice until his retirement in 1989. He then became a consultant to the Hames Sharley Group practice from 1989 to 1997 (Sir Eric von Schramek, 2006, pers. comm., 12 October; Who’s Who in Australia, 2005). Sir Eric travelled overseas regularly throughout his career to keep abreast of international architectural developments (‘New Chapter President’ 1974).
Sir Eric became an Associate of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) in 1953, a Fellow in 1967 and a Life Fellow in 1977 (Sir Eric von Schramek, 2006, pers. comm., 12 October; ‘Life Fellowship’ 1977: 32). In addition, he was a Fellow of the Royal British Institute of Architects. He held a range of positions with the RAIA (SA Chapter), being a Councillor (1968-70), Vice President (1972-74), President (1974-76) and a Chairman of the Practice Committee. At a Federal level he was on the Practice Committee and was appointed to the Contracts Committee during the negotiations of the major buildings work contract with the Building Owners and Managers Association (now the Building Council of Australia) and the Master Builders’ Federation. In addition he was National President of the Building Science Forum of Australia (1970-2), Councillor with the South Australian Council of Professions (1974-80) and in 1976, founder member of the Institute of Arbitrators, Australia, serving as the inaugural president of its South Australian Chapter and subsequently becoming a Life Fellow. Von Schramek was the first Australian to become a member of the American Society for Church Architecture and from 1967 to 1987 he was Chairman of the Lutheran Church’s Commission on Worship, Department of Church Architecture and Commission on Church Properties (Sir Eric von Schramek, 2006, pers. comm., 12 October; Who’s Who in Australia 2005). When the ecumenical Liturgical Arts Society of Australia was formed in 1971, Sir Eric was appointed to represent South Austalia ('Liturgical Arts Society of Australia' 1971). In 2007 he wrote Reminiscences: Eric von Schramek and his Churches, a book sponsored by the Friends of the Lutheran Archives, in which Sir Eric reflects on his life and architectural achievements, and in particular on his design of many churches.
Von Schramek was a visiting lecturer in Architectural History at Adelaide University from1960 to 1962 and in Professional Practice from 1988 to c.1991. He lectured in the latter at SAIT from 1986 to c.1990. Sir Eric was awarded an Honorary Associate (SAIT) Architecture by SAIT in 1990 and presented papers at the Building Science Forum and at RAIA National Conferences (Sir Eric von Schramek, 2006, pers. comm., 12 October).
Sir Eric’s deep commitment to the wider community saw him being National Deputy Chairman of the Austcare-Freeedom from Hunger Campaign and its South Australian Chairman, and a foundation member of the South Australian Multicultural Forum. He became a Knight Bachelor for Service to Architecture in the New Year’s Honours List in 1982, and was made a Knight of Grace (KSJ) in 1995 and a Knight of Justice (KCSJ) of the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem (Hospitallers) in 2001 (Who’s Who in Australia 2005).
Sir Eric’s undergraduate course was strongly influenced by the Viennese architect, Adolf Loos (1870-1933) who was a forerunner of Bauhaus Dessau. With input from other professors, von Schramek absorbed principles of simplicity and sobriety, where form follows function (Sir Eric von Schramek, 2006, pers. comm., 12 October). These principles are reflected in his many ecclesiastical buildings. Although much of his work was done for the Lutheran Church in Adelaide and country South Australia, he designed churches for other denominations including twelve for the Methodist Church in South Australia (now the Uniting Church in Australia). He devised the master plan for the Methodist Central Mission in Melbourne. Commissions were undertaken in Victoria, New South Wales, Canberra, Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea. Two of Sir Eric’s works are in the RAIA’s listing of South Australia Significant Twentieth Century Architecture. They are Maughan Church (1965) for the Methodist Church in association with Brown & Davies in the Functionalist and International styles, and Immanuel Lutheran College Chapel (1970) in the Brutalist style.
Sir Eric’s opus also includes a number of multi-storey buildings, examples of which are the Palmerston Building for the AMP in Darwin, Westpac House, Hobart, the TAA building, now QANTAS, North Terrace, the QBE building on King William Street, the Westpac building, Pirie Street and the SGIC building on Victoria Square, Adelaide. The latter required an undertaking new to Australia, the moving of the four storey 1884 classic façade of what was originally the National Mutual Life Assurance Company office. Sir Eric’s firm contributed to the method which saw, in December 1979, the façade ‘rolled’ 34 metres ‘northwards at the rate of three metres an hour’ (Page 1986: 258).
McDougall, Alison, 'von Schramek, Eric Emil’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=53]