‘A BEAUTIFUL EXCITING HOUSE’: Nick Russell on Peter Hartnell’s 1969 Gaudi-influenced design for his last Modernage Builders’ home at 1346 Rockland: ‘This is everything thinking outside the box.’

Published January 5, 2012 by goyodelarosa

Late last year, Nick Russell produced a new book of colour photos of domestic architecture in Victoria during the last 150 years, entitled Glorious Victorians: 150 Years/150 Houses.

One of those photos is of a house designed by my late father, Peter George Hartnell (above, with our family), at 1346 Rockland Avenue, present residence of my brother John Hartnell.

Mr. Russell has done a lot of research on these houses, but some more is in order, as there is a serious error in the caption below this photograph that suggests that it may have been designed by someone else employed in an engineering firm.

I can confirm without any doubt whatsoever that Peter George Hartnell designed and built this house circa 1969, as I remember him producing the original drawings, and even constructing a cardboard model of the project, before these were turned over to the engineers for the technical drawings needed to satisfy building inspectors.

Those engineers know (or knew) full well that the original designer was my father, and it is quite historically incorrect of anyone to suggest  otherwise.

While I appreciate that Mr. Russell acknowledges in a  CTV video report by Andrew Johnson broadcast about the new book that the design of 1346 Rockland was not typical of 1970s design in Victoria, the researcher does admit that ‘this is everything thinking outside the box.’

I know for a fact that my parents went to Barcelona in the early sixties, and the great Catalan Modernista architect Antoni Gaudi had a profound influence on both of them.

Gaudi’s influence can be seen clearly in the video which can be found in the comments section below, in the elegant curves of the parabolic windows which can be seen on the southern facade of the concrete house.

I worked under my father’s direction with other carpenters and labourers on 1346 Rockland, helping to remove and clean the wood elements used to hold the concrete forms in place.

We also did a lot of tile and marble-setting at the house, materials that are characteristic of Modernista buildings, but were unusual in Victoria in those days.

I hope that if Mr. Russell’s Glorious Victorians book sells out, as well it should, that he will take care to correct this error.

My father built many houses in Greater Victoria in a long career as a carpenter-contractor, in charge of Modernage Builders.

To call him a manager of an importing firm for whom the house ‘may have been designed’ by these engineers is misleading, and should be rectified in a future printing.

[Below is found the text of Mr. Johnson’s video report.]

Gregory Paul Michael Hartnell,



VICTORIA — Nick Russell has waited two years to unwrap one particular present – his baby – a celebration of residential architecture in the capital. His new self-published book is called “Glorious Victorians: 150 Years/150 Houses.” “It needed to be written…Victoria has more gorgeous houses per square inch than any other city I know anywhere” says Russell.

The proof is on Rockland Avenue, where old-world wonders of the 1860′s cuddle up to residential works of art from more than a century later. Russell points out one oval-shaped home in particular. “Typically in the 1970′s, houses were rectangular, they were boxes…this is everything thinking outside the box.”

The home is just a teenager by heritage standards, but Russell says it’s time for that definition to change. “No one thinks of 1970 as a heritage period, yet we really ought to be looking at houses like this, that need protection. It’s a beautiful exciting house preserve it for the future.”

Just down the street sits one of the oldest half dozen beauties in the city, likely built by Victoria’s first architect John Wright. “The fort, Victoria was only started in 1843, the town was only 20 years old. Someone ventured up the hill, and built this gothic house.”

Russell says when he started this whole process, a friend told him the writing, researching, taking all of these pictures – that’s the easy part. Now he’s discovering what that meant, with $14,000 of inventory to unload out of his basement. “I can pay a good designer, and did, pay a good printer, and did, but then they arrive here with 80 boxes weighing 30lbs each, and now I’ve got to really hustle” he says.

Russell is getting a good response from local shops like Munro’s and Bolen books. If you’re in Greater Victoria, he’ll even drive a copy to you himself. “If you like old buildings, and love Victoria, if you walk around Victoria and want to learn more about places you walk around, then this is a great book for that.”

Follow Andrew Johnson on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CTVNewsAndrew


3 comments on “‘A BEAUTIFUL EXCITING HOUSE’: Nick Russell on Peter Hartnell’s 1969 Gaudi-influenced design for his last Modernage Builders’ home at 1346 Rockland: ‘This is everything thinking outside the box.’

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