Peter Corrigan, 1941-2016

Influential academic and practitioner whose optimistic, demanding and immersive courses at RMIT attracted students from across the world

Professor Peter Corrigan, Australian architect, theatre designer and academic, died on 1 December 2016 aged 77. He had worked as an architect since the early 60s and formed the practice Edmond & Corrigan in 1974 with his life partner Maggie Edmond. The firm became known for a new Australian urban architecture, visually colliding themes and motifs. 

Corrigan taught the architecture programme at RMIT in Melbourne for over 40 years, ever since Graeme Gunn, then dean of the faculty, offered him a job ‘to come home to’ on his return from America. There he had studied at Yale and worked in a number of practices including with Paul Rudolph.  Since 1993 architecture programmes at RMIT have been located in Building 8, which was ­designed by Edmond & Corrigan and described by Peter as ‘an attempt to think with architecture and to write those thoughts in architecture’.

For a while now we had been talking at RMIT about instigating a Peter Corrigan prize for the final year (they are usually called prizes for design excellence). There had been some debate among colleagues about what this prize would be for, so a couple of months ago I thought I would ask Peter. Without missing a beat he said: ‘Best project for which the student completely ignores the staff.’  We agreed in the end it would be for the student with the strongest, most independent vision.

Independence and the preparation to find their own individual path was what Peter ultimately taught students. He often spoke of having ‘personally tried to live a life through architecture’. This was a vision of the architect as public intellectual who is actively engaged in teaching, writing, exhibiting, publishing – among other concerns – all interwoven and striving towards a cultural contribution, a contribution of ideas. 

I wish I’d been taught by people who had built buildings, who had read history, who were interested in the arts and music, who thought about politics – who could sort of make the whole thing into an exciting package that located architecture at the heart of social endeavour

His design studios at RMIT were the ‘stuff of legend’. Students came from all over the world to participate in them. He designed and refined an intense, ideas-rich and immersive world in the studios. He said: ‘I wish I’d been taught by people who had built buildings, who had read history, who were interested in the arts and music, who thought about politics – who could sort of make the whole thing into an exciting package that located architecture at the heart of social endeavour’. 

Peter has been a profound influence on what many of us understand to be the possibilities for architecture in Australia. The work of Edmond & Corrigan, and Peter’s own insistence on the need to build up local architectural cultures and discourse alongside the architects and architectural forums that he supported in Melbourne, helped facilitate the thriving architectural culture and discourse there. 

As a colleague at RMIT he could be brutally honest and had high expectations – but he was incredibly generous. There was always a sense of the importance of what was going on. Bleakness was not tolerated. Optimism was mandatory.

He received his first honorary doctorate in 1989 from RMIT, and the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) Education prize in 2013 for ‘a profound and long lasting influence on the architectural profession in Australia, through his practice, writing and commitment to teaching’. A second honorary doctorate came from the University of Melbourne in 2015. His achievements in practice through Edmond & Corrigan have also been significantly acknowledged through numerous awards, over 100 ­publications on the practice and with the AIA Gold Medal in 2003.

Peter will be deeply missed by all of us, but his legacy is deeply entrenched in our culture and will continue to be furthered by the many architects – now working all over the world – that he has influenced. 

Vivian Mitsogianni is deputy dean and head, RMIT Architecture & Urban Design