Page 1: Biography
Abbott, Richard Atkinson
This biography, written by Jeremy Salmond, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Richard Atkinson Abbott was born on 6 January 1883 in Auckland, the son of Samuel Litton Abbott, a farmer, and his wife, Constantia Sophia Atkinson. His father was English and his mother Irish. After attending St John’s College in 1894–95, Richard was a pupil at King’s College, Remuera, from 1896 to 1900, playing in the First XI in 1899–1900 and the First XV in 1900.
He began his architectural career in the office of C. Le N. Arnold, whose work showed a distinct American influence, particularly the ‘shingle’ style, which was characterised by an extensive use of unpainted wood-shingle covering for roofs and walls. This early experience was followed by training in England, working for two years on a building at Bramham Park, Yorkshire, and a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he probably received instruction in ‘beaux-arts’ classicism. He returned to New Zealand via the United States, spending some time in San Francisco. His travels overseas were recorded in a stream of postcards sent home to Adah Kathleen Hume, whom he married in Auckland on 9 May 1911.
On his return to New Zealand, Abbott rejoined Arnold’s office and became a partner in 1910. The domestic work of the practice continued to reflect North American trends, especially the emerging Californian bungalow style. As with most partnerships, it is not clear who was the principal author of their joint projects. In 1913 the partnership won an important competition for the new Auckland Grammar School. Their winning design was in the Spanish mission style, which was novel in New Zealand, but popular on the American west coast. The building is a brilliant adaptation of the style, and its central vaulted assembly hall adroitly combines the ideas of the collegiate quadrangle and the mission courtyard. Abbott has been credited with the design inspiration for this building because of its clear links with buildings he had visited during his American sojourn.
When King’s College relocated to Middlemore, Ōtāhuhu, in 1922, Abbott was appointed architect for a complex that was constructed progressively over 30 years. The design of the college buildings reflects Abbott’s early training in the European ‘beaux-arts’ tradition. The adopted style was ‘collegiate’, a form of the Gothic Revival popular with many such institutions in Britain for its associations with the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The King’s College chapel, built in 1925, is an exceptionally fine example of collegiate architecture. Later structures on the site included the war memorial, a library, and the assembly hall, completed in 1954.
After Arnold retired in 1927 Abbott practised under his own name. In his later career he was the senior partner in Abbott and Hole, which became Abbott, Hole and Annabelle. He designed the obelisk on One Tree Hill in 1941 and for many years was architect for the trustees of Cornwall Park. He was responsible for the lich-gate at his parish church, St Aidan's, Remuera, and for a large number of Bank of New Zealand buildings throughout the Auckland province. His other principal clients included Kempthorne, Prosser and Company and the Dilworth Trust Board.
Abbott was a founding member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and chairman of the Auckland branch in 1927–28. He was also a member of the Town-planning Institute of New Zealand. He was a life member of the King's College Old Boys’ Association and belonged to the Auckland Club and the Officers’ Club. Active in the Anglican church, he served on the faculties committee of the Auckland diocese.
In the First World War Abbott was a lieutenant in the Motor Service Corps and then in the Garrison Artillery. During the Second World War he was a second lieutenant in the 34th Army Troops Company of the New Zealand Engineers.
A practical man, Abbott enjoyed making things and tinkering with his car in a workshop under the house he designed at 11 Upland Road. The family took an annual holiday of six weeks at a cottage in the Henderson Valley: they made the pilgrimage by train, even taking the family cow. Richard Abbott died in Auckland on 20 May 1954, survived by four sons and a daughter. His wife had died in 1941. Noted for many significant structures, Abbott was one of a generation of talented architects who helped to shape Auckland’s urban landscape in the first half of the twentieth century.