The garden of an architect | Frank Collings

I have admired this home and garden for a few years now.  It belongs to my wife’s great uncle and I have visited it many times for family functions.  This is the home of Francis (Frank) Collings, one of the founders of McCarthy, Collings & Purtell a Melbourne architecture firm founded in 1977.

Frank’s career began in the office of HR & FL Norris in East Melbourne in the early 1950s, working with architects such as Gerd & Renate Block, John F Tipping and Donald Meisenhelter (Reeves 2011).

In 1963 Frank established McCarthy & Collings Pty Ltd with Joseph McCarthy and following Joseph’s death the partnership was joined by Peter Purtell as McCarthy, Collings & Purtell Pty Ltd in 1977 (MCP 2014).  The firm’s work over the years has been predominantly churches, schools and hospitals.  Notable projects include Bethlehem Hospital in Caulfield and St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Black Rock (1963).

St Joseph's Catholic Church, Black Rock - J Davidson 2014)
St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Black Rock  (J Davidson 2014)

Frank’s architectural career developed during the time of Roy Grounds, Robin Boyd, Frederick Romberg and Peter McIntyre and his designs reflect the beauty and practicality of mid-century modernism.  During this time he has also kept busy outside of architecture with his sailing, landscape painting and he even managed to fit in being Mayor of Sandringham during the 1970s!

His home in Sandringham is interesting in that while being a great example of modernist style, it was actually designed and built in the early 1980s.

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012
The house sits low and private behind a minimal brick wall and carport.

The block is narrow and has a slight fall from the rear to the street.  The brick home has been designed with the living and entertaining areas to the front of the house and more private, bedrooms and bathrooms to the rear.

The garden has been designed by Frank as part of the overall home layout and he acknowledges the influence of traditional Japanese gardens with its clean, minimal lines and plant selection.

'Quick and Easy Japanese Gardens' a 1970s publication highlighting the popularity of this garden style.
‘Quick and Easy Japanese Gardens’ a 1970s on loan from Frank Collings!

The influence of Japanese style was an interesting occurence in Australian landscaping.  Following the Second World War there was clear anti-Japanese sentiment.  As a new generation of designers flourished in the 1960s however, this was largely forgotten and oriental garden influences such as the use of bamboo, pebbles and minimal design around a singular feature tree were embraced (Aitken 2010).

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012

The rear garden of Frank’s home is a simple utilities area, including clothesline and workshop.  The fall of the land is addressed with a low retaining wall at the rear and the floor level of the house stepping down  between living and bedroom sections.

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012

Plantings within the utilities courtyard are practical and low maintenance.  A lemon tree provides a great source of lemons, potted Camellias provide seasonal colour and a Monstera deliciosa is a wonderfully modernist feature plant behind a brick bbq that carries the name plate from Frank’s first partnership.

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012

The focus of the home however, is its front garden and main living area.  The approach to the home is through the carport and past an intricate gate which provides glimpses of the front courtyard.

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012

The entry hall (featuring amazing stain glass windows by Frank’s son) leads to the large living / dining room and from there opens up with a great view of the main garden.

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012

Glazed sliding doors open wide for a continuous connection between the indoor entertaining space and the garden, which is paved and bordered in the same Japanese influenced style as the rear garden.

An image from 'Quick and easy Japanes Gardens' that is not unlike the photo above
‘Quick and easy Japanese Gardens’ 1975

The image above, from ‘Quick and Easy Japanese Gardens’ is an interesting comparison to the previous photo.  Frank’s design of the wide opening allows a great view from the living room to the courtyard.

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012

The focal point of the courtyard garden is a formal pond which sits flush to the pavement and against the walls to the carport and entry.  The materials are simple and continuous throughout Frank’s garden, with red brick paving and high brick privacy walls that match the house facade.

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012

The planting continues the Japanese theme with Blue Cedars, Camellias and Japanese Maples as focal plants, and a green backdrop of conifers.  Large Papyrus reeds grow from the pond amongst water lilies.

The garden of an architect - J Davidson 2012

Continuing the Japanese influence are scattered ornaments such as this lantern that hangs outside the master bedroom.

Frank Collings enjoying his garden.
Frank Collings admiring his garden.

This is a home that appears so simple in its layout and that is the beauty of the design by Frank Collings.  It is inspiring to chat with Frank and to learn from his wonderful design philosophies and experience and to enjoy the home and garden he has created.

So what can be learnt from the garden of an architect?

  1. Mid-century style and philosophies are timeless and can easily transfer to today’s design.
  2. The garden forms part of the overall architect’s vision for the home rather than as a last-minute add on.
  3. Garden style that has been perfected for centuries in Japan can be used as inspiration in an Australian modernist landscape
  4. A large opening from the living room allows the entertaining zone to extend into the courtyard.
  5. The same materials are used in both building and landscape so that each complements the other.
  6. Potted feature plants can be moved for seasonal difference and focal points of the garden.


Aitken, Richard 2010, The Garden of Ideas – Four Centuries of Australian Style, Melbourne

MCP 2014, McCarthy, Collings & Purtell website (

Reeves 2011, Built Heritage “Dictionary of Unsung Architects – Gerd and Renate Block” (

Shufunotomo Co. Ltd (Publisher) 1975, Quick & Easy Japanese Gardens, Tokyo, Japan


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