Vale Associate Professor Harold Richards AM

The Melbourne School of Engineering noted with deep respect the recent passing of Associate Professor Harold Richards AM, who was a great friend of the School over many decades. Professor Emeritus Len Stevens AM reflects on Harold’s significant influence and contributions…


By Len Stevens

Harold Richards made many outstanding contributions, not only to the profession of engineering consulting in Australia through the firm of Hardcastle and Richards which he co-founded with Roy Hardcastle in 1952, but also to the community in general and to engineering education.

A/Professor Harold Richards AM

A/Professor Harold Richards AM

I regard it as a great privilege that I counted Harold as a close personal friend as well as a colleague from whom I gained insights into the art of structural engineering and the inspiration to pursue my own career in this discipline.

I first met Harold in 1951 when I joined the firm of Johns and Waygood as a junior assistant designer.

Johns and Waygood were then pre-eminent as designers, fabricators and constructors of steel structures in Australia and Harold was already an experienced designer in the Design Section which was responsible for many of Australia’s post war infrastructure developments. The Section was directed by Earnst Jaeger, an outstanding designer who had left Nazi Germany to start a new life in Australia and, in doing so, created a renewed rigour and interest in structural design.

The lessons I learnt in my brief time in that environment have remained with me in all of my professional career. Much of this experience came from my association with Harold and his already great friend Roy Hardcastle, who were generous in the time they were prepared to spend in imparting their philosophy of design to a new-comer. They made me realise that structural engineering was as much about people as about mathematics and science, and that the achievement of an effective system was a creative process where the concept was truly a work of art, requiring a collaborative team effort.

At a later stage, after I returned to The University of Melbourne as a lecturer, Arthur Francis, the then Head of Department, sought to put design instruction for undergraduates onto a more practical basis and invited Harold and Roy to lead design office projects with design of actual projects in which their firm had been involved.

This was a tremendous success with students who gained a real life insight into the way in which concepts were developed, refined and detailed in practice. Harold and Roy took very active roles, sitting down with small groups of students and encouraging them to work as teams in concept development, task sharing and decision making. In particular they made students visualise just how a structural system should be made to act; with 2B pencils and large sheets of paper they showed how to visualise the flow of forces and to see themselves as designers who were directing and controlling forces, rather than just resisting them.

Thousands of students benefitted from this instruction, just as I had many years before, and both Harold and Roy were later frequently accosted by past students who would remind them that “they had taught them design at Uni.”  It was totally fitting that Harold was appointed as an honorary Associate Professor of the University of Melbourne as a recognition of his contribution as an outstanding educator.

'Tension and Compression' by Michael Meszaros OAM, Sculptor and Architect

‘Tension and Compression’ by Michael Meszaros OAM, Sculptor and Architect

Harold was also a great supporter of the University in many other ways and was a most generous contributor to the School of Engineering as a benefactor.

One benefaction from the firm of Hardcastle and Richards of particular interest is the piece of sculpture which is attached to the west wall of the Block B building, just above eye level, adjacent to the Main Gate at Grattan St. this was commissioned by the firm to commemorate 25 years of their practice. This work is by the renowned sculptor, Michael Meszaros OAM, and is entitled  “Tension and Compression”.

But to me, it is much more; it epitomises the philosophy of Harold to engineering design, and his attitude to life in general, people working as a team, controlling and directing, rather than resisting actions.

This personal tribute was contributed by Emeritus Professor Len Stevens AM, former Dean of the Melbourne School of Engineering.

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