Stephen Ashton: a tribute

Our Dean, Daryl Le Grew, remembers Stephen Ashton of ARM Architecture.

Stephen Ashton headshot

Image courtesy of ARM Architecture

By Professor Daryl Le Grew, Dean, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning

How sad to learn of the passing of Steve Ashton. Colleagues will know and admire the contribution that Steve made to the success of Ashton Raggatt Mcdougall, ARM, among the most innovative and evocative architectural firms to emerge in Australia in recent decades. 

Steve was a high profile student in the faculty all those decades ago and there was, even in his undergraduate days, a strong indication that his thinking, which embraced the creative, but passionately focused on realization, would lead him into practice as the pragmatic centre-piece of a significant firm.  He was great fun as a student, full of good thinking and good humour. I well remember Steve and Howard Raggatt together, so close in their friendship, so different in their outlook, yet complementary in so many ways. Both were a challenge to a young design lecturer, but a joy to work with in studio where ideas blossomed, were shot to pieces and then reconstructed – everything was in contention, at all times. None were let up for air. Totally exasperating but equally fond memories. 

As a doyen of design management Steve could match any of ARM's flow of ideas with his problem solving ability; he had a solution to any problem that cropped up along the way - acquiring briefs and client liaison, design development, practice matters, procurement, technical intricacies, construction processes, post design evaluation – you name it Steve excelled in it. He not only understood the characteristics of ARM's creative design, he revelled in the shock of its introduction to the world and he nurtured and wrapped it in high quality architecture. It's little wonder that he co-founded ARM, with Howard, in the first instance, later to team with Ian; he was an essential element in the firm's culture, a key ingredient in its organisational glue and vital to its success.

Realising ARM's visions and dreams was Steve's mission. Interpretative yet intensively pragmatic, he actively encouraged the metaphoric and allegorical thinking that is part and parcel of ARM's oeuvre, infusing the know-how and business acumen that culminated, for Steve and his colleagues, in the 2016 AIA Gold Medal. 

Howard, Ian and the team must be devastated to lose Steve so precipitately. Part of the ARM culture is lost – Steve was hardwired into the firm's raison d'etre and integral with its architecture. 

Vale Steve Ashton, 1954–2016