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Life Story

Architecture 1957-69


Sandplay Home in the Bush

John and Hilary James - Life's Story

B. Architecture (hons), University of Melbourne, 1949-53.
M. Building Science, Sydney University, 1963-66
Ph D, University of NSW, 1988
Certificate I Workplace Training and Assessment Category 2, 1999
Graduate Diploma in Transpersonal Psychotherapy, 2004

B A. University of Sydney, 1948-51.
Certificate I Workplace Training and Assessment Category 2, 1999
Graduate Diploma in Transpersonal Psychotherapy, 2005

At school I believe I was the first to use butterfly at an official swimming competition in 1946, holding the record for a very short time. Came sixth in the state in Maths Honours in the Leaving Certificate two years later. At University in 1951 I made a survey of the Melbourne terrace house and its cast-iron tracery, followed by a two-year research into the origins and history of the Sydney New Guard, 1930 to 1936.

In 1954 we both worked as travelling salesfolk in British West Africa in the 'bad old' colonial days, organising part of a commercial directory for Africa.

In 1957 I founded an architectural practice in Roseville, Sydney which I ran for thirteen years. In most of my work I was both the professional architect and the ­builder. I was one of the early designers of the Sydney School of Architecture and, in 1958, was the first builder-architect approved by Institute of Architects. I later realised this was the way the Master Masons of medieval times worked, in being both the designer and ­the contractor. Major works being the Readers Digest Head Office, Surrey Hills and Portland House, North Sydney.

Hilary had three daughters, Cassandra, Rebecca and Emily - all now running their lives with love and competence.

Ross Yuncken became my partner in '59 and Peru Perumal an associate and then partner. After I left the practice Peru formed his own firm.


Notes to Transformation

1963-66 completed a Master of Building Science degree under Prof. Cohen, Sydney University.

From 1965 began teaching the history of architecture and/or studio design at Sydney Technical College and the Universities of Sydney and NSW. This led me to my next adventure: travelling to Europe to study Gothic architecture, and in particular the cathedral of Chartres.

Between 1969 and 1977 I studied the history of the cathedral of Chartres, not as an architectural historian, but as an architect-builder, when I created the techniques known as Toichology for extracting the construction history from the stones themselves. I showed how the cathedral had been built layer by layer, and in the process redefined the entire constructional history of the building, and dated every part. From this I identified the masters and something of their geometric methods. It was ground-breaking work. My major discoveries at Chartres include:-

  • The cathedral was built in tilted, almost annual, layers which I illustrated in 32 large isometric drawings.
  • Each layer was the work of a different master mason, some of who returned from time to time.
  • The nave and the choir were built at the same time, not one after the other.
  • The transept portals and the porches were erected with the transepts, not later.
  • Worked out the geometry and showed that it ruled every design decision and the initial setting out.
  • The bent axis was deliberate from the beginning.
  • The apogee of Gothic sculpture must be dated to the reign of Phillipe Auguste, and not Saint Louis.

    In 1971 spent three months with my family living in a compound of Ubud, in Bali. Hilary is now writing a book on this called Illusions of Paradise. In the same year I discovered ley lines in Bali and a little later among the Positano mountains of southern Italy.

    For five years between 1969-74 lived in Europe with our children and taught them ourselves. I funded most of this from the rent of our Mosman house.

    Iin 1973 walked with my family 400 K. on the pilgrimage route from Chartres to Compostella.

    After 1975 wrote up my discoveries and bred Charolais cattle in the Dooralong Valley. From 1977 travelled extensively in the US, France, England and Australia lecturing on medieval architecture on more than 150 occasions at over 70 universities and colleges, including Oxford, Harvard, Princeton and Berkeley. Did further research in England on the cathedral of Durham, Southwell Minster, and a group of key buildings in France associated with Chartres. Over the following years I presented papers at conferences in England, France and the US, and was appointed to various teaching and research posts at a dozen universities.

    In 1980 began the most exciting part of my Gothic work, to expand its scope across the whole of the region around Paris, culminating in a four-year on-site survey to locate all the Early Gothic churches in the Paris Basin. This had never been done before. I visited each of the 3,500 churches in the area, often many times, to identify the 1,740 that had been built between 1100 and 1250. The results were published in the Art Bulletin. This work was funded by myself, with considerable help from the Visual Arts Board of Australia, the Graham Foundation of Chicago, the Australian Research Grants Committee, the de Witt Wallace Trust of New York, as well as the French Government.

    Since then I have collected a vast quantity of data on all aspects of these churches. It includes over 40,000 photographs of every carved capital.

    I have used the data from the Survey to:
  • Discover the origin of flying buttresses around 1150 rather then thirty years later.
  • Locate the origin of tracery at Essômes, and to identify its inventor.
  • Make detailed studies of Durham, Soissons, Canterbury and Senlis cathedrals, and la Sainte Chapelle.
  • Analyse the Chartres Royal Portal to show its discrepancies were not from being moved but from being constructed in five distinct campaigns. This has influenced the way we now examine all carved portals.
  • Identify the two masters responsible for the apse of Saint-Denis-en-France, showing that this masterpiece was the child of accident rather than intent. This has powerful implications for the origins of Gothic.
  • Discover how to date the buildings of the Paris Basin to an accuracy of five years by changes to the style of foliate carving on capitals, which alters the process by which Gothic was created, (published in The Ark of Godand to
  • combine these dates with a costing of each­ phase of construction to form cash flow charts for the evolution of Gothic for each of the 15 regions of the Paris Basin.
  • In 1987 created the discipline of above-ground archaeology I called Toichology (Published in The Template-Makers of the Paris Basin. This name was suggested by my brother-in-law, Maurice Kelly, from the Greek 'Toichus' meaning a standing stone wall.

    Not all of this work has yet been published.

    In 1983 began to work in sandplay with Dr Patrick Jensen and in breathwork with Ahrara Carisbrooke, culminating in four full-time three-month courses at the Living Water Centre in Lawson in the Blue Mountains, 1987-91. Next year I made two trips to America to study Voice Dialogue under Dr Hal Stone and Essence work in the Diamond Approach developed by Dr Hamid Ali, in Boulder, Colorado.

    Hilary completed a similar course at the Living Water Centre, as well as a number of other spcialised therapy trainings.

    Starting in 1989 Hilary and I began to run therapy workshops ourselves and to train people in sandplay and voice dialogue. Since then we have jointly led over 5,000 hours of groups and workshops, as well as some two thousand private sessions with adults and children.

    During 1990s helped Peter Feldtman to create and manage the distribution of "Scribe", a computer management program for CAD users.

    Hilary began her memoires of Bali which has grown in the most astounding book on the island in 1971. It has been published by West Grinstead, andclick here To see details and buy. For the chapter heads click here.

    Between 1993 and 1998 I researched the evolution of the rib vault throughout Europe, and began cataloguing the Early Gothic capitals in the Paris Basin and identifying the carvers. Then using the stylistic evolution of each individual carver to create an extremely accurate dating system for the period, especially the key years before 1170. As I do this I am consolidating the work of a lifetime to reconsider the detailed history of Gothic architecture. I am now in the process of compiling a nine-volume corpus of all churches and carved capitals from the 1100-1250 period in the Paris Basin. The first two volumes of The Ark of God were published in September 2002.

    In 1996 purchased a 350-acre secluded valley at the foothills of Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains to live in and for our psychotherapy courses, and named it the Crucible. Next year built our first web site.

    In 1998/99 I created and wrote the course material for a Graduate Diploma course in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. This was accredited under the NSW Higher Education Act of 1989. It is a two-year post-graduate residential course held at The Crucible Centre in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Hilary and I became partners with Marg & Michael Garvan.

    In 2000 was interviewed for the University of Sydney and State Library of NSW Oral History Projects. Became a Registered Member of the Counsellors and Psychotherapists Association. Received a two-year grant to study the construction history of Durham Cathedral in northern England, and began to assemble the material needed for a five-part ten-volume Corpus of French Early Gothic architecture. I helped Robert Ferré run a two-week study tour for an American group on Gothic architecture in France and on the the labyrinth of Chartres cathedral.

    In 2001 began page layouts and scanning for the first part of The Ark of God. Lectured on my own architecture and personal biography at "Meet the Architects" for the Historic Houses Trust and DOCOMO Australia. There are now eight of my buildings from the 60s classified for their historic or artistic merit.

    In 2002 completed and published The Ark, with distributors in UK and US, and with sufficient pre-publication sales to pay the printer. Nominated for the National Register of the Psychotherapists and Counsellors Federation of Australia.

    During 2004 wrote the outline for The Great Field, an investigation into the nature of the universe as seen through our experiences in therapy, and its implications for the human soul. I am currently looking for a publisher. Wrote a thesis on the same subject that was assessed by the Crucible Centre's Academic Board, from which I was granted a Graduate Diploma in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. Ran a week-long course with Robert Ferré in Chartres on the deeper meanings of the labyrinth of Chartres cathedral

    2005 received the American Institute of Architects Honour for Collaborative Achievement, and in June assisted Lauren Artress from Grace cathedral in San Francisco support her group studying the cathedral of Chartres. Completed writing In Search of the Unknown in Medieval Architecture for Pindar Press, and Volume 3 of The Ark of God. Gave a paper entitled "The possible factors that created Gothic architecture" at the Leeds International Medieval Conference.

    By now we are grandparents to four young souls, Anna and Estelle from Rebecca, and Sarah and Sam from Emily.

    My life experience and range of activities is wide, including travelling to 67 countries and living in France, Italy and England, Bali and the US, each for extended periods.

    For my current research projects in medieval architecture click here..

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