The news came as an E-mail, a short and puzzling cryptic message that used only Christian names. One had to pause, suspend the immediacy of easy assumptions, and ponder the context, the timing, the connections, and the parallel references: the fit. There are several ‘Ians' in one’s life, but fewer ‘Nevilles': here lay a clue. It had to be Sinnamon, surely; but this first guess needed to be confirmed: one could not get such details of death wrong. The E-mail sender was reviewed; the address looked strange, unfamiliar. A simple check confirmed the presumed link – arb: ‘architecture review band;’ yes, of course, it was as one had thought – Neville Twidale: then there was the Don name too; the message had first been sent from Don to Nev. Was this Donald Watson? But still the ‘Ian’ needed further confirmation, to double-check the presumption. The second name ‘Trevor’ appeared in a search, but one has never known Ian as ‘Trevor’ - then the reference was noted: I.T. Sinnamon, author of an architectural text in association with Michael Keniger. Yes, it must be Ian Sinnamon: the shock; the memories . . .
Ian Sinnamon - the spelling always challenged one: while being phonetically correct with an ‘s’, the name was more familiar as the sounding of the aromatic bark spice starting with the letter ‘c’; indeed, it was the word that always came to mind. Then, as if this shock of the familiar, no ‘c’, but the plural ‘s’ as singular, was not enough, there was the ‘a’ and the ‘o’. Again, lazy ears helped little in the location of these letters; one had to learn their placement in the sequence, remembering to start with the ‘s’, followed by the ‘a’ - ‘Oh!’ - being located before the final ‘mon’ - not ‘man.’ Speech never made this as clear as it should have been. Did this phonic ambivalence give some of the character to the person – the gentle, soft, uncertain haze.
With everything checked and confirmed, even the spelling – Ian Sinnamon, 82, born 6 January 1935, died 17 December 2017, late of Bardon, as the formal statements have it - the distracting uncertainties could be pushed aside: the memories returned. When did one first meet Ian? In what circumstance? It was, of course, at the University of Queensland, in the School of Architecture where Ian was a lecturer. The precise occasion remained unclear, vague, but the context was fixed in one’s memory. It was in the 1960’s. These were the days when the school occupied the top floors of the central tower of the main building, the sandstone icon, the Forgan Smith Building, the centrepiece of this educational site housing the remote refuge of the architectural students. It was perhaps in one of these snug corridors that Ian was first met: an ad hoc passing; maybe in the lift; or perhaps in the lecture theatre with the subtle, Prof Cummings colour scheme; maybe in the library with its comfortable Eames chairs; or was it during a crit, in that most public of core, tower places? Does it matter, for his presence lingered on through one’s student days and career in the same vague, but significant manner?
University of Queensland, 1960's
Ironically, one was more certain with the memories that were less anecdotal, more emotional; holding obscure, undefined, but firm feelings for his being, his presence that had materialised from formal and informal interactions over the years. Little things are recalled: a conversation on a scheme; an idea; a glance; a sly grin; the latent humour. These were never big events, but they resonated with meaning; with something like substance: they were enduring.
University of Queensland St. Lucia campus
He is remembered as a unique being; well, different: but aren’t we all? Ian was large; somehow one remembers him as physically looming with a glowing bloom – maybe he wasn’t that big? - with a broad, physical presence that was always personable, friendly. Was the breadth in his generosity? His full, round, almost chubby face beamed in his distinctive, knowing, child-like manner that addressed you as a friend, if not a conspirator. He was always on your side, or so it felt. He was there to help, ready to offer a quiet word of praise, or some conciliatory summing up; emotional support; some practical statement that could manage to add wind to sagging sails after some savage criticism, or some other testing moment: but he, too, could offer hard criticism, but in a manner that shaped firm realities within gentle intonations. Perhaps he was there to tell the smartypants, young know-all that such attitudes were foolish foibles of youth and ignorance, passing whims? He could deflate, dismantle false identities, pretensions, with simple, humble guile, as easily as he could help, offer support; but this was never brutal or terminal, only the outcomes were – and they were deserved too, never irrational or unnecessary.
Ian was quiet, always softly perceptive and self-aware. He knew no cunning, and disliked the charlatan when close to things fake and fraudulent. He would light up with a knowing smile to reveal his awareness and disapproval on such occasions, as if to exorcise the lie.
It was this honest habit that made him appear soft and bumbling; transparently inept, almost weak, or so it seemed. His lectures would be peppered with wry smiles as nonsense was squashed in the lights of his knowing it to be such. Ian, sometimes referred to bluntly as ‘Sinnamon,’ but never to his face, was easy to underestimate. One always knew him as ‘Ian.’ Other staff who were chatted about cheekily in Christian names, ‘Bill’ and ‘Marcus,’ were never addressed in this way. It was ‘Mister’ or ‘Professor’ or 'Sir' for them; ‘Ian’ for Ian. He was an ‘ordinary man.’ He gave one a boost in confidence, a phantom, friendly prod just by his passing by. He was there for you; his eyes confirmed this as they danced alive in an open face, looking, seeing, and responding; revealing. Yet this all too soft, too fuzzy presence held its rigour when tested.
On leaving the University of Queensland to work in the ‘real’ world, one lost touch with Ian. ‘Touch’ is the best way to describe this interaction: it is not the worn cliché. In spite of this large gap that grew with time, memories of the man remained strong; they lingered. He was the true, quiet achiever in education, having an impact that was stoically subliminal rather than immediately dramatic and obviously theatrical or smartly self-important, clever. The years might have shaped a notch, a void in continuity, but one was changed by having known this man, a quiet giant of a presence, loving - loving simple and open honesty in life and ideas; caring for them, and the person too. There are not too many ‘Ians’ left in education today, let alone in architectural education, and all that this slick business has now become. His was a unique involvement as a gentle soul, a quiet, respected teacher.
Ian as Superman: a mix of irony and fun
Now searching the internet the name lingers on: Architect at Bardon; Uncle Trevor, the interview#; the Electoral Commission submission; the ABN registration; the writings*; and more . . . How will time manage these seemingly permanent listings? Are they the new, mysterious afterlife of the twenty-first century, where the signs of life flow seamlessly into history, as records, so clearly, precisely, intimately; so openly? It will be difficult to pass on to young folk today just what Ian was, but one should try. The world needs models for humility and reason; care and concern; thought and responsiveness, all qualities that selfies and self-importance so easily squash and dismiss; all qualities that Ian exemplified. One could trust this man. Youth needs to learn about this remarkable experience because architecture needs it.
#The interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-LgxxPaO4w
*The writings: https://trove.nla.gov.au/people/566701?c=people