Brian O’Rorke (1901 – 1974) New Zealand architect and interior designer

Brian O’Rorke on the left, photographed with Milner Gray. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.
Brian O’Rorke on the left, photographed with Milner Gray. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.

Brian O’Rorke was a New Zealand architect and interior designer. He was professionally active in Britain. 

Education

He studied architecture, Cambridge University and Architectural Association, London. His style was uncompromisingly Modern. The 1932 music room he designed for Mrs Robert Solomon in London included a swirl-motif rug by Marion Dorn. 

Ship architecture and interior design

0’Rorke established a small studio specialising in interior design, particularly for ships, aircraft, and trains. In the 1930s, he designed interiors for oceanliners 1935 Orion (commissioned by Colin Anderson) and Orcades, which broke traditional modes. The Orcades interior consisted of chromium furniture and ‘modern’ finish. In his work on the “Orion”, he entirely departed from the tradition of disguising the ship interior with architectural detail borrowed from land sources. Instead, he emphasised the ship’s basic forms and lines with impressive decorative materials used with charm and taste. He executed the interior for other ships of the Orient Line and, in 1946, the Vickers Viking. 

His ability to produce clean, functional, modern interiors in a restricted area led O’Rorke to receive a commission for the L.M.S.’ Royal’ train saloon in 1938. 

Several of O’Rorke’s designs for the interior of the Orion
Several of O’Rorke’s designs for the interior of the Orion

Appointments

O’Rorke was appointed Royal Designer for Industry (R.D.I.) by the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (R.S.A.) the following year for his interior decoration, mainly ships. Therefore, it is not surprising that he took over the chair when Sir Colin Anderson spoke at the R.S.A. on ‘The interior design of passenger ships’ (1966). 

O’Rorke also served as a judge for the furniture section of the R.S.A. Industrial Art Bursaries Competition (1946) was one of the R.D.I. judges for the first Design Center ‘Designs of the Year’ awards in 1957. O’Rorke was one of the members of the R.D.I. Faculty to make an official visit to the Enterprise Scotland exhibition and various manufacturing plants in the area. 

In his 1962 talk to the R.S.A. on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Faculty’s founding, O’Rorke said that, over the twenty-five year period, ‘good design has penetrated… into the world of industry and commerce to a considerable degree.’ Designers were now called upon to work in new fields, and the challenge for the future ‘would be to face up to the dangers and appreciate the potential for good in the age of mass-production machines.’ He also expressed concern about design education. 

Other works

He was the architect for the 1947 Orient Steam Navigation building in Sydney. He designed several houses, including a semi-detached house complex and the 1933-36 Ashcombe Tower for Major Ralph Rayner. O’Rorke and F.H.K. Henrion created The Natural Scene and the Country (natural history) pavilion at the 1951 London’ Festival of Britain.’ 

Sources

Brian O’Rorke. Royal Designers for Industry Britain Can Make It 1946. https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/royaldesigners/2016/06/06/brian-ororke/.

THE NEW ORIENT LINER, “ORCADES.” (1937, November 24). Construction and Real Estate Journal (Sydney, N.S.W.: 1930 – 1938), p. 8. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article222924072

SHIP ARCHITECTURE (1937, November 24). Construction and Real Estate Journal (Sydney, N.S.W.: 1930 – 1938), p. 8. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article222924096

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