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 Norman  MUSSEN

 

 Nato a Melbourne nel 1909 morý nel 1967 dopo essere una persona di riferimento del bridge vittoriano negli anni che precedettero la seconda guerra mondiale.

 Per reazione all'educazione bigotta impartitagli da un collegio nel quale era entrato a soli 8 anni, Norman fu per tutta la vita agnostico e subito dopo essersi laureato in ingegneria all'UniversitÓ di Melbourne  pass˛ una giovent¨ gaudente dividendosi tra il tennis, gli scacchi ed il bridge che aveva imparato in famiglia e praticato all'UniversitÓ.

 Nel 1937 inizi˛ a lavorare  e spos˛ Ruth Russel, che era stata pi¨ volte sua compagna di doppio misto nel tennis.

 Rifiutato dall'esercito a causa della sua tubercolosi, al termine della guerra aprý uno studio di ingegneria con altri amici ed ebbe un discreto e rapido successo.

 Trasferitosi per un periodo per lavoro a Canberra in Canada smise di giocare a bridge, ma ripresa assieme alla moglie Ruth ed alla figlia Judy non appena torn˛ in Australia.

 Il fumo che non aveva mai abbandonato nonostante la sua tubercolosi contribuý a procurargli un enfisema che alla fine lo port˛ a morte prematura.

  In the period before World War Two Norman Mussen was one of the greats of Victorian bridge in its heyday. He was born in Melbourne in 1909 to Gerald and Florence Mussen, younger brother to Gerry and Eileen.

Norman was sent to Wesley College aged about 8. Having never been in a church in his short life, he was soundly beaten by the headmaster on his first day of school for looking around during morning prayers. This unchristian act fortified the agnosticism subliminally instilled by his non-church going parents. He never became a believer.

After school he started studying engineering at Melbourne University, finally completing his degree after what family history records as six years of championship tennis, bridge, chess and riotous living.

Norman's peak years as a competitive player were between 1937 and 1946.

In 1937 he had made the transition to work. In 1937 also he married Ruth Russell, a fellow student and sometime tennis partner whose ambitions of a degree were cut short by the depression and her father's financial losses.

Once Norman entered the world of work, he seems to have established himself very quickly. We first hear of him as a consulting engineer through a letter written to the Argus in July 1940, beginning his passionate advocacy for innovation in building materials. He argued that the war necessitated a reform in building practices. In particular too much steel that could be better used in munitions was being wasted in building frames. Reinforced concrete was cheaper and saved two thirds the weight of steel required for a steel frame.

He announced in that letter that he would not be practicing his profession as a consulting engineer during the war. However, he was rejected by the army on account of his tuberculosis and we do not know what he did do during those years. In 1945 he was listed with his father as a director of a new company - Electro Motors Proprietary Limited - and his occupation was listed as consulting engineer.

After the Second World War he formed an architectural and engineering practice with Keith McKay and Charles Potter, starting with an office in his house before moving to Latrobe St. During this period they were responsible for both the Boiler House, Australian Paper Mills (1954) and Hosies Hotel (1955), both much admired by architects today (who see them as fine examples of modernist buildings).

During this time he continued to be a fine writer and proselytiser for change in his architecture and engineering. He appears again in an article in the Age in May 1951 pressing the obvious but so often ignored importance of siting of a house in the design phase. He argued that "correct siting of the house is the first essential.It does not cost a penny more to site the house on the block so that any view is caught by the right rooms; any sun is caught at the right times; so that the summer breezes are welcomed and the winter winds screened; and so on. Every house should be judged on these grounds. But where do most people site their house? Twenty five feet back from the street, main rooms to the front, regardless."

His primary concern was that he felt that the profession of architecture had taken a wrong turn. In 1952 in a series of lectures at Melbourne University he began with the statement that "ours is not a great age of architecture, and I think we all wonder why this should be". To Norman, the answer lay mainly in the way that architecture had separated from engineering. He pointed out "until the beginning of the 19th century the architect did all the job himself and was generally the builder as well. He decided the thickness of walls, the size of beams and posts, the construction of arches and and domes - he understood all the trades and crafts - he was appreciative of beauty. Wren was an example of this sort of architect."

Norman had effectively given up bridge when he moved to Canberra but started to play socially again when his daughter Judy returned to Canberra from overseas. She recalls that "I had spent time overseas, learning a simple form of bridge in Canada. On my return to Canberra Dad was delighted to have an opportunity to take up the game again. Poor man. He and my mother played against my about-to-be husband and me. We all played appallingly" He devised and taught them a system whereby one's first bid at the 2 or 3 level indicated a shortage and which Norman's daughter Judy and her husband recall using to great effect in beating the Far East Bridge Champions while they lived in Taiwan for a couple of years.

Despite his TB, he remained a devoted smoker. In the late fifties his health deteriorated and he developed emphysema. He felt terrible most of the time but, Judy recalls, "was much cheered by my brother's and my contemporaries, who loved him and visited him for intense discussions of everything and anything". He died on 29 April 1967.

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