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durbach block

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 18-Jun-2005

Edition: Second

Section: News and Features


Page: 11

Wordcount: 294

Womb with a first prize view

Elizabeth Farrelly

Neil Durbach and Camilla Block may not be our most decorated architects, but with three Wilkinsons and two Robin Boyd Awards under their belts, they’re not far off. Harry Seidler and Glenn Murcutt have won more, but many would argue that the South African-born Durbach and Block are embarking on a parallel trajectory. Let’s hope so.

The most striking thing about Durbach and Block’s work is not breathtaking looks, though this it has in abundance, but its intelligence. Their Holman house, this year’s Wilkinson-winner, is no exception, and it oozes both intelligence and modesty.

They’re qualities that tend to cohabit, of course, since anyone with half a brain, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, sees that the arcane obsessions of architecture don’t amount to a hill o’beans in this crazy world.

But neither intelligence nor modesty is exactly standard architectural issue, especially not in Dover Heights.

Sure, not everyone would call Sydney’s most attention-getting house in a decade modest.

No, it’s more the tangible presence of an intelligent and educated mind (or two), combined with a quiddity that is exuberant without pomposity, that makes so stark a contrast with the rest.

At first glance, seeing its curved white walls and playful, textured formalism, you might take the Holman house as one of those 1950s cult houses, just discovered.

For such a house to languish undiscovered is inconceivable. Australia has only a handful of houses this good – way too few to waste.

Playful as a kitten it engages the headlands and horizons of a harsh environment in energetic sculptural games. Hidden within this athletic perimeter sits a serene, north-facing womb of a courtyard, perfectly sun-drenched and southerly-protected in the salt-scape.

See what I mean? Intelligent, modest. Sophisticated.


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