Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
From the offbeat to serene, the future has been designed
ELIZABETH FARRELLY COMMENT
‘Home”, the indefatigable Clare Boothe Luce once quipped, “is where you hang your architect.” And many there have been, over the years, who would agree, not least Dr Edith Farnsworth, whose beautiful house, the clean white platform on which Mies van der Rohe’s place in history rests, was an act of expensive and enduring self-sacrifice.
So one never really knows how much tongue-biting underlies the stoic client facade. (I was once admonished by a famous architect’s patron for being “much too kind” about his house.) But hanging the architect is an unlikely priority for the inhabitants of this year’s Robin Boyd Award winners. Two of the houses – James Jones’s serenely handsome Trial Bay house in Tasmania, which took out the big Robin Boyd award, and Donovan Hill’s Z-house in Brisbane – so actively enrich the human-to-site relationship that it’s quite likely you’d never want to leave.
(Jones also hatched Architectus’s winning concept for the lovely Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, so he’s a damn fine architect, and although I have some detail issues, specifically with the link between the house’s brutalist concrete “Channel Room” and the lightweight pavilion behind, they’re not hanging offences.)
The third house, the Lyons’s commended Housemuseum in Melbourne, is pretty much the opposite; so brittle and showy an environment you might want to hang yourself if you couldn’t get out fast enough. But I guess, since it’s the architect’s own house and strictly by-appointment museum, it’s probably off the hook – or the gallows – on the client-feelings front.
My favourites among the architecture awards are usually the small, strange ones. The cuties. But this year only one such takes my fancy, and that’s Justin Mallia’s Yan Lane, two narrow houses on a forgotten city sliver – all corrugated iron and timber one side, delicate white filigree the other.
It’s sweetly offbeat and clever but was pipped at the post for the big award, the Frederick Romberg, by Donovan Hill’s perfunctory Seaspray Resort, which seems to crouch, undecided, between irony and stinge.
Richard Hassell’s The Met – the 66-storey winner of the Joern Utzon International Award – sits at the far other end of the size and quirk spectrum. Passively cooled with breezeways and gardens, this genuine attempt to go eco in the tropics is a sky-scraping exercise in bravado. And although some residents have given in to the aircon devil, the attempt is genuine, good looking and laudable.
There’s a comparably touching story behind the Barcaldine memorial to the Tree of Knowledge, a century-old ghost gum in whose shade the Labor movement was born, poisoned by persons unknown. The Yeppoon architect Brian Hooper has produced a staunch timber crate whose exterior recalls the outback shearing sheds but whose interior cocoons the dead tree like Avatar’s Tree of Souls; the square-jawed masculine animated by the divine feminine.
That handful aside, however, everything else interesting is in Sydney, and no fewer than three of them from Clover Moore’s administration: Thalis and Aspect’s lovely Pirrama Park in Pyrmont; Tonkin Zulaikha Greer’s exuberant conversion of Paddington Reservoir Gardens, and FJMT’s fine Surry Hills Library, the crown of Crown Street.
As well, there’s Durbach Block’s long-dreaded but (as it turned out) enchanting replacement of Barons, a beloved old warren of clubs and cafes in the Cross, and Architectus’s handsome student housing, UNSW Village, which took out a mere commended although it’s clearly both more difficult and more sophisticated than Donovan Hill’s winning Seaspray resort.