Tony Lee, Introduction to Robin Boyd
Tony Lee introduces the Robin Boyd Foundation and gives a tour of Boyd’s former home in Walsh St, South Yarra, now owned by the Foundation.
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Tony Lee is the Executive Director of the Robin Boyd Foundation. He is an architect and has been involved with the Foundation since its inception. Tony is currently researching the work of Robin Boyd and compiling a catalogue of Boy’s work which will be published by the Foundation later this year. He is also creating a database of original drawings, photographs and interviews with original clients and building owners that will be available on the Robin Boyd Foundation's website.
My name's Tony Lee. I'm an architect, and I work with the Robin Boyd Foundation.
The foundation was established two years ago. The reason for establishing the foundation was really to promote the work of Boyd, who's Australia's most significant architect in many people's eyes.
Robin worked from the late '40s through to 1971, when he died, during which time he was responsible for a lot of very innovative design, particularly in housing, that has led the agenda for many of the houses we live in today.
But Robin was quite unique in that he was also very active in the broader community in talking about design and promoting good design, so he was a public educator.
So the foundation was established, really, to continue the work that Robin was doing in promoting the benefits of design to the broader community, and making sure that a house like this could be retaining perpetuity as an example of the best of the work of the '50s and '60s.
TONY LEE: We're currently sitting in what's known as the Robin Boyd House II or 290, Walsh Street, South Yarra. It was a house that Robin designed for his family in 1957.
It was built in 1958, and the family moved in in '59. As I said, it's the second house that Robin designed for himself, the first being in Camberwell, which was a very small, basic house they lived in just after they were married.
And this house came about when Robin and his wife, Patricia, came back from the US, where Robin had been lecturing at MIT, and they decided they wanted to live closer to the city.
So they wanted an inner urban house, and Robin designed this house.
This is a very unique house in that it embodies a lot of the principles that Robin Boyd was so keen to develop and promote.
It's a modern house. It displays incredibly innovative planning.
It's an open-plan house that reflects today's living needs more so than the living needs of the '50s.
Incredible use of materials, very, very simple, elemental design detailing and just a wonderful space to be in.
It has an incredible courtyard, which is an integral part of the house, which becomes an external living environment - which, again, is an aspect of Robin's work that's pretty unique in the days, which was controlling the external space to be part of the living space of the house.
One of the key elements of Robin's design that transpired over his whole career was the notion of platforms for living within a volume.
So he developed this series of platforms that had different activities within the larger volume of the house. It all feels like it's part of one single volume.
The house is essentially two pavilions, and there's an incredible story as to how those pavilions came about.
Boyd had designed a new house for himself and his family here at the front of the site. It was a three-storey volume. And the design was virtually completed, it was in for planning permit approval.
Robin was finishing the work off.
During school holidays, the kids were running around the house that he was working in, and the activity and the noise, he found really disturbing.
He threw those drawings away and started again and designed the house as two separate units - one, the formal living area for himself and his wife and secondly, a wing for the children, so they were quite separate.
And the children refer to that as the 'Far End'. It was visible from this pavilion and linked by bells, but they were discrete, separate buildings on either side of this incredible courtyard.
In order to live comfortably in such an open environment, one had to be very aware of the other people in the house and work comfortably with them. Otherwise, it would be total chaos.
Downstairs, we have a space that is what would today be called the family room.
There's a living area, there's a TV, stereo, there's a formal dining area and open to that, there's also a combined kitchen and laundry.
The kitchen is a galley kitchen - which, again, is very similar to what many people are designing and living in today.
There's an incredible photograph taken by Mark Strizic in the early '60s of Robin's wife, Patricia, standing in the kitchen, and the photograph was used as an advertisement for the Gas and Fuel Corporation, and the caption on the time was 'The modern woman's ideal kitchen'.
The whole house is incredibly progressive. When we walk through it today, it feels very comfortable and very familiar. But when you think that the house was actually designed 50 years ago, it's incredibly progressive and quite radical for its time.
Because at the time it was built, most people's houses consisted of individual cells - one for the kitchen, one for the laundry, one for the dining room, etc.But this house basically exploded all of those cells into one single, combined volume, which was an open-plan space like most of our houses are today.