The history of Australian architecture can trace itsbeginnings in external cultural influences and its reaction and interactionwith local cultures. Geographical,social, political and economic considerations have affected its development.
Manyforeign influences and philosophies of the true nature of regionalism will befound in both Robin Boyd and Peter Muller’s architecture. Their architecture paralleland respond to contemporary movements in Australia.Collective influence:Since the 1960s the Sydney School hypothesis has beendiluted by an inclusive ‘regionalist’ philosophy that seeks to “…fosterconnectedness to … place and … be a response to the needs of local life,not in spite of global concerns and possibilities, but in order to take betteradvantage of them. … It should open up possibilities for understanding whereand with whom one lives. It should encourage awareness of local climate and thechanging of seasons.”(1) In 1960s various well-known Australian architectural philosophershave been discussing an important question.
What is regional architecture inAustralia? Often referred to as the Sydney school, it is a “distinct style” respondingto the Sydney topography and established a method of design that was quicklyadopted by Peter Muller, Robin Boyd and many other architects. Boyd was Victorian associates and key figures in theRVIA/The Age Small Homes Service. Boyd writes in his The Puzzle of Australia- “a strong regional branch developed … inSydney where there was a sufficient number of younger architects with enough incommon to constitute a school” (2). The Sydney School was also inspected by Professor StanislausFung of the University of New South Wales architecture faculty.
Fung consideredthe Sydney School as no more than a notion and arguing- ” Is the Sydney Schoola certain group of architects united by principles; is there a series ofbuildings that could be said to represent the expression of these principles;and finally, Fung asks, is there a Sydney School style illustrating consistentarchitectural qualities?”(3)Peter Muller:In “Architecture and Arts and the Mediation of AmericanArchitecture in Post-war Australia” states that Kenneth McDonald, editor of theAustralian magazine Architecture and Arts, received a letter from Frank LloydWright where Wright wrote- “OrganicArchitecture is for Australia so why not Australia for Organic Architecture?”(4) In “Peter Muller: the complete works” Jacqueline C. states thatin 1952 Sydney and Australian building needed a direction towards anappropriate regional architecture.(5) Peter Muller played a vital role in theestablishment of an indigenous Sydney and Australian architecture. Peter Muller’sArchitecture is genuinely devoted to the ideal of an environmental harmony and stronglyencourages domestic architecture and a powerful Australian taste. Muller houses represent a new proportion in scale which islow line and fits directly into Australian surroundings. Peter Muller’s veryearly work, the Audette House in Castlecrag, demonstrates a strong threedimensional concept with its sweeping horizontals and inter-penetrating volumeswhich, at the time, was a new phenomenon. Muller intended for the house to bebuilt in sandstone but economic restraints demanded a substitute. Mullerinvented a distinctive style of brickwork known as “snotted brickwork” that isa technique of squeezing out the cement mortar along the horizontal alignmentsof the bricks to distract from the material and provide texture.
(6) Mullerused untreated Australian hardwood, copper, timber and stone to merge the buildingwith the surrounding flora. (7) After the Audette house, Peter gained confidence and startdeveloping his designs. Peter Muller was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, and manyof Wright’s principles of design were applied to local condition, which worked.In 1950s Muller’s architecture broke away from typical boxy plans housing asMuller started creating houses without walls and partitions with free flowingfloor plans and flexible and spacious interiors that also incorporated elementsfrom nature.
(8) Muller House in Whale Beach is an example of that. Arectangular shape organised on opposing axes and a main spine the living spaceextends over the rocky sandstone formation supported by grey brick piers. Thatspine intersected by a crosswise axis of open galleries and a third axis at oneend of the open galleries that houses the bedrooms. Muller took the concept ofthe structural notion for the roofs from a magazine article on Jack Helmer’s ownhouse in Marin County, California.(9) Later Muller modified this design andcreated twin roofs with a separation of glass in the living area. Muller’sregional sensitivities required a new response and he followed the cuessupplied by the site.
To Peter Muller, site specific architecture solutions andrespect for the environment are the main design philosophies; simple themes andnatural materials, ambiguous relationships between the interior and exterior,axial designs that spread out into the landscape are parts of the distinctivestyle.(10) Peter Muller architecture is spontaneous which is an innovativeresponse to a site. For instance, Richardson house, Palm Beach, Sydney is oneof Muller’s creations whose concept centred around an extensive considerationof the site. The house is sited at the edge of a cliff face, 7 meters belowfrom the road and 15 meters above the water.
A circular geometry and a composition of three horizontal wings displaysthat Muller is influenced by Asian doctrines. The symbolism of geometry andorganic relationships of the buildings are very strong in their sites. The RichardsonHouse building was crafted by using technology and it was completedsuccessfully with its uniqueness.(11) In Australian domestic architecture, thathouse was the first significant exploration of circular geometry.”An example of Muller’s intuitive design response to siteand building design can be seen in the rationale for his choice of circulargeometry as the primary motif for the Richardson house.
“(12)In all Muller’s work it is very clear that he has alwaysbeen introducing a critical regionalism, which also represents a national styleof modern domestic architecture. Robin Boyd: ‘Most Australian children grow up on lots of steak, sugar,and depressing deformities of nature and architecture.'(13) Robin Boyd wrotethese words in 1960 in his ground-breaking book The Australian Ugliness. Robin Boyd’sapproach to Australian architecture was dynamic. He is recognised as a leadingproponent of modern architecture in Melbourne in the 1950s and ’60s, adaptingthe rational design of the International Style to the Australian environmentand climate.
(14) Robin Boyd’sarchitecture directions have a little notion of what the new architecture mightbe or how to break away from the old styles. He creates cost-effective,high-quality, functional buildings that can be accessible to all througheffective design, simple materials and prefabrication. These methods are thephilosophy that can be found in his practice.(15) Boyd’s iconic Walsh Street House, designed for his family,is highly site responsive and effectively blends the interior of the house withthe landscape. They are the entire one thing within this urban shell whichshows a strong international influence over the regional. One such inspirationis US based architect Frank Lloyd Wright whose buildings use heavy timber workand very deep eaves, but relies on the expression of the form, especiallythough the roof. Boyd was very much in touch with the work of the “SydneySchool” therefore many of his houses employed elements that Boyd had developedthroughout his career, such as courtyard based designs.
(16)The Walsh Street House is overwhelmingly open, with twoseparate pavilions built around a central courtyard. The main pavilion includesthe formal entertaining areas, kitchen, master bedroom and family livingspaces, while the smaller second pavilion was designed for the couple’s youngchildren to ensure privacy and peace for Boyd and his wife Patricia whenworking from home or entertaining guests. This design demonstrates Boyd’s useof open space, walls of glass and raw materials such as timber that shows strongmodernist design principles in his work.
To the forefront is the truthfulnessto materials and the sensitivity to the environment and lifestyle. The drapedoutdoor roof cables running between the two pavilions provide shade for theoutdoor living courtyard. Downstairs living areas have exposed beams andbrickwork, thus demonstrating Boyd’s commitment to truth of materials.(17) Similarly, Robin Boyd’s Baker House, located in long forestbetween Bacchus Marsh and Melton has been called one of the most important postwar Australian residential buildings by Melbourne University’s Professor ofArchitecture Mr Phillip Goad. With the unusual curved walls, rough-hewninterior, use of local stone , thatched ceilings, window walls, indoor-outdoorliving spaces and unique symmetry of design all those elements are made theBoyd Baker House a modern architectural gem.
The house aims to work in harmonywith nature, proposing plenty of natural light and views into the surroundingbush.(18) Extraordinarily forward-thinking for the 60s, there are rainwatertanks incorporated into the property’s 12 cylinder-shaped columns. Theinfluence of Louis Kahn is evident in the floor plan, where Boyd creates asense of formality in the layout through the use of a perfect square.Conclusion:It is clear that the high modernism had found widespreadhold in Australia after World War II. (19) “The narrative ofarchitectural history is not only embraced but represents the trace ofarchitectural representation of truth though history.”(20)Peter Muller and Boyd’s works exhibit the timelessunderstanding that the value of architecture lies in its ability to support thelife of the occupants and sympathise with the surrounding environment.
All oftheir work represents regionalism and a national style of modern domesticarchitecture.