An icon of Australian architectural history for sale :: The Boyd Baker House
Mention the name Robin Boyd to any Australian architectural student,
and they'll probably clutch their copy of "The Australian Ugliness"
close to their hearts, and talk about the importance of good design
triumphing over bland and ugly suburban housing.
Because in his 1960 book,
the modernist architect Robin Boyd dared to question
the mindless copying of historical styles without context,
as rows of faux Georgian houses appeared in street after street
in the building frenzy of the Post WWII period.
He dubbed this "featurism" : the application of decorative elements
which serve no particular purpose,
and which are applied without regard to the surrounding landscape,
and most often, without knowledge of proportion, or scale or symmetry.
We were instructed to read this book as first year uni students,
and it, plus the influential Pattern Language book,
was to largely influence our thinking as future designers.
Boyd believed that education was the only solution to the problem
of the Australian Ugliness,
and called upon a new generation of architects to respond to the challenge
of new housing with imaginative solutions which reflected
the surrounding landscape and site conditions.
Which is all very well, but of course it also depends upon clients
being of a like mind.
And one such mind was that of mathematician Dr Michael Baker,
who commissioned Boyd to design a family home on the outskirts of Melbourne,
at Bacchus Marsh, in 1964.
Completed in 1966, the house was a Modernist interpretation of the perfect square.
12 stone cylindrical columns mark out the edges of the square,
and together with 4 convex stone walls
form the support for the shallow-pitched pyramidal roof,
while the centre of the square is a large court.
Lining the court are the service rooms,
with windows opening onto the court.
It's a clever design, and a very mathematically pleasing one.
In fact, so successful was the house that Dr Baker lived in it until 7 years ago,
when he reluctantly sold it.
It was bought then by a Boyd enthusiastic, Peter Mitrakas,
who purchased it as a family holiday home,
and has subsequently turned it into a commercial venture,
making it available for photo shoots, weddings and rental accommodation.
But it's now back on the market,
and will be auctioned at the end of this month.
One hopes that another Boyd enthusiast will purchase it,
and treasure it for the unique design that it is.
But let's have a look at some of the other elements which made it so ground-breaking
in the 1960s….
Blending into the landscape.
The house was intended to sit quietly in the natural bushland setting,
which doesn't raise an eyebrow today,
but would have been a rather contentious thought at a time when
big was better, and brash was better still.
Structure is celebrated, not concealed.
Those convex stone walls that I mentioned before
can be seen here in the living spaces,
where they form curvaceous textured walls
and a handy spot for a fireplace.
If it's not solid, it's almost 100% clear.
Any walls which weren't required to be structural stone,
were constructed from edge to edge, floor to ceiling, glazing
with minimally sized timber frames.
Continuing materials from exterior to interior.
In our age of outdoor kitchens, decks, openable window walls
and obsession with natural daylight into living spaces,
the idea of using the same material both inside and outside doesn't seem odd,
but in the 1960s, it was an almost revolutionary thought.
You can see here how the simple window detailing allows the eye to focus
on the stone, which seamlessly follows inside from the exterior.
Polished concrete floors.
Eschewing the prevailing fashion for carpeted or timber flooring,
Boyd used polished concrete as the flooring throughout the home,
which was a practical finish in a family home,
but not one generally considered as suitable in residential design
at the time.
Interestingly, the architecture is not perfect,
because the original design allowed for only one fireplace to heat
the whole house.
Additional heaters were later installed,
but the design has otherwise been pretty much kept as it was.
It will be fascinating to see who buys it,
and how they will intend to use it,
and while I am personally hoping that it gets retained as the icon which it is,
its value has already been profound in influencing subsequent generations
of architects to encourage their clients to at least consider
working with, instead of against, contextual design.
more historical background about the boyd baker house here