Organiser Tony Lee in the former South Yarra home of Robin Boyd. Photo: Justin McManus
FOR architects, Robin Boyd's former South Yarra home is borderline sacred.
Tony Lee crosses himself as he remembers the first time he pushed through the Walsh Street property's quirky red gate, scaled the gentle steps and entered the place one of Australia's most celebrated architects designed for himself, his wife and three children in 1958.
''This is like a physical autobiography,'' says Mr Lee, the executive director of the Robin Boyd Foundation, a non-profit organisation that bought the property from Boyd's widow, Patricia Davies, in 2006.
Architect Robin Boyd. Photo: Athol Shmith
''Robin felt strongly that the design of a building should reflect and manifest the characteristics, aspirations and emotional expectations of its owner.'' The acoustics carry because the family lived in harmony. The dining room joins the kitchen ("remember this was the 1950s", Mr Lee says) so Patricia could add her two cents whenever the Holts, Whitlams or Nossals came to dinner. And the dining room gives on to the courtyard separating the children's independent wing.
In The Australian Ugliness, published in 1960, Boyd lamented our obsession with rectangular suburban houses, hemmed by drives and gardens.
''His own house is a response to that criticism,'' Mr Lee says. ''He turns it inside out, pushes the house out to the boundaries and consolidates all of that unused land in the centre. Instead of a series of individual rooms, he opens it up.''
Stairway at the South Yarra home. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
In February, 18 local students will spend a week there, tasked with solving modern design conundrums in Melbourne's Southbank precinct as part of a summer school project. Tuition will take place in the open downstairs area, while students will stay at McCaughey Court in Ormond College, also designed by Boyd.
Students' final plans will help inform the work of lecturers Professor Rob Adams, director of city design at the City of Melbourne, and John Denton of Denton Corker Marshall.
''[Melbourne's] track record in some of our large urban precincts probably isn't as good as it should be,'' Professor Adams says. ''We try and make every building a star rather than allowing it to be part of the orchestra."
Red gate at the former South Yarra home of Robin Boyd. Photo: Penny Stephens
Boyd similarly preferred buildings that were ''respectful'' and ''polite'', Mr Lee says, as opposed to those that screamed ''look at me, don't look at my neighbours''.
From the kerb, Walsh Street's sole distinguishing feature is a red gate. But inside there are four bedrooms and no corridors. The living room doubles as a bedroom and each bedroom enjoys eastern sun. At dusk, shards of sunset pour in from high above.