House of Ideas for students curating Boyd

Student Sarah Mair reflects on the 'House of Ideas' exhibition at the Walsh Street Boyd House.

Pictured: 'House of Ideas' in discussion by (L-R) Professor Philip Goad, Peter McIntyre and Mary Featherson.

Monday 20 November, 2017

By Sarah Mair

Following on from the success of 2015’s exhibition on Merchant Builders and 2016’s Fooks exhibition, ‘The House Talks Back’, the Critical and Curatorial Practices in Design studio has this year explored works by Robin Boyd. Master of Architecture students have examined Robin’s career chronology with a particular focus on exhibition projects and how those influenced Boyd’s buildings.

The 'House of Ideas' exhibition was installed at Walsh Street for a limited time, with all viewing times sold out. 'House of Ideas' is a first step towards The Robin Boyd Foundation's 2019 Centenary celebrations.

Master of Architecture student Sarah Mair reflected on the experience of mounting the exhibition and having her work exhibited.

Research as I have experienced it in this subject is unlike anything I have previously undertaken. The subject provided the perfect opportunity to build a richer understanding of an architect, that despite his importance, remains relatively unknown.

In participating in this subject I emerge without a doubt that Robin Boyd has played a central role in shaping design thinking in Melbourne. This is of course, a distinctly different understanding than when I dove head first into the Boyd Collection held in the Special Collections reading room at the State Library at the beginning of the semester. Boyd was a familiar name, a crisp reproduction of his book The Australian Ugliness sits next to a second hand Living in Australia on my bookshelf. Nothing prepares you however for the understanding and familiarity that comes from research practice. The lessons here are so much more vivid as you read your way through correspondence, finding original images tucked inside yellowing envelopes, still clear drawings on trace in a familiar language of line weights with personalised calculations and scribbles around their periphery.

In my research I looked into Robin Boyd’s collaboration with Brian Stegley in the creation of a modern structural windowall. As this partnership remains in living history, avenues of enquiry led to the meeting of those who surrounded Boyd. Here too a vibrancy develops in the tales and memories people are willing to share.

The challenge of this subject is however the ability to distill this deep and personal understanding of an architect's oeuvre of work, and translate that, or rather curate it, in such a way so as to allow others access to a similar understanding. This process is unique to each project and exhibition. Unlike previous exhibitions, the content of House of ideas is overwhelmingly translation and re presentation of lesser known aspects of Boyd’s life. This required an understanding of that which is well known, an ability to expand on research that can be difficult to source and the design of a considerate logic for its translation. You see, it is one thing to know Robin Boyd and his works, it is entirely different to be able to reflect on his impact and his place within a larger context so as to be able to produce content consumable by a myriad of audiences.

It would be difficult to participate in this subject and not have it affect your own practice. Research and translation form only part of its impact. Mounting an exhibition in the home of Robin Boyd provided an opportunity to absorb his architectural sensibilities in a unique way. The built environments we occupy have agency in informing our design thinking and sensibilities. Robin Boyd understood this in his critical writing and practical focus on residential Australian design.

In mounting an exhibition in the Walsh Street Boyd House, visitors are provided with a tangible, physical translation of Boyd’s design sensibilities that are presented at varying scales and mediums by students throughout the house and garden. Its rational grounds Boyd spectrum of work, from unrealised works and international practices of curation and display to his commitment to quality residential design for all via built and written works.