Friday, 2 May 2008

Reflections on the Sydney and Canberra Weekend

The Boyd Homes Group was launched in April 2007 by a handful of Boyd enthusiasts attempting to ignite and spread a passion for, and curiosity about, Robin Boyd’s residential works. The idea was to use the group format to educate owners around the importance of their buildings and encourage conservation.

The Sydney and Canberra Open Houses weekend, held on the 26th and 27th of April 2008, has demonstrated the fact that, more often, it is the owners who are educating the group. This has been an unexpected but rewarding feature of group activities.

A case in point: as the discussions about the Lyons House unfolded it became obvious that we were witnessing and participating in a very special event. Dr Lyons recalled, in some detail, his meetings with both Harry Seidler and Robin Boyd. He explained how, from a client’s perspective, he came to choose the consultative approach of Boyd over the top-down, ‘hero architect’ model of Seidler. He read from notes written in Boyd’s own hand.

Dr Lyons invited his friend, and builder of the Lyons house, Bob Ellis to speak. Mr Ellis recounted many details, including how the voids (air pockets) in the freshly poured cement for the swimming pool (and what a swimming pool!) were removed by a combination of the insertion of an especially narrow vibrator between the internal steel reinforcement bars and a rotary sander working the external surface of the formwork. This was a tricky job as the specified internal dimensions of the formwork were quite restricted and, coupled with the amount of reinforcement required, left him with very little room to play with. The result, however, is an an elegant and quite 'light', floating, concrete form. He explained the engineering and structural principles behind the pool that allowed the rest of the house to ‘hang’ of it.

To the uninitiated, these details may appear unimportant. But to those standing there scratching their heads, attempting to figure out why a concrete pool was suspended above the ground line and how the rest of the house hung off it, and what techniques were used forty odd years ago to achieve it, it was fascinating. The pool of the Lyon's House is Boyd's 'big idea' - the rest of the house (literally) hangs off this concept. Have these details been published before? Not that I am aware. Are these stories worthy of documentation? Absolutely.

Similar stories unfolded at the Manning Clark, Fenner and Verge Houses in Canberra. In the next few weeks we will attempt to collate and publish some reflections on the weekend as well as some images. If you attended the tour, and would like to contribute photos or observations, please feel free to leave a comment or email me

Image: Pre-blog postings - Bob Ellis' signs his handywork under the doormat, the Lyons House, 1967

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