Robin Boyd (architect)


Robin Gerard Penleigh Boyd (3 January 1919 – 16 October 1971) was an
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...

architect An architect is a person who plans, designs and oversees the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means to provide services in connection with the design of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings that h ...

, writer, teacher and social commentator. He, along with
Harry Seidler Harry Seidler, Companion of the Order of Australia, AC Officer of the Order of the British Empire, OBE (25 June 19239 March 2006) was an Austrian-born Australian architect who is considered to be one of the leading exponents of Modernism's metho ...
, stands as one of the foremost proponents for the
International Modern Movement
International Modern Movement
in Australian architecture. Boyd is the author of the influential book ''
The Australian Ugliness ''The Australian Ugliness'' is a 1960 in literature, 1960 book by Australian architect Robin Boyd (architect), Robin Boyd. Boyd investigates visual pollution in Australian aesthetic, in relation to Australian architecture, architecture and the subu ...
'' (1960), a critique on Australian architecture, particularly the state of Australian
suburbia A suburb (or suburban area or suburbia) is a commercial Commercial may refer to: * a dose of advertising conveyed through media (such as - for example - radio or television) ** Radio advertisement ** Television advertisement * (adjective ...

and its lack of a uniform architectural goal. Like his American contemporary
John Lautner John Edward Lautner (16 July 1911 – 24 October 1994) was an American architect. Following an apprenticeship in the mid-1930s with Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner opened his own practice in 1938, where he worked for the remainder of his career. Laut ...
, Boyd had relatively few opportunities to design major buildings and his best known and most influential works as an architect are his numerous and innovative small house designs.''Canberra House'' website - Robin Boyd biography

Background and early life

Robin Boyd was a scion of the Boyd artistic dynasty in Australia, and his extended family were involved painters, sculptors, architects, writers and others in the arts. Robin was the younger son of the painter
Penleigh Boyd Theodore Penleigh Boyd (15 August 1890 – 27 November 1923) was a British born Australian artist. Penleigh Boyd was a member of the Boyd Family, Boyd artistic dynasty: his parents Arthur Merric Boyd (1862–1940) and Emma Minnie Boyd (née à ...
, and his own son, named after his grandfather Penleigh, is an architect. He was a nephew of author
Martin Boyd Martin à Beckett Boyd (10 June 1893 – 3 June 1972) was an Australian writer born into the à Beckett–Boyd family, a family synonymous with the establishment, the judiciary, publishing and literature, and the visual arts since the early 19th ...
and a first cousin of Australian painter
Arthur Boyd Arthur Merric Bloomfield Boyd (24 July 1920 – 24 April 1999) was a leading Australian painter of the middle to late 20th century. Boyd's work ranges from impressionist renderings of Australian landscape to starkly expressionist figuration, a ...
and his brothers
David David (; ) (traditional spelling), , ''Dāwūd''; grc-koi, Δαυΐδ, Dauíd; la, Davidus, David; gez , ዳዊት, ''Dawit''; xcl, Դաւիթ, ''Dawitʿ''; cu, Давíдъ, ''Davidŭ''; possibly meaning "beloved one". is described in th ...
and Guy. In 1938 his grandfather
Arthur Merric Boyd Arthur Merric Boyd (19 March 1862 – 30 July 1940) was an Australian painter. He and his wife Emma Minnie Boyd, Emma Minnie (Given name#Name at birth, née à Beckett) established a lifestyle of being artists which many generations followed to ...
offered him his first commission, a studio for Arthur Boyd on the Boyd property, ''Open Country'', at . A further cousin was (author of '' Picnic at Hanging Rock''). She had married
Daryl Lindsay Sir Ernest Daryl Lindsay (31 December 1889, in Creswick, Victoria (Australia), Victoria – 25 December 1976, in Mornington, Victoria, Mornington) was an Australian artist and member of the creative Lindsay family. Early life He was the youngest ...
, director of the
National Gallery of Victoria The National Gallery of Victoria, popularly known as the NGV, is an art museum An art museum is a building or space for the display of art, usually from the museum's own Collection (artwork), collection. It might be in public or private o ...
, 1942 to 1956, and brother to artist
Lionel Lindsay Sir Lionel Arthur Lindsay (17 October 187422 May 1961) was an Australian artist, known for his paintings and etchings. Early life Lindsay was born in the Victoria (Australia), Victorian town of Creswick, Victoria, Creswick, into a creative f ...
and renowned artist and author
Norman Lindsay Norman Alfred William Lindsay (22 February 1879 – 21 November 1969) was an Australian artist, etcher, sculptor, writer, art critic, novelist, cartoonist and amateur boxing, boxer. One of the most prolific and popular Australian artists of his ...
. Robin's
Queensland Queensland ( ) is a state situated in northeastern Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the ...

-born mother, Edith Susan Gerard Anderson, was herself a skilled painter who also came from a prominent family. Her father, John Gerard Anderson, had been Director of the Queensland Department of Public Instruction, her brother Arthur was a well-known physician, and her eldest sister Maud was of one of the first women to graduate with an Arts degree from the
University of Sydney The University of Sydney (USYD, or informally Sydney Uni) is a public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization An organization, ...

University of Sydney
and is thought to have been Queensland's first female university graduate. Robin Boyd and his older brother Pat spent their early childhood at 'The Robins', the family home and studio that his father had built on land he purchased at
Warrandyte Warrandyte is a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria (Australia), Victoria, Australia, 24 km north-east of Melbourne's Melbourne City Centre, Central Business District. Its Local government areas of Victoria, local government area is the City of ...
, near Melbourne but in 1922 Penleigh sold 'The Robins' and moved his family to Sydney. Soon after arriving, he was enlisted by
Sydney Ure Smith Sydney George Ure Smith Officer of the Order of the British Empire, OBE (9 January 188711 October 1949) was an Australian arts publisher, artist and promoter who "did more than any other Australian to publicize Australian art at home and oversea ...

Sydney Ure Smith
as one of the organisers of a major exhibition of contemporary European art. Penleigh took his family with him to
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. E ...

late in the year to pick paintings; he returned to Sydney without them in June 1923 to set up the exhibition, which was staged in Sydney and Melbourne during July–August. During his wife's absence Penleigh had a brief affair with another woman but shortly before his family returned from England he bought back 'The Robins' and purchased a new car. Edith, Pat and Robin returned to Australia on 23 November 1923, but Penleigh and Edith had a heated argument soon after the homecoming. A few days later, for reasons unknown, Penleigh left Melbourne to drive to Sydney in the company of another person, but he lost control of the vehicle on a sharp bend near
Warragul Warragul is a town in Victoria, Australia Victoria (abbreviated as Vic) is a States and territories of Australia, state in southeastern Australia. It is the second-smallest state with a land area of and the most densely populated state in ...

and it overturned. The passenger survived but Penleigh suffered terrible injuries and died at the scene within minutes. The proceeds of Penleigh's estate—including the sale of 'The Robins', the repaired car and about 40 paintings, plus an annual allowance from Penleigh's father, and a small inheritance from her own father—enabled Edith Boyd to support her sons without needing to work, even during the depths of the
Depression Depression may refer to: Mental health * Depression (mood), a state of low mood and aversion to activity * Mood disorders characterized by depression are commonly referred to as simply ''depression'', including: ** Dysthymia ** Major depressive ...
. After Penleigh's death Edith and the boys lived for a time in rented premises in upperclass Toorak and Robin's first two years of schooling were at Glamorgan Preparatory School. Edith bought a modest house in East Malvern in 1927, when Robin was enrolled at the nearby Lloyd Street State School. As a schoolboy he read widely and became an avid fan of films and jazz music. In 1930 he moved on to the Malvern Church of England Grammar School, where he completed his schooling. He sat for his List of secondary school leaving certificates, Leaving Certificate in 1934 and although he failed one subject (Commercial Principles) at the first attempt, he passed that the following year. He had evidently decided quite early on architecture as his chosen career so his mother arranged for him to be articled to leading Melbourne architect Kingsley Henderson. He served in Papua-New Guinea during World War II and resumed his architectural career in 1945.

Architectural career

Boyd first came to notice in the late 1940s for his promotion of inexpensive, functional, partially prefabricated homes incorporating modernist aesthetics. Most of his architectural output was residential, although he also designed some larger buildings including the Domain Park Flats, Domain Park residential tower block and the John Batman Motor Inn in Melbourne and the Australian headquarters of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust in Canberra, on which he was working at the time of his death. Boyd was the first Director of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects Small Homes Service from 1947 to 1953 and for many years from 1948 he was the editor of this service for ''The Age'' newspaper, for which he also wrote weekly articles. The Small Homes Service provided designs of inexpensive houses, which attempted to incorporate modern architectural aesthetics and functional planning and were sold to the public for a small fee, and through this work Boyd became a household name in Victoria. In 1948 Boyd was the recipient of the RVIA Robert and Ada Haddon Travelling Scholarship. The scholarship gave Boyd his first opportunity to travel through Europe which would have a profound influence on his later work. In 1953 he formed a partnership with Frederick Romberg (1910–1992) and Roy Grounds (1905–1981); their influential Melbourne firm became a significant force in Australian architecture and through the 1950s and 1960s Boyd developed a number of important houses in the regional style, including a 1952 Canberra house for Australian historian Manning Clark. Boyd was a prolific architect, with over 200 designs to his credit in his relatively short career. He was the sole designer of most of these projects although a number of early commissions were jointly designed with his unofficial partners Kevin Pethebridge and Frank Bell (1945–47) and others were jointly designed with his partners Grounds and Romberg (1953–62). After the acrimonious departure of Grounds from the practice in 1962, Romberg continued in partnership with Boyd until the latter's death. Boyd was equally prolific and influential as a writer, commentator, educator and public speaker, vehemently supporting modernism in his ''
The Australian Ugliness ''The Australian Ugliness'' is a 1960 in literature, 1960 book by Australian architect Robin Boyd (architect), Robin Boyd. Boyd investigates visual pollution in Australian aesthetic, in relation to Australian architecture, architecture and the subu ...
'' (1960) with a condemnation of visual pollution and vulgar 'featurism'. His work was documented and promoted by photographers Mark Strizic and Wolfgang Sievers, then the most prominent in their field. For many years from 1947 he was director of ''The Age'' Small Homes Service and influenced many people with his popular weekly articles on the subject. He was also lecturer in architecture at the University of Melbourne, and in 1956-57 he took up a teaching position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston offered by Walter Gropius, a friend of Boyd's and a Director at MIT. 1958 found Boyd liking satirist Barry Humphries' first commercial recording, a 7 inch extended play, EP ''Wild Life in Suburbia'' (1958). He wrote the liner notes for it. Boyd wrote nine books. His groundbreaking ''Australia's Home'' (1952) was the first substantial historical survey of Australian domestic architecture, and his best-known and most influential work, ''
The Australian Ugliness ''The Australian Ugliness'' is a 1960 in literature, 1960 book by Australian architect Robin Boyd (architect), Robin Boyd. Boyd investigates visual pollution in Australian aesthetic, in relation to Australian architecture, architecture and the subu ...
'' (1960) was a popular and outspoken criticism of prevailing establishment tastes in architecture and in popular culture. Boyd was a dogged critic of the decorative tendency that he dubbed "Featurism", which he described as: In 1967 Boyd presented the Boyer Lectures, which were broadcast nationally on Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC Radio National, Radio. He delivered five lectures on a variety of topics and issues relating to Australia, architecture and design and prevailing cultural values of the time, under the series title ''Artificial Australia''. He was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects, Royal Australian Institute of Architects Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal, Gold Medal in 1969.

Death and legacy

Boyd travelled overseas in April–May 1971, when he contracted an infection and on his return to Australia his doctor detected a heart murmur. In early July his condition worsened and he was admitted to Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, St Andrew's Hospital (now the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre) in Melbourne; he was diagnosed with interstitial pneumonia, told that the infection had settled in one of his heart valves and administered massive six-hourly doses of ampicillin. He recovered somewhat and struggled on through August–September, maintaining his usual heavy work schedule, but in early October his condition deteriorated again and he was admitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Doctors puzzled over a diagnosis but eventually decided to extract all his teeth under full anaesthetic, believing the infection had settled there. He suffered a stroke while recovering from the operation, and although he briefly rallied enough to recognise his wife Patricia, he died three days later on 16 October 1971, aged 52. In 2005 the not-for-profit Robin Boyd Foundation was established by a group including Boyd's family, the Australian Institute of Architects (Victoria Chapter), the faculties of architecture at the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and RMIT University, and others with expertise, interest and commitment to the advancement of design. Their website lists the Foundation's aims, which are to deepen understanding of the benefits of design through design awareness, design literacy and design advocacy. The Hon. Gough Whitlam was the founding patron of the foundation. From 17 August to 2 October 2011, the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery displayed all of the houses that Boyd had created for the Mornington Peninsula region. 2019 marked the centenary of Boyd, and "the thirty-year anniversary of a two-day event comprising a public symposium, exhibition, publications and building tour dedicated to Robin Boyd." A special issue of the RMIT Design Archives Journal was produced to mark these two anniversaries entitled: Robin Boyd Redux.

Major completed projects

See also

*Robin Boyd Award *Boyd family


Further reading

* ** Discussion
Robin Boyd: Spatial Continuity
by Mauro Baracco and Louise Wright, published by Routledge. . . Review, Janina Gosseye, Architecture Australia, ARCHICTUREAU, 2 Nov 2017. * **

External links

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Robin Boyd Foundation

* [ - The Architecture of Robin Boyd - (Flickr photo group)]
Boyd Homes Group blog site

''Frederick Romberg and Robin Boyd Collection'' RMIT Design Archives - via Research Data Australia.
{{DEFAULTSORT:Boyd, Robin 1919 births 1971 deaths Modernist architects Modernist architecture in Australia Australian people of Scottish descent Recipients of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal 20th-century Australian architects Boyd family, Robin