Photo: © Mark Strizic. Source: State Library Victoria

Site Overview

site name:
Boyd House II
other names:
Walsh Street
architect(s):
Robin Boyd
date of completion:

1957
address:
290 Walsh St, South Yarra, Victoria
classification / typology:
Residential / Houses (RES)
protection status:
VicHeritage, National Trust, AIA
editor fiche:
Andrew Murray, 2014

Description

This house, the second designed by one of Melbourne’s best-loved architects and architectural polemicists for his own family, was planned as a narrow rectangle with a catenary roof of planking on wire cables. The draped roof is the guiding idea of the house, with much of its accommodation placed as floating timber platforms under the shelter of this single sweeping gesture. The catenary spans the length of the house, describing a volume which contains a central court, a living and parent’s zone at one end and children’s accommodation at the other. The horizontal break-up of the window mullions, the refined built-in furniture and the obscured glass side walls of the court are evidence of an interest in Japanese design.

general description

The building is described by Philip Goad in his Guide to Melbourne Architecture, “Robin Boyd’s second house for his own family was planned as a long rectangle roofed by a sweeping catenary of planks suspended on wire cables. The draped roof is the guiding idea of the house, an open plan with rooms as free floating timber platforms all roofed by one single gesture.” (Goad: 1999: 179)

construction

Catenary curves of timber planks supported on wire cables resulted between the supports. Side walls are constructed of cavity brick, originally painted in earthy tones both inside and outside, and internal walls are of jarrah lined timber. Joinery is of limed mountain ash, the lower front section has a brick floor and the roof is of built-up felt over timber decking. (VHR for the Boyd house)

context

A narrow, sloping block of land in Walsh Street, South Yarra. The block was part of a small side garden annexed from a larger property, with the existing house retained to the north of the newly acquired Boyd site. Although a private garden was located on the south side, Boyd was aware of the possibility of future development. Located on the east side of Walsh Street, the sloping block had a view of the Dandenongs to the rear. (VHR for the Boyd House)

Evaluation

technical

Boyd employed an innovative tension roof structure of cables draped from the front of the house to the back, tied at the ends to steel frames and propped at intervals by timber posts. Catenary curves of timber planks supported on wire cables resulted between the supports. (VHR entry for Boyd House)

cultural & aesthetic

The Robin Boyd II House, South Yarra is of architectural significance as one of the most innovative houses built in Victoria in the post-war decades and as one of the most important houses designed by prominent Melbourne architect and architectural critic, Robin Boyd. Designed for himself and his family, it exemplifies many of the theories espoused in his extensive writings and is an outstanding and unique example of his structural-functional architectural type. It clearly displays his theory of a single controlling structural idea, in this case a highly innovative draped roof supported on cables, which encompasses a central courtyard and two distinct zoned areas, one containing a floating platform. The cleverly conceived courtyard house exhibits structural clarity, radical zoning, flowing spatial arrangements and incorporates the inventive use of materials, detail and built-in furniture. (VHR entry for Boyd House)

historical

The Robin Boyd II House is of historical significance for its direct association with acclaimed architect and architectural critic, Robin Boyd, a member of a well-known Melbourne family of artists and writers. He lived there from 1959 until his death in 1971 and the house then remained in the Boyd family until 2004. (VHR entry for Boyd House)

general assessment

The Robin Boyd House II is one of the most significant post-war houses in Australia. It is significant not only for the house but for the furniture, objects and other archival material relating to Boyd it contains.

Documentation

principal references

Victorian Heritage Register (VHR) entry for Boyd House II http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/
Goad, Philip, Melbourne Architecture, Watermark Press, Sydney, 1999

Other Resources:

Walsh Street Video and Virtual Tour at The Robin Boyd Foundation