Design Canberra Festival Robin Boyd and Harry Divola – Design Canberra Festival

Verge House (Boyd)
Verge House (Boyd)

Robin Boyd and Harry Divola

In week two of our mid-century house tours we visit two houses designed by Robin Boyd, and a third by the relatively unknown Sydney architect Harry Divola.

Robin Boyd (1919-1971) was born and educated in Melbourne, from the famous family of Australian artists and writers. Boyd was a distinguished architect, writer, teacher and social commentator—one of the few Australian architects to enjoy a public profile during the mid-century period.

The focus of Boyd’s work as an architect and writer was the suburban house—he designed around 100 of them. Luckily for Canberra, Boyd was active here, designing five houses and two buildings, first as commissions stemming from contacts in Melbourne, and later as part of the Grounds, Romberg and Boyd partnership. Boyd was a leading practitioner of the post-war Melbourne regional style—his Canberra houses are good examples, and they all survive in substantially original condition. He also contributed to other projects during his tenure on the National Capital Planning Committee.

Boyd was the first Director of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects Small Homes Service from 1947-1953. The idea of the service was to provide inexpensive house designs for a small fee, which incorporated modern architectural aesthetics and functional planning. Boyd became a household name throughout Victoria as a result of this exposure.

Which leads us to Harry Divola.

The success of the Victorian Small Homes Service and similar services in New South Wales and South Australia led to the phenomenon of plans services being offered by publishers and department stores. The Sun-Herald, Sunday Telegraph, and Grace Bros Home Plans Service offered architect designed home plans for a small fee. Of all papers, the Sunday Truth featured a weekly home design during the 1950s, offering designs by Harry Divola. By 1954 Anthony Hordern’s Sydney department store offered Divola’s Truth designs at its Home Plans Bureau, and two collections of Divola’s designs were published.

In the early 1950s, Divola came from Sydney and opened an office in Manuka, and he designed a number of houses in Forrest and Deakin, including the one we’ll be looking at on our tour. Later, Divola was involved in the important ‘Mighty Parade of Homes’ at the Cherrybrook Gardens Estate in West Pennant Hills, which opened on 21 January 1960. This was a very early exhibition village—not the first of its type, but probably the largest—with around 35 furnished and landscaped houses open to the public.

An important aspect of each tour, and this week’s in particular, is the contrast between original and modified mid-century houses, and issues that owners of a mid-century house may have to deal with. Mid-century houses can meet the needs of owners decades after being designed, and remain unaltered. In other cases, they may not—and this week provides a fascinating look at how an award-winning alteration can respect and enhance the original.

If you’d like to experience these remarkable mid-century houses firsthand, book a ticket on our mid-century houses bus tour.