Victorian Modern

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Robin Boyd published his first book ‘Victorian Modern: 111 years of modern architecture in Victoria’ in 1947. Just before he died, in 1971, Robin Boyd was preparing to republish his first book, Victorian Modern. On the fortieth anniversary of his death, the Robin Boyd Foundation completed the project.

‘Victorian Modern was not just a landmark piece of Victoria’s architectural history, it was also a visual tour-de-force, revealing Boyd’s skills as a graphic artist and his love affair with typography.’
Professor Philip Goad. Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne.

In a manner that characterises the style of Robin’s future writings and lectures, ‘Victorian Modern’ first reviews the history and development of architectural design in Victoria before proposing an approach for the future – in this case ‘The Victorian Type’ a well designed and affordable modern home. ‘Victorian Modern’ was the first book to identify and document the importance of architects such as Harold Desbrowe-Annear, Robert Haddon and Walter Burley Griffin. In their innovative designs that responded to materiality, landscape, place and the Australian lifestyle Robin identified the qualities that he felt should be the basis for development of the next generation of houses to be designed for the 1950s. Design qualities that still resonate and influence us today as the basis for good design.

“Victorian Modern’ is a very beautiful book. It was designed by Robin using a number of different typefaces, presented on a variety of paper stocks, and illustrated with contemporary photographs together with Robin’s own delightful sketches. It is indeed rare to find a copy today, as it is so cherished by those fortunate to have retained their original or those lucky enough to source a copy second-hand. For those who know of it without a copy it is highly sought after and deserving to be introduced to current generations who may not yet be aware of it.

‘Victorian Modern is a timely reminder of Boyd’s enormous contribution, his passion and his love of architecture. It is a clarion call to return architecture and good design to a rightful pre-eminent role.’
The Hon. Ted Baillieu MLA, Premier of Victoria

Also available from selected bookstores: Architext, Gleebooks, Readers Feast Bookstore and Readings.


For more information contact the Robin Boyd Foundation:

Publication Supporters

Principal: ISIS Group Australia

Major: The Heritage Council of Victoria, Lovell Chen, City of Melbourne, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch

Associate: Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter), Beleura: Tallis Foundation, Neil Clerehan, Denton Corker Marshall, Mary Featherston, Hassell, Hayball, Jackson Architecture, Tony Lee, Melbourne School of Design: University of Melbourne, Office of the Victorian Government Architect

Retail: Architext, Gleebooks, Readers Feast Bookshop, Readings

Design and production: Emerystudio, Vega Press

Publishing liaison: Text Publishing Company


Review by Professor Philip Goad

‘Boyd’s Victorian Modern was the first attempt by an Australian architect to document a historical pedigree for modernism in Australian architecture. No such book existed and Boyd was keen to document pre-WWII achievements across a broad spectrum of building types. Critical was his discovery of ‘Prophets’ like Harold Desbrowe-Annear, Walter Butler and Edward Fielder Billson. His condensed and carefully edited architectural history from 1834 was outlined as a series of peaks and troughs of architectural progress, with the nineteenth century delineated as ‘Primitives’ and ‘Pioneers’ followed by ‘The Opulents’ and ‘The Decadents’ and then rising again with the ‘Prophets’ of Victorian Modern: Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony, Robert Haddon, Harold Desbrowe-Annear, Edward Billson and Leighton Irwin. Boyd then highlighted the importance of individuals like Best Overend and Roy Grounds (with a specialfocus on his apartment buildings of the early 1940s), institutions like the Gordon Institute of Technology in Geelong under the leadership of George R.King, and the work of government agencies, in particular the socialized imagination of the State Electricity Commission under the direction of A.R. La Gerche and then William Gower from 1937, which sponsored the construction of towns associated with the production of electricity and supply of water at Yallourn, Eildon and the Kiewa Valley. He also showed modernism’s breadth across a range of building types including retail, factories, milk bars, office buildings, flats and kindergartens’.


‘Victorian Modern was not just a landmark piece of selective architectural history, it was also a visual tour-de-force, revealing Boyd’s skills as a graphic artist and his love affair with typography. Boyd put his interests to full effect from the title page, contents page and throughout the slim volume to reinforce his thesis of peaks and troughs of architectural progress. His cover combines florid type for ‘Victorian’ and Corbusian stencil for ‘Modern’. Boyd then placed a sketch of early Melbourne showing the building of Scots Church in 1841 overlaid onto a Wolfgang Sievers photograph of the rooftop restaurant of Stephenson & Turner’s recently completed ES&A Bank in Collins Street (1939-41).This was a calculated palimpsest of past and present and a stronger statement than a comparable book cover and book of just two years before by Sydney architect and planner Walter Bunning (1912-1977). Unlike Bunning’s Homes in the Sun (1945), Boyd’s Victorian Modern is decidedly faster and looser, more architectural and focused on a specific place – Victoria – and the book’s second half presents a strong thesis for a regionalist approach to the design of the postwar modern house – in Boyd’s words the ‘Victorian Type’.

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