Open House – Fooks, The House Talks Back

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PAST EVENT: The House Talks Back: Dec 2016 & March 2017

An introduction to the former residence of emigre architect Dr Ernest Fooks (1906 – 1985), with the opportunity to explore an exhibition of archive material, brought together for the first time within the house at 32 Howitt Road – ‘The House talks Back‘.

This exhibition and supporting research project seeks to create a fully documented archival database and repository of Dr Ernest Fooks. The Fooks collection itself presents a poignant window into the life of an exemplary architect, designer, theorist and artist. This can be seen through the countless travel slides, hand written lecture notes, letters to key figures, and numerous other documents yet to be examined. This collection has not been strategically archived, and thus, through this exhibition there is an opportunity to get a glimpse into this significant collection from the archives of the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne University, RMIT Design Archives, The Jewish Museum and The Holocaust Museum. These disparate collections will be brought together for the first time at the Fooks house, 32 Howitt Road, Caulfield North, Melbourne.

Film created by traces films

Background information

In 2013, Professor Alan Pert and his family moved into the former residence of émigré architect Dr Ernst Fooks (1906-1985). A house Fooks conceived as being “the focal point of a way of life rather than being simply a retreat from the pressure of daily living”, and Pert has described as “a form of domestic theatre”. Czech-born and Austrian-trained, Fooks was one of a number of European architects who lived and practiced in Victoria in the post-war period. Pert’s intimate acquaintance with this house, and with its library, has inspired extensive research activity that has so far culminated in the MSD exhibition and catalogue “X-Ray the City” at the 2016 Venice Biennale (titled after Fooks’ 1946 publication), and the exhibition presented here for this limited time, which is the result of the work of 26 masters students in collaboration with Pert alongside Professor Philip Goad. While this research is ongoing, and ties into a wider body of work of émigré architects in Australia between 1930 and 1970, the work completed here represents the first attempt to comprehensively understand and document the life and work of Fooks.

“The Fooks collection”, which includes countless travel slides, hand written lecture notes, letters to key figures, and numerous other documents yet to be examined, presents a poignant window into the life of an exemplary architect, designer, theorist and artist. The ultimate goal of this research is the formal creation of “The Ernest Fooks Collection”, a research, exhibition and publication project. With the exile of so many Europeans from countries like Austria during the Second World War, the influx of new professionals brought with them new teachings, new ideas, new theories and new skills that would highly influence planning, design, architecture and culture in the development of modernist Australia. These contributions present undiscovered narratives into the social and cultural capital of Europe and Australia, and offer insights into design trends during the interwar years, the war years and importantly, the post-WWII era. In turn, the Fooks collection manifests as a potential exemplar into the investigation of émigré professionals, as it does provide links to key areas of professional activity such as domestic houses, public housing and flat developments, and, to key institutions such as the Housing Commission, Victoria.

So why look at Ernest Fooks now?

Fooks was far more than an architect. He was a prolific traveller, artist, lecturer, interior designer, furniture designer, writer and theorist. Our ultimate goal is the formal creation of ‘The Ernest Fooks Collection’, a research repository, which brings together disparate archives and information located at the University of Melbourne, RMIT Design Archives, The Holocaust Museum, The Jewish Museum and the State Library of Victoria. Through boxes of letters to notables such as Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley, US urban theorist Lewis Mumford and former Bauhaus Director Walter Gropius as well as to the exemplary photography of his frequent overseas endeavours; a vast array of tangible histories preside around Fooks, yet to be uncovered and documented. There is more to understand and learn about Fooks, and in order to do so, ‘The House Talks Back’ begins to investigate, speculate and test the theoretical position of the somewhat forgotten archives of Ernest Fooks.



MSD Masters – Exhibition Contributors

Dewi Anwar 
Mark Bligh 
Michelle Chang 
Emmanuel Cohen 
Toby Dean 
James Freijah 
Aykiz Gokmen 
Matthew Greenwood 
Matthew Harkin 
Darcy Higgins 
Kyle Hui 
Lewis Kingston 
Shirley Kwan 
Ruofan Lei 
Han Li 
Jane Mikhailova 
Danielle Mileo 
Melanie Modafferi 
Maximilian Murray 
Ka Yan Stephanie Ng 
Xeyiing Ng 
Mitchell Su 
Jen Young Tan 
Nina Tory-Henderson 
Toby Woolley 
Behnaz Zamani

Archival Material:
Architecture Building and Planning Library, The University of Melbourne
State Library of Victoria
RMIT Design Archives
Holocaust Museum


Support thanks to:
The Jewish Museum
Adele Rosalky (National Jewish Memorial Centre Material)
Melbourne School of Design
Natasha Shnayder
Alison Pert
The Robin Boyd Foundation
Armin Schoepf – Translation of German text
Rebecca McLaughlin – Editing of Newspaper
Mim – exhibition installation

The Exhibition is brought to you by Melbourne School of Design
Curator – Alan Pert, Director of Melbourne School of Design
with contributions from 26 Msd Masters Students