Architecture from the Heart

Mar 31, 2009
  • Article by Online Editor

‘Why architecture matters’ may have been a concern for the Institute in its recent ‘Opinion’ series of that title in Architecture Australia and the statement inspired a range of thoughtful and valid reasons, as well as some questioning, but I would have loved to hear Kevin Borland’s answer. For Borland, architecture didn’t just matter, it was an enormous part of his life and he, in turn, breathed life into it. Borland was an exceptional architect and passionate teacher. As happened with countless other students in his orbit, I was drawn along in his enthusiasm for site visits to his and other houses, and was shown that architecture was about the experience and taking part. I was in my third year of the course and his timber houses had for me a freshness and immediacy that was a quiet but enduring surprise. Initially bemused; I had grown up in the plaster and brick veneer suburb; the possibilities of sculpted architectural form and raw textures was very exciting.
Spanning the 1950s to the 1980s, Borland’s work remains formally powerful and, as pointed out by Dr Doug Evans, it is Borland’s conviction of the social role of architecture – of architecture as an expression of social value – that retains particular relevance today. Recording Borland’s significant projects, this monograph places the work richly and intelligently within the context of his professional world and the social and cultural Melbourne of those decades. Borland’s work is also very finely read in a theoretical sense, relating concepts and influence to the greater realm of architectural ideas. All this is achieved through the excellent contributions that make the monograph an encompassing work, demonstrating architecture as a holistic practice. To celebrate the significance of Borland’s work, this approach makes perfect sense.
From the early and seminal Rice House, 1952-53, to the influential timber houses of the 1970s, the survey of Borland’s work also includes significant projects such as the 1956 Olympic Swimming and Diving Pool (Borland, Murphy and McIntyre with WL Irwin) and the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre designed with Daryl Jackson. These are described and illustrated with superb original black and white photographs, giving weight to the buildings’ ongoing importance as part of Melbourne’s architectural heritage. Borland’s great personal engagement with education, with its focus on the children and a collaborative approach to design and learning, is described in two major projects: Preshil, 1962-c1975, a private school based on progressive educational philosophy, and Clyde Cameron College, 1975-77.
Although not intended as a personal biography, the collected accounts and anecdotes together create a picture of Borland the man and are integral to understanding the values that imbue his work. A conscious effort by Evans, the driver of the monograph in collaboration with architect Huan Chen Borland and architectural historian Dr Conrad Hamann, to pursue contributions from people who had a direct link with Borland is rewarding and is a strength of the monograph. Daryl Jackson’s excellent foreword sets the tone and contributions by colleagues, family and friends are interspersed. These culminate with Polly Borland’s moving tribute to her father who she so well describes as the ‘feeling man’. For an insight into ‘why architecture matters’ and Melbourne architectural culture in this period through the life of this remarkable man, the book is most worthy. Borland was someone for whom architecture did matter and he had a great capacity for sharing this gift

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