Robin Boyd (1919-1971), born and educated in Melbourne, was a member of the famous Australian family of artists and writers. He was a distinguished architect, writer and social commentator and throughout the 1940s and 1950s was Australia’s leading proponent of the modern movement.
Boyd held a lifelong interest in modern architecture tempered by regional concerns. His early work employed structuralist solutions to overcome what he considered to be the deficiencies of most housing of the period and he was a leading practitioner of the post-war Melbourne regional style. The suburban house was often the focus of Boyd’s efforts, both in design and writing, and he enjoyed relatively few opportunities to design major buildings.
After the war, Boyd was articled to A and K Henderson in Melbourne and became active in architectural writing, editing the student newspaper Smudges. A short lived partnership followed with Kevin Pethebridge and Frank Bell (1945-1947), where he designed his first houses, including his own in Camberwell. He published Victorian Modern (1947), the first history of modern architecture in Victoria.
Boyd was the first Director of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects Small Homes Service from 1947-1953 and from 1948 was the editor of this service for The Age newspaper, where he also wrote weekly articles. The service provided designs of inexpensive houses, which attempted to incorporate modern architectural aesthetics and functional planning and were sold to the public for a small fee. Boyd became a household name throughout Victoria as a result of this exposure. In 1952 he published Australia’s Homes, an influential study of modernist architecture in Australia. In 1953 he designed ‘The Peninsula’, perhaps Australia’s first project home.
In 1953 Boyd, Frederick Romberg (1910-1992) and Roy Grounds (1905-1981) formed a partnership. The practice became a leading Melbourne architectural firm, where the three partners produced their own designs and sometimes shared supervision work when one of them was travelling. Although the original intention was to collaborate on commissions, they generally worked on their own designs within the partnership.
Boyd produced a series of remarkable ‘idea’ houses during this period, many quite adventurous in structure and form. His second house, at South Yarra (1957) had a draped catenary curved roof. He also continued his writing, becoming an international commentator on contemporary architecture. In 1956 he accepted an offer of a teaching position at MIT in Boston from Walter Gropius, a friend of Boyd’s and a Director at MIT. In 1960 Boyd published Australian Ugliness, a book on the built environment and Australian suburbs.
When Roy Grounds was awarded the commission to design the National Gallery of Victoria and Cultural Centre in 1959, relations between the partners became strained. Grounds left the partnership in 1962 and took the commission with him. Romberg and Boyd continued in partnership until Boyd’s unexpected death in 1971 at the age of 52.
In 1967 Boyd presented the ABC’s Boyer Lectures and in 1970 published Living in Australia, a book of his later work, including the house at 12 Marawa Place, Aranda. He was made a Life Fellow of the RAIA and was awarded the RAIA Gold Medal in 1969. The RAIA named its annual national domestic architecture award after him, the Robin Boyd Award.