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THE ARCHITECTURE OF NEIL CLEREHAN
Harriet Edquist and Richard Black
Melbourne: RMIT Press
This book pays tribute to the work and writings of Neil Clerehan whose long career as both an architect and an architectural commentator has no parallel in Australia. It includes essays on his career, his work as Director of, and designer for The Age Small Homes Service, and the place of his architecture in Melbourne with its ‘new world’ obsession with rebuilding the city and suburbs every generation. It also includes an ‘atlas’ of SHS plans, drawings of four of his inner Melbourne town houses, and a catalogue of works.
Includes b/w images, sketches, drawings
18 x 24cm, hardcover
ISBN 0 86459 383 X
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Justine Clark, Book Review: THE ARCHITECTURE OF NEIL CLEREHAN
THE ARCHITECTURE OF NEIL CLEREHAN
Harriet Edquist and Richard Black. RMIT Architecture + Design Monographs 01, 2006. $45.
This handsome publication is the first in a promised series of monographs on Melbourne architects from RMIT. The subject is Neil Clerehan, an enormously respected elder statesman, who is still very active in Melbourne’s architectural culture. The book begins with a short, affectionate foreword by Philip Goad, which introduces the topics which will be pursued in other essays – Clerehan’s predominantly domestic practice, his significant work on the RVIA Small Homes Service, his importance as a writer on architecture as well as a maker of buildings. Goad also captures something of the man himself. We are given a glimpse of his humour, his enthusiasm and his “impeccable patrician tone”. These help enliven the drier essays that follow.
Harriet Edquist provides a straightforward, chronological account of Clerehan’s practice from the immediate postwar period to the present. Richard Black gives a thematic account of the houses from the 1950s, including work done for the Small Homes Service and published in The Age, and four demonstration houses. There is some repetition in content between these two essays. They are accompanied by striking period photographs and images and plans reproduced from the newspaper presentations of the work of the Small Homes Service. These give a fascinating glimpse into the visual cultures of the time. Leon van Schaik’s essay is much more speculative and interpretative. Titled “Understanding Clerehan: New World Tragedy”, this essay locates Clerehan’s domestic work in terms of postwar Modernism’s “Brave New World” approach. This, he argues, plays straight into the hands of the “tragedy” of the new world, which he describes as pursuit of individual paradise at the expense of the collective.
The book concludes with an “Atlas” of Clerehan’s designs for the Small Homes Service and measured drawings of four commissioned houses, including his own. Plans and building envelopes are neatly drawn in fine black linework. This is very useful for the comparative purposes, but it also strips the projects of their rhetorical power, which is palpable in originals reproduced elsewhere in the book, and which was surely an important part of the original project to bring Modern architecture to a broader public.
This elegantly designed hardback gives a good introduction to the considered and careful work of Clerehan across half a century. But I was left wanting to know more about how this strong body of work relates to the wider concerns of architecture in the postwar period and beyond. The focus on the house, the commitment to providing housing for a broader public, the considered engagement with media, the relationship to postwar architecture in other New World contexts – all of this seems fertile ground for more thorough thematic discussion, which might do much to further our understanding of architecture in this country.