kessell-house-iwan-iwanoff-the-architect-feature
Photography by Jack Lovel.
  • Iwanoff was known for his idiosyncratic, Besser block and sculptural houses
  • He was also responsible for Northam Town Council and Library (1971-74)
  • Very few of his design have been demolished

In mid-2019 Jack Lovel opened an exhibition of photographs of a wide-ranging selection of Iwan Iwanoff’s architecture. It was a personal project for Jack, being brought up in the Jordanoff House (1954).

Jack photographed each place at a similar time of day under blue skies. It was a stunning exhibition and a timely reminder of the genius of Iwanoff and his range of domestic architecture, though his work was not confined to the domestic. The images in this article are all from Jack Lovel’s exhibition.

Of the Jordanoff House, Jack’s mother, Elizabeth Saunders recalls; “We knew Park Lane first as visitors, friends of ours renting it.

Madaschi House
Madaschi House

In 1979 we knew nothing of Iwan Iwanoff or Modernism, rather it was the ambience of the home, its organic feeling and how the home literally seemed to grow up from the earth on which it stood, also the light that flooded the house and imbued it with a wonderful sense of warmth and homeliness that first drew us in.

Indeed it was not until almost a decade later that Perth architect Louise St John Kennedy knocked on the door, alerting us to the homes’ architectural provenance.

We needed no such affirmation, the house for us was simply a beautiful environment in which to live and bring up our by then rapidly expanding family. Indeed, we often joke that Jack’s future interest in architectural photography had its genesis in that house, as he lay in his crib looking around at its unique structure and features.”

Kessell House
Kessell House

Known mainly for his idiosyncratic, Besser block and sculptural houses, Iwanoff was also responsible for the Northam Town Council and Library (1971-74), now a State Register Place, and small commercial strips such as those located on the corner of Onslow Road and Excelsior Street in Shenton Park (1968). There were other commercial buildings as well, but the focus here is on the housing legacy.

Born in Bulgaria in 1919, Iwanoff studied architecture in Munich in 1941, working for a short time there with Emil Freymuth, before immigrating to Australia with Linda (Dietlinde) in 1950. He took up work with Krantz and Sheldon, a busy and successful practice, retaining the right to take on his own projects while engaged with them. By 1963 he was able to practice in his own name, Studio Iwanoff.

Northam Town Council
Northam Town Council

In his short 23 year period of practice, he produced a steady stream of highly individual buildings that are unmistakably his hand, retaining his European sensibilities and adapting them to Western Australian conditions.

Interest in Iwanoff’s work has barely waned and successive owners of his houses have appreciated their worth and have a particular passion about them. Very few have been demolished and most are loved and well-cared for. The houses are not without their difficulties and conservation work has sometimes been expensive.

The decision to reconstruct the Paganin House under the guidance of Tim Wright after its destruction by fire is a testament to the kind of passion that can arise around Iwanoff’s architecture. Fortunately, the drawings for the house are amongst those of Iwanoff’s preserved in the State Library, removing the need for speculative re-construction.

Northam Library
Northam Library

In my early days as a student, visiting architect-designed houses was part of the weekend’s activities. At this time, a number of builders engaged architects to design their products. Iwanoff’s houses were for clients rather than builders and were a strong draw, as they were unlike any other.

Other fine houses in the period were designed by Cameron Chisolm and Nicol, Parry and Rosenthal, Hawkins and Sands, Summerhayes, Howlett and Bailey, Dennis Silver and others.

Five years after his passing, there was an exhibition of Iwanoff’s drawings at the then-new Alexander Library. The catalogue noted:

“In an important and obvious sense Iwanoff’s work is an extremely pure example of the potentials and tendencies of modern architecture, which includes an on-going interest in organic expressionism. In particular the virtuosity that Iwanoff displayed in his manipulation of interior space, his ability to give modest interiors qualities of variety, interest and delight, places his work well within the canon of modern architecture.”

Alexander Library catalogue

The catalogue also praised the “exuberant transcendence of the limitations of the Western Australia architectural environment through the creative energy of design” and the ubiquity of the concrete block in his houses.

His own house and studio make an interesting study, with a ground floor comprising open garaging (at the time of construction), central entry, and studio to the western side overlooking bushland and the garden. The upper floor is almost like an apartment perched on top, with living room to the west, kitchen to the centre and not very private bedrooms to the east.

The design orients all of the windows north and south, and solar shading and passive ventilation provide natural lighting and ventilation. When sold by the family, the new owners looked at ways of augmenting the accommodation and turned the open garage into a bedroom and bathroom arrangement. Further expansion was contemplated, but a respect for the house and its design intent saw this consideration come to an end. This speaks to the strength of the design intent and the respect of the owners for it.

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Written by Phil Griffiths. Photography by Jack Lovel.

This story was originally published in The Architect magazine, an official publication of the Australian Institute of Architects. It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the Australian Institute of Architects for the opportunity to republish the work, and shine a light on Australian architecture.

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