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Vale Rollin Schlicht- Architect's first love was painting

4 May

Rollin Schlicht (as I remember him, in the ’70s) as sketched by Brett Whitely.

Studio days … Rollin Schlicht honed his crafts in Australia, Britain, and France.

Rollin Schlicht, 1937-2011

Rollin Schlicht was an architect, painter, printmaker and an architecture and urban affairs commentator. He was also a key member of the Central Street Gallery, which did so much to re-frame debate about the visual arts in Australia during the second half of the 1960s.

Darkly good-looking, with a hooked nose and Zapata moustache, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Gauguin – an affinity that he did not overlook, doing a series of self-portraits at one stage representing himself as the French artist. More interesting was the way in which he adapted the palette and decorative genius of Gauguin in his early abstract work and also in a late burst of outstanding painting.

Rollin Schlicht was born on October 27, 1937, on Ocean Island in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu), the son of Theo, a doctor to the phosphate mining company there, and his wife, Kathleen. The family was Australian (from Beaufort in Victoria) but Theo always wanted to be a psychiatrist and work in England.

Advertisement: Story continues below When war broke out in 1939, the family was stranded in South Africa before returning to Australia, where Theo was drafted into general practice. He joined the RAAF in 1943 and spent three years in Japan before going on to England. It wasn’t until 1951 that the family was reunited in England, where Theo had become a psychiatrist.

The separation from his father and the expatriation to England was something Schlicht never quite overcame.

In London, the Schlicht household was something of a bohemian locus, especially for Australian artists such as Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman and Justin O’Brien (who gave his name to Schlicht’s younger brother, Justin, who would also become a psychiatrist).

Despite this, Schlicht’s parents resisted his going to art school so he studied medicine. This lasted just a year before he volunteered for national service, expecting to be rejected. He wasn’t and so served his two years before going to a kibbutz in Israel, where he entered into a hasty and short-lived first marriage.

Schlicht returned to England to study architecture. There he met Diana Tilley-Wynyard (with whom he had three children) and Janice Wainwright, later a fashion designer who eventually became his second wife.

Schlicht fell in with a group of expatriate Australian artists, who all seemed to live in what was then a very cheap area, Ladbroke Grove, and drink on Portobello Road.

When Tony McGillick established the Central Street Gallery with John White and Harald Noritis in Sydney, Schlicht saw his opportunity to return to Australia to begin a career in art. He held his first one-man show at Central Street in April 1967, later exhibiting there in group shows, along with a one-man show at Melbourne’s Pinacotheca in 1969.

Central Street was Australia’s first ”white box” gallery. Located in a warehouse building in a lane next to Central Street police station, it began life on the first floor but eventually expanded to the ground floor, where Schlicht designed a highly sophisticated adaptation, mixing cool modernism with the robust industrial character of the building. When the gallery closed in 1970, Schlicht continued to show with Chandler Coventry, for whom he designed another sophisticated two-level gallery in Sutherland Street, Paddington.

In Australia, Schlicht earned an income not from his painting but from architecture. He worked with Philip Cox and Allen Jack and Cottier. In 1967, he was joint winner with Carl Plate of the Aubusson Tapestry Prize. This took him to France and again to England.

He returned to Sydney in 1993. Here, the artist and paint manufacturer Jim Cobb (Chromacryl Paints) gave him accommodation and a studio and Schlicht managed the company for a while.

He continued to practise architecture on and off but largely devoted himself to painting. Schlicht was also a writer; he was architecture and urban affairs writer for The Sydney Morning Herald in 1994, a poet manque and a contributor to books and magazines.

Rollin Schlicht is survived by Janice and his children, Erin, Saskia and Justine.

Paul McGillick, May 2, 2011


Vale Nick Murcutt

21 Mar

19 March 2011 – Award winning architect Nick Murcutt  passed away at his home in Bondi on Thursday night.

National president elect Brian Zulaikha sent the following news alert to  Australian Institute of Architects members late Friday:

“It is with much sadness that I let you know our colleague and friend Nick Murcutt died last night at home in Bondi.

Fortunately, Nick and Rachel Neeson, his partner of 16 years, were able to marry yesterday (Thursday) afternoon.

As many of you are aware, Nick was a very active and passionate supporter of the Institute and the profession, as well as being a very talented designer. He and Rachel completed a range of inspiring projects, including two Wilkinson Award winners. He will be sorely missed.”

On behalf of the profession, I send my condolences to Rachel, Nick’s young children Alice and Otto, and the Murcutt and Neeson families. Nick’s service was held Monday 21st March at St. Canice’s, 28 Roslyn Street, Elizabeth Bay. A trust fund for Alice and Otto has been established by some of Nick’s closest colleagues.

Contributions can be made to RM Neeson ATF Otto and Alice Murcutt at Westpac, BSB 032016, Account 432103.


Nick Murcutt and Rachel Nesson of Neeson Murcutt Architects judging The best un-built work of 2010 at AUT’s St Paul Street Gallery in November 2010.

Some examples of Neeson Murcutt Architects work-

1. House on the Slope by Rachel Neeson and Nick Murcutt

2. Box House, south coast NSW.

3. Five Dock House

4. Ferguson House

HOUSE PROUD; The Box House: Simplicity Cubed

By ELAINE LOUIE, New York Times, June 10, 2004

WHEN Elizabeth Charles and her husband, Martin Halstead, decided in 1997 to build a weekend house here, 300 miles south of Sydney, they knew who they would like to design it: Glenn Murcutt. They also knew they could never afford him — and that was five years before he won the prestigious Pritzker Prize. But they called him anyway, just to talk.

Ms. Charles, now 44, and her husband, 43, were particularly taken with a Murcutt building they had seen in a magazine. It was, she recalled, ”a tractor shed he had pulled apart and reassembled” — classic Murcutt.

”It was a modest building,” she said. ”We liked the natural simple wood, and the way it sits in the landscape. And we’d imagined a modest building here.”

So when Ms. Charles got Mr. Murcutt on the line, she asked if he could recommend anyone to do something on a budget of $50,000.

”Call my son,” he said.

Nicholas Murcutt had just begun his own architecture practice in Sydney, and he was ”intimate with the tractor shed,” Ms. Charles said.

Nicholas Murcutt, then 33, met with Ms. Charles and Mr. Halstead, whose primary home is in Exeter, 217 miles north of here. Then he began to draw. ”What was attractive was to work with a small budget,” he said. ”If you’ve got a well-designed space, you have more space than you think.”

The house that resulted, the first stage of which was finished in 2000, is not anything like the reassembled tractor shed Ms. Charles had so admired. Called the Box House, it is a floating cube perched on concrete piers. Three sides are uninsulated timber, one and a quarter inches thick, and the fourth, the north and sun-facing side, is entirely of glass, with bifold doors on the lower level that open onto a deck overlooking fields, trees and hills.

The house is 20 feet high by 20 feet long by 20 feet wide, a scant 400 square feet. But the double-height ceiling, cubic space and transparent north facade make it feel spacious.

It is not like anything Glenn Murcutt would have designed. The elder Murcutt is known for ecologically sensitive designs that echo woolsheds and other farm structures, using materials like corrugated iron. He also builds sleekly modernist homes for the city, and last year renovated his own home in Mosman, across the bay from Sydney.

”I know he doesn’t like the Box House,” the son said cheerfully. ”He sees a building as a naturalist sees a tree. It has roots and grows upward.”