Footpath Sydney

Amongst other pursuits, myself and two others make up the Footpath publishing team. We produce pocket sized architectural walking guides that cover a wide range or era’s and styles. Available individually or as a set of three, out first release focused on our hometown of Melbourne, covering buildings from the mid-19th century up to the 1970’s.

We have just completed our second set of guides which focuses on Australia’s largest metropolis, Sydney. Not being overly familiar with the city, I was pleasantly surprised to find not only an expected range of well-preserved early colonial architecture but also many fine examples of inter-war and post war Modernist buildings.

The other aspect that stuck me was the way in which Sydney implements and embraces open space within the CBD in the form of pedestrian malls and plazas. This is, of course, partly due to the generally agreeable weather that Sydneysiders enjoy but also, I believe, a result of a more enthusiastic acceptance of post-war Modernist ideals, especially related to architects such as Harry Seidler. Melbourne, by comparison, has always been a far more conservative and ‘British’ orientated city and, hence, perhaps more ‘inward’ of character both in a figurative and literal sense.

Following are samples of the graphic content of the Sydney books by our awesome in-house graphic artist, Sonia:



For more info on the Footpath project, check out the website:

We enjoy immensely putting these books together and hopefully will be able to continue the project. More to come including our first international title soon!


Bangkok Blades

On a recent visit to Bangkok I came across additional examples of the climate related architectural features that I wrote about previously under the title ‘Blades & Shades’.

I continue to find these regional takes on post-war Modernism fascinating, not only due to the unique trajectory that resulted in these forms but also to the diverse use of patterning, texture and colour, as can be seen in the following images.

Bangkok Railway Station

Unlike much of South-East Asia throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Kingdom of Thailand managed to avoid the yoke of European colonialism. The country was, however, subject to European influence in more benign ways, particularly through architecture.

Construction of Bangkok Railway Station began in 1910 on the site of a former railway maintenance centre. Under King Chulalongkorn (1868 – 1910), the fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri, Thailand had witnessed rapid modernisation of its infrastructure, including the inauguration of the Thai railway network in 1897.

The new station opened June 25, 1916 and presented an elegant example of the popular Italian Neo-Renaissance Style. A large glazed arch dominates the central form, set back from a low colonnaded entrance gallery topped by an ornate balustrade. The structure is flanked by two well-proportioned pavilions decorated with classic pilasters and entablature forms. Inside, the coloured panels used in the glazing become more evident; soft greens and blues for the entrance arch, a bright yellow creating patterns at the platform end. Apart from these highlights the interior is a mostly utilitarian affair with exposed truss work and a mix of original and more recent fixtures throughout the building. One interesting aspect at the time of my visit was a display of vintage railway posters warning of the often-gruesome incidents that could befall the unwary or reckless traveller.

The station’s architect was Mario Tamagno (1877 – 1941), an Italian who worked in Thailand for over 20 years from 1900. Along with fellow countryman Annibale Rigotti, Tamagno designed a range of public buildings throughout Bangkok including Bang Khun Prom Palace (1906), Suan Kularb Residential Hall and Throne Hall in Dusit Garden, and Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in the Royal Plaza (1907–15), all of which can still be seen today.


*Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, Image Courtesy Wikipedia

Murcutt Mosque

However divisive the subject of religion is, especially in today’s climate, there can be no denying that Islam, as with Christianity, Buddhism or any other major faith, has produced some of the world’s most beautiful architecture.

The basic architectural elements of domes and minarets that make up most mosques would be familiar to anyone who has ever visited a classic example. However, as with cathedrals and temples throughout various parts of the world, such elements are not dictated by strict religious based design requirements, but simply reflections of built cultural legacies adopted through the ages.

When architect Glenn Murcutt was invited by a Melbourne based Islamic community to design a new mosque, he insisted from the beginning that it should be a modern interpretation, reflecting the relatively young, primarily Australian born, congregation.

Murcutt was born in England to Australian parents in 1936. He grew up in a province of New Guinea before the family settled down in Sydney after the Second World War. After graduating in 1961 from Sydney Technical College, Murcutt engaged in work experience with various architects before setting up his own practice in 1969. Since then, he has produced a body of work that exhibits the regional sensibilities and attention to detail that follows from his unwavering motto, ‘touch the earth lightly’.  Although he works exclusively within Australia, his international influence is such that, in addition to numerous awards and medals over the years, he was the recipient in 2002 of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Approaching the mosque, two elements immediately stand out; the dramatic angular concrete wall and the bright gold box forms atop the roof. The wall, created in situ, is an abstract representation of a traditional minaret, to be eventually topped with a decorative gold crescent. The box forms, actually triangular in shape, act both as skylights for the interior and passive ventilation units, dissipating hot air in the summer months. From inside they appear as coloured lanterns, painted to represent various hues associated with Islam.

Glass is used generously throughout the building, representing a transparency and openness that the congregation wishes to express to the wider local community. The eastern entrance is lined with glass pivot doors whilst the women’s area upstairs is encompassed by walls of glass louvres. The west side, or kiblah (facing Mecca), looks through a wall of glass onto a pond which, enclosed in concrete walls, provides an oasis like tranquillity. Tall slim steel columns add to the overall openness and lightness of the interior with the lanterns and water feature providing a dynamic play of movement and colour over the walls and ceiling.

The mosque provides the Newport Islamic community with a modern place of worship that nonetheless expresses the traditional values and forms of their faith. It is also an undeniably open and welcoming space for all who wish to visit.


Architectural Texture – A Brief Observation

The use of texture in architecture can be as crucial a design element as any in the pursuit of aesthetic clarity. Just as the application of material, colour or surface geometry can more boldly express a building’s stylistic form, a considered incorporation of textural surface treatment can enliven an otherwise anonymous façade.

Rydges resize

A seemingly passive texture can also be transformed by the active play of light and shadow across a façade as the sun and clouds interact throughout the day. This kind of effect recently drew my attention to a city hotel building which I had previously taken little notice of. Rydges Hotel, on the corner of Exhibition and Little Bourke streets in Melbourne, is a fairly typical tower on podium structure dating from the 1980s. The façade is composed of expressed horizontal and vertical concrete beams which delineate the hotel rooms across all floors of the tower. Although of some textural interest themselves, it is when a shaft of light highlights a section of the façade at a particular angle that these forms are really expressed in a dynamic visual sense. Looking closely, the texture of the concrete itself now becomes more apparent, appearing as sawn and dressed lengths of timber.

So, a photo taken offhand on a casual stroll through the city reveals how both the use, and a more considered observation, of architectural texture can alter the appearance of a seemingly unremarkable built form.


Art in Place #4

Eastern Hill Fire Station

Throughout much of the 19th century numerous volunteer fire brigades were formed in Melbourne, often named after the insurance companies or local municipalities they represented. In 1890, following a series of serious fires resulting in the loss of six firefighters, the Fire Brigades Act was passed in order to officially unite these disparate organisations and provide a more efficient, centralised service. Construction of a headquarters for the newly formed Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) began in 1891 on the corner of Victoria Parade and Gisborne Street. Opening on 3 November 1893, the new building was sited on one of the highest points in the city and remains to this day Melbourne’s central station, designated Fire Station 1.

Two local architectural firms, Tayler & Fitts and Smith & Johnston, collaborated on the project having both submitted winning designs to the competition. Exhibiting contemporary Queen Anne revival and Italianate styles, the Victoria Parade façade comprises a central gabled pavilion flanked by two- storey arcades. The entire building is raised on a blue stone plinth and is finished in yellow painted cement contrasted with red brick elements. The campanile-like tower, rising to 150 feet and topped by a cast iron and glass lookout, was accessed via an electric lift and was originally manned 24 hours a day.

In 1972 construction of a new station was begun, adjoining the original structure. Designed by Melbourne firm Bates Smart & McCutcheon, the new building exhibited a functional, late Brutalist style with its rough, board formed concrete finish and asymmetrical block forms. Of particular interest is the large mosaic mural located on the Albert St façade. Designed by artist Harold Freedman, the colourful piece (titled ‘The Legend of Fire) depicts various scenes of mythology and human technology related to the element of fire. Born in 1915, Freedman was attached to the Royal Australian Air Force as a war artist during the Second World War and later became renowned for his numerous public murals including the History of Military Aviation murals (Australian War Memorial), and ‘History of Flight’ (Melbourne airport, 1971).

Whilst most of the operational activities shifted to the new MFB building, the original structure was refurbished and continues to be used for offices and also houses the Fire Services Museum of Victoria.

‘View of Hong Kong’

Travel related souvenirs are odd consumer items. Generally mass produced and correspondingly cheap, they are bought as a representation of an often cherished and personal holiday experience.

Nowadays, with the ubiquity of inexpensive digital cameras and cell phones, the majority of tourists are capable of capturing relatively high-quality images as a record of their journeys. As late as the 1990s, however, one could still purchase souvenir colour slide collections depicting famous sites from a particular location.  As opposed to, say, a miniature Eiffel Tower or Singapore Lion, sites which were most probably visited by the traveller, the collection of slides (taken at some point before the visit) would no doubt include places that were never experienced physically.

The purchase of a single representative souvenir icon states ‘I was there and this is a physical memento (proof) of that moment’. The collection of slides, however, is clearly proof of tourist sites, but not necessarily that of the actual sightseeing activities of the tourist. It is thus a record of someone else’s (the photographer’s) viewpoint purchased by a visitor as a kind of surrogate memory of their trip.

As is the case with so much other materiel we accumulate over the years, travel souvenirs often end up as second-hand items at a local ‘op-shop’ (short for ‘opportunity shop’ in Australia, commonly known as thrift stores in the U.S and elsewhere). It is at one such store that I came across two souvenir slide collections depicting Hong Kong.

View of HK

Anyone familiar with Hong Kong and its districts will no doubt recognise the enormous changes that have occurred since these images were taken. The exact dates of the photos are not available but judging by the cars and fashions displayed I can guess that the first set dates from the late 1960s whilst the second appears to be from the early to mid 70s. What strikes me is the odd choice of subject matter for some images. Whilst most depict what you would expect from a set of souvenir images aimed at tourists (city skyline, shopping districts, architectural landmarks etc) there are included some odd choices such as commercial docklands, railway infrastructure and numerous shots of highways.

As a result, however, what were once simply cheap mementos of a visited city have now become significant historical documents, a specific time capsule, of an extremely dynamic urban environment.

Late 1960s?

Mid to Late 1970s?