Australian High Commission KL

Architects Bernard Joyce and William Nankivell met in the early 1960s whilst both were working as lecturers at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology). Keen to return to professional practice, they teamed up in 1964 to enter a Malaysian based architectural competition.

The project entailed the design and construction of a new grandstand at the Perak Turf Club in the city of Ipoh, 200 kms north of Kuala Lumpur. The winning design submitted by the two young Melbourne architects reflected the contemporary trends in Modern architecture that had been developing over the previous decade throughout Asia and Australia via the UK, Europe and the Americas.

World renowned architects such as Le Corbusier in France, Marcel Breuer in the U.S, and Kenzo Tange in Japan had been increasingly favouring the material honesty and flexibility provided by the use of raw concrete in their commercial, administrative and residential structures. This idiom of architecture, referred to as ‘Brutalism’, found its way into Melbourne’s urban environment in the form of the Total House office and carpark complex (1964) and the Sandown Park grandstand (1962). Bernard Joyce had worked on both projects whilst employed at the architectural firm Bogle & Banfield and it was this experience, together with his interest in the works of contemporary Japanese architects such as Kenzo Tange, that informed the Perak Turf Club grandstand design.

After the success in Malaysia, the firm of Joyce Nankivell went on to establish a solid reputation as creators of innovative solutions to issues of urban density in and around Melbourne. The firm became well known primarily for its flats and multi-unit housing projects with an emphasis not on ‘one -off’ prestige residences but instead a rational consolidation of the urban centre utilising existing amenities and infrastructure.

In 1974 the opportunity to again work in Malaysia arose with a design competition for the Australian High Commission building in Kuala Lumpur. By this time, Brutalism had emerged as the favoured architectural style for many administrative and commercial projects throughout Malaysia, a most notable example being the Dewan Tunku Canselor building on the campus of Malaya University by celebrated local architect Kington Loo. The winning submission by Joyce Nankivell, designed in association with Malaysian architect JC Leong, closely followed the Brutalist idiom with its asymmetrical form and hard edged geometric planes. The overall form was, however, softened to a degree by the use of reflecting ponds and considerate landscaping.

On completion, the building was featured in the influential international publication ‘Architectural Review’ and was considered by one local observer to be ‘one of the best examples of Brutalist non-commercial office space’ in Kuala Lumpur.

The High Commission project, along with the Perak Turf Club Grandstand, mark the high points of Joyce Nankivell’s international commissions and are considered to this day to be amongst the best examples of Late Modern Brutalist architecture in Malaysia. 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Perak Grandstand project and is therefore a pertinent time to celebrate these works produced by this significant although largely forgotten Melbourne architectural firm.

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