Open house pol­icy


VOGUE Living Australia - - Art & Design - By An­nemarie Kiely Pho­tographed by Sharyn Cairns

THEY SAY THE BEST TIME to start think­ing about your re­tire­ment is be­fore the boss does, but if you are the boss pre­sid­ing over a ma­jor ar­chi­tec­ture prac­tice, it’s pre­sumed you’ll just drop at your draw­ing board. “Not me,” says Charles Justin, found­ing co-di­rec­tor of ar­chi­tec­ture and in­te­ri­ors prac­tice Syn­man Justin Bialek (SJB). “We in­tro­duced a manda­tory re­tire­ment age at SJB as part of a suc­ces­sion plan. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, I was pre­pared for the next stage of life.” While he claims de­par­ture from the pro­fes­sion con­clu­sive, what ar­chi­tect re­tires their pas­sion? Think Philip John­son, the Pritzker prize win­ner who, wind­ing up prac­tice at the age of 98, claimed his longevity was con­tin­gent on the chance to act out ag­gres­sions. Justin doesn’t miss the bat­tles of build­ing, but does miss the cere­bral dip into mak­ing. And, truth be told, he’s still mak­ing. “Though not as you’d think,” he says of a re­cent move to the com­mis­sion­ing chair. “I’ve fi­nally be­come the client.” It’s an ax­iom flip that he ra­tio­nalises with the de­sire for a new ex­pe­ri­ence, a daugh­ter who is an ar­chi­tect, a 250-plus-piece art col­lec­tion and a rad­i­cal idea to de­cant it all into a house-mu­seum. He de­scribes him­self and his wife, Leah, as in­vet­er­ate trav­ellers and lovers of con­tem­po­rary art, whose post-re­tire­ment jour­ney has just “dipped” into the JAHM, the sweet-sound­ing acro­nym for the new Justin Art House Mu­seum. “It must have been about six years ago that we vis­ited the Lyon House­mu­seum in Kew,” he says, wind­ing back to the launch of the prece­dent-set­ting hy­brid gallery, de­signed by its ar­chi­tect res­i­dent Cor­bett Lyon. “We wanted to do some­thing that was pos­i­tive and cre­ative, and it just ticked all our boxes.” Hav­ing vis­ited all the in­ter­na­tional ‘archi-types’, Justin pin­points the Mai­son Par­ti­c­ulière in Brus­sels and the Sam­lung Hoff­mann in Ber­lin as “ex­pe­ri­en­tial” favourites for their owner-led tours and talks. He also ex­presses a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for David Walsh’s Mu­seum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tas­ma­nia — “noth­ing too di­dac­tic, just an unashamed pleas­ing of self ”. So the search be­gan for a suitable site in Mel­bourne to af­fect sim­i­lar out­comes.

It took one year be­fore a park-side block, re­plete with four old­er­style apart­ments, pre­sented in cen­tral Prahran. “It was close to friends and fam­ily; close to the ac­tion of St Kilda and Chapel Street,” Justin says. “So we just took the plunge.” Brazenly flout­ing the wis­dom that ad­vises against work­ing with fam­ily, the Justins sum­mar­ily fleshed out a brief for their daugh­ter, Elisa Justin, and just let her go on the de­sign — re­ly­ing on her fa­mil­ial ex­pe­ri­ence and for­mer em­ploy­ment at SJB to by­pass the slow dance of es­tab­lish­ing their “likes”. The loose re­quire­ments were for the re­ten­tion and re­newal of the ex­ist­ing 1940s apart­ments, above which a first-level, mu­seum-grade gallery and a sec­ond-level apart­ment were to be added. The specifics re­lated to an eight-star en­vi­ron­men­tal rat­ing (a mea­sure of en­ergy con­sump­tion loads), a min­i­mal pal­ette of qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and the in­te­gra­tion of art into the new ar­chi­tec­ture. “This wasn’t go­ing to be art as lip­stick,” says Justin. “From day one, we wanted to com­mis­sion projects for the façade, lift and stairs.” »

« Elisa Justin, now run­ning her own prac­tice, re­sponded to the parental call for a co­he­sive­ness of old and new ar­chi­tec­ture with a “big roof con­cept” — zinc skin wrap­ping down to ground plane like a ge­o­met­ri­cally pro­gress­ing growth. She co­cooned the gallery and pent­house within its folds, me­di­at­ing space and ser­vice be­tween the of­ten con­flict­ing con­cerns of pub­lic and pri­vate use. “You are field­ing the is­sues of fire evac­u­a­tion and dis­abled ac­cess within a do­mes­tic set­ting that calls for dis­crete in­ser­tions,” says Elisa. “It’s not an easy jour­ney to go on.” Mak­ing the ful­crum of her com­po­si­tion the stair, Elisa de­tailed the con­cep­tu­ally loaded 39-step struc­ture as a crank­ing spi­ral, drilling it three lev­els up through an al­lo­cated en­try space. Its shape in­formed an “origami en­clo­sure” sug­ges­tive of the largely non-fig­u­ra­tive art col­lec­tion ex­hib­ited within. Light­ing artist Ilan El (in col­lab­o­ra­tion with DigiSen) hooked his art con­cept for the stair into John Buchan’s 1915 thriller, The Thirty-Nine Steps, riff­ing on the novel’s 39 stolen mil­i­tary se­crets in in­ter­ac­tive steps that flicker or fix in end­less per­mu­ta­tions of coloured light. Artist Paul Snell worked with equally anoma­lous can­vas and hor­i­zon­tal bands of colour, wrap­ping his digi­tised pho­to­graph of multi-stripes in­side the pas­sen­ger lift, so as to mess with all read­ing of its small space. Sim­i­larly, ur­ban artist Tunni Kraus eu­lo­gised the stripe, mak­ing his ma­te­rial ode to the can­vas awnings of the suburbs in Colour­bond bands that ex­ter­nally badge the first-level gallery. On what draws peo­ple to such pub­lic dis­plays of the pri­vate, Justin de­clares home “the last bas­tion of per­sonal ex­pres­sion”, cit­ing find­ings from Ge­orgina Walker’s doc­toral the­sis on the house-mu­seum. “Th­ese fa­cil­i­ties suc­ceed when they are per­me­ated by a strong per­sona,” he says, in full re­al­i­sa­tion that re­tire­ment doesn’t af­ford a day off. “We will per­son­ally con­duct tours, take cof­fee in the apart­ment and com­mit to two ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions a year.”

Stair light sculp­ture by Ilan El. pre­vi­ous page: All Blacks se­ries by PJ Hick­man.

clock­wise from right: The li­brary at JAHM. Un­ti­tled (small square) by Gina Jones; Pos­i­tive Mask and Neg­a­tive Mask by Dinh Cong Dat. Noughts and Crosses by Todd Simp­son. op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left: Un­ti­tled (two point per­spec­tive) by Stephen...

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