Architecture is a reflection of culture, and, for the sake of Perth, hopefully the cloud raining grey over the city is ephemeral.
Current economic depression forces lower budgets, and an adaptation to this restriction gives way to new movements. Architecture has responded with minimalism and simplicity. Core structures are no longer concealed behind cladding, instead they are exposed. The deduction of decorations and the exclusion of ornamentation has produced a raw form of expressionism. The core of the building has become the attraction, celebrating the structure instead of its embellishments. Buildings are now designed with this minimalistic intent and, if already built, they are often involved in a bizarre and unprecedented attempt to ‘down-cycle’, to reach a kind of aesthetic, artistic degradation.
Current markets are flooded with cheap lightweight solutions for cladding, walls, ceilings, windows fittings and every other architectural element imaginable. No matter what capacity chosen, there are continually updated brochures arriving containing a new lightweight material with a larger span, a creation of minute thickness or a product boasting a revolutionised shape.
In a rebellion to these diluting palettes and architectural elements comes a rich exposed structure, previously synonymous to the petit bourgeois. Buildings with raw masonry or recycled bricks, polished concrete, exposed I beams, strong steel window frames and powerful corten steel sheets are just some of the movements standards. Architecture is returning architecture to the essence of its materials, rather than the veil over its buried skeleton.
However not every architect has taken a round trip with the trends. For the last 60 years, Brian Klopper has been scattering a multitude of residential dwellingsInspired by his strict education and restricted by tight budgets, he merged a palette of unadulterated materials with modernist function to form ‘The Fremantle Vernacular’.
During the late 60’s Brian Klopper attended Perth Technical school and was educated in a stylistic draconian which emerged in the first half of the 20th century. The school followed a Corbusien philosophy producing heroic modern architecture and there was no deviation from it. There was the right way to do things, and everything else was the wrong way.
“You got a wall, what are you making walls out of? Your making walls out of white stuff! What are windows? Windows are this shape.”
This very strict set of rules regarding design followed on into Brian’s practice and has been preserved in each subsequent project. Contrary to society’s trends over the last few decades, where at stages we witnessed the unnerving loss of an absolute process to architectural design. Post-modernism allocated value to everything, proclaiming you can really do anything you please. The concept of a building having to be developed out of a particular structure or out of a definitive building process was weakened. If there was a new thought or idea then the new technologies and building methods could make it possible.
“If you thought of a Corinthian column then you can make them in fibre glass, so that’s what they did, if they pleased.”
Now however the style is redirecting back to the modernist theme, except it returns with the structural fundaments of the post-modernism. Buildings are a mask of the sensible modernist: they have the appearance yet lack the rationale it takes to produce the building. Presentation is everything and form is irrelevant, the structural function is convoluted; a complete contradiction to the principles of modernism that it is attempting to impersonate.
A progressive loss of architectural ideologies is going to have an upsetting effect on the architectural value inside Perth city and the expansive fringe. Architecture in the developing outer suburbs of Perth is being outrun by the profitable building industry. An appreciation of distinctive architecture is attenuated as the single kit home configuration is easily able to adapt to sub divisions of exponential scales. Not to say there is a way to prevent this movement, because there is not; the demand to expand into greater Perth is high and the business is far too lucrative. As a consequence, superior architectural design is being detached from this environment. The builder is in control and the design element is losing dimension. The ability to sprawl is undeniably tempting to the developer and a curse to the neglected architecture; as the lots get smaller so does the architectural credibility.
Facing yet another forcible wave, Perth city is in the depth of another transitory design trend, drowning in greyscale chic.
“When the economy is booming the buildings go white and the skirts get shorter and when it gets depressed the buildings go dark and the skirts get longer.”
The economic prosperity of ‘The Roaring Twenties’ produced an economic boom, the 60’s brought a post war period of affluence that once again impacted the commercial industry’s. It is the raw honesty in Brian Klopper’s architecture that has been a constant relief from Perth’s fluctuating market. Architectural integrity is the only key to avoid the impending surge of built nightmares possessing disposable function and a perishable form. The iconic style of Brian’s buildings has been consistent, from his initial build in Subiaco, until his latest venture in Northam.
Klopper’s identity has always been iconic. His exposed masonry and iron framing is immediately distinguishable. Once inside, the modernist influenced function is obviously efficient, and the logic in the façade is immediately understood. His passive sensitivity to each site’s specific environment is a comfort that only an architect can consistently achieve. At a time when the majority of Perth’s white buildings have been doubted and rebranded monotonous grey, it is only the honesty of a building that will endure the cloud of similitude that’s descending over suburbia.
The role of an architect is now changing. Within the educational system the murmurs amongst the studious prophesise a questionable future for even the successful scholar. The professional pursuit to obtain an individual career as an architect is unstable. The mentality of the majority is untrusting, and in consequence their educational discipline begins to stretch to supportive fields. There is a recognisable loss of architectural identity within the schools. Perhaps the broad field to which the current system is instructed to educate to, is simply too wide. Being entirely supportive of the post modernism theory of ‘everything has value’ lacks the essence of a systematic process needed to support a developing architectural intellect when there is an excess of instant artificially contrived solutions. The form of an architectural design takes precedence and it’s abandoning the function. The purpose of planning is being neglected and the form to often dictates. Schools are losing a specific direction and consequently relinquishing the edification process to the work place. There is something to be said about the teaching methods of the severe modernist doctrine and its methodologically efficient products. For the economic climate alone is not the only environment that should be a cause to this effect.
Society is continually brainwashed and deluded by new cladding appendages or additions, revelling in the effortless solutions to passive and solar tribulations with the accompaniment of air conditioning and excessive glazing protection. These are environmental factors that become difficulties when not solved by an architect’s subtle site related design techniques. Instead the inhabitant of a mass production build must then work for the house rather than the house working for them. A building simply cannot remain unattended and survive efficiently.
Brian’s work is constructed to endure all these fluctuations, for his work is true to his materials. His methods are ones that have been tested by time. Inside this authentic niche he is not the first to produce the methodology but he is unfortunately among only a small few that consistently employ the system and its materials. As the industry swings, back around to the modernist regime of minimalism and simplicity, the architectural ideologies of the movement must be appropriately installed and exemplified. The austere simplicity of buildings such as Brian’s latest building in Northam ‘Laura’s’ produces another chapter of modernist practicality.
The exposed recycled red brick that is so faithful to Brian’s designs graciously greets from a distance. The recently adapted vaulted brick ceiling protected by a parasol roof are reflective of his later works. Accompanied with his trademark wrought iron frames, it creates the iconic image of a Brian Klopper building. The program and layout is as expected, methodical. The sensibility of his designs prevails logical to the point it questions any other design of simular scale and purpose. The characteristic vaulted ceiling produces an encompassing warmth in the room, large canvases with striking oil paintings are the only adornments.
In a society when even architecture is embodied by faceless firms that produce deterioration facades, Brian is Perth’s example of an individual with such rooted passion for the built environment that he lays unaffected.
Interview with Brian Klopper, Northam, 2017
All Photographs taken by Ashton Beamish, 2017