Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects
Essays by Geoffrey London, Adrian Dannatt, Peter Tonkin and Peter Emmett.
Edited by Patrick Bingham-Hall. Pesaro Publishing, 2005.
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The latest instalment in Pesaro Publishing’s architectural monograph series presents the work of the Sydney-based practice Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects. Few firms can boast the extraordinary range of public, private, commercial and artistic commissions that Tonkin Zulaikha Greer have undertaken since formalizing their practice in 1987. Eschewing the incremental progression characteristic of most small-to-medium-sized practices, they have consistently pursued projects of wide-ranging scale, complexity and type, producing a body of work that is distinctive in its formal and thematic diversity.
An insightful introductory essay by Geoffrey London identifies commonalities in the firm’s oeuvre, locating the work within the Brutalist tradition of the Smithsons and revealing references to early-twentiethcentury Russian Constructivism in the development of their architectural language. A thoughtful piece by Peter Tonkin on the architectural themes informing their approach is accompanied by well-meaning but more indulgent reflections on the practice by Peter Emmett and Adrian Dannatt.
The breadth of the firm’s work is well represented, from the refined precision of their interventions in the Hyde Park Barracks, Casula Powerhouse and Customs House to the dignified solemnity of their military memorials, the spatial clarity of the Ultimo, Bellevue Hill and Potts Point housing projects and the breezy informality of a range of beachside and suburban family houses. The collection highlights the practice’s meticulous understanding of the urban and architectural fabric in which they operate and their interest in liberating formal signification from the historicist and formalist strictures of postmodernism.
A lack of supporting drawings makes a thorough understanding of the projects difficult for the uninitiated. The drawings illustrating the monograph are finely rendered but are often presented at scales that greatly diminish their legibility. Critical drawings of several important projects are omitted and the tectonic quality of the work has to be deduced from photographs as no details or large-scale sections have been reproduced.
While it could be argued that the abundance of photographic images makes this monograph more accessible to a lay audience, it is regrettable that work of this calibre has not been documented in a manner that facilitates the more rigorous architectural critique it undoubtedly deserves. Despite these technical flaws, the book is a timely collection of the work of an accomplished Sydney practice and a welcome addition to Pesaro’s impressive range of publications on contemporary Australian architecture.