Susi Leeton

Susi Leeton, The Birch Tree House

Susi Leeton graduated with honors in a Bachelor of Architecture Degree from Melbourne University. After gaining international experience in Rome and Singapore, she returned to Melbourne and began working on a range of residential, retail and commercial projects. In 1997, Leeton established her office, Susi Leeton Architects and Interiors, where she has creatively explored both urban and rural settings. 

Susi Leeton Architects and Interiors is a small practice, located in the South Yarra area of Melbourne, Australia, which focuses on high-end residential projects. The practice encompasses all the disciplines of architecture and interior design: conceptual design, regulatory, town planning, engineering, documentation, and furnishing. Working with clients on a holistic level, the practice ensures design continuity within strict budget parameters throughout the project. 

The Birch Tree House is a sculptural, four bedroom, family home approached along a pathway aligned with a row of birch trees. The entry is sheltered within an arch containing an oversized door. The focus of the house is towards the northern wall of large steel sliding doors which open onto the yard with its large oval pool. The volumes of space are soft, sculptural forms that overlap and intersect creating workable family zones both inside and out. 

Natural light and soft materials, whose finishes were deliberately refined and tonal, were selected to create a chiaroscuro of light and shade. Texture was a main consideration in the design. Natural limestone, oak timber flooring, polished plaster walls, and linen curtains were the understated palette. The walls of polished concrete create a shimmering effect throughout every space. 

Birch Tree House was on the 2020 shortlist for the Australian Interior Design Awards. Construction was done by Visioneer Builders, an Australian award-winning construction group located in Richmond, Victoria Province, which is  focused on unique, highly-specified single residences, multi=residential developments and commercial structures. 

The photography was done by Felix Mooneeram, a freelance photographer from the United Kingdom with a focus on design, architecture and lifestyles, and Nicole England, a Melbourne-based architecture and interiors photographer who has worked with many of the industry’s top architects and designers worldwide. 

Yerebatan Samici: Basilica Cistern

The Yerebatan Samici  (Basilica Cistern)

The Yerebatan Samici, or Basilica Cistern, is the largest of several hundred cisterns located beneath the city of Istanbul in Turkey. Built in the sixth-century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, it is located one hundred-fifty meters southwest of the Hagia Sophia and currently maintained as a tourist site.

Before the construction of the cistern, a public building serving as a commercial, legal and artistic center, called the Stoa Basilica, was located  on the site of the large public square at the First Hill of Constantinople. After assuming control of the empire in 324 AD, the Emperor Constantine built the Basilica Cistern on that site. The cistern served as a water filtration system for the extensive palace complex of Constantinople and other public buildings on the hill. After the Nika Riots of 532 destroyed nearly half of the city of Constantinople, the original cistern was rebuilt and enlarged during the reign of Emperor Justinian.

The Basilica Cistern/s chamber is about ninety-eight hundred square meters and is capable of holding eighty-thousand cubic meters of water. The ceiling, nine meters in height, is supported by twelve rows, spaced five meters apart, of twenty-eight marble columns, with capitals of mainly Corinthian and Ionic styles. The majority of the columns, carved and engraved from various types of marble and granite, were likely brought to Constantinople from other parts of the empire

Entrance to the Basilica Cistern is reached through a descent down fifty-two stone steps to the water storage. The source for the cistern’s water supply is the current Eğrikapı Water Distribution Center in the Belgrade Forest, located nineteen kilometers north of Istanbul. The water’s long journey includes a one-thousand meter run through both the Valens and Mağlova Aqueducts to reach the storage basin of the cistern.

The Basilica Cistern has undergone several restorations since its foundation. During the eighteenth-century reign of Ottoman Emperor Ahmed III, architect Muhammad Agha of Kayseri oversaw a major restoration in 1723. A second major restoration during the nineteenth-century was conducted during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II. The Metropolitan Museum of Istanbul also undertook two repairs to cracks in the masonry and damage to the columns, the first in 1968 and the second in 1985. 

During the 1985 restoration, fifty thousand tons of mud were removed from the Basilica Cistern, and platforms for tourists were built to replace the former tour boats. The cistern was opened to the public on the 9th of September in 1987. It has appeared as settings in fiction novels, video games, and films, including the 1063 James Bond “From Russia with Love” and Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s 2013 thriller “Brotherhood of Tears”

Étienne-Louis Boullée

Architectural Design by Étienne-Louis Boullée

Born in Paris in February of 1728, Étienne-Louis Boullée was a architect, theorist, and teacher. Though regarded as one of the most visionary and influential architects in French neoclassicism, he saw none of his most extraordinary designs come to life. 

Throughout the late 1700s, Boullée taught, theorized, and practiced architecture in a characteristic style consisting of geometric forms on an enormous scale, an excision of unnecessary ornamentation, and the use of repetitive columns and other similar elements of regularity and symmetry. Boullée’s focus on polarity, offsetting opposite design elements, and his use of light and shadow were highly innovative for the period.

Boullée studied under architects Germain Boffrand of the Académie Royale d’Architecture, and Jacques-François Blondel of the Ecole des Arts, where he studied until 1746. He was immediately appointed a professor of architecture at the newly established Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées, under its director, civil engineer Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, This professorship gave Boullée access to public commissions and an opportunity to engage his architectural vision within France’s social and economic progress.

Étienne-Louis Boullée was elected to the Académie Royale d’Architecture in 1762, and was appointed chief architect to Frederick II of Prussia. From 1762 to 1778, he designed a number of private houses, most of which no longer exist, and several grand Parisian hotels, which included the Hôtel de Brunoy, demolished in 1939, and the still-existing Hôtel Alexandre, on the Rue de la Ville-l’Évèque. 

Boullèe’s reputation and vision as an architect rests mainly on his teachings and his drawn designs which span the years from France’s Revolution in 1784 to Napoleon’s rise to power and Egyptian expedition in 1790. Boullée’s project drawings, as a collection, represented  the necessary institutions for an ideal city or state. They displayed no direct political affiliations with any of the reigning doctrines or parties during this span of time; rather they adopted a belief in scientific progress symbolized in monumental forms, a dedication to celebrate the grandeur of a Nation, and, more often than not, a meditation on the sublime sobriety of death.

During this period, Boullée produced a continuous series of elaborate architectural designs beginning with a metropolitan cathedral and a colosseum for Paris, both designed in 1782. He designed a monumental-sized museum in 1783, which was followed by a cenotaph, or memorial tomb, for Isaac Newton in 1784. The design for a new reading room at the Royal Library was finished in 1785; and in 1787, Boullée finished plans for a new bridge over the Seine River.

In the late 1780s after the Revolution, severe illness forced Boullée to retire to his country house outside of Paris, where he finished the final architectural designs of his career. These included design plans for: a monument in celebration of the “Féte Dieu”, one of the most popular of the Revolutionary festivals; a monument to ‘Public Recognition’; and plans, finished in 1792, for both a national and a municipal palace. In silent protest against the terror spread by  the Revolution, Boullée also designed a reconstruction of the Tower of Babel which took the from of a pure cone on a cubic base, with a trail of figures winding in a spiral, hand to hand to the top; this sturcture would by seen by the nation as a symbol of hope for a unified people with a common language.

Étienne-Louis Boullée died in Paris on February 4th of 1799, at the age of seventy. During his life, he taught some of the most prominent architects of his day including Jean Chalgrin the designer of Paris’s Arc de Tromphe, and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, who anticipated the use of simple modular elements in construction,. Boullée’s book “Architecture, Essai sur l’Art”, a collection of papers, notes and letters arguing for an emotionally committed Neoclassicism, was posthumously published in 1953.

‘Yes, I believe that our buildings, above all our public buildings, should be in some sense poems. The images they offer our senses should arouse in us sentiments corresponding to the purpose for which these buildings are intended.” — Étienne-Louis  Boullèe

The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony

The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony

Between 1899 and 1914, the Mathildenhöhe (Mathilda Heights) of Darmstadt, a city in the state of Hesse, Germany, was the site of the legendary Artists’ Colony. It was founded by the young and ambitious Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, who was the grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and brother to Alexandra who married Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. 

Grand Duke Ludwig was determined to turn his state into a cradle of modern design and art on the highest level. To attain this goal, he commissioned some of the most talented artists of the time to become members of the Colony, including Vienna’s distinguished architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, one of the Vienna Secession founders, and self-taught Peter Behrens, who would become Germany’s top architect in the decade to follow. 

Situated close to the city centre, the Artists’ Colony became a sensational experimental field for artistic innovations in which the sovereign and a group of young artists realized their vision of a fusion of art and life. Their intention was to revolutionize architecture and interior design in order to create a modern living culture with an integration of both housing and work space. The whole human life-style was to be reformed to gain in beauty and happiness as well as in simplicity and functionality.

Beginning during a period when art existed for the sake of its beauty alone, the progress of the Artists’ Colony was slow; however, after 1901, the program gradually became more rational and realistic. This change was evident, among other things, in the numerous buildings created on the Mathildenhöhe from 1900 to 1914. Though at first the artists concentrated on the construction of private villas, they later created apartment houses and workers’ homes in an effort to face the arising questions of their time’s life and housing.

The ensemble of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony is considered today to be one of the most impressive records of the dawning of modern art. Its appearance is still marked primarily by the buildings of the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, who notably created the remarkable silhouette of the Colony, facing the city of Darmstadt, with his Wedding Tower and the Exhibition Building, both completed in 1908. 

The Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt is basically an open-air museum where the artwork is present in the form of its buildings, fountains and sculptures. At the same time, Joseph  Olbrich’s 1901 Ernst-Ludwig House, the former studio house and spiritual centre of the artists’ colony, is now a museum that presents fine and decorative art from the members of the artists’ colony. The unique integrity of the building complex is today a first-class cultural attraction, and the lively. contemporary centre of the Darmstadt’s cultural landscape. 

Note: The original Artists’ Colony group, headed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, included painter, decorative artist, and architect Peter Behrens; decorator Hans Christiansen; decorator Patriz Huber; sculptor Ludwig Habich; visual artist Rudolf Bosselt; and decorative painter Paul Bürck. Between 1904 and 1907, the group was joined by ceramicist Jakob j Scharvogel, glass blower Josef Emil Schneckendorf, and book craftsman Friedrich W Kleukens. 

After Joseph Olbrich’s death in 1908, architect and designer Albin Müller led the group. Under Müller’s leadership, the group expanded with majolica craftsman Bernhard Hoetger, goldsmiths Ernst Riegel and Theodore Wende, and Emanuel Margold, a student of painter Hans Hoffman.

Glen Iris House

Steffen Welsch Architects, Underground Rain Water Collecting Pool

Combining art with technology and social responsibility, the Australian frim of Steffen Welsch Architects uses sustainable materials like hemp and rammed earth while embodying the ideals of Bauhaus architecture to staggering results. This is their underground pool created by harvesting rainwater. In addition to rammed-earth houses that generate their own energy and capture their own water, they also build modern abodes like the Glen Iris House, a two storey modern Californian-style house in suburban Melbourne. .

Thomas Heatherwick

Thomas Heatherwick, The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town, South Africa

British architectual designer Thomas Heatherwick created Sout Africa’s biggest art museum by holllowing out the inside of a historic grain silo building. Zeitz MOCAA opened on September 22 of 2017 and is located at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.

The museum is housed in 9,500 sq metres of custom designed space, spread over nine floors, carved out of the monumental structure of the historic Grain Silo Complex. The silo, disused since 1990, stands as a monument to the industrial past of Cape Town,  at one time the tallest building in South Africa.

The galleries and the atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes that pack the building. The development includes 6,000 sq metres of exhibition space in 80 gallery spaces, a rooftop sculpture garden, state of the art storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, a restaurant, bar, and reading rooms.

The museum will also house Centres for a Costume Institute, Photography, Curatorial Excellence, the Moving Image, Performative Practice and Art Education.

Luis Barragán

The Architecture of Luis Barragán

Luis Barragán was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. His professional training was in engineering, resulting in a degree at the age of twenty-three. His architectural skills were self-taught. In the 1920s, Barragán traveled extensively in France and Spain and, in 1931, lived in Paris for a time, attending Le Corbusier’s lectures. His time in Europe, and subsequently in Morroco, stimulated an interest in the native architecture of North Africa and the Mediterranean, which he related to construction in his own country.

In the late 1920s, Barragán was associated with a movement known as the Escuela Tapatía or Guadalajara School, which espoused a theory of architecture dedicated to the vigorous adherence to regional traditions. His architectural practice was based in Guadalajara from 1927 until 1936 when he moved to Mexico City and remained until his death. Barragán’s work has been called minimalist, but it is nonetheless sumptuous in color and texture. Pure planes, be they walls of stucco, adobe, timber, or even water, are his compositional elements, all interacting with Nature.

Barragán has had a profound influence not only on three generations of Mexican architects, but many more throughout the world. In his acceptance of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, he said, “It is impossible to understand Art and the glory of its history without avowing religious spirituality and the mythical roots that lead us to the very reason of being of the artistic phenomenon. Without the one or the other there would be no Egyptian pyramids, nor those of ancient Mexico.”

Machado Silvetti

Machado Silvetti, “Asian Art Study Center”, 2016, Terra-Cotta Facade, Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida,

The Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, is famed for its ornate Venetian-Gothic mansion named “Cà d’Zan”, meaning “House of John” referring to John Ringling, one of the famed owners of the Ringling Brothers Circus, who resided in the mansion with his wife. Construction started in 1924 on the mansion that was designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum. Baum’s design embodied the palazzos that line the Venice canals, emulating the Italian decor that the Ringlings fell in love with on their many trips to the Mediterranean.

The Boston firm Machado Silvetti used the showpiece structure of the mansion as a precedent for their design for the museum’s extension of the Asian Art Study Center. This new project included the conversion of approximately 18,000 square feet of preexisting gallery space from a temporary exhibition area to permanent galleries. Catering to the museum’s developing Asian collection, the scheme also included a gut renovation of the west-wing galleries, located to the southwest.

The most visually striking aspect of the project is the shimmering terra-cotta facade of the new addition. Asked for a monumental entrance to museum, Machado Silvetti created something unique to the site. More than three thousand jade-colored tiles clad the elevated extension, the color a nod to the  natural surroundings but in opposition to the original pink Italian buildings. The facade with the tiles’ large mass helps combat heat gain while also acting as a barrier wrapping the extension from the elements.

Studio Libeskind

Studio Libeskind, “Vanke Pavilion”, 2015 Milan Expo

The Vanke Pavilion is an exhibition hall and event space, designed by Daniel Libeskind’s architectural studio,  that was built for 2015 Milan Expo. Its design, based on the theme of the event, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” draws inspiration from ancient Chinese dragons which, legend has it, wielded power over weather and agriculture in early China.

The twisting exterior is clad in over 4,000 faceted porcelain tiles, resembling the scales of a gargantuan reptile. Each is embossed with a geometric motif and treated with a custom metallic glaze. This reflective coating causes the pavilion take on a fiery glow that shifts from red to gold depending on the angle of the sun. Ingeniously, the glaze also contains titanium dioxide which, when exposed to direct sunlight, breaks down organic deposits in the atmosphere, purifying the air around the pavilion.