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Stuart Harrison · New Suburban

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17th October, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Thursday 17th October 2013

New Suburban, the latest book from Stuart Harrison, published by Thames and Hudson.  Photo (of the book!) by Eve Wilson.

Bisley Place house by James Russell, photographed by Toby Scott - one of Stuart's favourite inclusions in New Suburban.  Photo (of the book!) by Eve Wilson.

The Melbourne home of Clare Cousins, another standout inclusion in New Suburban.  Photo (of the book!) by Eve Wilson.

It's been almost two years to the day since Melbourne architect, lecturer, writer and broadcaster Stuart Harrison released his last book, ‘Forty-six square metres of land doesn’t normally become a house’, published by Thames and Hudson.  But, you guessed it, he's back with another!  In between running his small architectural practice, lecturing at RMIT and co-hosting his ever popular radio show, 'The Architects' on Triple RRR, Stuart has somehow found time over the past year to pen yet another brilliant book, entitled 'New Suburban'.

As the name suggests, New Suburban presents a carefully considered edit of the most innovative Australian and NZ homes, this time revisiting the suburbs.  In the book, Stuart challenges the notion that we must choose between amenity and outdoor space.  The houses he highlights paint a new picture of suburban living, where intelligent architecture offers alternatives which value the outdoors, while providing enough space for growing families in energy-efficient, flexible homes.

As Stuart explains below, in the book are 30 dwellings, expertly documented with floorplans and stunning photographs by a group of fantastic Australian photographers.  The very talented Stuart Geddes from Chase and Galley designed the book, and in typical style, it is so thoughtfully executed, with beautiful typography throughout, and a sense of pace that so perfectly complements the text.

We asked Stuart a little more about the thinking behind his latest book -

New Suburban is your follow up to your last book, 'Forty-Six Square Metres of Land Doesn't Usually Normally Become a House'. How does New Suburban differ, what's it all about and what can we expect to find inside?

It’s a complementary book – a different way of looking at the same issue, of how we can design better housing. 46sqm was all about small lot sizes and density, whereas New Suburban is about amenity and flexibility – really with liveability at the core. I wanted to revisit the suburbs, both physically and the ideals that led to them and made them good, particularly those of post-war period (think Wonder Years).

In the book are 30 dwellings, houses and townhouses mainly, described in detail, with newly drawn plans (that took ages!) and great photographs, ones that convey liveability. We spoke with owners and got quotes from them that give great insights to the houses, from the perspective of those who live there. Stuart Geddes from Chase and Galley has designed the book almost like a giant novel – a story of the suburban home today.

What are some of your favourite homes that feature in the book and why? What were you looking for in each home when choosing whether or not you'd include it in New Suburban?

I was looking for innovation, as always. This time projects that were either in the suburbs, or dealt with suburban ideals – such as space, amenity and informality. All the projects I like and I think offer solutions for a wider issues, to some extent I think they are all prototypes, rather than just bespoke solutions for one site. In that way I tried to get a smorgasbord of responses, so the book describes in some ways the range of sites and locations we have in Australian and New Zealand.

A particular favourite is the Bisley Place House in suburban Brisbane by James Russell – it’s on the suburban frontier and surrounded by large, dark, mediocre housing that typifies many new suburban developments – but it works within tight restrictions and the good aspects of suburban living to make a redefined suburban house. Another favourite is Clare Cousins’ Brick House in Melbourne that extends an Edwardian House in a kinda Edwardian way – keeping off the boundary to create a sense of space deep into the site. It also features a flexible space at the end of the site, a garage and studio above – which like many such flexible spaces in the book can be used for a variety of things – older kids, grandparents, renting out, home office or making workshop – adaptations for a rapidly changing world.

It's no easy feat shooting and producing a full colour photographic architecture book! How long has New Suburban been in development for, and what process was involved in getting the book published, from original concept through to print production?

The books take about a year generally from go to woe; this one I pitched to Thames and Hudson late last year but had been developing the theme since seeing a few very strong projects early in the year, ones I could shape the book around to some extent. The shots are from a range of great photographers, some of the shots had been taken and quite a few we could guide a bit – we really wanted as many people, pets and stuff in the photos as possible – the important life at the heart of any dwelling.

The wonderful Peter Bennetts has the most images in the book, and he has a great eye. We used one of his photographs of the outer suburbs of Melbourne taken a few years ago toward the start of the book, as part of building a narrative of the suburb. Melbourne photographer Nic Granleese who’s relatively new on the scene has a couple of shoots in there, including the cover shot, and some great images of the Nest Architects project in Coburg – where he hired a crane to get a killer shot of the roof garden and the suburb around it, with the city in the background. It captured many of the ideals of the suburbs, and the book.

The Melbourne home of Emilio Fuscaldo of Nest Architects, now complete with amazing lush rooftop garden! Photographed by Nic Granleese for New Suburban.  Photo (of the book!) by Eve Wilson.
What's next for Stuart Harrison / what are you looking forward to?

I’m super busy with a couple of architectural projects at the moment – ones looking at re-use and adaptability on a bigger scale – so this is going to take up the rest of the year for sure. I’m looking forward to going to Mexico soon for something approaching a holiday, but really an opportunity to immerse myself in another culture and environment for a while – see how somewhere else does living. Next year who knows – it’s a volatile time in both construction and publishing – time to regroup maybe and work out exactly what is next. Any ideas?

New Suburban is priced at $70.00, and is available in good bookshops now.

New Suburban, the latest book from Stuart Harrison, published by Thames and Hudson.  Photo (of the book!) by Eve Wilson.

New Suburban, the latest book from Stuart Harrison, published by Thames and Hudson.  Photo (of the book!) by Eve Wilson.

New Suburban, the latest book from Stuart Harrison, published by Thames and Hudson.  Photo (of the book!) by Eve Wilson.

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