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THROUGHLY MODERN(ist) MAN

Categories Lifestyle

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Comedian and radio star Tim Ross has turned his love of architecture into a whole side career.

More widely known in Australia as a quick-witted radio and TV performer, and occasional stand-up comedian, what was perhaps less well known about Tim “Rosso” Ross was his deep and abiding interest in modernist architecture.

But in the past couple of years that particular passion has well and truly been aired as Ross has embarked on a series of projects based on his interest which culminates in Streets Of Your Town, a two-part documentary airing on the ABC in November which looks at how Australia unfortunately transformed from a country in which Modernist architects were designing accessible houses suited to our culture and lifestyle in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, to one in which the ‘McMansion’ came to predominate.
“It’s a story I’ve always wanted to tell,” says Ross, “how we went from having some of the best domestic architecture in the world to some of the worst.”

Revisiting the design and build of some of the most iconic houses from the era – by the likes of architects such as Robin Boyd, Syd Ancher, Roy Grounds and Harry Seidler – Ross creates a narrative that showcases the beauty, functionality and affordability of these homes in contrast to the ‘featurism’ Australia embraced from the 1980s onwards in the shape of enormous, ugly houses.

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“The show is not just about houses but about optimism and what we build being reflective of everything else about us,” says Ross. “We were building interesting houses that were reflecting things happening elsewhere in the world, particularly the late ’60s and early 70s. It was an interesting time to be in Australia, and our housing displayed that sense of optimism that we could do anything here. Then globalisation came along and made a mess of everything and, in some ways, we lost an Australian style of architecture.”

Ross is particularly attracted to the idea that Modernism championed interesting and even experimental design for both rich and poor.

“What people will find interesting about the series is that it was a time when we had the best domestic architecture in the world and it was for everyone,” he says. “The project home companies were building architect-designed houses that almost all Australians could afford. That’s a super cool idea and one I think people would like to have access to now.”

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Rosso with Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs.

Further basic principles of modernism – the excision of overly ornate and decorative features, the clean lines inherent in engineering-friendly materials like steel and glass, the blending of outside and inside – also appeal to Ross.

“It was also a different way of living,” he explains. “There was a real sense of futurism, particularly in those houses from the 1960s which were so experimental and that kind of plays into my sci-fi nerd way of looking at the world. I’m really nostalgic about them because when I was a kid the most interesting houses on the street were the ones that were big boxes with big expanses of glass.”

Apart from the ABC show, for the past couple of years Ross has conducted a series of highly successful in-situ shows on modernist architecture which combine stand-up comedy, music and architecture appreciation in fine examples of Modernist houses around Australia. He recently took the show to London, as well. He has, he says, been “rolling around” in his great passions for the past couple of years and is not finished yet.

“I’m like the guy who used to collect stamps and then created StampWorld and hopes the people are going to come,” he jokes. “But we’ll keep going with Man About The House… I have a new version of that show coming out and I’m working on a couple of new series ideas which are architecture and design focused.”

Streets Of Your Town, ABC TV, screens in November.