Marsala House, Dianella Perth | Source: Jack Lovel

Iwan Iwanoff’s Built Legacy

Iwan Iwanoff produced a substantial body of work that would rival any other architect all while living in ‘the most isolated city in the world,’ but his legacy is just beginning to take shape.

He was born in the Bulgarian town of Kyustendil in the year 1919. He had his early education in visual arts before moving to Munich in 1941 to study engineering and architecture at the Technical University of Munich, where he graduated with a Diploma of Engineering and Architecture in 1946.

In the 1950s, he and his wife arrived in the port city of Fremantle and used international design and building expertise to revitalise Western Australia’s architectural landscape.

For several years, his qualification was not recognised in Australia, yet he was nevertheless permitted to work in an architectural business. At one point, he even registered as an architect in West Germany. In 1963, he became an Australian citizen and established his own studio, “The Studio of Iwanoff,” in Perth.

Jack Lovel

His trademark mid-century houses in Perth have developed a cult following and can be seen in areas such as Mount Lawley, Dianella, Karrinyup, City Beach, and Floreat. Iwanoff had a huge impact on Western Australia, which is being felt decades after his last residence was completed.

His unusual use of Besser blocks produced a brutalist look but was, and still is, quite unorthodox in Perth, but it is this bold use of materials and textures that has survived and continues to entice visitors to his homes.

Jack Lovel, a Perth-born, Melbourne-based architecture photographer, grew up in Iwanoff’s Jordanoff House and may know more about Iwanoff designs than most.

It’s reasonable to infer that the house where he grew up influenced his future professional path and served as the inspiration for his book, Catching Light, which chronicles Iwanoff’s architectural career.

His link to Iwanoff was essential in getting the project started in the first place. Lovel wrote letters to about 15 families who were fortunate enough to live in one of Iwanoff’s houses.

Lovel stated he set out to photograph Iwanoff’s spectacular fa├žades in order to chronicle his work. Lovel’s attention was pulled to the complex intricacies, abstract forms, lines, and tangled layers as the project progressed.

“The idea behind this project was to collate an archive of his projects that still stood as a current record of them,” he said.

“It really celebrates how unique his body of work was and to try garner more attention for it at least a national audience.”

Lovel said while architectural students might know of his work, many, especially those located on the east coast, are unaware of his work.

In some respects, the isolation that causes this disconnect is a defining aspect of many Iwanoff works.

“If you look at them in isolation, they are quite bold, they stand alone,” Lovell said of Iwanoff’s work.

“I think, particularly the earlier work, there’s a number of them, and they do manage to fly a bit under the radar.

“But as his work evolved and developed and as he came into, particularly using the blocks, and doing those style of homes, they almost became a bit more sort of brash, and they did really stand out and have that real Iwanoff flair to them.”

The more ‘brutalist’ features of Iwanoff’s designs came to the fore as his work developed away from mid-century houses.

The staggered concrete blocks, delicate details, and exquisite textures began to become his calling card, and in some ways, began to lure Lovel himself in.

“I’m still drawn to the houses with the original grey bezel blocks, there’s only a couple of them left,” he said. “There’s something I think, terms of really looking at the raw elements of his work.

“Obviously, the blockwork is what he is well known for and, and a number of them have been painted white, but there’s something about seeing them when they’re in their original state; that course, grey blockwork.

“When you actually look at it, it almost is managed to turn a quite abrupt material into something really soft and delicate.”

Buy Catching Light at: https://www.jacklovel.com/shop/catching-light

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Iwan Iwanoff
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