Flat out changing the face of Perth

• While the apartment construction industry over east is being shredded over shoddy standards, cracking towers and flammable cladding, the architect who transformed Perth with thousands of affordable flats that have stood the test of time is being honoured in a new exhibition. Museum of Perth founder Reece Harley, a former tenant of one of Harold Krantz’s flats, discusses their utilitarian allure with current 40 Mount Street resident Hayden.

AT the height of his reign architect Harold Krantz was responsible for 1000 flats a year going up around Perth.

From the 1930s to the ’60s, credible estimates place Krantz as being behind more than 90 per cent of the city’s apartments.

A new exhibition at the Museum of Perth, The Krantz Legacy, is now celebrating his life and works.

Museum director Reece Harley says he got the idea for the exhibition after hearing Krantz’s son David speaking about his father’s legacy and philosophy.

Mr Harley himself had lived in a Krantz apartment on Mount Street, and looking into the story realised how much of Perth’s apartment stock could be traced to one man.

“Krantz’s design and business model is the reason why we have so many affordable flats,” Mr Harley says.

Krantz’ Terrace Road Flats in 1964, some of which are still standing.

Krantz (1906-1999) was born in Adelaide to Russian Jewish parents and qualified as an architect when he was 20 years old.

In 1927 he accepted an offer from his uncle Harold Boas, an influential Perth architect, town planner and councilman, to move west and work for the Oldham, Boas & Ednie-Brown architecture firm.

But work with the firm was patchy because of a slowing economy, so he took a brief side job in commercial art with Poster Studios. It taught him the value of economies of scale and cost minimising that would shape his design philosophy.

He returned to architecture in the midst of the Great Depression, gathering syndicates of investors to pool their money to build flats.

But unlike some of today’s unscrupulous developers who are in the spotlight over unsafe or shoddily built apartments, his philosophy was ‘cheap and sturdy’ . He focused on hardy materials that would last and wouldn’t cost a fortune in maintenance and replacement. The low-rise designs used in most of his buildings also meant no costly elevators, or other money sinks like pools or gyms.

• A model of the now-demolished Burtway apartments on display at the museum. Photo by Miles Tweedie

His early brick buildings remain rock solid.

“There’s lots of lessons to learned here,” Mr Harley says outside the old brick flat he lived at in Mount Street.

Reflecting on his designs in 1980, Krantz said they “had to be as functional as possible with no frills, no decoration … the objective was to study every element in the building from the skirting, from the foundations, up to the top of the roof: Is there a better way of doing it for the same money, or a better job for less, or just as good a job for less money?”

Described as “functionalism”, his flats faced criticism that could come out of a modern day council meeting; they were “the slums of the future” critics warned.

Writing in The Western Mail in 1937, he said; “flats are condemned as being destructive of home life and encouraging slovenliness and laziness.

“There are many to whom the small self-contained unit affords the nearest to a real home that their limited income can accommodate.

“Young people saving for their own homes, and old folk whose families are married and to whom a large house is too great a responsibility are able to have the comforts and conveniences of a home at less cost, in more accessible positions and with less work and responsibility.”

Many of his early works have now been demolished, but his legacy is spread wide across Perth.

He’s associated with many prominent names like architect Robert Sheldon, whose works span both Vienna and Perth. Born in Austria in 1908, Sheldon arrived in Fremantle as a refugee in 1939 and would soon change his surname from Schläfrig.

“He walked into my office one day and said ‘I’m an architect from Vienna and I’ve come to Australia as I’ve run away from Hitler. I’m thinking of going to Melbourne; would you advise me to go there, or is there work here?’,” Krantz recalled in an interview in 1996.

Krantz asked to see some of Sheldon’s work, which he described as “superb drawings, beautiful … so I said, would you like to start on Monday morning? He started and he was with me ever since, until he died.”

The pair became the Krantz and Sheldon architecture firm in 1946, which was where renowned architect and fellow refugee Iwan Iwanoff got his start as a draftsman in 1950.

• Harold Krantz in 1986.

Across the decades Krantz would deliver the Burtway Apartments on Terrace Road, the Riviera Flats on Mill Street, and many of the flats around King’s Park and Mount Street.

Krantz’s legacy also lived on with his son David, who would follow in his father’s footsteps as an architect. As his father’s designs had been moulded by the economics of the age, the younger Krantz’s works reflected a different era and the differing taste of clients.

One of his most prominent designs is the 1964 Mount Eliza Apartments at 71 Mount Street, affectionately known as the “rocket flask” for its circular finned design around a central core, requested by the client.

Controversial

The Australian Institute of Architects notes the Mount Eliza Apartments “marked the change in generation from Harold to David Krantz”.

Like his father’s work, it too was controversial in its day, considered “a modernist imposition”. It’s now considered by the AIA as a landmark, and a nationally significant example of 20th century architecture.

The Krantz Legacy with photographs, displays, archival documents and the Burtway model is at the Museum of Perth, 8-10 The Esplanade (10am to 4pm weekdays, and the first Saturday of each month). There’s also an online repository of the research at thekrantzlegacy.com

by DAVID BELL

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