Kerry Hill – exactitude and authenticity

Kerry Hill – exactitude and authenticity

Kerry Hill ( Australian born director of the Singapore (and now Fremantle) based practice Kerry Hill Architects ) has been an influential figure in South East Asian architecture over the past four decades. Not surprisingly Kerry’s favourite hobby is architecture ! He seems to live and breathe architecture.

“I am an architect ….. like a dog is a dog — that’s my lot in life”
I draw. That’s what I do”

Kerry Hill’s oeuvre of the past thirty years reveals a patient pursuit of “Architecture”. In many ways, architecture can be very autobiographical. We see Kerry Hill’s architecture as tranquil, quiet, elegant and bold. Somehow these words also express the character of Kerry Hill as a person: a character that is tough, persevering, patient, inquisitive, with a sense of humour and, most of all, serene. Perhaps Kerry Hill’s influence is, above all, in his example of how an architect can live a life in architecture, life as architecture, architecture as life?

Kerry was born in Perth in 1943 and became one of the first eight graduates to complete their architecture degree at the University of Western Australia in 1968.

He worked for three years with the Perth-based architectural practice Howlett and Bailey. Then, with itchy feet, he went to Hong Kong in 1971 (with wife, Ruth, and young baby) and joined Asian-based architects, Palmer and Turner (at a time, he has suggested, when ‘Australians flew across Asia on their way to Europe). Whilst with Palmer and Turner, the young family moved to Bali for two years to work on the construction of a large hotel. From 1974 to 1978 he managed the Palmer and Turner office in Jakarta.

Kerry opened his own practice in 1979 on the strength of a hotel project in Bali which was never realised, but that involvement led to other projects in the region. His first project overseas was as resident site architect on Bali for the Bali Hyatt Hotel, and what was originally intended to be a three month working stint in Asia has extended to now 40+ years.

During these years, Kerry has distinguished himself as an architect of exceptional sensibility and expertise, with his regionally sensitive approach to the design and construction of buildings across the Asia-Pacific region. He is internationally recognised for developing resort architecture that is both climate and site-specific, drawing on indigenous forms of tropical materials to produce high quality resorts in extraordinary locations. He has completed some of the most architecturally ambitious and resolved projects to be found in South-East Asia, work which is resolutely modern while in a traditional setting.

“The future is only the past again, entered through another gate”

“The uniqueness of place must be allowed to surface – for architecture involves the actuality of things and speaks to the senses – it cannot rely on image alone”

“When building in a foreign culture, architecture must be dealt with reactively for, it has not only to do with extending the valid character of a place, but also with the creation of new places”

“There are two qualities I have come to admire in architecture. One is exactitude and the other is authenticity”

Kerry is a Doctor of Architecture (Honorary) UWA, and is a member of the RAIA and the SIA (Singapore Institute of Architects). He has lectured at the National University of Singapore, the University of Hawaii, UWA and the University of Queensland. He is currently an Adjunct Professor of Architecture at both UWA and University of New South Wales.

Some of his achievements in his 40+ years of practice —

1993, 1994, 1997 and 2006 – Australian Institute of Architects International Award

1995 – Kenneth F Brown Asia Pacific Culture and Architecture Award.

2001 – Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

2003 – RAIA Robyn Boyd Award for the Ogilvie House.

2006 – Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal.

2008 – Honorary Degree of Doctor of Architecture by the University of Western Australia.

2010 – Singapore President’s Design Award for the Designer of the Year.

2012 – Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) for ‘distinguished service to architecture, particularly as an ambassador for Australian design in South East Asia, and as an educator and mentor.

31 st January, 2012

Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO)

Internationally recognised UWA Architecture graduate and Adjunct Professor, Kerry Hill, has been made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) for ‘distinguished service to architecture, particularly as an ambassador for Australian design in South East Asia, and as an educator and mentor.

’Professor Hill studied architecture at UWA in the 1960s and in 2008 was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Architecture by the University. In 2011, he accepted the position of Adjunct Professor of Architecture to support new internationalisation initiatives in the UWA Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts (ALVA).

As Principal of Kerry Hill Architects since 1979, Professor Hill has been responsible for the design of substantial developments throughout Australia including The State Theatre Centre of Western Australia; The Darwin Centre, Darwin; The Heritage Hotel and Port Office Building, Brisbane; and private residences in Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.

He has completed residential, commercial and educational projects in South East Asia, India, Bhutan and the Middle East; and is currently working in Japan, China, Croatia, Jordan and Spain.

Included among his numerous awards are: the President’s Design Award, Singapore, 2010; Australian Institute of Architects International Award, 1993, 1994, 1997 and 2006; Gold Medal, Australian Institute of Architects, 2006; Aga Khan Award for Architecture, 2001; Inaugural Kenneth F Brown Asia Pacific Culture and Architecture Design Award, 1995.

The Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts, Winthrop Professor Simon Anderson, said Kerry Hill had produced a body of work that has shaped and continued to shape the direction of world architecture.

“His greatest contribution and lasting legacy is the way his architecture seamlessly combines the needs and technologies of modern building projects with the traditions and histories of vernacular buildings and environments. He has shown a generation of architects and the communities in which he works that one can produce modern architecture that is responsive to place, that is accommodating of people and that elevates the human spirit,” Professor Anderson said.

A man of few words but well known for his uncompromising commitment to architecture, Kerry Hill is lauded for his work in Asia, in particular on resort hotels. He is celebrated for a brand of architecture that adapts traditional Asian designs and draws on the climatic and site conditions specific to each project location.

His work has received an extensive list of awards from the Singapore and Royal Australian Institute of Architects and from other state institutes in Australia and United States.

Some notable projects include the Datai Hotel in Langkawi, Malaysia, which won the prestigious international Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2001; and The Lalu Hotel at Sun Moon Lake in Nantou, Taiwan, which clinched the FIABCI Prix d’Excellence Winners Award in 2004.

Kerry holds professional registrations for architectural practice in both Singapore and most Australian states. He also lectures at leading schools of architecture. Having spent decades in Singapore since he established Kerry Hill Architects in 1979, Kerry is inclined to “produce results rather than talk”, as one Jury member noted, with special attention paid to “emphasising the sensual experience and intuitive approach” to create outstanding works that display clarity using simple and effective techniques

Perth Centre of the Arts  2011

list of entrants

In June 2005 the Minister for Culture and the Arts Sheila McHale launched CentreStage – an international competition for the design of a new performing arts venue.

The venue to be built in the Perth Cultural Centre on the corner of William and Roe Streets Northbridge, is the first large-scale, purpose built performing arts venue to be constructed in the city centre in more than 30 years.

The call to architects worldwide received an initial response of 137 registrations, with 40 firms submitting their conceptual designs in Stage 1 of the competition.

A jury panel comprising Professor Geoffrey London, WA Government Architect; Professor Adèle Naudé Santos, Dean of Architecture and Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Professor Leon van Schaik, Innovation Professor at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology; Mr Gus Ferguson, Director of Ferguson Architects (Perth); Michael Lynch, Chief Executive, South Bank Centre (London); and Mr Alastair Bryant, Director General, Department of Culture and the Arts; deliberated over the 40 designs and selected a short list of five.

In November 2005 the jury met again, this time to choose the winner from the schematic designs received in Stage 2 of the competition. This was followed by an announcement by the Minister of the successful firm – Kerry Hill Architects – who was awarded the contract for the design of the new performing art venue.

Kerry Hill Architects is a planning, architecture and interior design practice committed to innovative and regionally appropriate architecture.

The firm has extensive experience with resort and city hotels, commercial developments, schools, the performing arts, recreation facilities, corporate and restaurant interiors, residential architecture and restoration projects.

Its design concept proposes the following elements:

The arrangement of the main theatre above the studio theatre minimises the building footprint, allowing the location of a large multifunction outdoor performance venue on the site. The informality of the outdoor space means it will attract a more diverse audience and extend the venue’s reach beyond traditional theatre audiences.

The architecture of the new venue is deliberately contemporary in expression. It proposes the clear articulation of building elements through material and form. The design seeks to establish strong visual identities for both theatres through materials – a black metal cubic volume for the studio theatre and a curved timber cylinder for the main theatre. These identities are clearly visible from the foyers and Roe Street.

Elements such as a glowing fly tower that acts as a beacon to the surrounding city, generous and spatially adventurous foyers and an intimate and an interactive main theatre combine to produce a greater whole. The elements are contained in a clearly articulated architectural expression of solid and transparent volumes. The material palette is deliberately robust responding to the urban nature of the site.

The containment of the vertical circulation to the foyers in an expressed gilded bronze box encourages a sense of event and spectacle, increasing the anticipation of the performance. Combined, these elements become an abstract sculpture of interlocking planes and prisms contrasting solidity and transparency.


This submission was unanimously judged as the concept with most potential for resolving the urban design and functional requirements of the site.

Key qualities of the winning scheme include:

1) an intelligent solution to a complex site, producing a clearly legible organisation of the facility;
2) elegant massing that relates comfortably to the Cultural Centre context;
3) appropriately scaled elements that respect adjacent heritage buildings;
4) Roe and the critical William Street corner are activated with a transparent, multi-layered foyer;
5) Public circulation through the facility is encouraged with connection through an urban room linking James and William Streets
6) A well chosen palette of materials; and
7) The luminous fly tower creates a compelling night time landmark for the performing arts facility and the Cultural Centre in general

The design proposal demonstrates a sensitive response to local scale and context without compromising the strength of the architectural idea.

The design includes:

  • 575 seat Heath Ledger Theatre
  • the flexible performance space, Studio Underground, capable of seating 200+
  • The Courtyard, a multi-purpose outdoor space
  • spacious foyers and public amenities, including bar facilities for each performance space
  • associated rehearsal rooms
  • a palette of natural materials including black metal, curved timber and gilded bronze
  • strong contemporary visual identities for each performance space
  • state-of-the-art theatre equipment.

Perth Civic Library 2012

The library design by Kerry Hill Architects has won the tender for Perth’s first civic building in four decades.

The city’s new public lending library and public plaza will form part of the city’s $55 million St George’s Cathedral Heritage Precinct redevelopment, which includes the Old Treasury Buildings, Land Titles Office and St George’s Cathedral. It will be the first major civic building to be built by the council since the Perth Concert Hall, which opened in 1973.

The city council said it had chosen an elegant building with graceful circular design as the preferred model for the new City of Perth Library and plaza.

Artwork of Perth’s new $14 million public lending library by Kerry Hill Architects. The Council accepted Kerry Hill Architects as the project architect after a tender process that attracted submissions from 18 companies. The Council invited three of the tenderers who best met the selection criteria to develop detailed design concepts. They were paid $15,000 each to do so.

Kerry Hill Architects submitted a quote of $3,112,600 for the supply of architectural services.

Construction of the library is planned to commence in November 2012 (after demolition of the Law Chambers Building) with an estimated completion date of late 2014.

Mayor Lisa Scaffidi said the state-of-the-art library building would add a fresh, new dimension to the precinct while accentuating the heritage aspects of the historic buildings. The library and plaza will be built on the site of the Law Chambers Building (567-579 Hay Street) which will be demolished. The current City of Perth lending library is located in the basement of that building.

The library building will cover some 3,500 sqm and will include meeting rooms, gallery spaces, café/tenancy and amenities. It will also incorporate sustainable design features. “The Council was impressed with the distinctive circular flow of the building concept and its intermittent vertical cladding as well as its orientation to natural light,” the Mayor said. “The public plaza will provide an attractive outlook from the building as well as being a restful public space. The overall design will provide a bright, new perspective on the adjacent heritage buildings which have been overshadowed or obscured due to their proximity to the multi-storey Law Chambers Building.

“The Council appreciates the efforts of respondents to the tender process, particularly the three short-listed consortia. Clearly this will be a building of some stature which will help to invigorate this historical, but under-used and rather uninviting area of the city.”

Ogilvie House 2004



Standing high on a dune overlooking one of the Sunshine Coast’s most beautiful beaches, the Ogilvie House takes command of its surroundings.

It is a reserved and sophisticated building that acquires its presence from the resolution and balance of the horizontals and verticals of its strong asymmetrical geometry. The building breaks from the recent romantic Queensland tradition, in that it is classical in its relationship to the site and in the order of its composition. The house is set solidly down on the earth and complements the natural surroundings through contrast.

It is fashioned through the shaping of mass and demonstrates that concrete walls can form as compatible a partnership with the Queensland coastal environment as can steel and timber. In this way it breaks from the lightweight structures, built up from linear elements and capped by the play of pitched and curving roofs, that have dominated Queensland architects’ psyche since Gabriel Poole’s early revolutionary minimalist buildings of the 1970s.

Contrarily, it “hugs the earth tightly”. The building emerges from the architect’s empathy with, and response to, the poetic and sensitive brief of the client, who combed Southeast Asia in search of a designer who could translate their words into architecture.

Kerry Hill’s previous projects, primarily for South-east Asia but also for India, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere, creatively blend a strict modernity with a sound understanding of the regional characteristics of particular locations – both in attitude to design and in building form and appearance. In this, his work resembles that of Geoffrey Bawa in Sri Lanka and these architects share the ability to impart a rich measure of the splendour of place, but with restraint.

While the Ogilvie House conforms in being directly in the tradition of Corbusier and even more so of Kahn, it makes few concessions to the Queensland building vernacular. It does, however, make full concessions to Queensland as “place” and the building reveals, in the use of such devices as courtyards, screens and water, that Hill, in terms of the soul if not the body, has drawn on his experiences in Asia to achieve an appropriate response.

The Ogilvie House has a strong sense of materiality.

Under its flat roofs, sliced de Stijl-like by east-west vertical planes and by the stepped and layered facades to the east, the building reads as a series of boxes made up of floor-to-ceiling horizontally layered timber screens juxtaposed with sheets of glass and the solid “American Eagle” (a soft earthy tone tinged with olive) planes of the rendered concrete block walls, all neatly delineated by the crisp white banding of facias and frames.

The essence of the building lies in the simplicity and generosity of its gestures, be they formal or spatial, and in the clean and precise detailing. The quality of production is high. This is most explicit in the wall surfaces, in the elegantly designed bathrooms, and in the hand-crafting and connecting of the exterior tallow wood: the battens that sheath the windows through ceiling-high screens, and the flooring and siding held in place by more than 40,000 meticulously placed concealed screws and wood plugs. Here the linear element is tamed and trapped into broad sheets.

This is a composed building with a tightly limited palette and carefully counterpoised associations: through subtle colours, the play of voids and solids, of marble floors, timber floors and water basins – an uninterrupted orchestration of simple reductive differences.

Hill is a disciplined architect and his architecture is rarely distracted from its principal themes and goals, which for the Ogilvie House were – in the client’s words – to bring about “a sense of simple elegance … a delicate balance between scrupulous simplicity and a feeling of warmth … and a feeling of true peace and serenity, sensuality and refinement”.

He defines the “theoretical ambitions” of his practice as “exactitude” and “authenticity” and he sees the plan as “the most unifying strategy of our work”. The plans invariably exhibit a clear logic of use, elevated through their formal arrangements into compositions that are direct and revealing when considered from functional and climatic perspectives, and rewarding in the aesthetic experiences developed from them.

The Ogilvie House accommodates not only the recreational and daily living of the family, a caretaker’s unit and extensive car parking, but also serves as a business office and on the ground floor contains a gallery for a fine collection of Australian art. Below ground, preserved from a previous Poole house that stood on the site, is the capacious vaulted wine cellar.

The control of privacy from without, and the control of view from within, is quite masterly. The building is embraced by its sloping corner site which is walled on the landward sides and pierced for entrances at the upper and lower levels. Between these two edges the house connects landscaped courtyards “to create harmony of spaces”: the entry court, which serves the ground/gallery level of the house and gives access via external stairs to a further court for the upper floor offices; the lower water court; the ensuite bathroom court on the first floor; and the upper garden court serving the top entry and guest parking. The courtyards differ in their moods, and with the varied surfaces simply forming stages for single or grouped specimen pandanus palms, the landscaping bears the same lucid signature as the building.

The client requested that the “circulation be joyful, clear and simple”. Entrance from the lower court, through a large pivoting steel-edged timber door, reveals a further space open to the sky and containing the large black slate-lined central reflecting pool of the gallery. The stark emptiness and stillness of this space engenders a sensuous feeling of tranquillity. The pool orders movement on the ground floor together with the north-south directional axis of the eastern wing with guest rooms, gymnasium and exercise deck opening onto the veranda with its sliding protective screens. These open out to the eastern lawns planted on two terraces, supported and edged by precisely steel-edged trays that provide a further geometric foil to the natural landscape as they slice into sloping regenerated fields of dune grasses.

On the upper levels of the house, movement is again directed by sheets of water: this time by the lap pool and the reflecting pools. The subsidiary spaces, bedrooms, offices, library and kitchen are arranged around the large central volume of the principal living space. This is divided by the central double-sided fireplace, but focused on the swimming pool and the ocean to the east. Spaces and openings have been carefully determined to take full advantage of the coastal beauty and the subtropical climate.

Of note are the designs for the principal bedroom and the main office that bracket the swimming pool to the north and south, and in the process shield the interior from prevailing winds. The perimeter rooms on all levels are but one space deep between the exterior and the central volume to encourage cross ventilation, while the house is airconditioned for extreme temperature conditions. At the top of the site to the west, the open space of the street is extended by grassed visitor car parking set at grade and dramatized by the sculptural effect of pandanus trees backed by painted walls.

It is on the upper levels that Hill’s design is most inventive – in the overall volume and in the clever planning which, together with concealed sliding glass partitions, gives rise to engaging ambiguities. What is inside and what is out; what is a room and what is a terrace? What of the kitchen that is and yet is not? Perimeter sliding screens and internal blinds, sheltering the glazed walls, transform the space in terms of its character and the quality of the light brought in from outside “to stimulate the spirit”.

The floor is disciplined by a series of parallel rectangular bands that step down from west to east, providing a clear diagram for the spatial order: first the upper court, combining marble, water and grass; then change of level; then marble and water; then tallow wood timbers; then blackbutt flooring; then change of level; then tallow wood deck; then water, finally culminating in the framed outlook over the ocean below that seemingly extends the view to infinity. As with the major composition of the wall and roof planes, this geometry is countered in the other direction, here by minor rectangles such as the long serving bench and a secondary water pool feeding the waterfall to the main pool. The most dominant single gesture is the presence of the hovering concrete roof that resolves the various surfaces and levels into a unity. In times of rain, spouts along the roof edge drop water into the reflecting pool, bringing beauty and sound in a celebration of the weather.

This roof is unusual in Hill’s designs, which more commonly lighten towards the sky. The space beneath is both static and dynamic, providing large, quiet spaces of respite and affording dramatic linear views, as from the upper terrace first over, then under the large roof, through the building to the sea beyond.

Hill’s previous work in Australia has not had the authority of the Ogilvie House, and there would appear to be little parallel to its design in Australian architecture, except perhaps the use of timber screening devices.

Lessons for Queensland architecture are numerous, notably in the use of water. While pools and water features have been used extensively in Queensland resort architecture, surprisingly water’s characteristics of cooling and visual delight have been given but token recognition in commercial and public buildings and seldom appear in residential work. The bold gesture of the placement of the Ogilvie House swimming pool and the extensive integration of water throughout the design are exceptional. The courtyard is also a design device that bears further consideration in Queensland’s climate. Courtyards – while not the major design determinant of this house, as they are in many of Hill’s buildings – nevertheless make significant contributions to the ambience on all levels.

The Ogilvie House is a welcome addition to Australian architecture. With the clarity of its primary forms and its spirit of order, stability and permanence, it presents a refreshing antithesis to the celebrated mainstream of recent Queensland coastal architecture.

Oii House  1997

In WA, Kerry’s Ooi House at Margaret River was awarded an RAIA National Commendation for Housing in 1998, with the jury saying it was “a house at peace with the landscape and the horizon”. It added that “this is a house of great serenity”.

Also, that “this house resurrects some of the fading traditions of Australian domestic architecture, giving them an added sophistication and sensitivity which results in empathy of form, space and texture with the landscape. It belongs to the school of seductive architecture”.

The use of pavillions seperated by a spine of circulation is evidenced in the project by Kerry Hill Architects.

The house utilises the local use of rammed-earth with the bedroom pavillion surrounded thereby presenting an almost solid barrier to the cold south-westerly winds. Its ridged roof is lifted above the rammed earth walls, seperated by timber strips. Courtyards have been inserted into the house to provide sheltered outdoor sitting areas and to act as sun traps in winter.

The living room is contained by a full glazed wall, with the roof lifted in a mono-pitched to the north, thereby maximising the exposure of the room to the north sun and the spectactular all-round views. Part of the house is anchored into the slope but the living room, with its lifted roof, is elevated over the site, emphasising its transparent lightness.

The plan of the house is rectilinear and uses a great amount of full-height glazing. There are two distinct zones within the buildings, that of the sleeping zones made out of thick rammed earth and living areas such as dining/linving spaces are made out of light steel structures and transparent walls

Amankora  2007

Amankora by Kerry Hill Architects won the International Architecture Award at the 2011 National Architecture Awards.

The architect’s respectful fifteen-year association with Bhutan’s natural environment and its indigenous buildings is evident in the careful and varied site selection for the five lodges and the architectural expression of each.

Combining the Sanskrit word for ‘peace’ with kora or ‘circular pilgrimage’ in Dzongkha, the Bhutanese language, Amankora is a series of lodges across the central and western valleys of Bhutan.

The sole surviving Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom, Bhutan is located between the Tibetan Plateau and India, making it one of the most remote and pristine environments on earth. Descending from 7,000-metre high peaks in the north to the low-lying plains of the south, Bhutan’s rivers have forged deep valleys separated by high mountain passes. Historically isolated, each valley’s scenic beauty and topography affords visitors an opportunity for unique journeys of discovery between them.

To best experience all that Bhutan has to offer, Amankora can tailor journeys that include a combination of its lodges located in the valleys of Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang

Buildings are Bhutanese in form and general materiality. However, they have been configured variously as a series of rooms (from eight to twenty-four) to create lodges. One is discovered through a forest walk, another in an orange orchard beside a restored farmhouse, another as a “village” and another as a series of random rubble buildings, drawing on traditional valley institutional and domestic building. The resulting architecture is noteworthy for its elegance of plan and the quality of external spaces for journey or contemplation.

Designed as plywood boxes within the building shells, the interiors are enriched by custom-designed furnishings, fabrics and lighting, which contrast the rustic with the crafted.

However, it may be that the legacy of this remarkable project is the transfer of Western Australia’s stabilized earth technology to Bhutanese contractors. The traditional mud building technique, susceptible to earthquake and rain, now has a substitute in stabilized earth, which could prolong the traditional form of building expression.


The Bhutan project has been difficult but rewarding, not least of all because it has taken twelve or more years. There is great temptation to abstract the essence of what one feels to be Bhutanese in spirit rather than what is seen as being Bhutanese. The government, however, is clear in its directive that all buildings must look Bhutanese and this is to be taken literally, through written guidelines, complete with opening sizes and decorative elements.

Singapore President’s Design Award 2010



The work of Kerry Hill and his practice over many decades has involved the exploration of, and extensions to, the idea of rooted regionalist architecture. This has resulted in an extraordinarily wide range of building types in different countries that has been achieved with quiet confidence.

This confidence has been derived from a thorough analysis of place; a belief that intuition as well as formal skill is important, and that cultural difference should be regarded as a generator of new ideas rather than a hurdle to be overcome.

The hallmark of this architect’s work has concerned clarity of diagram, which has in turn led to simple and effective techniques to synthesise issues of scale, climate and material.

Kerry Hill’s belief that house design is a key element in the thinking of any architect is a clue to the way in which his own exploration of scale, plan and site plan can produce anything from modest projects to major buildings with major budgets.

Key to all the work is an understanding of the way in which weather and climate need to be accommodated in the context of the tropics. As it has turned out, the lessons that international modernism rarely fully learned are now being taught by the recipients of those modernist ideas who work in the East.

The new obsession with sustainability and low-energy buildings has required architects in Europe and America to understand the relationships between ventilation, light, space and insulation that have been critical to the works of Hill and other like-minded architects working in extreme climates.

The work of this practice is a reminder to both young and not so young architects that integrity of design, which includes responsibility for interiors and energy strategies, will be necessary if the profession of architecture is to respond to the environmental challenges that face development and construction sectors across the world.

On a personal level, Kerry Hill has been a teacher of, and mentor to, many architects both in schools of architecture and in his office, some of whom continue to explore and develop ideas that have formed the touchstone of his career.




We worked for Kerry Hill Architects from 1989 as fresh graduates until 1995 when we set up our own firm. Kerry often said that the most important decision you make as a graduate is the first firm you work for. We found that to be true.

Kerry’s office was an excellent training ground. In the 1980s, Kenneth Framptom’s Critical Regionalism had been the major focus of design in schools in both Australia and Singapore, and the hospitality projects Kerry had on hand were tailor-made to explore how international modernism could be married to traditional architecture – tourism projects were at the front line of global versus local, stereotypes versus surprise, embracing or resisting history, representation, authenticity, innovation and climate.

The office had a healthy collegiate atmosphere and a great group of people, with the result that debate raged, alternatives were pushed and everyone critiqued everyone else’s work. It was great fun and also very hard work. It was always about architecture, architecture and architecture. At the time, it seemed this atmosphere was natural to an architectural practice, but after running our own firm, we have realised that such an atmosphere must be created, and there is some alchemy required to consistently generate such commitment and passion from a constantly changing group of young architects. This magic dust came from Kerry, without doubt. Perhaps the single greatest thing we learnt from Kerry is that architecture has to sail above all else, and if you believe this, somehow everyone, and everything else, will come along for the ride.

The development of Kerry’s signature design direction began with the unbuilt Balinese project of Jimbaran Bay, designed in the late 1980s before we joined the firm. This unbuilt project involved developing traditional Balinese components into a contemporary hotel and opened up the possibilities of composing simple, highly resolved elements (the Balinese Pavilion) to create a sequence of spaces (rather than building objects) that are the main event, while at the same time the use of a received language relieved the pressure to create a strong author’s style. Taking away strong object authorship allowed materials and spaces to take centre stage and project beauty rather than personality.

This approach was explored over the next five years or so, the vernacular interpretations becoming increasingly abstract and modernist in expression, and transforming slowly from more classic compositions based on axes, repetition and symmetry to asymmetric balance and harmony in his latest work. The basic compositional approach of placing resolved objects housing the main functions to create between them a sequence of major spaces has remained a consistent compositional approach since the mid-1990s, explored in diverse sites, materials and climates.

Kerry has always insisted on elegant solutions. This starts with the plan, a Mondrian composition of elegantly proportioned rectangles, themselves composed of further elegant rectangles that continue down through bathrooms to the furniture. The insistence on generosity of dimensions, appropriate scale and careful attention to proportion was another important lesson. Climatic solutions are similarly solved through elegance – overhang screens and reflection pools are used to create microclimates that are both functional and beautiful. Context, scale and sense of place were always very important design criteria, with the aim of producing a harmonious relationship rather than an iconic statement.

Formal resolution is most often highlighted in Kerry’s work, but its sophistication hides his equal or even stronger interest in architecture as a tool to enable states of mind and modes of behaviour. Why his hotels work so well, where so many others, stylistically inspired by his work, are dismal failures, is that the guest experience is choreographed by architecture, so public areas are designed to facilitate interaction and social behaviour, while rooms are spaces that engender contemplation and repose. These human responses are created through spatial sequences and subtle shifts in scale, visibility, shelter, materials and lighting. The final result seems natural and inevitable, but in actual fact it is the result of hard, conscious effort, and is the central criteria he uses in evaluating his team’s proposals. This understanding and shaping of human behaviour underlies all his plans and distinguishes his work from his many imitators.

Working with Kerry was a wonderful period in our lives that we will always treasure and from which we learnt many important lessons. With our own practice, we often find ourselves imparting the knowledge we learnt from Kerry to a new batch of graduates.

We take great pleasure in nominating Kerry for the President’s Design Award for his amazing body of work. His work is deeply Asian in its roots, highly sophisticated, elegant and beautiful. Kerry prefers to produce results rather than talk, but despite his infrequent public appearances, his quiet and consistent output has had immense influence on architectural culture in Singapore, Southeast Asia and, increasingly, the world.




To pass freely through open doors, it is necessary to respect the fact that they have solid frames.

These words seem to be the guiding parameters of the practice of Kerry Hill in the pursuit of design, specifically architecture, that I will explore in this referral: a meditation on the practice of architecture. In order to investigate the potentials of architecture, it means there is a good grasp of the issues of modern architecture. Modern architecture is characterised by the simplification of form and creation of ornament from the structure and theme of the building. We see these unfolding, the simplification of form into rectilinear forms, the creation of ornament through the structure itself and the material textures, and enrichment of the theme of the building in its composition and programmatic strategies.

Deceptively simple, there is a vision of a whole; the physical presence forms a background for sensuous enjoyment of people, of their activities, and a seamless unfolding landscape for the fulfilment of needs and desires. The phenomenal qualities of space, transparency and materiality create subtle synthesis that evokes atmospheres of restraint and truthfulness. There is an economy of means through an intense and rigorous investigation based on hard work, and resolute determination in a relentless pursuit of perfection. There is a constant process of refinement, where potentials are investigated and multiple possibilities are explored, until the essential qualities of design are achieved. The result is the impeccable synthesis of composition, logical purpose and precise beauty.

The approach to materials is always new, offering new possibilities within the normal constraints of a project, yet takes the next step to a new potential. The use of common everyday materials arising from the site shows the potential of the conventional that is not the conventional anymore, something new and often ground-breaking.

The relation of a project to a context is of utmost importance, an essential component of the methodology that gives each work unique qualities in a lineage of consistent forms. In this observation is a reflection on thoughts by Peter Sloterdijk, with questions: Why should modern thought bid goodbye to this equation of world and house? Why do we need a new image in order to designate how modern man lives in social and architectural containers? Meditations on these questions form a concentration of thought embraced by the practice of Kerry Hill. Seemingly simple, yet richly complex in the experience that unfolds: whispers of the wind, the shadows of the sun, and the sensuous poetry of the straight line. Immediately, the impact of air envelops my body and makes me feel a spontaneous sensation: this is architecture.

A few weeks ago, I was in a place that made me feel the power of architecture: the presence of space, the relationship to a context. The place was a work created by Kerry Hill. The place awakened the thought that imagination is a magic act, as Sartre once wrote: “It is a spell that can make things appear, so that one can hold them.”

In giving life to that imagination, Kerry Hill rightly deserves the honour of the President’s Design Award for his respect for the solid frames of architecture that makes possible a free passage through the door of the joys of imagination.

March 2006




In awarding the 2006 Gold Medal to Kerry Hill, the RAIA celebrates the work of an exemplary architect who has consistently delivered the very highest quality architecture. Kerry’s uncompromising search for, and commitment to, his own architectural language (an abstract modernism overlaid with powerful yet superbly sensitive local cultural references), his faultless and inspiring material selection on each project, and the graphic and spatial quality of his planning are to be applauded.

Over the past 37 years, Kerry has distinguished himself as an architect of exceptional sensibility and expertise – encouraging a progressive and enquiring regionally sensitive approach to the design and construction of buildings across the Asia-Pacific region.

Kerry’s resort hotels are some of his most recognized and awarded work.

He is known internationally for developing an Asian resort architecture that is both climate- and site-specific, drawing on indigenous forms of tropical building to produce high quality hotels and resorts across the region in extraordinarily exotic locations. These projects represent some of the most architecturally ambitious and resolved hotel work to be found in South-East Asia, work which robustly resists the developing universalism of the theme park found in many other resorts. Celebrated examples include The Datai hotel in Langkawi, Malaysia, winner of the prestigious international Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2001, and The Lalu hotel at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan.

The past ten years have been a defining period for Kerry, marked by inspirational public and commercial projects such as the mixed-use Genesis Building in Singapore, the Singapore Cricket Association’s new pavilion, and the Entrance Plaza to the Singapore Zoological Gardens. Lauded private projects include beautiful residences in Australia and Asia, among which are the Ogilvie House at Sunshine Beach, joint winner of the 2003 RAIA Robin Boyd Award for Residential Buildings, and the Ooi House at Margaret River in Western Australia, recipient of a RAIA National Commendation for Residential Buildings in 1998.

As an architect whose work has made a significant contribution to the quality of the built environment across the world, and in particular in Asia, Kerry Hill is a fitting recipient of the 2006 RAIA Gold Medal.


“I’m an architect like a dog is a dog.”

Kerry Hill offered this observation on his lot in life during a recent ABC Asia Pacific Focus television programme. Hill was introduced as “the Australian architect behind some of Asia’s most innovative buildings,” and as an architect who “has specialized in adapting traditional Asian design to his decidedly modernist buildings.”

As director of the Singapore-based practice Kerry Hill Architects, Hill has received an impressive number of distinguished design awards within the region, including the inaugural Kenneth F. Brown Asia Pacific Culture and Architecture Design Award in 1995 and the 2001 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. He has also won the RAIA International Award three times and was joint winner in 2003 of the RAIA Robin Boyd Award for Residential Buildings.

Hill, an erstwhile Aussie Rules footballer and high jumper, is a fortunate man in that he found his calling in architecture early on and has never looked back. Since graduating from the University of Western Australia in 1968 his career in architecture has grown on an ever-steeper upward curve and his architecture has evolved into a highly refined species of pure breed.

After completing his degree, Kerry Hill’s first architectural position was with Howlett and Bailey, architects of one of the finest Modernist buildings in Perth, Council House. He worked with them on the new Perth Concert Hall and acknowledges Jeffrey Howlett as an important mentor.

In 1971 Hill took up a position in Hong Kong with Palmer and Turner, and his first project with that firm was as resident site architect in Bali for the Bali Hyatt hotel. What was originally intended to be a short working stint in Asia to help replenish depleted finances has now extended to 35 years.

In Bali, Hill found himself in a small community of Australian expatriates that included the more senior fellow architect Peter Muller and the painter Donald Friend, old Asia hands. This period was important in shaping an attitude to living and working in Asia, to responding to the differences between the known culture of Australia and the mysteries of Asia. For Hill and his young family this experience became a point of departure, a watershed in their lives.

Hill began his own practice in 1979 with the promise of a hotel commission in Bali, which never eventuated. As it transpired, the first built project of the practice was also a hotel, the first of a series that was built and numerous others that were not. The firm established its early reputation with these elegant hotels in the most exotic of locations. Hill recognized that he could build a large and successful practice around this work, but baulked at doing so for fear of being stamped as a “hotel architect” and thereby restricting opportunities to explore the architectural challenges of other building types. As a result, he has limited the size of the practice and been selective in the commissions he has accepted. He has, nevertheless, maintained an enduring and mutually rewarding working relationship with Adrian Zecha, the innovative director of Aman Resorts, who has acted as client-patron and as a creative partner in the evolution of the distinctive qualities of the Aman hotels designed by Hill. These qualities have been recognized by other hotel chains, but few have succeeded in seducing Hill to design for them.

For a period, individual houses, small distillations of the hotels, became a parallel focus for the practice. The Genesis Building, a mixed commercial and residential development in Singapore, enabled the beginnings of a more direct engagement with the city. More recently, and satisfyingly for Hill, the practice has been awarded commissions for public buildings.

Two international competitions were won within months of each other: the master plan and initial key buildings for the University of New South Wales campus to be established in Singapore, and Centrestage, the new performing arts venue for Perth.

Hill’s work is rigorously ordered, with plan resolution performing a central role. He values the development of a simple but disciplined plan early in the design process, allowing the focus then to move on to other aspects. In this strategy Hill responds to lessons learnt from Louis Kahn, with his focus on the discipline of planning and his capacity to develop an all-encompassing spatial order through this. Hill also admires Kahn’s ability to manipulate materials and light, to link the modern with the archaic, and to distil complex building programmes into strong, simple forms.

Kahn is the most constant and pervasive influence for Hill, but others are also willingly acknowledged: Le Corbusier for the strength of his original ideas and fidelity to those ideas; Frank Lloyd Wright for his planning with the focus on clearly defined hierarchical axes and the layered, overlapping massing. All three architects also share with Hill a willingness to allow their work to be enriched by understanding and embracing the architectural traditions of the East. Hill’s early work was influenced by his friendship with Geoffrey Bawa, by Bawa’s inventive responses to the local Sri Lankan setting through his modern buildings and by his capacity to surprise. Mies van der Rohe’s abstracted plans and his relentless pursuit of a singular idea remain a point of reference while, among current practitioners, Hill has a high regard for Herzog and de Meuron’s sustained and intense creativity. The traditional architecture of Japan, where Hill also has projects, is a point of reference for its capacity to generate a sense of wellbeing through its clarity and calm. In Australia, Hill acknowledges not only the work of Jeffrey Howlett, but also that of Guilford Bell. Glenn Murcutt’s architecture provides for Hill a model of discipline and approach to climate.

Hill has reaped numerous awards, has won a number of competitions and is the subject of regular invitations for speaking engagements, and his firm’s work has appeared in many architectural journals and books. However, it’s perhaps a measure of the presence of architecture on the world’s radar that, when the words “Kerry Hill” are entered into Google, we learn more about the Kerry Hill breed of sheep, originating from Powys on the English/Welsh borders, than we do about Kerry Hill the architect.

It has to be admitted that there are some parallels.

The Kerry Hill breed, we are advised, is well balanced, sturdy, with ears set high and free from wool. They are handsome sheep, good on their feet and good in their teeth. For Kerry Hill, architect, we could add patrician, authoritative, generous and utterly committed to the discipline. This commitment helps drive the practice and sustain a mentoring role that he has performed for many past and current employees. There is both tacit and open acknowledgment among Singaporean architects of the importance of Hill’s presence in that city in assisting with the development of its local architectural culture.

In support of this, what we do find on Google about Kerry Hill the architect is that he is better known and more widely celebrated in Asia than in Australia. This well-deserved award will help focus the attention of Australians on the work of Kerry Hill Architects.



The work of Australian architects is not limited by geography and this year’s awarding of the RAIA Gold Medal to Kerry Hill is an important recognition of that fact. His is a truly significant international practice. Unlike previous medallists who have built in overseas locations from practices based in Australia, Hill is part of a substantial contingent of expatriate Australian-trained architects and academics, who have practised or been practising outside this country, often for decades. They have been ambassadors for Australian practice and, more often than not, they have earned global stature independent of citizenship. Thus, Kerry Hill rightly sits within the stellar ranks of architects like Raymond McGrath, John Andrews, Peter Wilson, Hank Koning and Julie Eizenberg, and academics like Bill Mitchell and Peter Rowe, all expatriate Australians who have made significant contributions to the international world of architecture.

For Kerry Hill, international acclaim has rested mostly with the design of a series of serenely planned and detailed resorts in paradisiacal tropical locations. Hotels such as The Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia (1990–1994); The Chedi, Bandung, Indonesia (1992–1994); and Amanusa, Nusa Dua (1990–1992) and The Serai, Manggis (1992–1994), both in Bali, are acknowledged as important (and theoretically controversial) bulwarks of place-making and craft tradition in an increasingly competitive culture of global capital. With the rise of regionalism in architecture discourse in the 1980s, Hill’s architecture represented a poignant moment in South-East Asia, and was seen as a logical inheritance to the mantle of Geoffrey Bawa and Peter Muller in Sri Lanka and Bali, respectively.

However, the difference between their work and that of Hill lies in Hill’s tectonic and material rigour in terms of form and type, and his rethinking of tropical urbanity and concepts of urban agglomeration. These urban ideas suggest broader applications for Hill’s work, moving it beyond images of place that suggest hegemonic cliché and nostalgia or closure to questions of form. Hill’s more recent hotel projects for Kolkata, Dubai, Croatia and Taiwan indicate a further decisive move – a move away from recasting recognizable typologies towards a higher level of abstraction and refinement of detail. This strategy reinforces the design strengths that have long underpinned Hill’s architecture: a rigorously orchestrated sequence of arrival, reception and spatial release, based around themes of axis, court and framed view.

This same careful rationalism, this recasting of orthodox architectural forms and devices, also marks Kerry Hill’s individual contribution to Australian architecture. Hill can be placed within a strong and ongoing tradition of place-making in Australian architecture – one that includes Glenn Murcutt, Troppo, Richard Leplastrier, Brit Andresen and Peter O’Gorman. However, his architecture suggests typological reinvention and sometimes its inversion, always within the context of an ongoing project of modernity. This idea is little discussed within the context of Australian architectural history, but it properly includes the work of Howlett and Bailey, the spatial platforms and outdoor rooms of the houses of McGlashan & Everist, the studied informality of Neil Clerehan’s underplayed modern villas, the typological and structural systems of Joyce Nankivell, the monumental but never neutral urbanity of Yuncken Freeman, and the improbable (but often realized) planar compositions of Neville Gruzman. This is not the pervasive and fashionable currency of an uncritical and superficial modernism. Instead this work exhibits an unwavering commitment to rethinking models from a typically modernist standpoint – from first principles in plan, form and structure but always mindful of light, tactility and context.

Hill’s Ogilvie House at Sunshine Beach, Queensland (2003), for example, is unlike any other contemporary house in subtropical Queensland. It doesn’t adopt the usual local palette of corrugated iron, fly-away roof and excited appendages of shading devices. Its pedigree lies more with Hill’s recent shedding of iconic vernacular moments and his emphasis on the abstract, fundamental components of controlled spatial sequence, the casting of deep shade through emphatic horizontal roofs and timber screens at the very edges of his forms, and the continuous deployment of the courtyard as a self-shading mechanism. It is this latter space – the courtyard – for which Hill deserves particular celebration. Hill uses the courtyard for psychological containment, for borrowing shade from walls rather than obvious roofs, for spatial extension to frame views or vertical connection with the sky, for retreat from the relative chaos of the city without, for the courtyard’s ability to cross-ventilate between spaces, and for the opportunity to use water or plants to provide visual relief and contemplation. This deployment of the courtyard as a key element of tropical design offers an important lesson for Australian architects in its potential application to the Australian context across a range of climatic and urban contexts.

If there is a measure of orthodoxy present in the work of Kerry Hill, it is in the conscious realization of local capabilities in terms of construction practice, climate and material longevity, and the specific circumstances of urban and landscape location. Hill’s work also falls within that category of Australian architects committed to a modern reading of urban morphology, where the historic forms of the city are uncovered and not imitated but abstracted and given fresh form. In Australia, Hill’s work aligns with the formal but considered sobriety of Guilford Bell, Espie Dods, Alex Tzannes and Alex Popov. In this work questions of street, pathway and spatial sequence as a considered orchestration of experience are critical to understanding the city, and to the potential for each building to encapsulate the city in miniature. This is an architecture of walls, framed views and, in Hill’s words, “the intrinsic value of one material paying respect to another”. Hill’s recent commission for Centrestage, the new performing arts venue in his home city of Perth, offers a unique opportunity for these ideas to be explored on a grander public scale than the secure bucolic settings of his Australian residential projects. It is a worthy commission that coincides with the receipt of his profession’s most prestigious award, and is the logical next phase in the series of distinguished urban projects from his office that now dot the eastern half of the globe.

I first met Kerry Hill in his office, a converted Chinese shophouse in Singapore. In person, Hill is an unassuming figure, almost shy, a man of very few, always well-chosen words. He has been a conscientious mentor to some of the region’s most vital young practitioners, yet he can be simultaneously aloof when such a condition allows freedom. Like his personal presence, his architecture is an elegant backdrop for the largeness and relevance of place.



I have been asked to reflect on the influence of Kerry Hill in South-East Asian architecture.

I would reply, it is an influence that extends beyond South-East Asian architecture; it is an influence on architecture per se.

Influence? The dictionary defines this as follows: the effect of something on a person, thing, or event; the power that somebody has to affect other people’s thinking or actions by means of argument, example, or force of personality; somebody or something able to affect the course of events or somebody’s thinking or action.

If we consider the effect of Kerry Hill on persons, events and things related to architecture, we must say that he has a profound influence.

A school has evolved from Kerry Hill’s practice of architecture, just as schools have developed from the work of Rem Koolhaas of OMA, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron, and Toyo Ito of Toyo Ito & Associates. Many former members of Kerry Hill Architects have become prominent and important practitioners – they have also become influential. They have become people whom people watch. They move and shift the way architecture is being done; they move how architecture is being seen. They achieve this through their works, their writings, their presence.

They include WOHA, both Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell; Cheong Yew Kuan; Ernesto Bedmar of Bedmar and Shi; Richard Ho. All have at one time worked or collaborated with Kerry Hill.

Influence? It could mean being watched for explorations, the simple architectural moves that determine waves of actions and strategies in architecture. For example, Kerry Hill’s screen on the Genesis building in Singapore (1994–1997) created an explosion of work on the possibilities of wooden screens around South-East Asia. This gesture of a wooden screen on the facade of a building catapulted a simple device that responds to wind, breeze and sun, so necessary in the tropics, into everyone’s consciousness.

Influence? I could mention Kerry Hill’s influence on the exploration of space using a modern idiom; on probing the vocabulary of architecture; on ways of using the physicality of architecture to create a space, to evoke an atmosphere. Or the exploration of details and material combinations, the handling of light and shadow, the passage of a breeze. I could mention the exploration of modern architecture, the pristine beauty of forms and of correct proportions. Or the investigation of making an architecture for a particular context, the challenge of universal ideas, and the particular emergence of forms. Or the response to climate, to clients’ desires, to the demands of regulations and guidelines.

Above all, Kerry Hill has a profound influence in showing how one can explore patiently, with perseverance, and in very subtle and simple ways.

His exploration is pursued with vigour and resoluteness. It is also an excellent example in the exercise of restraint – of knowing when enough is enough.

The resort and hotel projects go beyond tropical formal architectural qualities towards both questioning and proposing the ideal experience that might unfold in such places. They also explore how an architecture which makes spaces through incessant repetition and iteration might pursue a search for that space that feels just right.

What of the influence on expanding the horizon of exploration towards the future? Kerry Hill demonstrates how the pursuit of ideas can expand from one typology and scale to another. The shift from hotels and resorts to academic environments and an arts centre is valuable for showing how the strength of conscious exploration of architecture can promote renewal and regeneration. The effort to break from a mould, to pursue possibilities of how spaces of encounter can be orchestrated and crafted, is shown in Kerry Hill’s recent competition-winning schemes for the UNSW Asia Campus and Centrestage.

And the influence on how one extends or expands a legacy? We might learn from Hill’s interaction with Geoffrey Bawa, his conversations about an Asian Modern and the issue of tropicality; his conversations with predecessors like Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn.

These show how one might move towards creating one’s own language and expression, through the inspiration and challenging of a predecessor. There is also a consciousness of roots and beginnings in architecture – Hill’s fond reminiscences of mentors like Duncan Richards and Jeffrey Howlett; his humorous recollections of personal traits that influence architecture and an analytical assessment of oeuvres and working methods. Kerry Hill has extended our consciousness of those who built the path that we tread and will explore. He shows us how we can conceive a dialogue with the giants of architecture while also conversing with colleagues who are in pursuit of making architecture.

Kerry Hill’s oeuvre of the past twenty years reveals a patient pursuit of “Architecture”. In many ways, architecture can be very autobiographical.

We see Kerry Hill’s architecture as tranquil, quiet, elegant and bold. Somehow these words also express the character of Kerry Hill as a person: a character that is tough, persevering, patient, inquisitive, with a sense of humour and, most of all, serene. Perhaps Kerry Hill’s influence is, above all, in his example of how an architect can live a life in architecture, life as architecture, architecture as life?

Kerry Hill shows us in his calm way how architecture is life, how life is architecture.


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