Dedece celebrates Alex Popov Q & A @ dedece

Dedece celebrates Alex Popov Q & A @ dedece

Popov Vola Dinner

The third in the series of ” Vola Q & A Celebrates ” was held at dedece’s Sydney showroom on Wed 13th March, 2013

The previous renowned Australian architects celebrated by Dedece together with Vola, and Architecture Australia were Glenn Murcutt and Kerry Hill.

This time it was Alex Popovs’ turn to be roundly honoured –  primarily for – his significant contribution to the advancement of modern Scandinavian style architecture in Australia.

Popov Vola Dinner

Once again Dedece together with Vola, and Architecture Australia, had the great pleasure to organise the intimate dinner in order to celebrate Alex Popov  – one of Australia’s foremost architectural exponents.


Unfortunately, on this occasion Carsten Hartmann ( Vola’s asia export manager ) was unable to join the Alex Popov celebration as Karsten’s wife had just given birth to their second child –  a beautiful daughter.

Carsten wanted to be with us via a dedicated Skype laptop on the Head Table – but his wife’s Danish hospital would not allow that to occur. It would certainly have been entertaining to have that happen but alas it was not to be – and the Show went on without him for the first time !

Popov Vola Dinner

The dinner was once again chaired by Master of Ceremonies – Cameron Bruhn from Architecture Australia  – who introduced aspects of Alex’s varied and interesting life journey which profoundly influenced his architectural decision making – and of course Alex welcomed his peer group participation in Q & A throughout the evening

Popov Vola Dinner

“I take possession of the earth. Once you subscribe to the view that you’re going to build on the land, there is no mistaking its substance, its weight… it’s a piece of land that you’re dealing with, and although you have to be at ease with that nature, it doesn’t mean the response should be thin.

“No matter how clever a solution is, it always has to have a human dimension to it…” – Alex Popov

NB  Gallery photos above by Patrick Bingham Hall – ( Alex’s long time photographic collaborator) // To see further information on these projects please visit dedeceblog here

Popov Vola Dinner

“I don’t get inspirations… I work towards a solution and that’s what I try to teach. You arrive at a solution… you don’t form it up from a shape! That leads to a dead end because there is nothing to hang onto as the program and the problem gets more complex…” – Alex Popov

Popov Vola dinner menu

Introduction to Alex Popov

Alex was born of Russian parents in Feb 1942 in Shanghai.

They moved to Sydney when Alex was 12.

He attended Newington College (1958-1960) and the University of NSW before studying further in Denmark.

He graduated in architecture from the Royal Danish Academy of Art in 1971 and then worked with Henning Larsen and Jorn Utzon.

He returned to Australia in 1983 and established Alex Popov Architects (now known as Popov Bass Architects).

The practice has been successful in a number of design competitions and has received numerous major awards from the R.A.I.A including several Wilkinson Awards and the Robin Boyd Award.

Alex has been linked to the “new wave” of architects who have applied the principles of Scandinavian architecture to create an increasingly distinctive body of work in Australia

Alex’s houses explore the notion of home. Sleekly modernist, his houses are tempered by a great sensitivity to the site, poetic forms and exemplary craftsmanship – all inspired by the principles of refuge and prospect. For Alex, the home is a refuge and a self-contained world, but always with a prospect out to the natural world.


“For me, drawing is the most elementary form of connection. Very often if you define it well in that first sketch, it will work. If something is genuinely right from the beginning, it’s just there… right!”

“At first it was very hard to find a language in Sydney, My first sketches were pretty naive, in response to something I didn’t really understand. The light was very different to Europe.”


“There is no question that there is a connection, the brain is connected to the fingers in terms of a spatial realization. That spatial dimension is something you learn over years and years and comes through that black line, giving a clue about how to begin to formulate space… and the movement of your hands tests those ideas.” – Popov

dedece Vola dinner

Popov Vola Dinner

alex popov thank you letter

popov bass office


alex popov road map


The Vola Celebrates Alex Popov dinner was broken up between food courses – into 5 distinct stages of Alex’s life ….. here is a general recount of what was covered ( with some additional background information included ) …..


alex popov family

1) Alex’s Early Years in Shanghai

For Alex, Shanghai continues to evoke strong memories of his adventure-filled childhood during a time of revolution.

Shanghai in the 1930s and 40s was a melting pot of cultures – much like it is today. Refugees, adventurers and chancers from all corners of the globe could find a haven in the city’s various ‘Concessions of the International Settlement’, where English, French and Russian cultures dominated.

Both my parents had left Russia as young children in the 1920s, fleeing the Revolution with their parents ahead of the encroaching Red Army.

My maternal grandfather, the lawyer Peter Vologodsky, had been the last head of the White Provisional Government that had proposed, with the support of the British and European Allies, a doomed plan to install a democratic monarchist regime in the country.

As civil unrest threatened, he was whisked out of Tomsk, a city in Central Russia, on a train provided by the Japanese government, and escaped to the city of Harbin in Manchuria (north-eastern China) with my grandmother and mother Zinaida (Zena), who was three years old at the time.

My parents met while they were both at school in Harbin. When they married in 1936, they moved south to Shanghai where my father became chief site engineer of the huge Hangzhou railway bridge (it was later bombed by the Japanese during World War II).

I was born in 1942 in Shanghai’s French Concession, but in the following year, the invading Japanese army confiscated our home at 62 rue de Boissezon and we were interned in a Japanese-held building in Sechuan Road, near The Bund (the popular waterfront area in central Shanghai).

Food was scarce and basics were almost impossible to come by, but my father managed to develop a process of making powdered milk, which he was able to distribute and sell outside of the compound with the help of the French consul.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, large reconstruction programs began and my father’s engineering business grew rapidly.

We were able to move back to rue de Boissezon, this time with a live-in cook Lim Be, his wife Achi and their son Hoang Ku, who was charged with looking after me.

Hoang Ku would carry me on his back, or on his bicycle, while he shopped in the old market town, where the unique sights and smells of the bustling market imprinted themselves deeply on my impressionable young senses.

Later, after the Red Army entered Shanghai, he even took me on two occasions to watch the public execution of ‘convicted capitalist criminals’ in Shanghai Park.

The stately mansions, garden parties, fancy-dress balls and Cadillacs were all part of colonial life in Shanghai.

But I could never equate my experience with Ballard’s portrayal of the prickly relationship between the Chinese servants and their young charges, because my sister and I were brought up to respect those who looked after us, and to see them as an indispensable part of our small family.

I clearly remember the traditional Chinese dishes cooked in the courtyard kitchen of our Spanish Mission-style compound that impressed me the most and stayed longest in my sensory memory.

When I wasn’t in class at Le Collége Municipal Français, I could usually be found hanging around the servants’ quarters, chatting easily in their local dialect, watching them cook and sharing their meals.

The sound, smell and unforgettable flavours of Shanghai stayed with me long after our family was forced to leave China under escort by members of Mao’s Red Army in the wake of yet another revolution, ending up first in Repulse Bay, Hong Kong, and then later in the strangely unfamiliar territory of 1950s Australia.

tharunka cover 1963

2) Alex’s 1960’s university pro-activism

The Popov family moved to Sydney when Alex was 12.

From a life of privilege and affluence in Shanghai, our entire family had to adjust to the very different circumstances of our new life in completely different surroundings in Australia.

Alex attended Newington College (1958-1960) –  Here I was painfully embarrassed by the fact that although I spoke fluent Chinese, French and Russian, my English was halting and evidently comical. In the interests of survival, so I quickly adopted an Aussie accent.

I was brought up being exposed to a lot of artists. And my father was a very successful structural engineer, internationally. So I had that mixture of art, and structure, but I was totally hopeless at mathematics. I had no idea!

In 1961 he enrolled in a Pyschology degree at the University of NSW.

As it turned out Jorn Utzon, via his daughter Lin, was instrumental in diverting the young Popov from pyschology to painting to architecture. Popov later returned to Copenhagen to study and work for him.

unsw 1963

When Alex was at University the Student newspapers were involved in social activism as a result of the conservative state of the Australian landscape

  • Australia was in most respects little changed from the pre-war era.
  • Politically, the country was slumbering under the rule of the right-wing Liberal Party, led since 1949 by Robert Menzies.
  • Police and political corruption was endemic and entrenched, especially in Sydney. Capital punishment was still in force.
  • The White Australia Policy, which excluded migrants from non-Anglo backgrounds, was still in force.
  • Socially too, Australia was deeply conservative, and the radicalising forces of the so-called “Swinging Sixties” were still years away.
  • The “generation gap” was a yawning chasm -in 1963 Menzies was seventy; NSW Premier Heffron was seventy-three; the chairman of the Literary Censorhp Board was eighty-one and his equivalent on the Appeals Board was eighty-four.
  • The influence of the churches pervaded many areas of public life.
  • Pubs closed at 6pm (causing the infamous “Six O’Clock Swill”); women were not permitted to buy a drink in the public bars of hotels; the Sunday Observance Act was still in force, forbidding many public events and keeping pubs, clubs, cinemas and theatres closed for most or all of the day.
  • Homosexuality, prostitution and abortion, were illegal, punishable by draconian prison sentences, and rarely if ever discussed in public forums.
  • The very concept of women’s rights and the women’s movement were years in the future; career opportunities were limited, few women went on to tertiary education, and if they did get a job they were paid significantly less than men for the same work.
  • Aboriginals were for the most part unseen and unknown; they were universally and savagely discriminated against, segregated from white society, banned from pubs, shops, public baths and the like. They could not vote.
  • Those in urban areas were confined to degrading slums like Redfern, in inner city Sydney; rural Aborigines lived in squalor in tenement camps on the outskirts of country towns, or were herded into repressive Church missions, or worked for a pittance for the huge pastoral companies like Vesty, who had ‘aquired’ vast areas of the Aborigines’ traditional lands and turned them into huge sheep and cattle stations.
  • Aboriginal children were routinely removed from their families by Church and state authorities “for their own good”, part of a decades-old covert policy to supress and dismantle Aboriginal culture through “integration”.
  • There was widespread and vigorous censorship of books and films.
  • TV was only four years old and investigative journalism was still in its infancy (the ABC’s current affairs flagship Four corners did not commence until 1961).
  • Newspapers generally toed “the party line” and reinforced the broad atmosphere of conservatism and repression.
  • Public debate on social and political issues was, by comparison to today, so limited as to be almost non-existent.
martin sharp

martin sharp

In 1961, Martin Sharp ( Cranbrook College) also enrolled for two terms in architecture at the University of NSW – before returning to Art College.

It was here that he met Alex and they struck up a friendship. Martin would eventually become the godfather of Alex and Lin Utzon’s son Mika ( NB dedece had the pleasure of having Mika join the Vola Q &A celebration for “Alex Popov. )

Alex also  met Richard Neville ( Knox Grammar ) , then editor of the University of NSW student magazine Tharunka, and Richard Walsh ( Barker College ) , editor its Sydney University counterpart Honi Soit.

Both Richard’s wanted to publish their own “magazine of dissent” = The magazine was to be dubbed Oz. The genesis of OZ was their shared experience in the student press of the early 1960s

Although regarded in their heyday as dangerous subversives and threats to society, all the major players in the Australian Oz story came from affluent backgrounds, attended exclusive private schools and went on to study at major NSW tertiary institutions

Richard Neville was educated at Sydney’s exclusive Knox Grammar School and after a short hiatus working in advertising he enrolled in a Arts-Commerce degree course at the recently established University of New South Wales (UNSW) at the start of 1961.

Smart, articulate, outspoken and fearless, he hit the ground running at UNSW, displaying from the first an instinctive media ‘savvy’, and an unerring facility for provoking his “betters”.

He was dismayed by the bleak and conservative atmosphere of his new alma mater. UNSW was Sydney’s second university, located in Kensington, NSW, adjacent to Sydney’s major racecourse at Randwick.

unsw 1962

Formerly an Institute of Technology, and still specialising in applied science courses, UNSW was derisively referred to as “Kenso High” or “The University of Engineering” by those from the venerable but snobby Sydney University, Australia’s oldest tertiary campus.

When Neville enrolled, UNSW was still under construction, but even long after completion of the original buildings it was widely regarded as one of the ugliest campuses in the country.

Early in the year, Neville penned a critical essay about the campus and took it to Ian Davison, editor of the student newspaper, Tharunka.

unsw construction 1965

On the strength of the reaction to Neville’s critique, Davison appointed him as features editor and by the end of his first year Neville had aquired a considerable local reputation as an inventive media stirrer.

In September 1961, Tharunka published an edition strongly critical of the university, which attacked the campus administration, called for the resignation of the Vice Chancellor, and deplored the soulless campus. The student union attempted to ban the edition, but Davison and Neville slipped copies to contacts in the city newspapers, and when the controvsersy hit the mainstream press the student union was forced to back down.

In March 1962 Neville took over as Tharunka editor.

In April 1962, he made a crucial new friendship — now art student – Martin Sharp.

Martin had been a boarder at Sydney’s exclusive Cranbrook school before going on to study art at East Sydney Technical College, where he co-edited a short lived student magazine The Arty Wild Oat, with his friends Garry Shead and John Firth Smith.

The third member of the original Oz triumvirate was Richard Walsh. Also privately educated, he was studying medicine at Sydney University with a view to becoming a psychiatrist.

At the time Walsh met Neville and Sharp, he was co-editor of the Sydney Uni. student paper Honi Soit, with his old friend Peter Grose.

Although undoubtedly the most conservative and conventional of the three, Walsh too had an evident knack for annoying people.

In April 1963, only two weeks after Neville and Sharp met and UNSW, he and Peter Grose were sacked from Honi Soit by the Student Council for alleged “flippancy of tone” in their reporting on student politics; it was the first time in thirty-four years it had taken such action.

unsw student union group 1963

unsw student union group 1963

unsw student union group 1964

unsw student union group 1964

unsw student union group 1965

unsw student union group 1965

Meanwhile, back at UNSW, the Vice-Chancellor demanded a written assurance that Tharunka would cease its criticism of the university.

Neville and Sharp had toyed with the idea of a joint student publication, but it was the meeting and friendship between Neville, Walsh and Grose that brought the plans to fruition.

In July 1962, Neville decided to attend a conference of student editors in Adelaide; Walsh and Grose (now reinstated to Honi) also wanted to go and agreed to share costs.

With Neville’s friend Alex Popov providing the car ( borrowed from his father), they set off.

It was on this trip that they hatched the idea for “a magazine of dissent”.

Later in the year, Neville wrote a Tharunka feature article called “The City By Night” which included his (anonymous) first-hand account of his visit to a seedy local brothel. Although illegal, prostitution flourished in Sydney, protected by a web of police corruption.

When the issue went to press, the Herald refused to print it on the grounds of “personal taste”.

Neville responded by terminating Tharunka’s association with the Herald and switching to the Daily Mirror, which had recently been bought by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s Mirror editor happily used the event to take a swipe at the Herald’s “censorship” and offered Neville a free hand in layout and content.

city by night

On the first Sunday in January, 1963 Neville convened a meeting at his house with a group of about fifteen friends including Alex, to make definite plans for their proposed “magazine of dissent”.

Most were associated with Tharunka but Martin Sharp, Garry Shead, Richard Walsh and Peter Grose were there too. After a long brainstorming session they finally hit on the name “Oz”, although remakarkably Neville says that, at the time, no-one realised its other connotation as an abbreviation for “Australia”.

The group raised fifty pounds in start-up capital (a considerable sum in those days) and formed a company.

By this stage Grose had begun work as cadet with the Daily Mirror and Walsh was still involved in his studies and in student politics at Sydney Uni, so much of the work fell to Neville.

Through a friend’s father they were given weekend access to some “office” space in a warehouse in Harrington Lane, The Rocks. The building a former colonial stable owned by the Maritime Services Board, operated as a joinery during the week.

The team began assembling the first issue.

The Queen was visting Australia in March 1963, so Walsh wrote a satirical diary of the various mishaps during the Royal Tour — the visit on which Menzies made his famously fawning remark to the Queen: “I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her ’til I die”.

Sharp drew a caricature of the Queen with a smile-mask tied over her face; they also picked up on the revisionist coverage of the tour, which puffed up the often lukewarm reception afforded the Royal visitors, and they highlighted it in a column called ” Department of Fact”.

Neville’s friend Gina wrote a piece on the history of chastity belts called “The Maiden’s Key To Chastity”; Sharp drew a series of cartoon belts, and a couple of UNSW students posed for a photo which became the centre spread — the man locked in a chastity belt, the woman holding the key.

Not long before the first edition was published, Neville’s girlfriend fell pregnant, and after some discreet enquiries he was able to procure an abortion for her — no small matter at any time, but in 60s Australia a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

He later approached the “abortionist” (a prominent Sydney gynaecologist) who, assured of anonymity, agreed to be interviewed for Oz.

In the early hours of March 31 Sharp and Neville did the rounds of the city streets, pasting up posters, printed for them by the Mirror, carrying the simple banner headline: OZ IS A NEW MAGAZINE

oz 1

Issue 1 > page 3: >>  “Editors: Peter Grose, Richard Neville, Richard Walsh. / Art: Martin Sharp, Michael Glasheen, Michael Cooke. / Editorial Assitants: Gina Eviston, Robyn Cooper, Rosemary Gerrett, Lyn Murray, Alex Popov, Garry Shead, Mike Robertson. / Secretary: Harry Bauer / Legal Adviser: John Ridley / Address all correspondence to:/ THE EDITORS, OZ MAGAZINE/ 3 HARRINGTON LANE, SYDNEY, BW 4197”; Printed on the back page: “NORTHERN LINE PRINTING CO., HORNSBY, N.S.W.

Australian OZ hit the streets on April Fool’s Day, 1963.

Issue 1 >  consisted of 16 A4 size pages, printed in black ink on white paper, stapled together.

It contained text and illustrations of a satirical nature, addressing political and social issues of the time, including the Queen’s Australian/New Zealand tour of 1963.

Its irreverent attitude was very much in the tradition of the student newspapers, but its growing public profile quickly made it a target for “the Establishment”, and Australian OZ became a prominent casualty of the so-called “Censorship Wars”

Most newsagents wouldn’t touch the magazine, but somehow it was distributed from Sydney to Perth.  There was nothing quite like OZ. “Anyone who had half an interest didn’t just buy it – they were infatuated by it,” says Walsh.

The first issue was a runaway hit — they sold 6000 copies within three hours and Neville gleefully ordered a reprint. It was, he later recalled, “the happiest day of my life.” But the jubilation was to be short lived, and Establishment reaction to the new magazine was almost instantaneous.

The abortion story in particular caused a furore — the Maritime Services Board began action to evict Oz from their office in The Rocks; the Mirror cancelled its ad contract and threatened to sack Peter Grose from his cadetship unless he resigned from Oz.

Oz was a focal point for many confrontations between progressive and conservative groups over a range of issues including the Vietnam War, drugs, the generation gap, censorship, sexuality, gender politics and rock music, and it was instrumental in bringing many of these concerns to wider public attention.

Oz magazine concentrated on social satire and regularly depicted politicians, royalty, and other public figures in an irreverent fashion. Articles of more serious sociopolitical content were accompanied by humorous cartoons and other artistic material.

Many of the contributors to Oz were part of the Sydney Push, as well as members of the Australian artistic community that headed to London.

John Olsen, Frank Moorhouse, Brett Whitely, Germaine Greer, Clive James, Bruce Beresford and Barry Humphries, along with the editorial staff of Oz, all eventually became part of the extraordinary film, rock music, and theatre ‘scenes’ as well as part of the street culture. Other identities included film critic John Flaus, and columnist and lecturer Paddy McGuinness.

Its irreverent attitude was in the tradition of the student newspapers, but its satirical and topical coverage of local and national issues and people developed a national profile, and made it a target for “the Establishment”, and soon a prominent casualty of the so-called ” Censorship Wars”


Few Australian publications of the 1960s had a greater international impact, or a greater social impact here in Australia, than the legendary Oz magazine. Its publication in 1963 marked the real start of “The Sixties” in Australia, and when transplanted to London in 1967 it became one of the key underground publications of the era.

Both versions were dogged by controversy, attacked by the Establishment and embroiled in famous legal battles, culminating in the infamous Oz obscenity trial of 1971.

Its radical content of libertarianism, obscenity, pornography and anti-establishment free thinking constantly pushed at the limits of permissiveness.


After Richard Neville left university ( later in 1963 ) Alex Popov took on the joint editorship of the UNSW Student newspaper ” Tharunka” ( aboriginal word = message stick ) – “ he later admitted that he did this as a means to help him meet more first year uni women  – Freshettes

Following in the footprints of OZ Magazine, Alex was in trouble for obscenity for publishing the Martin Sharp cartoon The Gas Lash in the UNSW student publication Tharunka’s 1964 Orientation Week issue.

tharunka gas lash cartoon


Tuning into the wrong wave-length a police-car took this to be a message from headquarters and sped in the general direction of Kensington.

After wading through fifteen pages of messages of welcome from the S.R.C. President, the Vice-Chancellor and the Evangelical Union, the policemen’s eager little minds lighted upon ” The Gas Lash’, by Martin Sharp. This charmingly simple tale told of a fresher’s night out and how the influence of alcohol and blood-pressure he came to a messy vomitting end.

They sought out the Editors, Alex Popov and Michael Robertson who on their own admission had only become editors as an attempt to seduce fresherettes.

It was,’ in fact, a parable: a moral warning for his fellow students. In his innocent and self-less desire to save others from the path of degradation that he himself had followed he was, like many  reformers before, the victim of prejudice and official jealousy.

semper floreat uni of qld newspaper

uni of qld newspaper 17th mar 1963

sydney morning herald  23rd july 1964

sydney morning herald 23rd july 1964


tharunka gas lashed

tharunka gas lashed comment

smh thurs 23rd july 1964

smh thurs 23rd july 1964

 It is understood that no further action is to be taken. The police were doubtlessly more occupied at the University of Sydney where the Gas Bone has caused more trouble than The Gas Lash.

By Germaine Greer …. ” I first knew of Martin as an inspired cartoonist, working for Tharunka, the student newspaper of the University of New South Wales,  and then for Australian Oz. He had written a dramatic monologue in the person of a drunken lout congratulating himself on having pulled  off a “king hambone” ­ that is to say, stripping off and exposing  himself in a state of excitement. The cartoon itself showed nothing revolting, being mostly composed of Martin’s script ­ spidery, angular capital letters that seemed to shake with revulsion ­ but  even so, he and his mates on Tharunka were charged with obscenity and, stranger still, pleaded guilty”

There were bylines from Bob Ellis, Robert Hughes, Geoffrey Lehmann, Patricia Rolfe – although their work suggests their talents were still to mature. Walsh let one star get away, turning down Brett Whiteley on the grounds his drawings were not funny. But he did publish an unknown poet, Bruce Dawe, who sent him offerings from Butterworth air base in Malaysia.

Sharp’s text-heavy cartoons defined OZ. Walsh says while most of the content hasn’t stood the test of time, “Martin’s stuff lasts the best because he was the most outstanding contributor. In fact, without his stuff I am not sure how far we would have gone.”

For Sharp, OZ was an “adventure” that had a big impact on his art. “We were having to work to deadlines and create pretty fast, once a month, so a certain spontaneity came into one’s work,” he says.

gas lash night club

The Gas Lash Club opened in August 1964
Decorated with Martin Sharp’s “snaggle-toothed fauna” and featuring a “natural earth floor” and thatched ceiling, the Gas Lash offered a mix of folk (ethnic and otherwise),.
It failed to survive beyond a couple of months; by the end of the year it was advertising in Oz Magazine and elsewhere as the Gas Lash discotheque.

Monash Students Newspaper June 24 1964

Monash Students Newspaper June 24 1964

Within weeks of Tharunka’s editors being convicted over The Gas Lash , Richard Neville and Richard Walsh were sentenced to six months jail with hard labour and Martin Sharp to four months, though all three were later released on bail pending an appeal, which was upheld.

During the life of Australian Oz Sharp, Neville and Walsh were twice charged with printing an obscene publication.

Three months into their venture, with a circulation of about 8,000, the editors were charged with obscenity  (Gas Lash cartoon) over the first issue. They pleaded guilty and were fined.

The first trial was relatively minor, and should have been a non-event, but they were poorly advised and pleaded guilty, which resulted in their convictions being recorded. As a result, when they were charged with obscenity a second time, their previous convictions meant that the new charges were considerably more serious.

They were again charged under the NSW Obscene and Indecent Publications Act. This time they pleaded not guilty and the case attracted wide support. OZ was now a rallying point for civil liberties

The charges centred on two items in the Issue 6  Feb 1964 

a) one was Sharp’s ribald poem “The Word Flashed Around The Arms”, which satirised the contemporary habit of youths gatecrashing parties;

oz issue no 6 - the-pissing-on-bass

oz issue no 6 – the-pissing-on-bass

b) the other offending item was the famous photo ( Cover of Oz #6 Feb 1964 ) which depicted Neville and two friends pretending to urinate into a Tom Bass sculptural wall fountain, set into the wall of the new P&O office in Sydney, which had recently been opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies.

All copies shipped to Melbourne were confiscated by the Vice Squad

Only one of the people pictured right was an editor of Oz – the other two were stand-ins. Richie Walsh was busy driving a lift and Martin Sharp was in Newport, searching for a party to crash.

Sharp, Neville and Walsh were tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Their convictions caused a public outcry and they were subsequently acquitted on appeal, but the so-called “Oz Three” realised that there was little future battling such strong opposition.

smh thurs 23rd july 1964

smh thurs 23rd july 1964

They were defended in Sydney by a bright young barrister Neville Wran QC who helped free the accused. The legal action against Oz under obscenity laws ended up stimulating public debate about free speech.

While the “obscenity law violations” decisions were eventually overturned, the publications attracted criminal obscenity charges, an initial conviction and a recommended sentence of six months imprisonment with hard labour. Neville, Walsh and Martin Sharp, had been charged, tried and found guilty of publishing an obscene magazine. Their sentence — six months in prison — caused outrage in Sydney.

While out on bail pending an appeal, their supporters decided to raise money for the defense fund with a benefit concert, which was organised and held at the Sydney University Theatre on 15 November 1964.

Magistrate Gerald Locke ruled the issue would deprave young people and unhealthy adults who were “misguided” enough to read it, and set jail terms for Neville, Walsh and Sharp. The sentences outraged many and a phalanx of brilliant lawyers – John Kerr, Neville Wran, Ted St John – came to the aid of the young men.

The following year, judge Aaron Levine overturned the convictions. OZ might be offensive, he said, but it had no tendency to corrupt or deprave

richard neville and richard walsh outside court sydney

richard neville and richard walsh outside court sydney 1964

The victors retired afterwards to Vadim’s restaurant at Kings Cross and Neville and Walsh wrote a piece for The Australian pledging business as usual: ……  “After all, who could resist the temptation of editing a satirical magazine in a country … where non-whites are still deported, men are still hanged, bestsellers are still banned, and people still stand up for God Save the Queen?”


The case caused such a sensation that it figured in the 1965 State election when the Opposition Leader Bob Askin, following Oz , made it his policy to abolish censorship. He won the election and that was the end of trial-by-magistrates in obscenity cases in New South Wales. It all added to the glory of Oz , Martin Sharp and cartoonists.

A subsequent $300,000 libel suit, saw the departure of Sharp and Neville for England via Asia in 1966 to establish London Oz , the cancellation of advertising and the continued refusal of Gordon & Gotch to distribute Oz finally resulted in its demise.

Oz was never anything less than subversive and irreverent, and at times was highly controversial, surviving two obscenity trials in 1964 in Sydney and 1971 in London

“You don’t create change, but sometimes things happen that denote that change has occurred,” says Walsh. “Why so many people have such affection for the magazine is that it was quite a marker that showed a generation had come along with different values from their predecessors.”

Its starting point was that the church, the RSL and the monarchy were finished, and it spent a lot of time rubbishing all three.

“We didn’t set out to be obscene, but we did set out to be iconoclastic in a big way and create a bit of mayhem, and we managed that. And by celebrating or normalising it, it gave a focus to young people who were trying to embrace new sexual values, new moral values, new ideas about patriotism, new ideas about Australia’s place in the world.”

Or, as Neville puts it: “We were starting to realise there must be a better way of having a life, having fun, having sex or not having sex, or how do you get sex? Why are people marching on Anzac Day? F . . k them, anger, humour all the things you couldn’t do at that time.”

But it was pretty moderate stuff. The drugs, the psychedelic art, the anarchy would come later. So too would the obscenity trials that turned OZ from naughty into notorious.

utzon opera house protest

Richard Neville commented later ….  ” We produced about 26 issues of ‘Oz’ magazine in Australia, so — and our last big battle was about the Sydney Opera House. I knew nothing about opera, but we really understood that Utzon was being crushed. So, we had this — yet another campaign to save something wonderful. I think that’s one that ‘Oz’ was on the right side of.”

In 1963, as work on the site accelerated, Utzon moved to Australia with his wife and three children.

Shunning the society of the local élite, the Utzons bought a large tract of gum-tree-shaded land an hour north of the city, between a wide ocean beach and a tranquil harbor, where their neighbors were boat builders and beach combing bohemians.

Utzon set up a studio in a nearby boat shed and hired a number of bright young Australian architects, who became, in effect, disciples. Utzon treated his young staff as “colleagues, not assistants,” and recalls gathering at the family’s beach house for sunset picnics or impromptu boating expeditions.

Utzon’s perfectionism and his refusal to be rushed into anything were summed up in an anecdote — about the Danish furniture designer Kaare Klint. “Someone comes to Klint’s studio and asks him, ‘What are you working on?’ Klint replies, ‘I’m working on a chair.’ Eighteen months later, the same man visits and again asks Klint what he is working on. ‘I told you,’ Klint says, ‘I’m working on a chair.’


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When Utzon  was faltering on the Opera House, one might have expected the local architects to gather around like vultures for the picking, but Harry Seidler ( amongst many other prominent arhcitects of the time)  fought for Utzon to stay.

By February 1966 Utzon was owed more than $100,000 in fees. He threatened to quit and when Hughes called his bluff, did so. He believed the government would back down.

At 4.30 on the fateful afternoon of March 4, 1966, there was a farcical meeting between Utzon and Askin in the premier’s wing of the old State Office Block on Macquarie Street. Utzon ended up climbing over a rear yard wall to avoid the press and being saved from a seven-metre drop only by the quick thinking of a colleague, Bill Wheatland.

The Utzons left Sydney on April 28, travelling to Hawaii under false names to evade the press.

Still, Utzon fully expected to be recalled, but the government had already set about replacing him with what Drew describes as “a conspiracy of nobodies”

opera house utzon sacking

In 1966, thousands, including many of Australia’s most noted artists and writers, rallied in support of Utzon.

Martin Sharp, created cartoons lampooning Hughes. In the one above,  the minister delivers a stream-of-consciousness rant against Utzon: — “Brilliant move forcing that Danish prima donna to resign, he’d want to sing his own bloody operas if we’d let him stay.”

But the conservative Royal Australian Institute of Architects refused to call for a boycott, and Hughes was able to hand the design to a team of architects who worked directly under his control.

Utzon said when he wrote his thank you letter to Harry Seidler  “a good man fights for his ideas, but a great man is a man who fights for other people and for ideals”.


3) Alex moves to London

Around the mid 1960’s wonderful messages were coming from London — sometimes they came in the form of fabulous magazines, sometimes in the form of The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. They would come and play here. Our girlfriends would sleep with them, and, uh — then they’d disappear to London.  The myth of ‘swinging London’ — that there just seemed to be lots of parties, dancing, excitement.

Back then, British pop was buzzing on magazine covers, LP sleeves, fashion, in the playful works of Richard Hamilton and David Hockney. In brooding alcoves, theoreticians were pushing to widen the brief of art, to engage it in direct social and political action.

And everyone else we knew was there. So, off Alex went.

3 things lured Alex to London in the mid-’60s:   a) the pursuit of love ( Lin Utzon )   b) a thirst for fun and   c) a contempt for Australia’s rulers.

Upon finding his feet in Swinging London – Alex Popov sent a letter back to Martin Sharp ”  Everyone else is here – why aren’t you ? 

Change was coming, but London was calling. In the 60s, young Australians jumped on boats and planes as fast as they could to get to the King’s Road.  “Swinging London” was the mecca for young artists, writers and musicians, and after the Oz trials, Sharp and Neville needed little encouragement to leave Australia.

So in 1966, after putting together an Oz that campaigned in support of Joern Utzon’s vision for the Sydney Opera House, then under political fire, and seeing our obscenity convictions quashed, Martin Sharp and Richard Neville headed to London

Before going Martin published a selection of cartoons in the book Martin Sharp Cartoons (1966) .


Sharp wanted to fly directly to London but Richard Neville convinced him to do the overland trekking route through Asia / Nepal  etc . They set off on an overland trek through Asia, parting company in Kathmandu and making their separate ways to London.

The Yellow Brick Road to the Land of OZ … and Beyond

On arrival, Sharp stayed for a short time with Neville’s sister, writer Jill Neville in Knightsbridge.

It was at this time that he was introduced to a musician in the famous London nightclub, The Speakeasy. During the evening Sharp told the musician about a poem he had recently written; the musician in turn told Martin that he was looking for a lyric for some new music he had just written. Sharp obligingly wrote out the poem and his address on a serviette and gave it to his new acquaintance.

The musician turned out to be acclaimed guitarist Eric Clapton. The song that resulted from the meeting, “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, was recorded as the B-side of Cream’s smash hit “Strange Brew” and was included on Cream’s second album Disraeli Gears.

His friendship with Clapton led to the commission to design the famous ‘Dayglo’ psychedelic collage cover for that album, which included painted photographs by Sharp’s friend Robert Whitaker, whom Sharp knew from Australia and whose studio was in the same building where Sharp lived.

The following year Sharp designed the spectacular gatefold sleeve for Cream’s third album, the double LP set Wheels of Fire (1968), for which he won the New York Art Directors Prize for Best Album Design in 1969. He also designed the cover for the eponymous debut L.P. of London underground legends Mighty Baby (1969).

It dawned on them that a London Oz could be launched in this subversive undercurrent, rendering the emergent urgent.

The Pheasantry at 152 Kings Road, Chelsea, is an historic Georgian building and became the home of Germaine Greer, Eric Clapton and OZ designer Martin Sharp. By the time Sharp moved in there, The Pheasantry was a well-known ‘artists’ colony’, its rooms rented out as apartments and residential studio space.

pheasantry 1968

the Pheasantry in 1968

The basement also housed a nightclub which operated into the 1970s.

Sharp shared this remarkable domicile with some remarkable people, including Eric Clapton (who moved in not long after Sharp did), Germaine Greer, filmmaker Philippe Mora, artist Tim Whidborne, prominent London “identity” David Litvinoff (later an adviser on the production of Nicolas Roeg’s Performance), writer Anthony Haden-Guest (author of The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco,and the Culture of the Night) and Martin’s friend Robert Whitaker, photographer of choice for many leading rock groups on the scene, including The Beatles.

martin sharp 1970

martin sharp 1970

When Richard Neville arrived in London in September 1966, and he and Sharp joined forces with Felix Dennis and jointly established London Oz in Feb 1967, which soon proved itself even more controversial than its Australian parent.

London Oz had no business plan, no market research, no registering of a trademark.

Once again Sharp became its Art Director and chief cartoonist

oz is a new magazine

oz is a new magazine / london poster

“Richard and Martin were different people by then. Sydney OZ was young, undergraduate, not sophisticated, and even in its own time not seen as particularly offensive. Richard and Martin became hippies, they embraced hippie values and so on, whereas in 1963 we were boys who had come out of the same kind of private schools. We were protesting against that, but we had not changed type. We were the same type of people and, to some extent, I remained the same type. I wasn’t a hippie. I never did drugs in the way they did drugs.”

The first three or four issues were badly received.  “It was going to be like Sydney OZ, satirical, along the lines of Private Eye, but Private Eye was so brilliant it was hard to compete with something like that.”

OZ changed tack and became a counter cultural magazine, part of the burgeoning underground press in the US and Britain – and very different from Sydney OZ, still being edited by Walsh. It set out to shock.  “London OZ was a true underground magazine and was intended to be much more confronting,” Walsh says.

anti oz

For two years, London OZ depended heavily on Sharp’s art. His covers of Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger and his Magic Theatre issue co-produced with Philippe Mora in November 1968 gave him cult status in the underground press.

Richard Walsh - Editor - At the Hunter Street Sydney offices of OZ Magazine - 1969

Richard Walsh – back at the Hunter Street Sydney offices of OZ Magazine – 1969 / photo by Robert McFarlane

last issue of OZ

last issue of OZ

Martin and Walsh both left London for Sydney in 1969, Walsh’s place was taken by Jim Anderson, an Australian artist who had met Neville when Neville was selling OZ from the back of a van parked at Marble Arch in 1967.

When Anderson produced a “homosexual” cover in August 1969, featuring a black man and a white man kissing, police raided the office at Palace Gardens Terrace in Notting Hill and hauled the editors off to Scotland Yard for a warning.


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Oz ran for 48 issues and was printed in a variety of shapes and sizes during its time, this of course caused us hell while scanning these and if you look close enough you will see the ‘joins’ on some of the more awkward shaped issues….


The three young editors were put on trial for ‘corrupting public morals’ at the Old Bailey in 1971.

The obscenity case turned into a farce, exposing hyprocrisy and corruption in the authorities, and its impact still reverberates many decades on,

Issue 28, which came out in May 1970 edited by Richard Neville, Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis, was the one that caused the trouble.

school kids issue oz magazine

It was a ‘school kids issue’ , featuring various anti-authoritarian contributions by teenage school students.

One of these, by 15-year-old schoolboy Vivian Berger, was based on a sexually explicit series of frames by US satirical cartoonist Robert Crumb. In each, the head of a rapist had been skilfully pasted over with the head of the children’s character Rupert Bear – with most attention focusing on the cartoon of Rupert Bear indulging in sexual intercourse, erect penis and all.


The three editors were charged with the archaic offence of ‘corrupting public morals’, which in theory had an unlimited punishment, and the case was heard at the Old Bailey, London, in June 1971.

The prosecution claimed that Oz had promoted “homosexuality, lesbianism, sadism, perverted sexual practices and drug taking”.

The defence lawyer was John Mortimer QC, later known as an author and playwright. He said that the trial stood “at the crossroads of our liberty, at the boundaries of our freedom to think and draw and write what we please”.

The editors pleaded not guilty, but just before Christmas the police were back.

Oz obscenity trial publicity stickers, 1971

Oz obscenity trial publicity stickers, 1971

The case finally went to trial in the summer of 1971, with John Mortimer QC defending Dennis and Anderson, and Neville defending himself. Mortimer was assisted by a then 22-year-old Geoffrey Robertson, who at the time was still a Rhodes scholar at Oxford.

Robertson knew the original OZ well. In 1965 he had written a story on the hawks and doves of Vietnam, with an accompanying illustration by Shead. In Victoria, the birds’ genitalia had to be blacked out before the magazine could be distributed.

After the longest obscenity trail in English legal history ( 6 weeks ), the three editors were found guilty and sent on remand to Wandsworth prison: 15 months for Anderson and Neville, but less for Dennis. That was because the judge, Justice Michael Argyle, considered him “very much less intelligent” than the other two.

Shortly after the verdicts were handed down the three had their heads forcibly shaved, an act which caused public sympathy.

Photo OZ march

Public outrage followed and when they were given hefty jail terms, there were riots outside the court and the crowd burned an effigy of the judge.

Eventually the convictions were overturned on appeal.

Anderson felt empowered to publish without fear. Yet within a couple of years he and Neville called it a day.

Dennis continued, but in November 1973 produced the final OZ – the 48th issue – with Richard Nixon and a mob of naked men and women on the cover.

oz trial photo

When the ‘Oz’ trials started, and they were reported by Fleet Street in, I think, pretty unfair terms, pretty sensationalistic terms, I think people on the whole were against us. I mean, we represented long-haired, dope-smoking, anti-establishment wackos, and we were Australians to boot — at least, two of us were.

But I think that after the judge sent us to jail before we were actually sentenced and ordered our hair to be cut, this wonderful kind of British sense of fair play came into motion, and, almost overnight, they switched.

And, suddenly, from being kind of deadbeat criminals, we became, you know, potential martyrs.

It was such a mammoth event that afterwards every time I went out on the street or rode on the Tube people would want an argument about it.

The Oz Trial

Among the defence witnesses was DJ John Peel, musician George Melly (who at one point explained a Latin sexual term in detail to the jury) and comedy writer Marty Feldman, who called the judge a “boring old fart”.

With so many anti-establishment currents swirling around the pillars of authority, the case often descended into farce: at one point the defendants turned up to court dressed as schoolgirls.

oz school girls

However, at the appeal, it was found that Justice Argyle had grossly misdirected the jury on numerous occasions.

It was also alleged that Berger, called as a prosecution witness, had been harassed and assaulted by police.

The convictions were overturned.

The debacle of the Oz trial, and the way that legal authority figures had been undermined and derided, have made prosecutions under the obscenity law almost a thing of the past.

The case has continued to be in the news. When Justice Argyle made allegations about Dennis in a magazine in 1995, alleging that he had sold drugs to school children, the “very much less intelligent” Dennis – who after Oz went on to be a very successful magazine publisher – sued the magazine for libel and won.

He declined to pursue Argyle personally because of his age.

oz 48 the last issue

oz 48 the last issue


Copenhagen - Nyhavn Harbour

4) Alex Studies in Copenhagen –  Influence of Utzon and Alvar Aalto

Alex left “the bubbling energetic crazy chaos” of London in late 1968 ( about the same time as Martin Sharp who returned to Australia ) and headed to Copenhagen – after he was accepted into the Master of Architecture course at Copenhagen’s famous Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts ( 1969 – 1973 )

” Architecture was always something I fiddled around with, even when I was little. I painted a lot. I went to John Olsen’s art school here, during the sixties. I won a national art prize, and I used to do a lot of paintings to sell, to pay for my books and things. ”

As background to this – earlier in 1965 Alex had met Jorn Utzon’s daughter daughter Lin,  who at the time was living in Paddington, Sydney whilst she studied painting and sculpture at East Sydney Tech.

Lin was  20 years old when she was suddenly uprooted and had to return to Denmark with the Utzon family – after he stormed out of Australia -it was so sudden and because my parents were very unhappy and because of the whole mood and not being able to tell anyone we were leaving so we just left and no one knew we were leaving.

Alex eventually followed her to Denmark ( via his stopover in London ) and they eventually married in 1968, whilst Alex was completing his Architecture Masters degree in Copenhagen.

In 1973 Lin and Alex had a daughter Naja Utzon Popov, and not too long after a son Mika Utzon Popov.

danish academy of fine arts

danish academy of fine arts

Notable alumni and faculty – The School of Architecture included Jan Gehl / Knud Holscher / Bjarke Ingels / Arne Jacobsen/ Finn Juhl /Kaare Klint /Henning Larsen /Steen Eiler Rasmussen /Verner Panton / Johann Otto von Spreckelsen / Magnus Steendorff / Lene Tranberg / Jørn Utzon ( and now Alex Popov is recognised amongst these great mentors and peers )

In Denmark, there’s a great moral basis for architecture.

There’s also a strong sense of idealism, that you are actually doing buildings for the betterment of your environment, and for mankind. And there’s a very strong sense of community, and of taking responsibility for what you do.

It reinforces your own idealism, because when you’re young you hold very high ideals for architecture. You feel you can do some good. And individuals like Aalto, Jorn Utzon and Henning Larsen all had a high sense of that.

Unlike Australian architecture at the time, the very strong Scandinavian tradition of architecture relied on a practical, organic approach to architecture and, at the same time, there was also an eccentric side to it. There’s also a very strong social sense there, and a sense of the importance of the individual in whatever you produce, whether it’s knives and forks, or buildings.

The student was very much there to learn, rather than to be taught at. They allowed you to work on one project for an entire year, so we went through all aspects of a building, rather than giving a cursory glance. You went through a really rigorous questioning about everything. You also realised what a long haul architecture is.

Alex felt that the Royal Academy was a wonderful place to learn in because it gave him, as a student, a sense of maturity as an individual.

There are certain fundamental truths that you keep developing. Ideas that I wanted to test much earlier in life keep reappearing. It’s like building a giant wall, architecture — you can’t deal with all the possibilities and solve all the contradictions in one hit. The wider the net you throw out, the more difficult it gets, hut you hold on to a set of principles that you believe are the truths in architecture.

It might be to do with specific ideas about the spatial qualities in buildings, or passageways, or movement through a building.

My buildings always have a passage through them, spaces are connected with corridors generally, in a Japanese sense ( and from his Shanghai early childhood memories). You walk from one space to another so the journey itself is very much part of experiencing the building.

That is a truth I believe, and one I will keep testing.

alvar aalto

alvar aalto

When Alex went to Alvar Aalto’s office the first time it was wonderful at that age, at 24 or 25, to be wandering around in his space.

The humanist influence of Aalto was very appealing to Alex :  ” as well as the abstract, there is that humanistic element that comes through in Scandinavian modernism, it’s not just Teutonic neutrality.”

jorn utzon mallorca

jorn utzon at mallorca

Popov was one of only a few young architects to come of age under Utzon’s mentorship – during stints of work in the Copenhagen offices of Utzon

Utzon impacted upon Alex of his most important lessons learnt – and since constantly used by Alex during his remarkable career  – that of the art of site observation. A principle has become central to all of his compositions. What was interesting was the way Jorn taught you to observe, to see beyond what you would immediately think of as the norm.

He had a very clear work method based on honing your observation skills. You keep searching and searching, and the individual who searches the most, on a particular site, and examines it the most, will find more information, and be truer to that site.

utzon studio 1969

Utzon in his studio 1969 – Espansiva building system, pre-fabricated single-family houses

A person who is ignorant in architecture will only find one dimension, one solution, whereas someone who keeps seeking more and more will be more responsive to that context, and therefore the building will be better.

In that sense, he used to observe natural elements like the terrain, the rocks, the trees, the shading – any biological connection – to try and imagine what the site required, what would marry it in a kind of organic sense with the building.

“Architecture demands a good healthy common-sense understanding of life. An understanding of walking, standing, sitting and lying comfortably, of enjoying the sun, the shade, the water on our bodies, the earth and the less easily defined sense impressions.” – Jorn Utzon

utzon back home 1966

utzon back home 1966

“You have to integrate yourself in the materials at hand and be able to utilise them according to their nature.””It takes a healthy sense towards life. It takes an understanding of how to walk, stand, sit and lie comfortably, to enjoy the sunshine, the shadows, the water touching your body, the soil and the host of less definable sensory impressions.”

“The architect`s gift to society is to bring joy to the people from the surroundings he create.””My laboratory is the beech forests, and the sea, and the clouds.””Once you understand the nature of a material, you understand more intimately its potential in a far more tangible way than through mathematical formulas and constants.”

Utzon loved the sea. What he could do well from an early age was to sail. It was assumed, he told me, that he would join the navy.

As a boy, dyslexic and no great shakes at school, no one in the family could have imagined him becoming one of the world’s greatest architects

Jorn and Jan Utzon - Shearwater catamaran 1960

Jorn and his son Jan Utzon – Shearwater catamaran 1960

He was accepted, though, at Copenhagen’s Academy of Arts, and, studying under such brilliant teachers as Steen Eiler Rasmussen (author London: the Unique City) and Erik Gunnar Asplund, architect of the chastely magnificent Stockholm Library, Utzon set off on travels that took him to the United States, where he met and worked briefly with Frank Lloyd Wright, through Mexico and Europe.

In Finland he worked with Alvar Aalto, the architect who did so much to bring a quiet warmth, subtle curves and a sense of nature to modern architecture.

In Australia, and while he was working on the design of the Sydney Opera House, he loved to take a yacht out across the harbour and on to the sea. The seas’ waves, the wings, beaks and profile of gulls, the shape and structure of yachts were all to play a role, sometimes subliminal, at others overt, in the forms of his powerful, yet all too few, buildings.

After leaving Australia, Utzon found his reception back in Denmark distinctly chilly.

Famously, Joern was shunned by his Danish architectural peers, who felt that he had besmirched the national reputation. “They called him into the Architect Federation offices. The president and a few others sat my father down and told him, ‘You can’t behave like that. The client is always right. You can’t walk away from a job – and we will make sure that you never get a public commission in Denmark.’  ……………..  and he never did.

utzon church

Bagsvaerd Church 1976

His one really significant Danish commission the Bagsvaerd Church (1969–76) came in 1969 from a community church congregation in a Copenhagen suburb , and for once Utzon had a client willing to trust him on all details.

The site is an unpossessing strip of busy highway, so Utzon has created his own topography within. The building has few external windows but is saturated with light that falls from skylights set in a remarkable surging ceiling that rises like a wave.

After Sydney, Utzon worked on only one commission of a scale similar to that of the Opera House. The invitation to compete for Kuwait National Assembly ( 1972 -1984) reached Utzon in 1969 while he was teaching at the University of Hawaii.

There were few constraints to the project. The site was along the ocean front, with “haze and white light and an untidy town behind,” as Utzon described it.

As a result of his travels, Utzon had developed an affinity for Islamic architecture. The Kuwait National Assembly building contains four spaces: a covered square, a parliamentary chamber, a large conference hall, and a mosque. Each space forms a corner, with waving rooflines creating the effect of moving fabric.

kuwait parliament

kuwait parliament

In 1971, he designed the Kuwait National Assembly, on a site on the Persian Gulf. The design incorporated many ideas from Arab and Islamic tradition: a vast concrete form that swoops upward from the entrance, recalling the billowing tents of the Bedouin, and providing a majlis, or meeting place, where the emir can receive his subjects.

Offices and departments are arranged along an internal “street,” evoking a souk, or bazaar.

Along with early drawings, Utzon sent his assistant a picture of the Esfahan mosque, torn from a newspaper, with the words “arches as beautiful as these” scribbled on it.

But the Assembly project, too, was bedevilled by politics. The emir’s commitment to democracy proved weak, and the parliament that the building was meant to house was suspended for several years. Delays and revisions of the brief meant that the Assembly, as built, was a lesser building than Utzon had designed.

In February of 1991, Iraqi troops, retreating before the international alliance, set fire to the Kuwait National Assembly building. Since then, a 70 million dollar restoration was undertaken. Many of the renovations departed from Utzon’s original design

Bad luck dogged other projects. “It was like a curse that followed him,” Skrzynski said.

A theatre that Utzon had devoted eight years to designing for Zurich was scrapped in a government cost-cutting campaign; another, in Lebanon, was cancelled when civil war broke out. An industrialist who had proposed a project in Portugal was killed in a car crash.

No further grand commissions were forthcoming, and some years there was no work at all.

After having to abandon the construction of the Sydney Opera House in 1966, the Danish architect Jørn Utzon on his way home, made an intermediate stop at Mallorca.

The island fascinated him to such a degree that he decided to build a summer house there. It was located facing the Mediterranean, on a cliff near a small fishing village.

After the collapse of the Zurich theatre scheme, Utzon’s wife suggested building the house. “He needed very much to have a project,”

can lis

can lis, mallorca

Jørn Utzon had been affected, at the beginning of his career, when he learnt that the celebrated Swedish architect, Gunnar Asplund, had died of stress. On his death bed, Asplund asked his son whether all this effort had really been worth while.

Looking, in Porto Pietro, for an ideal refuge during his holidays, Utzon built Can Lis ( named after his wife Lis )  in 1972, set among myrtle and pine trees, with an extraordinary view to the sea. Integrating with the colours in the landscape, the main building material is a hard local limestone, called marés stone, which varies from gold to pink in colour.

Soon after arriving in Sydney, the Utzons and their children – Jan, Lin and Kim – moved into a rented house in Bayview, on the northern beaches. “My father had looked around and found this wonderful property up on the hills above Bayview proper, with views of the whole of Pittwater up to Lion Island and beyond. He planned to build our family home there.

While we were here, he put forward a lot of proposals to the council to build the house but” – and here, he laughs – “there was always something wrong with the proposals so he never got council permission. He never got to build the house.”

In fact, when the Utzons left Australia in 1966, Jorn sold the land to pay the tax bill he was presented with. “Today, it has been subdivided”

The original concept for the Can Lis house was the same as for the one that Utzon had intended to build in Sydney; a sequence of pavilions linked by a wall, and arranged so as to respond to the various functions within the dwelling.

Though never realised, these houses confirm that ideas explored on a monumental scale in the Sydney Opera House could be equally potent at the size of the individual dwelling and anticipates Utzon’s remarkable series of houses on Majorca.

Sydney architect Richard Leplastrier worked for Jørn Utzon between 1964-66, mostly on the Bayview Houses.

“They came up here for many, many months, just with a chair each, and they would move around, sitting here and there, studying the different views, the play of light in different seasons, the strength and direction of the prevailing wind.”

Utzon designed the Can Lis house almost without plans, working instead with models and in close collaboration with local craftsmen, as he had tried to do with the Opera House. On the days he arrived carrying bottles of wine, the stonemasons knew he’d had a new idea overnight, and that some part of the building would have to be redone.


can lis mallorca

Can Lisvis a series of small, connected pavilions perched on a coastal clifftop, and later that afternoon. In the main pavilion, there is a semicircular stone bench, softened with large linen pillows, curving toward the sea. Instead of capitalizing on the sea view with a large wall of glass, the obvious solution,

Utzon has designed deep, slightly angled stone niches, each framing its own view of the sea. These reduce heat and glare in the manner of traditional Mediterranean homes, but also dramatize the play of light and shadow across the stone.The view becomes a sort of serial, as each opening draws the eye in turn. can lis 2

The orientation of the pavilions in Can Lis selects distinctive views of the Mediterranean, and consequently, the furniture became fixed, built on site and finished with shiny ceramic tiles. Additionally, as the window frames were mounted on the outside surface of the walls, they were made invisible from the interior, which again, stimulates the effect of light, blurring the limits between the dark interior of the house and the blistering Mediterranean sun.

For all these reasons, family life follows a route as the day passes which seems to pursue the passage of the sun.

Henning Larsen

Henning Larsen at the Copenhagen Opera House

Later in the 1970’s Popov also worked with Henning Larsen.

After having worked both for Arne Jacobsen (1952–53) and Jorn Utzon (1958), Henning Larsen founded Henning Larsens Tegnestue in 1959.

From the beginning, Henning Larsen spearheaded competitions and the construction of important buildings in Denmark and abroad. Competitions and architectural experimenting have formed the basis of his architectural work and the development of Henning Larsen Architects.

Henning Larsen has often been refered to as “the master of light” a key component within his projects.

henning larsen gymnasium

school gymnasium by henning larsen

With firm roots in scandinavian design tradition Larsen’s ofice has grown into oo one of the largest in Denmark. The first major project outside Scandinavia was the 1979 Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, establishing the firm’s international reputation.

When designing projects, Henning Larsen often applied the idea of the building as a city with the square as the central, uniting element.

Trondheim_University henning larsen

Trondheim University

As one of the company’s first university projects, Trondheim University (1978) is based on the idea of a consistent, urban structure with an ample inflow of daylight. As the central element of the building, the uniting, inner square allows the viewer to interpret the building in a natural, almost intuitive way.

Trondheim_University henning larsen 2

Trondheim University

The idea of the building as an urban element, a city, with a central, uniting square is based on experience of knowledge sharing, openness and synergy and is architecturally inspired by, for instance, the Arabic souk and the shopping arcades of the 19th century.

In addition, the ideas of communes and communal property from the 70’s have contributed to the emergence of today’s “new office” tendencies in educational and commercial building.

Poul Kjaerholm  2

Poul Kjaerholm

Designing furniture in Denmark can be daunting because it means coming to terms with a great and rigorous tradition of form, function, materials and finish. And no one exemplifies that more than Poul Kjærholm.

Himself a student of Hans Wegner, he took over from Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl running the furniture school (set up by Kaare Klint) at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. in 1976 he was appointed Professor of furniture design at Copenhagen’s Royal Academy a position he held up until his death in 1980.

It was here that Alex Popov met him. Alex was one of only 18 students admitted into the architecture programme. The furniture programme admitted only six!

Kjærholm did two or three sessions a year with the architecture students.

“He gave us talks about the importance of placing furniture in a room,” says Popov. “He would set up a room in the Palace – the school was in an old Dutch Renaissance palace and the rooms were old-fashioned with five metre-high ceilings – and he would bring his furniture in. The objective was for you to set out his modern furniture in the 8m2 room. And he would be a severe critic – how do you choose the distance from the wall, or how do you place a chair relative to another chair, are you aware of its weight and is that an appropriate thing to put against this wall?

So, you began to be aware of the tactile nature of an object and of the way it wanted to be in the room.”

“He was,” says Popov, “adored by his students because he was so obsessed and absorbed in his own world. He didn’t give a stuff about paper work or meetings. He became an icon.”

Like all the others in the Danish tradition, Kjærholm was fascinated by materials and by the technologies available. It was about what Popov calls “testing the materiality of objects…searching for a novel way of using the same material.

“For example,” says Popov, “the rubber on his plywood chair with leather- the piece the actual chair sits on – the little rubber piece, is off the engine mount of a Renault because he was fascinated that an engine could balance like that and have all those high revs.”

Popov became close to Kjaerholm and his wife, Hannah, and used to travel to the south of Spain every year with them for holidays.

“I remember once,” he says, “I sat facing him and he had his back to a bar.  It was an old building of two or three storeys; a typically rendered building in the south of Spain with ornate doors and windows.

I said, “How can you be sitting here all day, Poul?” And he said, “Well, I’m thinking and don’t disturb me.” “Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking,” I said, “and you’ve had several cognacs.” “Ask me anything about the building behind me,” he said. So, I said, “What’s the door lock like?” And he drew every detail.  He drew the handles, the door lock, the window, the frame.  He had it all in his little notebook.

“He knew every component of the buildings around him and he registered what he could use, put it down on paper – he drew beautifully with 6B pencil.”


5 )  Architecture in Australia

popov  castlecrag 1983

alex popov in castlecrag 1983

Whilst working in Denmark, I discovered southern Spain, and built a house there, and felt very comfortable in a warm environment – as against a constantly cold one!

And I thought, well, Australia is where I can maybe use these skills again. It offered a better climate, and there were more opportunities for me here than there, because Europe was going through a terribly difficult time in the early eighties.

So I moved back to Sydney in 1983 ( shortly after divorcing from his wife Lin in 1981 ) and having worked as an architect in Denmark for 16 years.

As soon as I arrived here, I set up a business – I decided that somehow I could survive – and fortunately after just three weeks back in Sydney, I met someone who wanted a house.

So away I went !!!

popov book

I realised that during my lengthy absence, there had been a huge shift towards multiculturalism in the Australian diet, and the dominance of Asian cuisine as a defining influence was decidedly obvious. It’s a trend that’s continued unabated to the present day.

Popov disparages the cult of the celebrity architect, preferring instead to let his work speak for itself, he provided unexpected insights in recalling the genius of Joern Utzon, his one-time employer and former father-in-law. Utzon’s influence is here at Palm Beach, as it is across Sydney’s upmarket suburbs, where Popov has worked his mastery for the past 20 years.

“Jorn always said that the person who studied the place longer, and reflected upon it, got more information and a better result,” Popov says. “See where the sun is moving, watch how big the rock is, ask where the tree is, find out about the gully. Keep ruminating on that and the building will emerge as a result. Never just make a form.

“We absorb the elements that are around us. There’s a sense that many of the buildings at Whale Beach and Palm Beach are almost urban, that the tradition of timber and sandstone is slowly disappearing. We are trying to reintroduce some of the figurative elements of those houses.”

popov book

I think there is a heightened awareness of architects, and architecture. That’s probably very much driven by the press, because “lifestyle” has become so important, incorporating food, culture, fashion, architecture, interior design. In the last fifteen years Australians have been exposed to that on an unprecedented level – we have so many more design magazines than most small countries.

We are very keen to show ourselves that we are not a backwater, that we have an identity. But whether that identity has come out through architecture, yet, I am not sure. We have a lot of good architects, and, really, we should be pleased with that.

alex popov photo

Alex believes that Architecture is unfortunately an old man’s profession and it takes a long time to develop the skills.

If you can get away from wanting to be published all the time, that’s good, because it’s driven by sexy imagery – as against people who are producing works that are spatially subtle, and structurally subtle, who possibly don’t get as much coverage.

And we seem to have this attitude that you’ve got to be a minimalist, or you’ve got to be a deconstructivist, and then your career is made, rather than approaching every project as unique with its own inherent problems.

The real issue is – are we getting a good city?   Is this city, at the end of the day, a good environment?

People will blame architects for having despoiled it, and they’ll thank us for making it better. This is our real responsibility. Have we allowed sufficient lungs in the city for it to breathe?

Do we really need some tall buildings? All those major cities like Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam, deal with the urban fabric as well. That’s what we admire about them – the ability for the individual to feel comfortable in those cities, and then admire modern buildings in that context.

One of the issues that’s now very close to every architect’s heart is the fact that councils are restricting us more and more in terms of, not only expression, but rules that actually aren’t healthy in many respects. Unless we are careful, we will get a pretty poor collection of buildings that represent our time.

It’s awful, and by the time you get to my age, it’s very difficult to be sitting at council meetings and being howled down by people who haven’t any knowledge, really, about building, or the inherent problems, or who try and justify their own arguments in an unprofessional manner or in an ignorant manner.

I see a healthy future for architects if we can get some decent planning laws, some principles that we as architects can subscribe to. We have skills, and those skills are fundamental to the success of our society – if we are good architects, we’ll have a good environment to bring people into, and a good society.

We have very strong individuals in this country, who have a high moral attitude. Glenn (Murcutt) is one who, despite his enormous success and recognition overseas, still has time to inspire people.

We have a responsibility to teach what we know.


There were, however, two fundamentals that have continued to characterise his designs, the first being attention to detail. “We design everything down to the gutter details and the downpipes, so that everything comes together and looks the part – and that’s a very Scandinavian inclination.”

The other is his conviction to be respectful of context, but not make a spectacle. “You never drive by and ask, ‘My God, what is that?’ You have to look to see behind a discreet facade.”

Alex still searches for the simple essences — what he refers to as the truth in architecture – and the need for calm, life enhancing, uncomplicated spaces.

I try and float over the whole problem, from above, like a seagull – it gives you an idea of the site, and what other issues are affecting it. These might be to do with the site itself, and also you deal with the psychology of your client. People are so different. You have to draw on your skills in trying to assess different clients.


You also have to be pretty determined to carry a project through, with all the contradictions that exist in the building process. Then you deal with your own psychological baggage, you look at whether you yourself would feel comfortable in the building. ”

I’m keen to develop the idea that there’s traffic around the outside of the building, while internally there are pedestrian streets.

In Paris and Copenhagen, you have a street order which is defined by the building’s edge and the road, and a great number of internal courtyards and passages that interlink.

Within the European sense of order – other people are a part of your precinct, not just anonymous individuals. That’s where architects have to encourage, by invisible means, a social program behind buildings that results in a positive outlook on life.

A house should give a sense of calm.

“If you have been exposed to the complexities and disorder of daily life you want to open the door and walk into a sense of calm. The building gives you a sense of feeling good, and it reveals something that touches you psychologically – that says “things are pretty good, this is a good space”.

Years ago I met one of the Kaufmanns, for whom Frank Lloyd Wright built Falling Water. I asked them what that building meant for them, and they said that the building had transformed their lives, because it had given them a new sense of a belief in the future and modernity, and living on the edge of cultural possibilities.

In the 30 years he has now been practising in Australia, Alex Popov has earned a reputation as a creator of elegant, restrained and peaceful houses. With his polite, easy manner and quiet confidence he attracts many repeat clients.

His reputation is founded in his intuitive approach to design and his elegant, harmoniously-proportioned buildings. “Architecture is an old man’s profession,” he says, modestly attributing his success to the fact that he has been practising for a fair number of years.

To his clients he offers a sense of what a house can be, and how architecture can play a positive role in their lives.


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In his architecture Alex is intensely aware of, and inspired by, Australia’s physical conditions, while also maintaining a deep intellectual connection with Europe where he is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Arts, Copenhagen.

He responds to Sydney’s light, bright, sometimes-severe climate and is informed by ideas gained during his education at the School of Architecture in Copenhagen, his early experiences working with Jorn Utzon and Henning Larsen, and a lifelong habit of making careful observations on places, climates, cultures and human nature.

Alex Popov, untittled series, ink on paper 2011

Alex Popov, untittled series, ink on paper 2011


Alex finished the evening by explaining how mush he is looking forward to retiring from architecture with the next few years. so he can once again take up his love of drawing and painting.

Alex will not need to ask his children if his life’s journey and all his efforts were worth it – they already know the answer !!!!



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