The Architect of Happiness – Tim Ross
Sydney, NSW, Australia
One of the great, but at times unrecognised, powers of architecture is the influence it can have over our state of wellbeing. The homes and streets that we are surrounded by can serve as an eloquent reminder of our full potential as humans, creating a meaningful backdrop to the narrative of our existence. This inimitable quality is certainly not lost on Tim Ross, the performer and self-proclaimed “design geek” who has devoted a large portion of his career to the promotion, procurement and protection of Australian design. Today, Tim can be found following his passion across the country, as he explores the architecture that lies at the heart of our nation and tells the stories that make up our collective design legacy.
Tim’s inherent passion for Australian design began with a childhood spent in the seaside Mornington Peninsula suburb of Mount Eliza. Sharing a neighbourhood with the work of Robin Boyd and Roy Grounds helped to spark his interest in Australian modernism, which would become a lifelong obsession. “As kids we rode our bikes around these houses,” says Tim. “Those early days exposed me to the hugely formative power of architecture, and this is something that has stayed with me. When I look back on those wonderful homes built in the 1960s and 70s, homes that represent who we were, I experience a visceral call that has helped inform a large part of my professional and personal life.”
“Increasingly, the world looks to Australian design as source of education and inspiration, and with this double-edged sword comes an immense amount of responsibility.”
Following his other passion, performance, into a life in the spotlight of the Australian entertainment industry, Tim has developed a storied career in radio, television and stand-up comedy, generating global acclaim for his sharp comedic wit and intuitive style of storytelling. “For a long time, I had been trying to combine my career in the media and my love of design by getting a television series produced about Australian modernism,” he explains. This dream was realised with his 2016 mini-series, Streets of Your Town, “and this put me in the best place to further explore my interest in Australian design,” he says. “From this point, armed with my 25 years’ worth of collected mid-century modern furniture, my modernist house filled with all that furniture, and the rise of social media, I began to expand my explorations into Australian architecture.”
Whether he is performing, promoting or protecting, there is no doubt that the Australian design community is richer for having Tim’s passionate voice behind some its greatest causes and his unique style of storytelling helping to promote a greater understanding of design in society.
Along with his television work, Tim has also built a unique portfolio of design-focused live shows. Man About the House, developed alongside his friend Kit Warhurst, is an evolving theatrical show performed in architecturally significant buildings, which has transformed work from the likes of Harry Seidler, Robin Boyd and Richard Rogers into intimate stages of storytelling. The concept for Tim’s live show has taken on many forms over the years, most recently being adapted into the television program Designing a Legacy. “The key theme of Designing a Legacy is the idea that great architecture can elevate us all. It speaks to us of our story and reminds us of what we can achieve,” says Tim. “The concept for the show came from collecting stories over the years. People would talk to me about their houses that had character and a distinct style that created a story for them. The idea of how designing and creating with some sort of conviction can have longstanding relationships is important to me.”
At the heart of all of Tim’s work, behind his witty architectural anecdotes and explorations into Australia’s design legacy, lies a spirit of conservationism and a mission to prevent our architectural history from simply becoming legends told to future generations. “I believe that, as Australians, we are getting much better at preserving architecture than we were five or six years ago, and at the centre of this movement, this renewed interest in beautiful 1960s architecture, is a design boom led by a more design literate society,” he reflects.
Tim’s inherent passion for Australian design began with a childhood spent in the seaside Mornington Peninsula suburb of Mount Eliza. Sharing a neighbourhood with the work of Robin Boyd and Roy Grounds helped to spark his interest in Australian modernism, which would become a lifelong obsession.
Having been awarded the National President’s Prize from the Australian Institute of Architects and the National Trust Heritage Award for Advocacy in 2018, Tim has often been outspoken in his desire to protect the very fabric of Australia’s architectural history and is aware of the important role our country plays on the global stage. Blessed with enviable amounts of light and space that represent something of a blank canvas for design, “it is a brilliant time for Australian architecture,” he says. “Increasingly, the world looks to Australian design as source of education and inspiration, and with this double-edged sword comes an immense amount of responsibility.” It is a responsibility that sees the preservation of our architectural heritage intrinsically bound to the urgent imperative to prioritise sustainability, he says. “The greenest building you will ever build is one you don’t knock over,” says Tim. And while he is constantly inspired by the contemporary design industry, “I would love to see a continued focus on the thoughtfulness of building, and the environmental concerns of the industry. For all the shininess of beautiful architecture, for how a home makes you think and feel, it is all pointless if we are ruining the planet in the process of building it.”
After a year of relative hibernation, a performer without a stage upon which to perform, Tim is looking forward to the rest of 2021 and continuing to tour around Australia through various live shows and exhibitions. “The idea of being able to tour again is an exciting one,” he states. “I’ve got a new show that I have written, and Kit and I will continue to do Man About the House around Australia.” He is also looking forward to filming some more episodes for Designing a Legacy. “There is certainly no shortage of great stories out there, and the second series represents an opportunity to showcase a more diverse range of architects and owners, including some trailblazing women that broke the mould of a male dominated profession in the 1950s and 60s.”
Whether he is performing, promoting or protecting, there is no doubt that the Australian design community is richer for having Tim’s passionate voice behind some its greatest causes and his unique style of storytelling helping to promote a greater understanding of design in society. Through his work, Tim continues to curate his own design legacy, ensuring that the stories he tells and the buildings within which he tells them will continue to endure for generations to come.