Bridging The Gap
Belle Magazine Australia|December - January 2021
Whether large or small, public or private, Alexander Tzannes treats all projects with equal importance.

IT IS TESTIMONY TO Alexander Tzannes that he is able to recall in great detail and with immense fondness a two-storey addition to a tiny timber cottage in Balmain for writer Leta Keens, which he designed in 1985. “I still just love that building. Size doesn’t matter – it’s just as hard to do,” he says.

In the residential and commercial space Tzannes is an A-list architecture practice that attracts the big end of town. Think of John Symond’s Point Piper home with its 75-metre waterfront, 22-person spa, a cinema and a double ellipse staircase that drops an astounding 19 metres. Typical of Tzannes there is subtlety as well as theatre, and an additional surveyor was engaged to ensure that the building set out was precisely aligned with key visual points on the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

Tzannes admits, quietly, to currently working on a residence with twice the budget of the Symond’s house. It would be wrong to assume that he is in any way boastful about the scale of these projects – rather he is academic (he was Professor of Practice and Dean of UNSW Built Environment 2008-15), rigorous and has the aura of a man guided by integrity. He tells me that at the outset he is very direct with new clients. “I explain to them that this is something I have worked on all my life, my aim is to occasionally protect them from themselves, that I will always make sure they have understood my arguments but equally I will take instruction unless it breaches standards,” he says.

While many of his houses are on sites with a magnificent view he often tries to resist its allure as a design driver, instead ensuring the house both belongs to, and takes advantage of, every aspect of the site. “We have this moment to employ original thinking, to marry the best skills from design, and build to create something lasting.”

There is no reliance on assumed knowledge, and an ethos of deep research and open mindedness pervades the practice. Hence they resist the temptation to identify with one particular material or plans in a particular style. “We strive to embrace what has happened in architecture, past, present and projected,” says Tzannes, “and try to use all the language available to us.”

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