Seeking Susi
Belle Magazine Australia|February-March 2021
An early sojourn working in Rome set this architect and designer on the road to an holistic, all-encompassing approach to her practice.
Karen McCartney

“THE SUN NEVER KNEW how great it was until it hit the side of a building,” said Louis Kahn, the great American architect. His comment is what comes to my mind when looking at the exterior of Susi Leeton’s Birch Tree House in a leafy Melbourne suburb. Indeed, it is this combination of light, nature and sculptural architectural form that sums up the best of her work. “The desire to create evocative work that is both romantic and poetic is very intentional, and the vibration of light and shadow on external surfaces communicates the connection to the natural context,” Leeton says.

She started her career studying fine art, but was drawn to the collaborative potential of architecture and the ability to create 3D volumes. She describes it as “like painting projected to become spatial and structural”. The creative freedom of her architecture degree at University of Melbourne included exercises such as building a full-scale pleasure dome and this left-of-centre conceptual thinking served her well when she ended up in Rome working for architect and artist Luigi Serafini. Her approach to securing a position in his office was as naive as it was gutsy. “I bought a copy of Abitare – one of Italy’s best-known design magazines at the time – and read about an architect who designed avant-garde furniture for Tonelli Design, Memphis Milano and Edra. A multidisciplinary in the true sense, he was working on theatre projects creating scenery, lighting and costumes. He was kind enough to invent a position for me,” Leeton says.

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