Nino Sydney: the modernist hero of the Australian suburbs

Nino Sydney, famous for making modernist architecture accessible to all Australians, sadly passed away earlier this month at the age of 89.

Serving as chief architect at Lend Lease Homes for 12 years (1961-1973), Sydney is famous for creating plans for the Beachcomber and Pan Pacific houses, which became mainstays of Australian suburbia.

nino sydney

Born in Zagreb, Croatia, Sydney moved to the city of Sydney in 1955 after graduating in architecture from the University of Zagreb. After completing another degree in architecture at the University of Sydney in 1958, he moved to Europe, working in several studios in Germany and Luxembourg.

About 100 of Beachcomber’s original homes, built in the 1960s, still stand in the port city, with their influence on modern homes clearly visible on Australian streets today. Rectangular designs, open plans, full-height glazing and full-length verandas have become mainstays of Australian residential architecture, pioneered by Sydney.

Underlining Sydney’s desire to be practical and affordable, many homes featuring its designs were built as part of a £2,000 package and were the first homes to be fitted with standard insulation.

“Nino wanted people to be able to buy a house for the price of two station wagons,” says artist and Beachcomber owner Billy Gruner in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Today they would cost over 100 cars and you could never pay them back. But it was revolutionary at the time to be able to afford to live in a beautiful designer project house instead of an ugly little house.

“It was completely democratic and it was a game-changer for our suburbs and for everyone to have better buildings. The Beachcombers still look fantastic today, and they have so many green credentials with almost zero impact on a site. There is now a real cult around them.

It is estimated that Sydney designed over 50 house styles by biographer Davina Jackson. The architect received the NSW RAIA Project House design award for his work creating the Casa Blanca model in 1967.

After leaving Lend Lease Homes in 1973, Sydney ran his own practice, delivering a number of custom designed homes, which he finished in 1997. Sydney was an avid squash and water polo player, playing both sports at a high level. At the time of his death, Sydney was working on an updated version of the Beachcomber, aiming to address a number of issues including the nature of modern living and sustainability.

Sydney is survived by his wife Vera, and their children Mark, Maya and Danny.

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