The shock of the new

Billy Kavellaris grew up living in a California-style bungalow in the Melbourne suburb of Reservor. Today the 35-year-old founder of Kavellaris Urban Design (KUD) is the face of a new generation of Australian architects who are challenging formulaic approaches to the unrelenting urban sprawl.

The son of migrants from Greece who arrived in Australia in the late ’60s, Kavellaris was an exemplary student: the future architect was school captain at his primary school, before excelling in high school. “I was always drawing,” says Kavellaris, who remembers the delight he felt unfolding his first Staedtler drawing board at the age of 14.

He left school in 1994, undertook a drafting diploma and then his Bachelor of Architecture at RMIT. It was while completing his degree that he began to learn his trade, and realised to what extent he despised the formulaic approaches to commercial architecture that he witnessed. In 2002 he went out on his own, creating KUD, a boutique architecture and interior design practice committed to pursuing what he describes as “intelligent design”.

KUD offered solutions for residential, retail and public buildings as well as large-scale commercial developments, and within a short time the new kid on the block was attracting serious interest.

In 2008, Kavellaris realised a very personal project; a new home for his young family. The house (that would later be known as the perforated house) was a brave new interpretation of a single-fronted Victorian terrace property in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. The ‘perforation’ refers to the 3mm anodised aluminium screen that Kavellaris created to become the main facade, upon which, an image of the traditional features of the Victorian frontage are displayed.

The thought-provoking design allowed the facade to change its transparency, enabling the house to appear both solid and translucent and questioning the idea of a static building. Inside and out, the perforated house illustrated the depth of Kavellaris’ passion for technical innovation. “Technology is always a driving factor in our work,” says KUD’s founder, who also teaches architecture at Melbourne University.

Kavellaris’ recent projects include include the award-winning Jewel Apartments, the centrepiece of a vibrant redefinition of the urban village, and the remarkable and recently commissioned Wills Skypark Tower for Melbourne CBD. On the international front, KUD has been invited to design a $150 million retail and residential complex in Ho Chi Minh City. Business has never been better.

At the heart of Kavellaris’ art, is the idea that successful architecture is not about structural decoration or paying lip-service to a notion of heritage. “The more you understand people and cities, how we operate, the better an architect you become,” says Kavellaris.

“We need to start planning our urbanism in a much more comprehensive manner and we should have more of a debate on what’s happening. We have a responsibility not just to the client, but a social responsibility – these houses are going to out-live us and our children.”

Kavellaris’ buildings, like those of all good architects, are about stories; stories of how we live and interact, and how the structures we spend time in and move through, can make all our stories richer.

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