On the Couch with Tim Leslie

Tim Leslie AAR On the CouchWho is Tim Leslie?
I’m an architect and was born in Canberra, Australia’s bush capital, in 1974. I feel fortunate to have been born in one of the few designed cities in the world, undertaken by the husband and wife team of Walter and Marion Mahony Griffin. Their design integrates and celebrates landscape with the built form. I studied in Canberra, had my year out in Perth and completed my degree in Melbourne.

After becoming a registered architect, I moved to London and it was here that I was introduced to the Open House concept. When I returned to Melbourne and commenced working at Bates Smart in 2006. I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in a young leadership group. Our task was to come up with an idea that would improve Melbourne, develop a business strategy and form a team to implement the idea.

My idea was to introduce the Open House to Melbourne, providing a free platform for the public to visit and hopefully appreciate the importance of design in creating a better city – it was an avenue to explain the complexity of preservation in tandem with progression and the need to strive for design excellence.

I believe that architecture is a noble profession and that good design can make a difference to everyone. It’s the poetic integration of light and landscape into the built environment which are key elements in creating successful architecture. Open House Melbourne was founded in 2008 and it continues to grow each year.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
To be honest, I am happy with where I am in my personal and professional career. However, as with most people, I do wish I was better at time management and that I spent more time away from work, focusing instead on leisure, and doing things that make me a more rounded individual – travelling, relaxing, reading, running and learning.

Who inspires you and why?
A key source of inspiration has been the book Questions of Perception, Phenomenology of Architecture by Steven Holl and Juhani Pallasmaa. This introduced me to the ideas of how we experience architecture through all our senses, beyond the visual. It was a text and insight into the poetics of architecture, not just the pragmatic.

I had the great pleasure and good fortune to introduce Juhani Pallasmaa for a lecture series in Queensland. Afterwards, over dinner, he generously spoke with great warmth about his rich life. Pallasmaa was humble, generous and enthralling. He has travelled widely and counts many of world’s great architects as his friends. I unfortunately have not met Steven Holl, although I would love to.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
There are two significant things within my sphere of influence, so I hope they might be achievable. In my professional career, I hope to continue to produce works of lasting urban and community significance, which is no easy task. Secondly, through Open House Melbourne, I would like the opportunity to continue to help shape the positive transformation with the community that empowers them to protect buildings of significance, and to support and demand that future buildings offer high quality design.

Favourite Holiday destination and why?
I love travelling, especially through Europe, however I would have to say that my favourite holiday destination is my stepfather’s beach house in Batehaven. It is a humble 1950s beach home, carport underneath, open staircase up to a verandah facing the incredible view of the ocean. This is an escape back to a simpler life – body surfing, Australian wildlife and flora, walking to the shops, limited internet and phone coverage, old TV and basic facilities. It is a rare treat to be able to go to sleep when it gets dark and wake up as the sun rises.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to and why?
I like to take friends along my favourite walking circuit in Melbourne which starts at the Royal Botanic Gardens with its beautiful landscape setting by William Guilfoyle. Then across to the Shrine of Remembrance – it sets up Melbourne’s main axis, you can walk through, under, around and over it. This is followed by a tram ride down St Kilda Road to Federation Square which is such a beautiful topographical plaza.

We then stroll to the State Library of Victoria and its magnificent domed reading room. This was one of the first free public libraries in the world. Finally, to City Wine Shop on Spring Street which overlooks ICI House, which is Australia’s first skyscraper, and Parliament House.

What are you currently reading?
I always have a few different books on the go on various subjects. I love reading about science and have a weekly subscription to the New Scientist. It is so inspiring, although some research reveals worrying damage that is occurring across the globe. Light in Architecture, the Intangible Material by Elisa Valero Ramos is there to satisfy my professional curiosity while a recommendation from my Mum from last Christmas, Europe, A History by Norman Davies is something that I may tackle on my next holiday. Late in the evenings, I find myself reading the daily edition of The Guardian when I should be sleeping.

What are you currently listening to?
I have a very wide collection of music collection that’s quite different to my arts and history focused reading style. I recently found a YouTube video of a very young Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam playing unplugged for MTV.  It’s amazing how talented these young guys were and brought memories flooding back of my teenage years and early twenties when I was listening to grunge and seeing the band live. If you haven’t watched this unplugged and you are a fan, I highly recommend it. Music, as with travel, art and history can be so influential in your professional life – it offers perspective and balance.

Happiness is?
Happiness is knowing you have made a positive difference to others along with running and enjoying a glass of Victorian Pinot Noir and cheese with my partner and friends!

What does the future hold for you?
I am really looking forward to the opening of the Australian Embassy in Washington D.C. This was a design our studio, Bates Smart had won in competition and has been such a special project to work on and to be there at the opening will be a truly special experience.

I also hope that Open House Melbourne continues to thrive and become a centre for the public to access information on the value of good design. Apart from that I really don’t know what my future holds but I hope it is being surrounded with positive and kind, people who want to make the world a better place… and who also believe in science, great rock bands and the value of good design.

Tim is the Founding Board Member and President of Open House Melbourne – which takes place this weekend: 28 & 29 July 2018. For more information, visit: www.openhousemelbourne.org for details.

Image: Tim Leslie (supplied)