Sydney Ancher and 15 Bogota Avenue,
Neutral Bay

Sydney Ancher was one of Australia's foremost Modernist architects.

Like his younger contemporary and peer, Harry Seidler, Ancher was influenced by avant garde European architects, in particular Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

Ancher was born in the Sydney suburb, Woollahra, in 1904. He attended Sydney Technical College and qualified as an architect in 1929. Ancher travelled to Europe in the early 1930s, worked in London and visited Europe where he encountered the Modernist architecture of Mies vand der Rohe and others first hand. Returning to Sydney in 1936, he partnered with the architect Reginald Prevost. The flat roofed house Ancher helped design for Prevost in Sydney's eastern suburb of Bellevue Hill is regarded as one of the earliest expressions of streamlined functionalism in Sydney. Ernest Osborn’s ‘Simms House and J. Aubrey Kerr's 'Nicklin House,' built two years later in Cammeray and Wollstonecraft respectively, might well have been influenced by the Prevost House.

Ancher revisited Europe in 1939, travelling through Scandinavia and attending lectures by Frank Lloyd Wright. With war looming he returned to Australia and volunteered for the army. He served in the Middle East before his architectural skills were recognised and he was transferred to Australia to carry out engineering and design duties.

Ancher recommenced his architectural practice in 1945. His expression of Modernist design matured so that the structure of his houses were pared back to allow maximum interaction with their setting. Ancher’s creative development coincided with the design and construction of Mies van der Rohe’s ‘Farnsworth House’ which took this minimalism to an extreme with windows and walls functioning as one and the same. Aware of this house, which was completed in 1951, Ancher employed a similarly radical idea in the dwelling he designed for himself and his family at 15 Bogota Avenue, Neutral Bay, in 1956. By then he was working with two young architects, Bryce Mortlock and Stuart Murray, from an office in Neutral Bay.

The site was a disused lawn tennis court – a remnant from the days when Neutral Bay accommodated grand homes in large gardens. The frame was precast concrete but Ancher used lightweight materials for the structure. The ceilings and partition walls were made of a material called ‘Caneite’, essentially panels of compressed sugar cane fibre. This choice suited both his design philosophy and the construction difficulties presented by the site, which was elevated and set back from the road.

The house was characterised by natural light and the free flow of space in the open plan living areas. The effect of this and the use of retractable screens and curtains created an interior space that was almost Japanese in its flexibility. These features were captured by Max Dupain, the pre-eminent photographer of Modernist architecture at this time, in a series of photographs taken for the magazine Architecture and Arts in 1958.

Like the 'Churcher House', built on a neighbouring block around 1953, Ancher’s house embraced its setting. In this way it continued a tradition evident early on with verandahed Georgian bungalows such as ‘ Crows Nest Cottage. For this reason, as well, both houses represented a significant shift from the dark and heavy English Revival / Federation style architecture that characterised the area. In the following decade Modernism in the form of flats would transform the suburb more dramatically.

Sydney Ancher lived in the Neutral Bay house until his retirement in 1966. He died in Newcastle in 1979.