Exploring Art and Architecture with Ed Glenn

  • Canopy House by Powell & Glenn

    As part of our Art at Home series, we sit down with Powell & Glenn’s principal and director Ed Glenn to explore the multi-disciplinary nature of art and architecture.

    The boundaries of art and architecture blend and merge in a seamless flow of inspiration and influence, sparking movements from Baroque and Art Nouveau to Brutalism and minimalism

    We spoke with Melbourne architect Ed Glenn about his thoughts on the two disciplines, musing between Ed’s childhood exploring Les Kossatz’s workshop to his first encounter with architect Allan Powell. Ed reveals his thoughts on how art and architecture each hold their own qualities that define them, his favourite example of architecture as art, and how his art collection, with his wife Edwina Glenn keeps growing — enough to fill their new home, an 1800 hotel in South Melbourne.

    As the principal and director of Australian architecture practice Powell & Glenn, what have you learned about the relationship between art and architecture?

    Ed Glenn: I’ve learned that your relationship between art and architecture is framed by the people you meet – people that teach you about art and help you explore what it is and isn’t.

    One of my formative experiences was with my aunty, who was married to Australian artist Les Kossatz, a fine artist and sculptor. Allan Powell was engaged to do a large renovation of their warehouse in Carlton. This was to be their primary residence which also doubled as Les’ studio and workspace.

    I have early memories of visiting Les’ studio filled with half-built wax sheep jumping out of the walls and postcards hanging from the ceiling. He would be there with his jeans hanging from him, cigarette in hand, telling my siblings and me about the content of his artworks, their story and, most importantly, their significance. At the time, we probably didn’t understand exactly what he was saying, but it framed art in an interesting way for us. It taught us that art was important and a deeper level of content got us thinking in a way we wouldn’t normally.

    “One of my favourite examples of architecture as art is the 1938 Villa Malaparte in Capri, Italy, designed by Adalberto Libera, a rationalist Italian architect […] In my opinion, the building is one of the best examples of modern Italian architecture.”

     

    – Ed Glenn

    Did you have any takeaways from this experience and your application to your practice?

    Ed Glenn: In a way, this experience was the nexus of these two parts of my life. Allan Powell’s architectural work, Les Kossatz’s workshop, mixed in with all these familial things – Boston bun, courtyards, coffee and conversation. It was a special time. This was my first experience of integrating art in architecture – how they can and should sit together. My sister, Alice Glenn, has co-founded Schoolhouse Studios, a not-for-profit platform for artists, independent creative businesses, activists, social enterprises and the like. So I feel Les’ influence has resonated with her too. We each share a deep respect for art and artists and are both, in our ways, creating vehicles for artistic expression.

    I’m still learning but now I would pull the ball of string apart into architecture and design – fine art – applied art, exploring their differences and their important connection. In my mind, fine art sits at one end of the spectrum, which is where an artist that has spent a lifetime (or almost) thinking deeply about something and trying to put it together in a way that is affecting, has a certain response or does something to the viewer.

    Then there is architecture that houses this and creates the theatrical backdrop. Then there is an applied art that sits somewhere in between. I think in some ways architecture can venture into applied art and fine art can also venture into applied art. In my mind, it’s these interesting overlaps where art and architecture meet, and I believe the dialogue between the two has such a lovely tension.

    How did you become an architect, and did art play a role in your early studies?

    Ed Glenn: Growing up in a creative household, both my parents were interested in art. They created an environment where they were always challenging my siblings and me to think critically about ideas. They always helped us to think more deeply and discover new perspectives. This led me into architecture and the interplay of form, function, light, and the poetry or theatre a building can represent.

    After completing my architecture degree at Melbourne University, I took a gap year and travelled overseas. At this time, Allan Powell designed my aunty and uncles’ home in Carlton. When I returned to Melbourne, I felt quite lost with what direction to take, but after I visited the home Allan designed, we started working together. My discovery between the two disciplines began.

    Can you share some examples of how art has inspired architecture, and alternately, where have you seen architecture influence art?

    Ed Glenn: There is an idea that our practice is often pursuing, which I believe has a relationship with fine art and architecture. It’s the study of things that are on the edge of abstraction. Is it one thing, or is it another? And I think that without being too literal when there is a very subtle nuance with abstract expression, it’s a very powerful thing to explore in art and architecture.

    What are some of your favourite examples of architecture as art? 

    Ed Glenn: One of my favourite examples of architecture as art is the 1938 Villa Malaparte in Capri, Italy, designed by Adalberto Libera, a rationalist Italian architect. I was lucky enough to have stumbled across this building many years ago when walking along the cliffs of Capri. In my opinion, the building is one of the best examples of modern Italian architecture. Visually the house displays inverted pyramid stairs and sits over a cliff on the Gulf of Salerno. It is completely isolated and is only accessible by foot or by boat.

    Its form highlights a language foreign to its environment, commanding its own rules with its monumental character. Yet, it still creates a harmonious connection with nature and does not disrupt its environment. It was built with local stone extracted from the site itself, and, as a result, it is as though the house has emerged from the landscape over which it sits. I’ve always admired it, and it’s a wonderful example of art and architecture embedded in the landscape.

    In this case, how would you define the barriers between the two disciplines?

    Ed Glenn: In terms of barriers, architecture needs to adhere to the functional requirements of a building e.g. windows, down pipes etc. This is becoming more challenging in today’s continuously changing world.

    Art in its purest form doesn’t require this idea of utility. It’s there to affect you, change how you view things and evoke a certain emotion. You don’t need to inhabit it like architecture. I see art as important and completely unnecessary, and I feel that’s where the magic lies.

    In the Villa Malaparte example, given the period in which it was built, it doesn’t have this barrier. It’s a wonderful windowless building (which probably wouldn’t be compliant these days) that allows it to occupy the site and give space where art can be seen as architecture.

    I’d love to hear more about your own art collection. Are there any pieces that have changed the way you view the world and how we inhabit spaces?

    Ed Glenn: My passion for collecting started from an early age and it’s one that I enjoy with my wife, interior designer Edwina Glenn. Together, over the years, we have developed our collection. It ranges from a piece by Joseph McGlennon’s Kangaroos Series, an oil painting by Robert Malherbe and local artist Ben Sheers, paintings and sculptors by renowned artist and my uncle Les Kossatz, custom lighting by Sarah Nedovic Gaunt and a painting by New Zealand artist Godfrey Clive Miller.

    In 2021, Edwina and I purchased a mirror designed by Cordon Salon (Ella Saddington) from her exhibition shown at Sophie Gannon Gallery. The mirror currently sits in our kitchen, and depending on where the light hits, a different experience is revealed. I notice it daily and pause every time I walk into the kitchen. It’s an ephemeral piece – changing with seasons, it’s like a new artwork each day, and it brings us so much joy.

    Another piece I love is the Peter Cole light fitting in our entranceway. I enjoy Peter’s work because it’s both functional and aesthetically pleasing – it’s a light sculpture, a piece of art. There is also a nice connection between this light and our industry, as the series was based around the broken bottles that can be found under houses when renovating.

    Our collection will be forever growing. We are currently renovating a hotel built in 1800 in South Melbourne, which we plan to spend the next 20+ years filling with art and objects that bring us joy.

    In your experience, does Australia have a different relationship with architecture and art than elsewhere?

    Ed Glenn: In short, yes. However, the idea of difference as a national concept is more interesting. There is as much difference within Australia than there is outside. People have different views, cultures, and experiences and it feels overly simplistic to assume one view for all. It’s a complex topic, and if broken down, you could compare states, cities and suburbs within Australia, the period, and different realms of art or architecture. It’s an interesting question, and one I don’t feel particularly qualified to answer, as it has so many layers that should be explored.

    Finally, how do you see the future of architecture and art evolving in Australia or globally?

    Ed Glenn: As art evolves, the more there is, the more danger there is with white noise. There are so many different mediums of art these days, and I feel those who are artists, who are interested in art, and who are affected by it, are going to have to work a lot harder to sift through this white noise. In architecture, practical and functional elements continue to evolve each day. So we need to be equally aware of art evolving into many different mediums and how this relates to architecture so that we can consciously design for each discipline.

    “Art in its purest form doesn’t require this idea of utility. It’s there to affect you, change how you view things and evoke a certain emotion.”

     

    – Ed Glenn

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    Ed Glenn | Photography by Sharyn Cairns

  • Ed Glenn's signature style

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