The Argus X

Life by design

Bird watching, collecting Italian cars and design — architect William Zuccon is a man with many interests. Luckily for us, his love of the country has seen him work on many projects in the Hunter region over the years including one very close to home — the art gallery Michael Reid Murrurundi.

He could have missed the tiny advertisement in the advertising section of The Sydney Morning Herald but luckily it caught the eye of William Zuccon. The ad asked for someone with a ‘sense of humour’ and William, who was a second year student at the University of Sydney at the time, decided to apply. “Before I knew it I was working for this chap by the name of Espie Dods,” he explains. “It was 1981 and little did I realise it that this would set the direction for the whole of my career.”

Four decades later, William works from his office in Sydney’s Paddington and is often on the road north to meet with clients. Here he gives us a rare insight into how he began his career, his passion for vintage cars and the lengths he will go to see a grey falcon.

Did you grow up in the country or have any early rural influences?  

I’d like to be able to say that I was born and bred in the bush but alas I’m a city boy through and through. My father was an outdoorsman however and early trips to the country in Tasmania (I was born in Hobart) perhaps sowed the seeds for my enduring love of the bush. During these formative years I inescapably developed a passion for the natural world, whether it be fossils and minerals, astronomy and the stars, wildlife of all descriptions (and particularly birds), and this has endured throughout my life.

Why did you decide to be an architect?

 I was always been interested in design, in the very early years this was manifest in my passion for what are now considered classic sports cars. I marvelled at the heroic designs of the ‘dream cars’ of those years and designed many of my own. This was probably the catalyst that started me thinking about design in general and in time directed me to architecture. More than any other pursuit I could think of it embodied the natural world and the design disciplines with some maths and science thrown in for good measure.

What was a pivotal moment in your career?

Early in my second year of architecture at Sydney University I thought it would be a good idea to earn some pocket money by trying to secure work in an architectural practice. This was far from the norm in that college at the time and I may well have been one of the few to do so. I responded to a tiny SMH advert seeking a draftsperson with, amongst other things, a sense of humour.

Before I knew it I was working for this chap by the name of Espie Dods. It was 1981 and little did I realise it that this would set the direction for the whole of my career. After a very busy few years, during which time I completed my degrees, Espie and I in 1989 established Dods and Zuccon Architects — the firm that has endured all these years and in time became my own. I really do owe much to that wonderful man.

You have done a lot of work in the Hunter region over the years. How did that come about?

One of the wonderful aspects of our client base was that many were from the country. Well that suited me to a tee and I took to these commissions with relish. It’s through a number of these projects that I came to discover and love the Upper Hunter. The rare, if not unique, confluence of established rural families, viticulture, and the mining and equine industries has made for an eclectic mix of people and projects which has helped sustain the practice over an extended period of time. Apart from wonderful opportunities to build new houses and renovate others have been invigorating non-residential commissions.

Scone’s much loved restaurant The Cottage was one of those non-residential projects. Tell us about that brief.

Some years ago we were approached to re-purpose what was originally a single dwelling in the main street of Scone to create a restaurant. Central to the brief was that dining at the restaurant had to be free of pretension and be akin to having dinner in a friend’s country home. This was certainly a new and challenging project on a number of fronts. The building was tired and in places run down.

It was in no way compliant with the applicable codes and standards of today, had no kitchen, no parking facilities, inadequate just about everything. We recognised the opportunity to help deliver to Scone a high quality and enduring establishment and supported by our wonderful client at all times through a long and demanding process, delivered a sparkling re-purposed building which houses The Cottage restaurant.

And of course our own Bobadil gallery at Murrurundi is another important local commission.

When Michael Reid first approached me to design a ‘big shed’ I must say I wasn’t sure how that would equate to a gallery. It took just one visit to Bobadil however, to ‘get it’. Michael’s location for the new building was inspired — sitting opposite the existing impossibly handsome stone gallery — and nestled into an intimate forest. This was going to be fun.

Positioned on axis with the existing sandstone gallery building the new gallery creates a courtyard between the two buildings. Courtyards thus formed are achieved for ‘free’ and often create wonderful external spaces. The sheer presence and scale of the existing gallery dictated an equally strong new partner.

Rather than relying on masonry Michael was keen to introduce a clean-lined corrugated iron-based new volume — one that smacked of the rural shed. With these ideas underpinning the brief we set about designing a robust yet sophisticated ‘shed’ which addressed its neighbour across the courtyard with its own pure geometry and central opening. On the opposite side of the gallery and on the central axis doors lead out to an elevated platform which floats above the ground cover and is thrust into the forest. An external stair provides access to a full-footprint roof terrace — a wonderful bonus space for exhibitions, entertainment and just taking in the surrounds from a unique viewpoint.

Aside from design, you have several other passions — collecting cars and birding.

Yes, I recently did a three and a half week trip to Far North Queensland with my son Xavier (we only just made it out of Sydney and into Queensland ahead of the lockdowns of June 23rd) during which we found and identified 221 bird species (just over one quarter of the birds found in Australia). The grey falcons were one of 22 species of diurnal (daytime) Australian raptors found which is just two short of the total number of species here — a record for us. A great father and son adventure during which we made it to the tip of Australia, amongst other things, and criss-crossed Queensland covering 11,300 kilometres.

When did your interest in cars begin?

Ever since I could remember I’ve had an interest in automotive design, particularly sports cars. I have no idea where this interest came from but I am aware of being sat in a Lamborghini Miura in Newcastle when I was very young. As a child I would often draw imaginary sports cars, and whilst there’s nothing unusual about that my drawings showed the cars in technical elevation and plan views. It makes me think that I was destined to end up somewhere in the design world.

Whilst I didn’t pursue automotive design (which would have meant studying and/or working overseas — not for me!), I have maintained my passion in what have now become classic cars. This enduring interest has over the years resulted in a modest accumulation of eclectic sports cars, almost all of which, I realised many years later, were contained in a local Sports Car World magazine which I purchased when I was 9. I still have that very dog-eared issue somewhere amongst thousands of magazines.

What was your first sports car?

A Lancia Montecarlo — a lovely two seater with a mid-mounted 2 litre engine purchased back in 1986. It was designed by the Italian styling house Pininfarina — renowned in the world of automotive design. My ‘Monte’ was personally imported to Australia by one Rupert Murdoch and still occupies space in my garage. Unfortunately, as my interest in sports cars is principally a design one they do tend to sit around and are either impossible to start or soon break down..

Clearly you love the country and undertaking work there has bought with it many benefits.

Yes, undertaking commissions in the country has allowed me to pursue my passion for birding — particularly our eagles, hawks and falcons. No trip is properly prepared for without a pair of binoculars and lots of photographic equipment. The trick then is to arrive at a meeting on time by leaving sufficiently early to allow for the likely bird sightings on that particular journey.

For more information about the architectural practice of Dods and Zuccon, visit dodsandzuccon.com

William’s first car — Lancia Beta Montecarlo

Victoria Carey

With black cockatoos often screaming in the skies above her home in NSW’s Blue Mountains, the former editor-in-chief of Country Style and Vogue Living can understand William’s fascination with native bird life. “Although I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t go to the lengths he has to see them. I’m very happy to look at his photographs instead.”

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