German-born architects Hugh and Eva Buhrich came to Australia as refugees from Nazi Germany. Hugh studied architecture at Munich, Berlin, where he practiced under Hanz Poelzig, and then in Zurich, before completing his degree at Danzig. While in Berlin he met a fellow student, Eva, who he would later marry. Both had been trained in the Bauerhaus tradition of modern European architecture.
As Nazi repression of Jews intensified, Hugh and Eva fled to Holland and then London, from where they emigrated to Australia in early 1939. Hugh and Eva initially gained a shared architectural job in Canberra, but with the outbreak of war, the previous occupant returned to the position. Despite their degrees from elite European universities and being the only architects in Australia who had direct experience of expressionist modernist teachings, Hugh and Eva found their qualifications were not recognised and they were unable to gain registration as architects.
The couple settled in the Willoughby suburb of Castlecrag, where Hugh established a small private practice by referring to himself as a ‘planning consultant; and a ‘designer’.1 He established a wide range of clients working from his lower North Shore practice and eventually gained registration as an architect in the 1970s. Buhrich was a rational modernist. He was inventive and a precision craftsman, clothing functionalism in clean lines and occasional strong colour.
Hugh designed their first family home at 315 Edinburgh Road, Castlecrag, in 1941, but construction was halted by a council-imposed wartime restriction and it was not completed until 1948. Hugh and Eva they raised their two sons Clive and Neil there. His second Castlecrag home at 375 Edinburgh Road, built between 1968 and 1972, has been described as “a truly radical building” (Françoise Fromonot) and “the finest modern house in Australia” (Peter Myers).2 Buhrich’s work encapsulates a crucial period in the development of design in Australia, and has recently received international acclaim.
In Australia, Eva initially worked in architectural design until the poor pay rates for women architects resulted in her moving to writing and editing as a career. She became a well-known commentator on architecture and design, writing for magazines, industry journals and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Hugh and Eva Buhrich played a key role in mobilising support within the local community and the architectural fraternity to save the Walter Burley Griffin-designed Willoughby Incinerator from demolition in 1975. Meetings to establish the Walter Burley Griffin Trust (NSW) were held at their home, with Hugh elected as vice-president and Eva served as its secretary. Fellow architect Peter Moffitt recalls that that Hugh was shy and withdrawn, while Eva was effusive and outgoing. Eva was the public face of the Trust and its campaign to mobilise support from international architectural organisations helped shift support within Willoughby Municipal Council to save the incinerator. It was restored and opened as the Incinerator Restaurant in 1980.3
2 Hawcroft, Rebecca, ‘Migrant architects practicing modern architecture in Sydney, 1930-1960’, www.aicomos.com/wp-content/uploads/2009_UnlovedModern_Hawcroft_Rebecca_Mirgrant-Architects_Paper.pdf
3 Peter Moffitt, interview 26 May 2011, in McKillop, Robert F, Managing Waste: an environmental history of Flat Rock Gully and the Willoughby Incinerator, 1900-2011, in publication. David Don Turner, ‘Willoughby Incinerator Restored …’, Walter Burley Griffin Society News Update, No. 56, August 2011.