Iwan Iwanoff is to Perth what revolutionary architect Antoni Gaudi is to Barcelona.
It is a big call but one architect and historian Stuart Harrison stands firm on.
Gaudi’s eccentric buildings, weaved within the cultural landscape of Barcelona, have become synonymous with the Spanish city.
Similarly, Harrison says Perth’s mid-century modernist architecture is defined by the Bulgarian-born architect.
When he was approached to host season two of Restoration Australia on ABC, a major drawcard was the opportunity to oversee the restoration of Iwanoff’s iconic Paganin House in Floreat, which was devastated by fire in 2015.
His interest in Iwanoff’s work dates back to his uni days in WA when he studied his now famous Brutalist style.
“I remember the Paganin House on The Boulevard very well. I was devastated when I heard that it had been destroyed — that was before I was involved in the show at all and it was one of the things that got me really interested in doing the show actually, was the fact that such an important Perth house was going to be part of it,” he says.
“Certain people have certain cities completely associated with them and for me, Iwanoff understood Perth, worked so creatively, worked so well, did so many great house projects; some of which are lost.
“He was able to work in Perth in the 50s, 60s and 70s when there was this idea that Perth was too conservative. He sort of proved all of that wrong really. He did radically good houses that are still brilliant today and still how we should do housing today.
“I walk around the Paganin House, going, ‘This is the perfect house for 2019’, not just 1965.”
Harrison says Iwanoff was always regarded as a bit of an oddity by the architectural community because his designs were so expressive, which was relatively unusual for the period.
“He was a kind of a modernist architect who got more and more decorative and expressionistic as he got older,” he says.
“I think the architectural community in some ways never knew what to do with him and that's also a comparison with Gaudi who was very expressionistic but I think everyone acknowledges now that Iwanoff did such great work in Perth at a reasonably dry sort of time.
“Perth should, and does to some extent now, treasure those Iwanoff buildings.”
Proud new Iwanoff home owner Meredith Del Basso certainly treasures her City Beach Wright House.
A huge fan of his designs, Del Basso would often relish weekends spent driving around finding Iwanoff homes dotted around the suburbs.
“I just love the design of all of his homes, the concrete blocks, the flat roof, how it was different to a lot of the other homes built in Perth at that time as well,” she says.
A few years ago, when her husband asked her to craft a Christmas wish list, she wrote an Iwanoff at the top.
“It was our ultimate dream to have one,” she says.
When the Wright house hit the market, the Del Bassos were quick to snatch it up from the original Wright family owners for just shy of $2.1 million.
“They actually let Iwanoff choose the block so it was a new estate here and he came to the auction and he had the choice of any of the parcels of land that were here and he specifically chose this one with the north facing back yard and being elevated going up the hill so that the view of the ocean couldn’t be built out,” she reveals.
“The ones that are still in their close to original state are highly sought after. We knew we had to move quickly to get this.”
Tim Wright, the architect assigned with the massive task of restoring the Paganin House to its former glory, says the Floreat home was one of the houses that informed him to be an architect.
“That genre, now just described as mid-century modernism, has become very popular, which is good, because I mean a lot of houses that ordinarily would have been probably demolished are now preserved,” he says.
“It takes 50 years for people to sort of get it so when I was loving these places back in the late 70s, people have been knocking them over.”
While some Iwanoff homes have been lost in the name of progress, the Marsala house in Dianella is the youngest residence on the State Register of Heritage Places.
Built in 1976 for the Marsala family, Iwanoff pushed the boundaries of residential design with his inventive use of concrete block work.
“Heritage is not just about antiques and it's not just about the 19th century and, you know, it's a more diverse thing than that and I think the Paganin House documentary hopefully shows that,” Harrison says.
The restoration of Paganin House will be featured on Restoration Australia on ABC and ABC iview on Sunday at 7.40pm.