Sydney native Alexander (Alec) Tzannes is one of Australia’s best known architects, with a portfolio that ranges from private mansions for some of the country’s most wealthy residents to public works including Sydney’s Central Park and the Federation Pavilion in that city’s Centennial Park.
In 1983, he founded Tzannes, an architecture and urban design practice firm, and since then he’s designed homes for John Symond and James Packer among many others. The company also designed Opera Residences, at Sydney’s Circular Quay, a building whose apartments have broken price records.
In 2014, he was named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his significant service to the architecture industry.
We talked to Mr. Tzannes, 66, about the need to redefine luxury, the importance of facing inequity head-on and much more.
Mansion Global: Describe your dream property.
Alec Tzannes: I’d have two. One that is urban and integrated within the urban fabric of the city, and another that is more landscape orientated, to do with the air and the feeling of nature. It would be connected to a village, but still within nature. For me, it’s important to have a home that feels like it belongs in its place.
MG: Do you have a real estate property that got away?
AT: When I finished studying, I lived in the East Village in New York and I could see these blighted townhouses that were worth nothing then. I thought I should buy something, but I couldn’t. I moved to Australia and made a career here, but I still think about what would have been. But I’m very happy with how I’m living now.
MG: What does luxury mean to you?
AT: The word is so overused and misused that it’s lost its value. I don’t like to be associated with it. It implies the commodification of a building and takes away from what architecture can do. When you really understand the innate beauty of materials and their proper use and how they age beautifully, when you understand all that, it makes for a truly special home. It’s about doing something with less rather than more.
Worrying about the supply chain, and things like cruelty to animals, redefines what I would call “exemplary standards of design.”
It’s about outstanding quality, outstanding thinking, social conscience, skill, and sophistication. Those ideas sit beside luxury. Sadly, people don’t associate those things with “luxury” anymore.
It should be about walking by a building and having it take your breath away and thinking you want to live there and that to own it would be a prize.
We’re trying to redefine luxury in terms of supply chains, durability, sustainability and elegance. Doing less with more.
MG: What area do you think is the next hub for luxury properties?
AT: We have a number of clients that have traded space and views—conventional high value properties in cities—for proximity to a village. People want a place where you can walk down the road and go to a bistro. People who have means to buy whatever they want have done this more recently. I think it’s a trend that will continue.
MG: What’s the biggest surprise in the luxury real estate market now?
AT: People are more conscious of their impact on the world and how they can shape it in their personal lives. I think that’s a very good thing. They’re thinking about things like where they get their electricity from. We’re doing a storage facility that is 10,000 square meters for a high-net-worth client’s art collection, and we have about 640 solar panels on the roof. And that’s for museum standard temperature control. This is for someone who doesn’t have to save money but wants to do it for the planet.
MG: Where are the best luxury homes in the world and why?
AT: They’re in lots of places and for different reasons. My experience is whether you’re in the French Riviera, Milan, New York, London, Paris, Sydney, Melbourne or Hong Kong, you can find pockets of unbelievable wealth. Wherever the business is, people go. It’s not concentrated in a handful of places in the world, it’s more diverse. You can find them in Brazil, Buenos Aires, etcetera. But at the same time there’s a qualitative difference between all of them.
MG: What’s your favorite part of your home?
AT: A steel-and-glass structure that’s connected to the kitchen that has a fully controllable indoor climate including remotely controlled operable external aluminium louvres and internal blinds and overlooks the courtyard.
Another part is the way we’ve conserved and restored a number of rooms that were built in 1880. You can’t beat the sense of time and the beauty, but it’s a blend of new and old since we renovated it in 1987, 2000 and 2004.
We’re actually about to move into a home in Sydney that was designed by my firm about 15 years ago which is almost brand new (a small section is original). It’ll be interesting to live in a home that we have fully designed.
MG: What best describes the theme to your home and why?
AT: Time—the blending of old and new and integration of the two. You can tell immediately what’s new and what’s old, but they don’t clash. I love the sense of time the house gives. It’s not a shell home, it’s a working home with lots of things happening in it. It’s robust.
MG: What’s the most valuable thing in your home?
AT: Privacy. It’s my retreat and I like that it looks onto the courtyard. My wife has a studio in the courtyard, too. Both privacy and the fact that I can walk anywhere I want but also feel anonymous.
MG: What’s the most valuable amenity to have in a home right now?
AT: A sense of privacy, freedom, space, and comfort. The most valuable thing to me is that it feels like a home and it nurtures you and the loved ones around you. It’s not a gallery or a showpiece. You can have sections for entertaining, but somewhere in the home is its heart. It’s about a sense of belonging and attachment. It’s very abstract to me.
MG: What’s going on in the news that will have the biggest impact on the luxury real estate market?
AT: If we fail to address the disturbing gap between the haves and have-nots, we’ll have 1.8 billion people in urban conditions who are devastatingly disadvantaged. One of the drivers of social dysfunction historically has been inequity. It’s something we need to think about.
And we must have clean air, clean water and an environment for animals, because in doing that we’ll have protected our own food supply.
We have to limit our cities, too. We have to consider the planet at a planet-wide level.
We have to look at how we can create a sustainable future. We have to have a commitment to a greater purpose.
MG: If you had a choice of living in a new development or a prime resale property, which would you choose and why?
AT: I’m hard to satisfy with new developments because they’re often not well done. As a culture we’re not doing them well enough. Whether it’s new or older, I may have to rebuild it if it’s not good.
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