Gentle Modernist: The Nine Lives of Anatol Kagan.


It’s not often that a book comes along that captures both your interests and imagination. Anatol Kagan is in my opinion one of the most important architects of the Australian post-war period. Kagan’s homes embody a personal vision of modernism that manifests itself in an architecture that is often exhilarating and dynamic. For years I had walked past a home designed by Kagan on Dandenong Rd in North Caulfield, and every time I felt a sense of excitement every time I looked at the vertical boards and the expanse of floor to ceiling windows. it is a stunning home that embraces many of the visual cues of modernism, and yet embodies a sense of the innovation and optimism so often associated with the post-war period in Australia. Kagan’s buildings are important for so many reasons, and Simon Reeves’ new book offers a chance to see behind theses iconic structures and into the world of an extraordinary man.

House on Dandenong Rd, North Caulfield, designed by Anatol  Kagan.

Five years in the writing, architectural historian Simon Reeves’ book  Gentle Modernist: The Nine Lives of Anatol Kagan is a major contribution to the body of knowledge associated with design research in post-war Australia. Reeves, a member of the well known architectural heritage consultancy firm Built Heritage, is not only well placed to write such a book, he also brings a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the many factors that shaped the practices of architects working in Australia during the post-war period. In this book Reeve’s shines a light on the life and architectural practice of one of Australia’s most visionary architects.

Holiday house at Mount Eliza by Anatol Kagan (1953

According to Reeves, by the time Kagan had arrived in Melbourne in 1939, he had:

“already crowded the experience of three lifetimes into his first 25 years.  Jewish by race, agnostic by faith and Socialist by politics, this distinctive New Australian spent a decade establishing himself in his adopted homeland, working for leading architects and government departments before starting his own practice in 1949.  While Kagan rose to become the pre-eminent architect to Melbourne’s thriving post-war migrant community, well-known for luxurious modernist houses for rich Jewish businessmen, his sudden withdrawal from private practice in 1961 was a mystery to many”. 

So what made Anatol Kagan suddenly walk away from a successful architectural practice and how did one of Australia’s most talented architects’ of the post-war period almost vanish from our cultural memory and design history? Thanks to Reeves’ new book, the first book on Anatol Kagan, many of these questions can now be answered and Kagan’s place in Australian Architectural History is perhaps now assured. Reeves’ experience and knowledge in the field makes him perfectly placed to write this essential text on Kagan, a view further supported by internationally known architectural researcher Professor Philip Goad who has states in the foreword to the book that:

“Reeves brings Kagan’s remarkable story to life with fondness but also with critical balance. Reeves is to be congratulated for recognizing the worth of Kagan’s contribution . . .  and for bringing Kagan out of the shadows.” 

I have been waiting a long time for this book and I’m sure anyone who has a passion for Australian post-war design will thoroughly enjoy it. A perfect book to curl up with on your mid-century modern chair and read all about one of the most interesting and exciting architects of the Australian post-war era.

Gentle Modernist: The Nine Lives of Anatol Kagan by Simon Reeves is available as an A4 paperback (226 pages) and retails at $59.95 + $13.40 P&P and can be purchased online at the Vivid Publishing Website.

For more information on Anatol Kagan see:

Dictionary of Unsung Architects: Anatol Kagan (1913-2009)
Anatol Kagan: Modernist Architect
A Comrade to the End
Beaumaris Modern Community

Please note that reviews of books on the Australian Modern Blog are always unsolicited
and no payment is sought or received.


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