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Brian Klopper 1937 – 2020

The Australian design community lost an icon when Brian Klopper passed away late last year. Emma Brain offers a personal reflection on Brian’s legacy.

the centuries are sprinkled 

with rare magic

with divine creatures

who help us get past the

common 

and

extraordinary ills

that beset us. 

A verse from ‘Closing Time’ by Charles Bukowski, read at Brian Klopper’s funeral by his daughter, Abigail.

Growing up in Fremantle, the name Brian Klopper attained an almost mythical status in my mind. I’d be driving with my mum and she would point out his various projects around town; we even lived in houses he designed, first on Attfield Street and then briefly on Raphael Street in Subiaco.  

I’m sure it was through the work of Brian Klopper that I first learnt what an architect is.

My father and I outside 64B Attfield Street, Fremantle. Circa 1988.

Fast forward 30 plus years and I found myself in in the wheat belt with my partner and new baby. We had set off north-east on our first family holiday and our day ended with a drink at Laura’s, the wine bar Klopper created in Northam. Brian was serving and recognised that we were from Fremantle. He sat with us and one drink quickly became two. Later, he invited us to base our borrowed caravan in the empty block next to his own beautiful and modest home – a much better option than the local trailer park!

That weekend now occupies a magical place in my memory. My time with Brian marries with the stories that emerged at his recent funeral, where those who knew and loved him spoke of his kindness, generosity, wit and genuine interest in the lives of others. His long-time colleague, Michael Richardson, described the culture of conversation and curiosity brought to his studio by Klopper – chatter not limited to design but extending to whatever Brian was thinking about on a particular day. 

It was good to hear these warm reflections on a man who has contributed so much to our urban streetscape. To me, his seemingly hand-crafted projects, mostly in recycled brick, sit as comfortably on the streets of Fremantle as turn-of-the-century cottages, and the arched facades beloved of our European community.

Brian’s work makes a unique contribution to the eclecticism that defines Fremantle and continues to distinguish us from the homogeneity of surrounding suburbs. 

In his eulogy, Richardson suggested that it was Klopper who first used the phrase, ‘to touch the ground lightly’ in an architectural context, as the article linked below seems to validate. Indeed, my experience of his buildings is that they do just that. I didn’t realise it at the time, but our home on Attfield Street was a delight to be in as a child. The mezzanine bedrooms, whilst lacking privacy, gave the house a feeling of openness and freedom that I’ve not found in a residence since. 

My partner and I had always intended to visit Brian again in Northam and I’m very sorry that we didn’t get there in time. But through my brief contact with him, and the words of those who knew him best, I am reminded of what it takes to live a good life. Beyond the legacy that he leaves through his architecture, Brian will be remembered for being kind, funny, a great conversationalist and for his delight in connecting with others. 

Emma Brain

Read more on Brian Klopper’s work and life here.