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Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1949, Nick Hollo remembers arriving in Australia as an eight-year-old in 1957, seeing first Fremantle then Melbourne under grey and overcast conditions, then entering Sydney through its harbour just before dawn as the sun gradually rose and was reflected on the shores. As an adult living and working by the foreshore, Sydney Harbour and its coastline remains the chief inspiration for his work as an architect, urban designer and artist, via projects that often incorporate all three fields of expertise. On an almost daily basis, usually before commencing work at the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Hollo aims to capture the Harbour’s beauty through oil pastel sketches.

Hollo’s commitment to depicting and restoring the Harbour foreshores and opening them to public access, has been shaped by his engagement with social issues. Living through the 1960s and 1970s era of the Vietnam War and conscription, Hollo became a socialist and environmentalist, exploring the relationship between architecture and the environment both socially and physically. In 1968, he commenced architectural studies at the University of New South Wales where, in 1970, he was part of a rebel student group that urged staff and students to attend Vietnam moratorium rallies, and organised meetings aimed at changing the curriculum to include more relevant environmental and socially-informed teachings. Whether through their activism or because change was in the air, students were given more freedom to choose design projects. They welcomed the influence by part-time lecturer architect Bill Lucas, who tried to see the interconnectedness of work and life in a social context. Hollo also recalls lecturer Richard Fitzhardinge, who delighted students with talks on 'wacky’ contemporary art, and artists Michael Nicholson, David Aspen and Ron Robertson-Swan, all of whom contributed to the communications stream.

In 1971 Hollo was awarded a Bachelor of Science (Architecture) degree and in 1974 a Bachelor of Architecture (Hons Class II Division I). He later (1984) received a Postgraduate Diploma of Building Science (Energy Conservation Building Design) at the University of Sydney.

Upon completing his undergraduate degrees, he began part-time tutoring in architecture at the University of Sydney (initially in 1974-76, then 1980, and then from the late 1980s to the early 1990s). In his early years as a tutor he worked closely with Colin James and his ARCHANON group, which strove to empower communities for social equity and environmental sustainability. Consequently, in 1975 Hollo, with student Sandy Gray, designed a stage set for Bob Merritt’s The Cake Man at the Black Theatre, Redfern. At the same time (1975-77) he and Col James’s students helped design and build an autonomous house behind the University’s Wentworth Building. He and others lived there for over a year, cheerily making do when the plumbing and lighting failed. From there he moved to Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, northern Nigeria, Africa (1977-79) where he investigated climate-informed design, alternative technologies and traditional building in Nigeria. It was at this time that he was inspired by Professor Zbigniew R. Dmochowski, an expert on traditional Nigerian architecture.

From these combined activities within the discipline of architecture, Hollo realised his profound distaste for commercial architecture. Concerned that too much architectural design seemed empty, Hollo was more interested in the way architecture could serve as a beneficial linchpin within the surrounding environment. He developed two means of addressing the broader environment: urban design and drawing with oil pastels.

Influenced to some extent by his mother’s cousin’s husband, George Clarke (a partner in Urban Systems Corporation, responsible for the innovative City of Sydney Strategic Plan in 1970), Hollo too became an urban designer, focusing on the beauty and public amenity of Sydney Harbour’s foreshores. Similarly, disenchanted with tedium of architectural design documentation, he sought to develop his life-long love of drawing to produce images that were an end in themselves. In place of the drafting pencil, he came to use the oil pastel as a means of capturing the colour and form of harbour and coastal views.

Hollo’s earliest artworks were for Indigenous events and organisations including a poster promoting self-determination in Palm Island and opposing the jailing of Denis Walker (1974). He continued to produce educational posters conveying political and environmental messages, including the poster Soil is Vital for Soil Conservation Service of New South Wales. A set of postcards called Instant City, comprised of drawings superimposed on images of existing sites, was completed for the Royal Australian Institute of Architects conference on urban conflicts in 1983, and in the same year a collage on the Captain Cook gateway site was published in the Architecture Bulletin. Other promotional material was undertaken for Energy Victoria (1986) and the New South Wales Department of Housing (1987).

At the same time he was making pictures that had a narrative, such as The Annunciation at Town Hall Station (1986-90, artist’s collection). They took many years to complete as he paid meticulous attention to every detail. A similarly meticulous painting of the Cahill Expressway superimposed on Circular Quay when the First Fleet arrived, also completed in the late 1980s, was shown in 2008 during a series of talks on the future of Circular Quay by Richard Leplastrier, Paul Keating and others. In the early nineties, as Hollo started a family, the time he could devote to his art was restricted to short bursts of relaxation, resulting in his characteristic sketchy style using oil pastels. He exhibited his work in annual solo exhibitions at Gallery East, Clovelly, from 2000-08, and at the Historic Houses Trust members’ lounge (The Mint, Macquarie Street, Sydney) in 2007 and 2008. Hollo’s oil pastel pictures were also represented in 'The Nature of Manly’ exhibition (April 2008 to March 2009) at the Manly Museum and Regional Gallery. His pictures are in private, as well as institutional collections, and he donates his art to various charity events such as the Wayside Chapel Annual Art Exhibition and Auction (2005-06) and the 2008 Australian Architecture Association Annual BLUE Fundraiser.

Although Hollo’s practice is primarily that of an architect and urban designer, his work and art converge. Born at 4am in 1949, Hollo was always an early riser. Residing in Sydney’s eastern beach-side suburb of Bronte, his daily morning swims and walk along the coast between Bondi and Coogee enable him to recall his initial reaction towards the harbour. Hollo draws the sea and sky, emphasising the mood and light, trying to capture the qualities and movements of the water in particular. His bag, which doubles as a travelling studio, holds oil pastels, brush pens and A4 and A3 sized colour paper. The versatility allows him to draw everywhere; on the ferry to and from work, before or after his swim, or whenever he is able to relax, relieved of his duties at work or home.

Hollo’s drawings have been used to illustrate publications by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, an organisation he joined as a planner in 2000 before becoming Deputy Executive Director in 2006. The government funded group aims to restore redundant defence sites around the Harbour including Cockatoo Island, Middle Head, North Head, Woolwich Dock and Snapper Island. Hollo’s oil pastels have been reproduced in the Trust’s publications and exhibitions, including Reflections on a Maritime City: An Appreciation of the Trust Lands on Sydney Harbour (2000), Sites Unseen: Exploring the Future of Trust Lands on Sydney Harbour (2001) an exhibition at City Exhibition Space, Customs House, Circular Quay from 26 May to 2 September 2001, and Sitelines: Aspects of Sydney Harbour (2005) a book of essays illustrated by Hollo and accompanied by an exhibition of his oil pastels when it was launched in early August 2005. His 1995 book, Warm House, Cool House: Inspirational Designs for Low Energy Housing, written and illustrated by Hollo using drawings to demonstrate principles of low energy housing design, was reprinted in 2008; in early 2009 it was being updated into a second edition.

Through the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Hollo seeks to ensure future generations will continue to have access to the harbour foreshores. It is through his art that he can draw a viewer’s attention to the many moods and endless variety of Sydney’s defining waterscape.

Catherine De LorenzoNote:
Cheng XuNote:
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