Eastern bloc to building blocks
By Anthony Klan
The Australian, Australia
May 20 2004
VAROUGE Patapan, the man behind the design of Mirvac and Lewis Land’s
Gold Coast Ephraim Island development, has a passion for architecture
that he believes stems from his Armenian ancestry.
“Historically Armenians are builders, they create and they build –
they’ve done this for centuries so it’s in my blood,” Mr Patapan said.
As the head of Mirvac’s architecture and design arm, HPA, and the
design director of the Ephraim Island joint venture at Paradise Point,
Mr Patapan said he often drew inspiration for his work from the exotic
countries in which he spent his childhood.
“It’s made me very open-mined about things – there are a number
of ways of skinning a cat and just because we do some things in a
certain way it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the only solution,”
Mr Patapan said.
“I’d travelled a lot with my parents and I’d seen so many cultures
and so many ways of living that maybe psychologically and subtlely
I believed I could make a contribution and make a difference.”
Mr Patapan and his family were born in Ethiopia after his ancestors
fled Armenia in 1915 as part of a diaspora fleeing Turkish genocide.
As a child he returned to live in the Soviet Union-controlled Armenia
with his family before migrating to Australia when he was 11.
“My father was an idealist communist but when reality came in it was
a bit shocking for him,” Mr Patapan said.
Mirvac and Lewis Land Group’s $500 million Ephraim joint venture plans
to deliver 345 apartments, 14 detached houses and 21 villa homes and
is expected to be completed in early 2008.
Ephraim Island itself, a 9.6ha undeveloped site located in the
Southport Broadwater, has been the target of many grandiose development
proposals in the past and has been juggled between owners since
The Raptis Group bought the site from its original owner – local
pioneer Jim Hansford – in the late 80s for $8 million and sold it to
Japan’s Alpha Corp for almost $45 million in 1989.
Alpha Corp had proposed a $300 million Venetian-style resort for
the island but sold it to Lewis Land in 1995 for $10 million when it
joined a wave of Japanese developers fleeing the stagnant Australian
Lewis Land had been looking to sell the site before it eventually
teamed up with Mirvac in 2001.
Mr Patapan said his love affair with design and building started at
a young age and as a child was “always manufacturing something” –
often to the despair of his parents.
“I remember chipping the balcony of our apartment block in Armenia
with my brother so we could get the concrete and pour it with water
and make little balls out of it.
“I think that’s an important aspect of architecture – apart from
having the idea I was actually building whatever I had thought of so
it gave me that marriage between the idea versus the reality and that
is what architecture is about.”
Mr Patapan said it was important for designers to take a dynamic
approach to the profession, as many were reluctant to challenge
“the status quo”.
“I don’t want to be hanging around with old ideas – that (is something)
you quite often see.
“Architecture is a strange industry because we look into the past
and we hold our heroes up.
“But sometimes those ideas are not valid anymore, and wanting to be
more valid means that I’m constantly evolving and seeing the world
in a different way.”
On the Gold Coast Mr Patapan has also designed Mirvac’s $120 million
Liberty On Tedder development at Main Beach.
The second of the development’s two towers, Liberty Panorama,
received a regional commendation from the Royal Australian Institute
of Architects in 2002.
Mr Patapan believes it was his work on this project that helped secure
his position as project manager of Ephraim Island.
“It was the first time you could really say on the Gold Coast that
we looked at high-rise design in a fresh way.
“We didn’t want to have the stereotypical front and back look of
high-rise towers on the Gold Coast so we came up with the elliptical
Mr Patapan has been the director of Mirvac’s HPA arm for five of
the seven years he has been working for the company and before that
spent seven years working for Brisbane-based Ainsley Bell Murchison
He spent nearly two months of last year travelling the world, visiting
more than 40 cities “to reaffirm the direction of the design” of
“I wanted to make sure that in the context of the island we hadn’t
done something grossly in error.
“We’ve got to get it right – it’s kind of daunting to think whatever
you’re building is going to last 50 to 100 years and it will be seen
for all to critique from less than two years onwards.”
The Ephraim Island development has been well received by the market
– at the launch of the second stage of the development in September
last year, 81 residences worth $126 million sold off the plan within
Mr Patapan said “regional modernism” and “minimalism” best described
his preference in interior design.
He said he had stripped the interior walls of his riverside Kenmore
home and painted them white so that his family, rather than objects,
would be the main feature.
“My wife laughs at me.”
And his favourite colour?
“Black – because it’s all the colours put together – it’s such a
strong and timeless colour, it’s neutral in some ways but it also
makes a statement.”
Mr Patapan said he has a “passionate love of flying” and had been
flying light aircraft for more than 15 years but admitted he did not
get into the cockpit as often as he would like.
“I have a pilot’s licence but I don’t use it as much now because of
In keeping with Armenian tradition, Mr Patapan is a keen sculptor
and painter but said he doesn’t like to display his creations.
“I don’t hang my paintings, I find it’s a very personal thing to be
showing my own work,” he said.
When asked then how he felt about having his skyscraping creations
plonked along the foreshore of the Gold Coast he laughed.
“That’s an interesting irony isn’t it? Perhaps I need a psychiatrist.”
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress