Born 10 October 1931 in the northern Italian city of Trieste, Erminio (Ermin) Smrekar is the only child of fitter and turner Carlo Smrekar (1911-1980) and the former Bruna Trunconi (1913-2015). The family's unusual surname hints at Slovenian ancestry. The grandson of a draftsman, Ermin began his professional training at the technical institute, later enrolling at the University of Trieste. For a time, he worked a draftsman in the engineering section of the American Army, which had been stationed in Trieste since 1947. Being located so close to Italy's north-eastern border, the city experienced a certain degree of unrest, and the Smrekars finally decided to migrate to Australia to avoid what Bruna later described as "political and economical uncertainty". Arriving in Melbourne in May 1956 aboard the Aurelia, the family settled in Moonee Ponds. Bruna would remain living in the same house until her death in 2015, aged 102 years.
Ermin Smrekar, who had already learnt to speak English in Italy, completed his architectural studies at RMIT and the University of Melbourne Design Atelier. He gained further experience in a small architectural office and, in July 1963, applied successfully to become registered as an architect in Victoria. That year, he was also admitted as an associate of the RAIA. By his own admission, Smrekar then worked "all over the place" (including undertaking commissions under his own name) before formally establishing his private practice in 1967, styled as Smrekar Architects. His first major project, for a five-storey motel in Lygon Street, was also the first of several that would design in Carlton. Originally based in King Street, Smrekar relocated his office to Pelham Street in 1972. The next year, he was elevated to fellowship of the RAIA.
In the late 1960s and '70s, Smrekar's practice included residential, commercial, ecclesiastical and other projects. At that time, he undertook a considerable amount work for fellow Italian migrants, including such major buildings as the Veneto Club in Bulleen, and houses in developing areas with a high Italian population, such as Templestowe, Bulleen and Avondale Heights. Hotel magnate George Frew was another important early client, for whom Smrekar designed the Eureka Stockade Restaurant in Bourke Street and the controversial Old Melbourne Motor Inn in North Melbourne, which elicited a famously dismissive review from Robin Boyd. For much of his career, Smrekar has worked in a highly distinctive style, characterised by a lively sculptural approach that deftly combines angular forms, jagged geometry and bold juxtaposition of materials.
In 1986, Smrekar transferred his office into a converted warehouse in West Melbourne. In 2007, the practice merged with BGA Architects to form a new entity, e+ architecture, which continued to operate from his West Melbourne address. Since relocated to Collingwood, the firm also has a branch office in Bendigo. Smrekar remaine dinvolved with the operation of the practice, in the capacity of a consultant, until his death.
During his long career, Smrekar has travelled widely, undertaking study tours in Japan, Europe and the USA. He has received several plaudits from the Italian government for his services to architecture, notably the Cavaliere dell' Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (1973) and the Cavaliere Ufficiale dell' Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (1983). In 1990, the Italian Institute of Architects presented an exhibition of his architectural work in his native Trieste.
Ermin Smrekar died on 25 June 2016, survived by his wife and two daughters.
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