33.8688° S, 151.2093° E
‘Sydney is a collision of all these different moments of history and architecture and culture.’
Gems in this
Wandering around Sydney, it’s hard not to come across a venue designed by innovative architect Kelvin Ho — from hip stores like Incu, Saturdays NYC, Camilla and Marc, and Bassike; to fun and elegant restaurants including Bert’s, The Paddington, and Coogee Pavilion. As a native Sydneysider with numerous projects across the city, Kelvin is an expert in the best of what Sydney has to offer.
Kelvin’s spatial communication agency Akin Atelier are known for their ability to create warm, welcoming and serene spaces, largely inspired by Kelvin’s childhood spent wandering in nature and skateboarding through the city. Despite his frequent travels, the architect finds that the diversity, history and varied subcultures of the seaside city continue to spark his creativity. In this Sydney Travel Playbook, Kelvin shares his local recs for where to enjoy nature, grab a delicious meal with the family, and step back in Australian art history.
On growing up in nature
I was born in Beecroft, Sydney. It’s basically the suburbs. It was an amazing place to grow up — there were all these bush walks and the Forestry Commission. I learnt about timber and different types of ecosystems. Nature was such a powerful part of growing up, and it’s something I look forward to every day now — it’s such a key part of my existence. Sydney has been such an inspiration for my creativity, because Sydney is so diverse — it's a collision of all these different moments of history and architecture and culture, and I think all of those springboards have really been such an important catalyst for my creative career.
On the juxtaposition of nature and city life
There was a juxtaposition of growing up in the burbs with nature, but then being transplanted into a city. They are two powerful, opposing moments, and I found inspiration in both sides. My dad was a mechanical engineer. Being dragged around building sites opened me up to another side of buildings: understanding that they are important organisms that humans interact with, either on a utilitarian level or something that could be quite powerful and life-changing.
‘Good architecture can change your perspective and the way that you think.’
On appreciating the sound of architecture as a skateboarder
I grew up as a skateboarder, and it was a huge part of my creative process. When you're skating, there's an appreciation of materials — the tactility and density are going to affect your speed. You're constantly adjusting to the properties of material. One of my favorites is the sound of the architecture, because you're using your wheels as a way of listening to the joints in tiles; the way it slides across timber or marble is a signal of how fast you're going. Skateboarding is such an incredible subculture, and the connection to an international community was really powerful. As a teenager, I realized that architecture can bond and create communities. Looking at a city through a skateboarder’s eyes is something I still do.
On travel allowing you to surprise yourself
Travel is a way of changing my self-perception. My natural position is generally pretty reserved and more introverted. Being in New York for work, I ended up at Balthazar and started a conversation with a totally random couple next to me. I was like, ‘Whoa, I didn't think I would feel confident enough to do that.’ But in New York, that's just normal, right? What I love about travel is this amazing ability to surprise yourself, because you're doing something that you never thought you'd find yourself doing under normal circumstances.
On the importance of supporting subcultures
A city is a massive cultivator for subcultures, which often drive trends or ideas because they're so pure. Skateboarding is one of the great outcomes of Sydney being a relatively modern city. You don't have skateboarders in Rome; you have skateboarders in new cities that have smooth surfaces. So the architecture cultivates a skateboarding community. And the skateboarding community has created a platform for incredible creatives, like Virgil Abloh, Jonah Hill, Pharrell Williams. So architecture and cities have a huge part to play in making sure that those subcultures continue to thrive.
On a window or aisle seat
Window. Because I'm six foot seven, the headrests are not tall enough, so I get a really sore neck leaning back. I need the side of the plane to sleep on.
On your go-bag of essentials
The weird thing is that everywhere I go, I have the exact same bag packed — no matter if I'm going to work or going away. I've got all my cables; converters; a battery pack; pencils and pens of all different shades and tones and thicknesses; a ruler; papers. It's so that at any given time, I know that I've got a whole array of things in my kit.
On your favorite beach in Sydney
We live in Tamarama, across from the beach. It's like we're on holidays all the time. I can just walk around in boardshorts and no one blinks an eye. Definitely the top of my list is probably MacKenzies Bay, across the road. It feels like a little sanctuary. To have a beach in Sydney which has amazing surf, a beautiful landscape, and where I can take a dog, is just my idea of heaven.
‘The Brett Whiteley studio in Surry Hills feels like you are stepping back in time to the grungy, artist side of Surry Hills. It feels like such a raw and authentic moment of Australian art history.’
On the best place for a family meal
We did a project at the Royal Hotel in Sydney called Totti’s. It's a casual, Italian, family restaurant. I love going there. I finished work late one night and sat in the front bar, bumped into some mates, and had this beautiful meal. I was like, ‘This is like my perfect late dinner.’ It has such a colourful history as well, and it's so nice that it's become a place that everyone can go to. It's got such a wide appeal.
On where to find nature in the city
Centennial Park is an amazing thing to have on our doorstep in Sydney: to have that amount of real estate; microclimates and ecosystems; flora and fauna; but also places for exercise and events. There's so many nice communities there. I do the walk around the far perimeter with the dogs. And there's a section on the Randwick Racecourse side where there's a few dams and sandy knolls — it feels so foreign. I love that because it feels really wild.
On a special hidden gem
My parents got married in a neighbourhood called Kirribilli; my sister and I did as well. It's the most enchanted little hidden pocket of beautiful grounds. Brett Whiteley was a huge part of my inspiration as a student, because I loved his drawings and the way he represented architecture. So we got married at Wendy Whiteley’s Garden a few years ago. It just feels so magical. For me that's a really special spot.
On stepping back in art history
The Brett Whiteley studio in Surry Hills feels like you are stepping back in time to the grungy, artist side of Surry Hills. There's so much interesting history in that space — it feels like such a raw and authentic moment of Australian art history.
On Sydney in one word
There's so much enrichment and stimulation, and so much here that is so satisfying. The comfort and sense of homeliness most resonates with me. Sydney is such a good embodiment of all these different aesthetics and cultures, which are so hard to replicate in another city: the diversity and culture, food, architecture, landscape, climate.