Monday, February 21, 2011


Corrugated iron on a 'patchwork' building Lerwick, Shetland:

Corrugated iron shed Scalloway, Shetland:

Notice the unusual detail to help the gable to resist the Shetland gales.

We like to see corrugated iron as an Australian icon but it has a history much broader than this narrow colonial base. 'Leaves of iron' can easily refer to cladding in the Shetland context as anywhere else, even though trees and leaves are much more scarce in this environment than in the Australian countryside.

View of Fetlar from Unst, Shetland, looking southeast.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


This image is from the front page of The Weekend Australian 5-6 February 2011. It shows the damage caused by cyclone Yasi:
 It is interesting to look more closely at this image to try to understand why things have fallen. 'Bricks and mortar' seem to be more clay blocks and mortar that have an interesting extruded cavity. It looks like things may have failed or torn along the proverbial 'dotted line' - ?

Monday, February 14, 2011


Since Brisbane flooded in January 2011, there has been much comment and review on the circumstances of this event in the media – both electronic and print. What one might call ‘the facts’ of the situation remains mixed in a vague scattering of opinion; but there seems to be sufficient information that has been confirmed by repeat reports to allow one to begin a chart of the situation that might loosely be seen as ‘facts’. If there is ever going to be a responsible response to the management of Brisbane’s future, then these facts need to be understood and agreed upon.
One might begin such a list like this:
  • There are some hydrologists who have always believed that another 1974 flood was possible for Brisbane – refer Hugh Lunn’s report in The Weekend Australian 12-13 February 2011, INQUIRER, page 4; et al.
  • Hydrologists knew that there had been much higher floods than 1974 and that the history of such events has shown that there is never any reason to believe that these extremes would never be repeated or bettered – see Hugh Lunn report; et al.
  • Wivenhoe Dam has been and still is being promoted as allowing a 2m reduction in 1974 flood levels. No comment is made on higher levels but it seems to be implied that these too can be managed similarly - see seqwater Internet site
It is anticipated that during a large flood similar in magnitude to that experienced in 1974, by using mitigation facility within Wivenhoe Dam, flood levels will be reduced downstream by an estimated 2 metres.
  • Brisbane Q1:100 design levels were reduced below 1974 levels on the basis of the Wivenhoe Dam. This opened up more low land for development. - see - This Brisbane River Flood Study was prepared by City Design. Section 6, Flood levels Along The River, notes: At the Port Office gauge the flood level corresponding to the calculated 1 in 100 year design flow of 8,600 cubic metres/second is estimated to be 5.0AHD. The current development design flood level, based on the 1984 study, is 3.8 AHD some 1.2 m lower than the level predicted in this study. From the two flood profiles plotted on Figure 3 it can be seen that the flood levels calculated in this study vary from 1.0 m to almost 3.0 m higher than the current development design flood level in Brisbane.
  • Brisbane has grown substantially since 1974 – various TV reports.
  • Wivenhoe Dam manages only a portion of the Brisbane River catchment with the Bremer River and Laidley Creek catchments lying outside of the dam catchment areas – various TV reports and Hugh Lunn; et al. It is this circumstance, along with others, that is used to support the prediction of the likelihood of yet another 1974.
  • A full dam is equivalent to no dam – Hugh Lunn; et al.

If these ‘facts’ are agreed, then all of these matters need to be reviewed as a set, with implications of one assessed side by side with those of the others.
History, it appears, has shown that the hydrologists are correct – that the Wivenhoe expectations were at best very optimistic, or were based on the dam never filling; or assessed without an analysis of the increased impact of flooding with an increased percentage of the dam filled; and perhaps with all calculations seeming to ignore any parallel impact from catchments outside of the dam. What is what?
Why have the hydrologists’ opinions been put aside and not debated publicly or acted upon? How did this happen? Why?
Similar questions can be asked about the dam itself – was there any study of the likelihood of any increase in risk with increase in fill? – of increase in risk with the parallel increase in risk from other catchments? What work has been done on this?

What to do now?
If another 1974 flood is likely/possible, then what should the flood levels for Brisbane be? Should they be raised? How can this be managed? Can it? What impact? What implications?
Have things now got to a stage of just being too complicated, leaving us to be idiosyncratic Queenslanders – bred tough and able to just keep jumping up for more of the same as we keep doing more of the same?
It is a very difficult circumstance but it must be faced this time so that we might know what to expect in the future.
Being hopeful is just not enough.


Brisbane and regions west of this capital of Queensland were seriously flooded in mid-January 2011. The floods in some areas were so bad that they have been classified as perhaps a 1:200 or even a 1:500 event. The images of the water and the damage it caused were simply unbelievable – astonishing. There is no intention of dismissing this extreme regional flooding, but this text is concentrating on the impact of the water on Brisbane that had its last serious flooding in 1974. It was after this flood that the Wivenhoe Dam was constructed – to protect Brisbane from any repeat event. The details are:
Wivenhoe Dam promotional material states that it will reduce these levels by 2 metres – see
The Government report on Flood Warnings for Brisbane classifies 3.5m as a ‘major flood’ – seeming to verify the Wivenhoe Dam marketing: see;
see also where Q100 figure of 3.3AHD is suggested, varying between 2.8 – 3.8 AHD, confirming 3.5m as the promoted reasonable, realistic working average for Brisbane.
The question that remains is: what is the most appropriate Q100 design flood level for Brisbane because, alarmingly, the 2011 levels were one metre higher than this 3.5m figure?

In order to get some understanding of an appropriate realistic level, it might seem reasonable to ask an hydrologist for a level at which he might be prepared to locate his archives in a known flood area. Here expertise and practicality would come together with a intimate tension in a response that would avoid the pollution of undue self-interest and any distortion from an over-enthusiastic optimism. Well, this question was asked.

When a Queensland Government hydrologist was asked about the design of a development for his department on a flood-prone site a couple of years ago, the advice received from this hydrologist was that the 1974 flood level should be used as the design level for the archives. The explanation was that he believed that Brisbane could still be exposed to an equivalent 1974 flood because there was a very large catchment below Wivenhoe Dam. So 6.0m became the design RL (1974 level plus 500mm) for the critical, archival storage, a function that equates closely to habitable space in a domestic residence.

In the chat during the extended flood coverage on television, one commentator noted, almost as an aside (that was never further analysed), that Wivenhoe Dam protected/managed only about one half of the catchment of the Brisbane River – a statement that seemed to confirm the hydrologist’s words. Maps shown on these television reports also confirmed this graphically, showing Wivenhoe Dam to the north with a large catchment area below that gathered into the serpentine form of the river leading to the bay. When asked why Brisbane’s exposure to another 1974 flood was not being discussed in any public forum and why it was not public knowledge, the hydrologist merely suggested that this was not a fashionable topic. It seemed that it had something to do with political sensitivities.

Wivenhoe Dam information gives the expectation that 1974 flood levels will be mitigated and lowered by 2 metres. This is reflected in the data above with the lower level being used as a development guideline. The Lord Mayor, during the television coverage, noted that his Council required all development to be 500mm above the 1:100 flood levels for Brisbane – as if this was a reasonable defence of the criticism being directed at the Brisbane City Council. What he did not say was that these design levels had been revised and lowered from 1974 levels after Wivenhoe was constructed.

So why was there so much damage in Brisbane with this flood? It is not just that the city has been more densely developed as the Premier keeps repeating. If the Q100 levels have been reduced by 2 metres (the exact figures need to be checked; 3.5 will be used here) when compared to 1974 levels, and Council is asking developers to work to a level 500mm higher than these reduced figures, then designers/developers are being allowed to work to levels that are 1.5m lower than the 1974 flood level (using the 3.5 figure as an average for this example). The 2011 flood peaked at about 4.5m. It is being argued that Wivenhoe Dam is playing its role, but a full dam is the same as no dam; and there is, apparently, the large catchment below Wivenhoe Dam beyond anyone’s control. Simple maths gives the statistics that this 2011-flood level of 4.5m is 0.5m higher than the design level required by the BCC (again using the 3.5 figure).
Was it the pressure from developers to open up low lands, and the pressure from the real estate industry to remove the stigma held by 1974 flooded properties, that perhaps prompted what might be the silence on the apparent likelihood of another 1974 flood level being reached? It would seem that announcing that this could be so now might expose many to massive claims and embarrassment. It would appear likely that changing the design levels back to 1974 plus levels (to 6.0m) now might do likewise and have serious implications on real estate and development – and those in power. Is this why we are being told to be ‘Queenslanders’ – “bred tough north of the border” - and gullible? - just clean up, build up and shut up and wait for the next flood as things just keep going on as usual? One hopes not.

The Lord Mayor has called for an investigation into this matter but he seems to be backing off. Did he say too much without thinking? The Australian of 13 January 2011 interestingly has given an account of him apparently saying more at another earlier time. Here he is reported as being critical of a lack of action on a report that said that the design flood levels for Brisbane were too low – but he, too, has done nothing in his role as Lord Mayor. It seems clear that an investigation is indeed needed.

The 1974 floods involved about 8,000 properties – see
2011 floods involved over 20,000 (some say up to 30,000) properties and the flood level was about one metre lower than that of 1974. It looks as though the extra 12,000 (approx, using the 20,000 figure) properties that were inundated in 2011 are all part of the new post-Wivenhoe developments that have been built on what now looks like an over optimistic assessment (one hopes not a deceit) promoting lower flood levels in low areas. The enthusiasm for the promotion of anticipated lower flood levels has placed the new owners of the 8,000 properties that were flooded in 1974 in a difficult position, and it has hurt those who are still there and who suffered in 1974, all of who were, from all appearances, promised relief and safety with the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam. It is difficult to understand is whether this idea that the 1974 levels could re-occur was really known to be a possibility or otherwise by some. If Brisbane had used the 6.0m figure as the design level (1974 plus 500mm) for post-1974 development and managed the acknowledged flood-prone areas rigorously and responsibly, then it seems that the devastation would have been very much reduced.

Hopefully an investigation will expose the facts (see FLOOD FACTS). Already we have had repeated spin and a random spray of accusations and the usual platitudes, like: “Queenslanders are unique and pull together” – and keep building on flood plains, and keep getting flooded, and building, and flooded, and building, etc., while being told to believe otherwise? Sadly it seems that Queenslanders lazily, with an almost bizarre enthusiasm, accept this as the necessary Queensland spirit: “When the going gets tough, the faces shine” (Channel 7); ‘We’re Queenslanders – everyone has a ton of guts; and we will fight back.” (Channel 9); etc. Will we ever learn about the real situation? The matter is extremely serious as there has been loss of life, much trauma and extreme stress and financial loss yet again. The disaster will happen again and again and again if nothing is done other than to repeat clichés about Queenslanders being tough, etc. They will have to be if the reality has been ignored, perhaps allowing expectations of a brighter future to be falsely and wrongly promoted.

There is what looks like stubbornness in governments too, that seem to like to get their own way in spite of everything. The fate of the CEO (with planning qualifications) who argued against his Council on the matter of the development of the flood plains in his city comes to mind. If reports are true, he was threatened with legal action by the developer and was eventually sacked by the Council.

One again wonders if there is another silent culture in Queensland too, one that values the bushy’s ‘common sense’ more than any professional or expert ‘educated’ advice – where professionals are seen as too theoretical, with limited practical knowledge of the ‘real’ world, leaving those with their feet on the ground knowing best - and developers and builders (those at the coal-face of the industry) knowing best of all? Are we to be left being told that we are all “local heroes” along with cliché after cliché after cliché, while the floodwaters rise and leave us tons of mud and mess time and time again?

Simple logic would have it that if we had learned anything from the 1974 flood, we should have had, at worst, less than a few thousand properties flooded in this 2011 inundation that was lower than 1974. This lower level is ironically spoken of as “a great blessing”. The disaster raises many questions: does greed, self-interest, carelessness, and a disregard that ignores the possible facts and the likely potential impacts on thousands of lives for what might be personal/political gain, have any involvement here? A quick review of the flood history and its outcomes might suggest that the design levels for Brisbane are too low. The question that has to be answered now is: given our experience over time, what is the most appropriate Q1:100 level for Brisbane? It appears that there will be no easy answer.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Heinrich Wölfflin's wonderful text Renaissance and Baroque is always worth reading and re-reading. Sir Herbert Read said of  Wölfflin that he found art criticism a subjective chaos and left it a science. This old copy of his book was published by The Fontana Library (Wm. Collins Sons & Co.Ltd.)  in 1964, second edition, May 1966 - $1.30.
One part of the text that, throughout, is illustrated with some beautiful drawings, describes the differences in the facade of one project, Il Gesù, that was originally designed by Vignola and was later revised by Della Porta. These schemes are illustrated on pages 104 and 105 of the book (see below) with the text detailing the differences being printed on pages 103 and 106. The comparison is intriguing and surprising, as is the book itself, of which this comparison is so tiny an example. As raised in 'REVIVE BEAUX ARTS?', the matter of classicism needs far more attention than we seem prepared to give it. It appears to be just too easy (and fashionable) to dismiss it without any real understanding of what is being put aside. There is a wisdom and subtlety in this work that needs to be explored in detail, not so that the work can be copied, but that some understanding of the minds that assembled these parts and why, might be gained. The study could highlight a framework for action and thinking for us today, and stimulate a tolerance that seems to be missing in our time.
There is another matter than requires comment: one cannot but notice how these illustrations in this book look so 'naive' to our eye. They are beautiful in a special way only if we put aside our expectation that everything should be computer perfect. Even the way the photographs have been handled in the text - collected classically into three packages of gloss paper located at the quarter points within the bundle of the yellowing pages. We get so used to everything being perfectly where it needs to be that we should think more about other times that required other efforts with other technologies to gauge how our technologies are having an impact on us.


This is project by Foster + Partners working with Co-architects Adamson Associates in New York, USA, 2000-2006 - see:
Here the scheme is illustrated and described in detail, with a summarized introduction:
'Hearst Tower’s distinctive facetted silhouette rises dramatically above Joseph Urban’s existing six-storey Art Deco building, its main spatial event a vast internal plaza, occupying the entire shell of the historic base. Designed to consume significantly less energy than a conventional New York office building, it is a model of sustainable office design.'
It shows yet another approach to keeping of old facades.



The idea arose so one had to experiment – with sincere apologies to all the poets involved. The strategy is not unlike an illustrator using an artist’s work in another context – again, ‘with apologies to . . ..’ The notion was to prepare a ‘poem’ – at least something with the appearance of a poem - using a limited collection of texts, a set of rules and chance. The texts envisaged were the poems in one issue of Quadrant – hence the apologies. The first step was to take all of the poems not in texts (and no titles) – in this case from Quadrant June 2008 because this was the issue that was reading when the idea arose – copy them and cut them up into separate lines to be placed into a large envelope, mixed and selected at random to make a new collection of lines – a new ‘poem’ if one dare label this mix as such. Even the title was to reflect the same strategy: using all the letters and numerals in ‘Quadrant June 2008’ mixed as ‘8 QUADRANT JUN0 20’ – ‘THE MELANGE’ clearly identifying the strategy to mix, with a cheeky allusion to Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’.

The rules were:
shake the envelope;
take a line from the envelope randomly without any looking, preview or review; strategy, thought or intent – using chance alone;
paste each line down as it is drawn directly onto a sheet of paper into sets of four lines – ‘quartets’ or ‘quadrants’;
make twenty sets of four lines to reflect the ‘20’ out of the ‘2008’;
the ‘8’ will remain as the allusion to Eliot’s ‘4’;
use the exact text, punctuation, capitals, format, font and style in each line as it has been copied – as in e.g., ‘QUADRANT’;
nothing is to be changed, re-worked, adjusted, modified or altered in any way;
no original text or context is to be checked, appraised, reassessed or judged.

The outcome is attached. There is no pretence as to quality, any claim to poetry, or any critique of poets, poems or poetry being suggested here. The intent is transparent, free and open: an opportunity for things to happen randomly within a fixed set of parameters. The idea looks at how random choices can create new relationships and contexts in alliances that form in the mind – or is it the body? - in a manner that, upon reflection, can only astonish. It is perhaps like a metaphor for life – c.f. Jung’s synchronicity? – where things happen and make their own new sense in a somewhat startling way.

It is for this experience that the outcome is being blogged, for others to ponder – nothing more. There is a mystery in chance that belies our understanding but seems to rely on our subtle and subconscious efforts to enrich an interpretation and perception for its being. Does it only show how optimistic our senses are – we are - when seeking to make sense out of things that are purely ad hoc: are faith, hope and love involved? Is this how we live? Is this the very nature of our world? Are all things basically random and relative as quantum physics suggests? Are we close to sensing another sense through a different set of senses that work randomly as well? Is it ‘another’ sense or just us – basic, poetic beings struggling to understand and establish an affinity with the infinity of chance possibilities of which we are a part? Are our faith, hope and love changed by our questions and analysis to give us ‘the trap of apophenia’*? There are indeed many questions and probably just as many – or more - answers.
* Chance is still working its strange magic. After completing this piece, one reads in The Spectator 20 June 2008, in Mark Mason’s  Trivia really is very important, you know : ‘apophenia’, the mind’s propensity to see patterns even where there are no patterns, and the reference to ‘the trap of apophenia’ seen in the listing is also added here:

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - Cite This Source
Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness".

"While observations of relevant work environments and human behaviors in these environments is a very important first step in coming to understand any new domain, this activity is in and of its self not sufficient to constitute scientific research. It is fraught with problems of subjective bias in the observer. We (like the experts we study) often see what we expect to see, we interpret the world through our own personal lens. Thus we are extraordinarily open to the trap of apophenia.

In statistics, apophenia would be classed as a Type I error (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity). Apophenia is often used as an explanation of some paranormal and religious claims. Apophenia may be linked to psychosis and creativity.

JUN0 20

He drilled them so their stories became one
anyone can see the mincer is not to be messed with.
In years of innocence so long ago
And this is still that same world of course:

The vicious and the smug have all the clout,
neatly beneath their wings and fall asleep.
And the lodgings and the liquor were cheap.
of perhaps. Neither subtlety nor beauty

As they buckled to the hard task of silence.
the dying time proved slow and hard
And then at last he did a midnight bunk.
In line with some punitive little scheme,

The cloth of their jackets straining,
as if it had been treated with a dye.
The falling plays a favourite refrain
an unfinished stillness heavy with fear

An unbending Presbyterian.
but once I saw it being packed on Wednesdays
Or the woman at work;
It’s funny how their nipples get bigger.

The one continuing sign of him you saw
fruit wood and wrist-thick old briar
And knew the boy would lie, would have a go
comb and pluck out tufts of white fluff

as if a shroud
All those pastimes you thought
a river system aerial
could never hope to cover him

up and down my sleeves
Was the crate of his empties out the back.
to remnants of what has been.
and clouds are spreading froth across the sky.

onto the sands of Jervis Bay-
an album, photos, card from long ago
heavy as grain in a bin.
lying in bed wishing irons to rust, dusters

Fitting the handle to the twisting blades
where occasional pools of water sit
Gaunt and severe as the gaze of any elder,
The night my sister received the news

Some breathing hard, as if from work,
His smile returned, no place was this for tears
One of them always keeps an eye on the world.
of steady raindrops humming in my brain

The landlord was giving the guy a break
We could slowly sink in the silt
That he could cry on cue, and make his tears
Then steadily there’d grow another stack.

A screw buttons the rings of the mouth. Once
lurked beneath the shiny surface of my childhood
It moves like a cartoon, a mobile tap
but spoke like a woman who’d put up a fight:

you would never be asked to axe;
Deceased family and friends
in crevices and creases. It fills like a balloon;
A red blister growing unseen, unfelt

she sat straight up in the hospital bed
and the murmur of troubled men.
whether you swam every morning
Not his dear mother, though he loved her so

They gave him space, remembering what he’d done
if you hadn’t done that by now, it’s too late;
Captive, bearing mute witness
in reverse: falling open overhead

in unbearable blue. It is a cathedral
like a haemorrhoid. A swollen berry
of the hand as the mulish handle resisted.
the table’s in its grasp, thanks to metal wings,

All those hymns, sermons, prayers!
No words, no praise nor blame;
And when released about six months ago
the drunken roar remembered all these years

some days ago I do not
Inside, she’d waved a blade about-
from the grip of his frantic wife.
that I had always seen from her-

won’t warm you up; it’s too late
can be viewed through the gape in the head.
my breath a small bellows in the aching air
hide and crouch    clapped pouch

In the context of things architectural does this sense of the random equate with O. Gehry's crumpled paper becoming the basis for form?

Monday, February 7, 2011








There was just astonishment when the new war memorial at Springbrook was first encountered. The monument read almost as a parody of a shrine, seeming to mock the feelings that such places are meant to engender. As can be seen in the photograph, the memorial strives for a strict formality with its axial path leading to a circular place marked by a minute, almost ‘jokey’ obelisk – like a chess piece on the Champs Elysees. The sense of a pious parade promenading along this axis is laughed at by the playground that it passes. Likewise, any possibility of solemn reverie being likely when one is resting on the seat provided near the small entry rocks pretending to be boulders, would be tortured by the scramblings and screams of the children, even potentially, for just the frame for play suggests this outcome. Trying to hide behind the tree will not change this outcome - perhaps it may be aggravated - and shifting to the other seat is no solution as it faces the play area, supervising it. It is not as though the play space can be ignored from any location. It dominates the area, located in a central position in this clearing with the memorial slipped in beside it in a tight squeeze, fitting snugly, rather like the last piece of a jigsaw.
The scale of this memorial structure, especially with its relationship to the play area, makes it appear as a model of a memorial, a place for children to enjoy. It is this ambivalence that tests the integrity of this place with what can be experienced as a mock sincerity. While this is an emotional worry, there are practical issues to be concerned about. How does one declare the memorial a special place for remembrance and reflection when it occupies the same place as the play area – its juxtaposed twin? The memorial could easily be seen as an extension of the play equipment. It will certainly be seen as something to play on. This raises other concerns. As the photograph shows, the play equipment has a special soft fall area, with equipment detailed for the safety of little fingers, fine legs and gleeful faces all distracted by fun and forgetful about caution. With the attraction of nearby ledges, piers, steps and the tiny obelisk, the concrete, stone and metal memorial can easily be seen as a play space – ring a-ring o’ roses?; but it has none of the safety features necessary for such a purpose. What latent threats lie ready to trap a child?

So there is a twin concern: the mock, almost mocking sense of this memorial and its adjacency to a play space, with each concern generating further anxieties. It appears that there has been little attention given to these matters, while that given to the decorative illustrations on the panels surrounding the mini-obelisk seems to have been exuberantly excessive. It is a shame that so much money and effort has gone into making this place where the possibility of mystery and quiet awe is diminished by the trauma of raucous play - even as a ghosted presence – and the decorative exuberance of the illustrations.

One is left wondering: do proposals for memorials ever get reviewed prior to their construction? If the argument for this memorial is that it will give Springbrook a place for the Anzac Day march to congregate, then one has to express concern about whether the crowd (even a small one) could ever assemble in this place with some simple dignity and functional comfort for any ceremony, without the play space causing a problem, either just by being there or being used. The ground on the opposite side of the path falls away fairly steeply, making any assembly an awkward lopsided affair with a bias to the playground. Indeed, it is the sense of honest and dignified ceremony at this now cluttered forested clearing that is missing. The pieces are there, trying to look like a memorial, complete with most of the popular clichés, when the eye is constantly engaged in the distraction of the colourful, and what could be seen as more interesting play equipment. One shudders to think of the possibility of this place encouraging children to participate in war games. There are enough clues in the decorative cutouts to stimulate such an interest, and the proximity to the playground suggests that such an interaction might be very likely.

Friday, February 4, 2011


A few days after category-five cyclone Yasi had crossed the North Queensland coast at Mission Beach on Tuesday 1st February 2011 at about midnight, causing substantial damage to the regional villages, towns and their surrounding crops, a journalist was inspired to ask the question: “Why do buildings fall down in a cyclone?”
The journalist put the question to a University Professor to get the answer.
The cameras rolled and panned in on the professor’s serious face and then pulled back. The professor moved learnedly across to an open laptop, the new symbol of scholarship, that was conveniently showing the map of a brown Australia with the huge white swirl of the cyclone moving across Queensland, and sat down.
He then began the explanation using his hands to illustrate the forces involved: “When the force of the cyclone is greater than the resistance of the building, the building falls down.”
Cut to a short silence, almost as if dismayed by the erudition of the answer.
Well, now we know.
What was not said is that we are Queenslanders and will want to rebuild.
As Premier Bligh said, lips aquiver “We are Queenslanders. We’re the people that they breed tough, north of the border. We’re the ones that they knock down, and we get up again.” (reported in The Australian Literary Review, Volume 6. Issue 1, February 2011, p.24). – and, one wonders, to be knocked down again?
The wisdom of this platitude never seems to be questioned. In the context of a pub brawl, it seems foolish. In the context of not learning from experience – or wanting to - it appears extremely silly.
We need a discussion on all of these matters:
Why rebuild? Where to rebuild? How to rebuild?
Then there is a further, more subtle and complicated layer: what to rebuild? People’s lives are involved here – their relationships to place, to landscape and to each other. The matter is not just one of falling buildings – yes, they fall down because a greater force than can be resisted pushes them, like being shoved in crowd. There are many more, and more complex questions to be answered to determine appropriate future actions. How can the future be made better than just doing the same again and again? The question should have been: “How do we rebuild again after a cyclone?” Then a more meaningful and useful response might possibly have been given. The question certainly engages a set of more challenging possibilities involving people and place. Universities should be aware of this and should be doing more than passing off simplistic explanations as gems of wisdom.


Re-reading John Summerson's classic text on Inigo Jones (Penguin, 1966, price $1.90 - old books still have an importance that should never be overlooked) raises the question: should we revive any of the Beaux Arts teaching methods? With the recent establishment of new schools of architecture in southeast Queensland, the question seems to be timely. The Bauhaus system of architectural education has been  the model for most schools of architecture now for nearly 100 years. Is there a better model? Is the craft basis, complete with workshop, still useful? Can it be improved? It seems just too easy to keep on doing the same again and again, without asking more and more questions in the struggle to be better and better - indeed, to be the best in the world. Why not? Does the business model not allow for such a risk?
Why has this question come to be asked?
Summerson's text on the facade of The Banqueting House, Whitehall is the stimulus:
The Banqueting House facade is a different matter altogether, and a wonderfully harmonious design. The Palladian diagram borrowed for the exterior coincides nicely with the scheme of the interior, whiich is to say that it prescribes seven bays of superimposed columns; as in the interior, Jones made the lower order Ionic and the upper an improvisation on the Composite. The diagram also prescribed a division in the facade giving prominence to the three middle bays. The interest of the work, however, lies less in the diagram than in its detailed development. Perhaps the first thing to observe and remember about the Banqueting House is that the normal wall surface is rusticated almost from top to bottom, all horizontal and vertical joints being firmly cut into a V. The effect of this is that there is no 'dead' surface larger than a single stone and that anything superimposed on the pattern of rustication must justify itself either by strength of relief or intensity of contrast. Jones uses both. At each end of the facade is a pair of coupled pilasters, their two nearly-joined areas of plain surface effectively quelling the force of the rustication as it approaches the corners. Next inwards comes comes a single pilaster between two windows (deliberately the weakest area), then a column in the round which, however, is not quiet in the round because beyond it the wall surface presses forward to claim half its thickness. The next column is a half-column on this advanced surface and this brings us to the centre. This subtle increase both in advance and relief in the middle three bays gives the facade its fullness and vitality. Much of the art, however, is in the orders of columns themselves. The columns are unfluted and nakedly smooth against the rigorous crust of rusticated wall, a sensuous combination reminiscent of Giulio Romano from whom, indeed, it probably comes through the Palazzo Thiene - the one building by Palladio where Giulio's influence is paramount. The friezes of the orders are unenriched but, ranging with the capitals of the upper order, is a sub-frieze of masks and swags. This, the only piece of naturalistic carving in the building, rhythmically celebrates the ascendancy of thee orders over the mechanistic hardness of V-jointed stones.  (p.p.55-56)
To understand what Summerson is seeking ot explain, one has to go to the photographic image of the elevation. Only here can the subtlety be seen. Plan and sectional detail drawings would make things clearer and more explicit, but the photograph is all we have. A close look at the shadows tells the story. What is discovered is that the facade is just too easy to glance at and dismiss as a familiar, bland, old-fashioned classic image. Summerson's observations help direct our eyes to the richness of this form and the quality of thought that has gone into its making. There is an exquisite play with planes and alignments of columns, with an equal consideration given to all of the other elements. The width of the shadows illustrate this. What Summerson does not point out is that there is a vertical play in the columns too. The upper set is so very slightly more narrow than the lower set and they are made of a different stone.
It is this intriguing interest in detail that plays such an important role in the reading of the facade that makes one ponder the possibilities of the Beaux Arts approach to things architectural for us today. What might one learn by preparing measured drawings of such a work? What else is hidden? Such a task would alert one to the very thinking of Inigo Jones. Why should we be so pompous as to just reject such an approach now merely because this dismissal was an essential step in the making of the Bauhaus and the framing of its approach?
Lutyens went through a stage in modernism when his work was mocked as nonsense until Venturi showed us how to see its unique expressive skill and wonderful humorous qualities. How else might we see things Beaux Arts today? It is simply unacceptable to dismiss anything on the back of the phantom progress that sees only better in the future as it races from the 'worn-out' past. The challenge needs to be reviewed. Let us start by drawing the orders. Then draw the classic buildings. We may learn about the importance of detail and from the rigourous thinking in and the deliberate intelligence of this work.We might find just how different it is to establish forms by ad hoc morphing than by other more purposeful means, and how one fine dimension can be so critical for the whole. Instead of modernism's 'less is more', we may come to see how 'morphing is less' and how formal, classic thinking is not merely formulaic; and realise how it can be useful for us today.
Some may see such an idea a just nostalgic nonsense, but there are other possibilities here. If nothing else, the tasks will not only improve the drawing standards of those participating, but they will also stimulate the appreciation of the skills of past eras that did not have electronic gadgets to play with - and it will put the concept of copybooks into a new context too.


CLUE: This person is a well-known architect.