Monday, April 16, 2012

STAR RATING



It seemed a surprising juxtaposition - the footballer in smart 'civilian / business' clothing and the different, so-called tensegrity bridge: see ARCHITECTURAL AMBASSADOR blog. What was the message here? The headline played with odd references: 'Locker champions a fresh field.' What was this word play suggesting? The text soon made it clear: 'Locker has been appointed an ambassador for Queensland architecture.' One wondered, who has appointed him and why? Again, the text made this partially clear: 'working with promotional programme HEAT.' What is HEAT? - 'a Queensland government initiative.' Gosh, this was all news for me. I wondered who thought this idea up and why Darren Locker had been chosen.

As if to explain this point, the article continued with a quote from Locker: "I've seen a lot of architecture around the world and as other countries speak different languages, so, too, there are different architectural languages. I want to introduce people to the style of architecture we have in Queensland."

This all sounds somewhat reasonable, almost as though Mr. Locker might have had some words put into his mouth or suggested to him for him to adapt. Language and form do have an intellectual basis in things architectural, just as context does. But why does a government take such an initiative? Who is to be introduced to this work? It all had a strange ring to it. Why choose a chap with good ball skills and game sense to promote things subtle and sensitive? Rugby League has a reputation for being a rough, tough game.  Why use this contact to promote whatever Queensland architecture might be? Lockyer's architectural commentary appears to be somewhat limited: "That house is just so fantastic, I love it." Is this two statements or one? It is not clear, but there is a difference. What is going to be said about Queensland architecture? How? When?

More quotes are given. The words 'conceptual stage' are used to professionally describe the new house being designed for his family - "We didn't tell him (the architect) how many rooms we wanted or that kind of thing" - and then we are given: "The good thing about a house that has been architectually designed is that you never get bored with it. You come home every day and you just really love the space you live in (and)  it makes you happy, and life is too short not to be happy."

One is left a little unsure about the quality of architecture that can bring happiness, and hopes that Mr. Locker has given his architect a budget. One of the recurring complaints with the profession has to do with budgets - how dreams of clients and / or architects frequently clash with costs. As for ensuring happiness, architects know very well how often marriage problems stimulate a desire for a new future with a new, architect-designed house as the solution for everlasting bliss, only with the time and energy required for this task becoming a distraction that postpones the inevitable. Happiness has many different and diverse roots and necessities if it is to endure.

Is this a good idea? Mr. Locker is very well known and is extremely popular. He is sometimes called a 'legend.' Does architecture need such an individual for its promotion? Will the idea be counterproductive? What is the idea? Indeed, what is 'HEAT'? A Google search reveals that the RAIA is involved. A video clip of Queensland's ex-premier extolling the virtues of this idea and offering her full support is played. One has to wonder what all of this means now. Given that the new premier has scrapped the previous premier's literary award, will this new government support this appointment?  The Google listing starts: HEAT - Queensland's new wave of environmental architects . . . HEAT Architecture is an international business initiative with a simple objective: to raise the international profile and export sales of Quensland architecture.  . .
The next listing tells more: As you would be aware, HEAT, Queensland's new wave of environmental architects, is a major marketing initiative of the Creative Industries Unit of.  . . I have to admit to being totally unaware.

Well, there is more to be discovered about this. One remains puzzled about the whole affair. If the analogy of different countries having different languages is useful and true, then why on earth is Queensland's 'architecture' being exported, as the blurb suggests? Surely the argument is that architecture is regional - specific to its context? Why seek to impose our happiness onto others? Is this possible? Is it sensible?

Perhaps the idea of using stars to promote architecture is as problemmatical as using them to score an environmental rating for buildings. One has to be very careful with things environmental - and with architecture. The category of 'environmental architects' is a concern. Why not just architects? The situation is even more alarming when one recalls that the two newest schools of architecture in the southeast region of Queensland are both a smaller part of the environmental studies departments of their respective universities. There seems to be a real danger of things architectural being watered down to issues environmental alone. That wonderful, broad intellectual base of architectural studies could soon be diminished. Architecture does include things environmental, but it is much more. Subtle issues such as those worked with by the Scottish nature artist Andy Goldsworthy could easily be shoved aside in favour of calculations and statistics, and detailed studies of the past like those of John James at Chartres and its region could quickly become an anachronism; as could the work of Christopher Alexander on the nature of order. We specialize at our own risk. Architecture must retain its own place in this world on its own substantial grounds. The danger is that turning it into an environmental export commodity to be promoted by footballers is likely to demean it and belittle all those who retain a commitment to its' complexity - to its' rich intrigues; its' beauty; its history; its' rigour; its' intelligence.






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