Friday, July 27, 2012


Concerning Formations: the plasticity of practice

This article on practice in architectureau was copied and handed out to become the subject of a conversation over lunch. The promise made to colleagues to find ‘three words’ to clarify this messy and puzzling blurb has turned out to be ambitious. A quick summary has been made here and a commentary has been appended, as the article provokes thought and stimulates a response to its haughty, linguistic games.

The basic idea is that the practice of architecture is being changed by others, and other situations and circumstances outside of architecture; that practice itself has to change into an open, more flexible, collaborative structure, using its broad expertise more generally, generically, rather than remaining as isolated individual, design specialists creating ‘iconic’ buildings for glossy publications and awards. The proposition is that the traditional image of the architect is being perpetuated, perhaps with perceptions being limited, by habit, Acts, boards, Institutes, and insurance and other companies, while the world around it is changing dramatically and quickly - Google, Facebook, etc., making it appear obsolete - an anachronism. If one were forced to provide three words for this synopsis, they would be TRADITIONAL PRACTICE REFORMS.

It is what we all know. Questions about what and who is an architect have already been asked - see  The real problem is getting others to understand the situation. Articles like Formations: are indulgent and self-important. They help fill up CVs. The question is: what has to happen for real change? Any self-satisfied delight in a complex array of confusing words is not useful. Articles like the plasticity of practice only enhance the separation of architects from others in the community, isolating by reinforcing the cliché. Texts like this are self-defeating. It is the professional academic world communicating with itself.

 We need to convince insurance companies, corporations and governments, and the like, that architects have a unique expertise that can offer ideas and shape outcomes that can be important in any situation. Indeed, we have to persuade the ‘man in the street’ that architects have these significant skills, because basically companies, etc. are only a collection of such folk. To highlight ‘capabilities’ like Brown’s, as the article notes, we need to earn respect, not ridicule, from those in authority who manipulate power. This can be achieved with recognisable, responsible outcomes that erase the memories of the truism that defines and declares an architect’s arrogant disregard for expectations, results and their implications: c.f. ‘I thought I’d like to do a concrete house this time as I haven’t done one before’! Or: ‘I had a crumpled paper vision for this building.’

The situation brings to mind the student studying koalas. He enthusiastically sought and obtained the support of a well-known and popular singer/song writer to create what he spoke of as the necessity for government to act on the protection of koala habitat. This student had a grand plan to empower the public and embarrass the government, to make sure that this outcome could be achieved. The argument was persuasive, supremely logical and rational. The only thing he lacked was real power itself; and power was not moved. Nothing came of his plan - it just faded away, jaded, as others kept doing whatever they wanted, paying no attention to him. Power has the ability to ignore, discard, dismiss and forget, regardless of the evidence.

One can scream and yell, but power is required - one’s own power, or the recognition of the circumstance along with an appropriate co-operative response from another authority. How to get this power? How to get this power to take notice? How to make this power discover the importance of an architect’s involvement in a myriad of circumstances? How to get others to think: we need to get the architect in, instead of: we need to sack him/sue him; I could have done better than this expensive, foolish dilettante? These are the concerns that need consideration, not just the smartly clever, academic redefinition/rendition of ‘architecture’ or ‘practice’ and the timeless call for others to be ‘educated’ to admire unique talent and difference.

We know that architects can assist in many situations outside of building design, but how do we overcome the cliché that sees architects as costing one time and money - wasting it - while still demanding big fees for fantastically impractical, fanciful visions? How do we overcome the perception that architects design for themselves and create problems with their elitist visions; that architects should be shunned to steer clear of problems; that one should never have an architectural competition, as there are always problems with outcomes and costs: the ‘opera house’ problem? We all know it: one has to keep away from architects or have them carefully managed by some responsible person if they have to be used. Sadly the cliché is rooted in and feeds on ever-recurring facts.

Articles like this ‘plastic blurb’ text do not help. They reinforce the idea of the exclusive, snobby, elitist side of the profession. The use of ‘academic’ language only reinforces every prejudice that is currently held. We must start using ordinary language if anyone is going to start listening, just as we must start generating ordinary outcomes that are extraordinary if we seek any recognition and understanding of our potential role - the role of our potential - from others. Our continued delight with extreme difference will only aggravate matters. Architects continue to drool over and promote the unique, ‘creative’ original - the bespoke concept - as their ideal.

 Then there is the ‘local’ problem: this is Australia, with the ad hoc, DIY, ‘wouldn’t you have thought’ culture of disregard for things ‘learned’ and subtle; where the irony is that success means that one is sidelined rather than seen as holding a useful skill/expertise to be harnessed. Instead, achievement screams out ‘avoid’ and sets the stage for trampling. Potential clients are encouraged to seek talent elsewhere - interstate; overseas. Things are always better otherwise and in other places: (see the Central Park development in Sydney and its promotion; and the new School of Architecture at Bond University). Only actions and outcomes will change these things.

What is important is that the profession has to start supporting itself. The idea of the unique genius - that any other architect always could/would have done better and will challenge for all future work on this basis - is embedded in our own vision of ourselves: well, it seems, in the majority of minds. The stories are astonishing, as are the brazen lengths that this throat cutting will go to. It is rare that an architect is promoted or praised by another. The norm is the undermining of one another; and the demolition of all other ideas, and fees - cost-cutting - with seeming conceit and delight: of course, ‘colleagues’ apart, as awards show. This is the country of ‘mates’ - ‘g-day mate’!

If the profession cannot show respect for others inside it, what chance is there of others outside it holding any respect for it? One has to ponder what the cathedrals might have looked like with this nasty, competitive streak! Still, it helps us understand why we have the outcomes we are currently living with today; and why the profession is seen as it is. It is not merely a matter of what ‘practice’ has become or might become to those ‘academically’ disposed. We need to overcome the ‘smarty pants’ hero image with ‘good work,’ as Fritz Schumacher knew it and spoke of it in a book with this title, and in other writings too, like Small is Beautiful.

There is a problem if we can’t or are unwilling to help ourselves. We need to be aware that no one else will do it for us. We have talent, but it needs to be shown to be more than useful in practice. Skill needs to be exhibited in real practical terms to be understood and appreciated by ‘ordinary’ people. Then we might start being seen as a necessity instead of an indulgent frivolity and a waste of money. We need the education, not the others. We need to change so that they can change too. We should stop blaming everybody and everything else, for we create the vision of architects, architecture and practice that we choose to perpetuate by our own actions or inactions - maybe both.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I have often in the past made comparative and competitive claims for an individual artist, saying for example that X is the most important European artist since Y. It is a not entirely meaningless formula and it offers a tempting short-cut to the reader’s mind. But I now believe it to be profoundly mistaken: not because there is the danger of the judgement being a wrong one - there are no absolute and eternally right judgements: but because the notion of competition has become alien to the spirit of art.
When the social position of an artist was that of an artisan or a super-craftsman, the spirit of competition acted as a stimulus. Today the position of the artist has changed. He is no longer valued as the producer of his work, but for the quality of his vision and imagination as expressed in his work. He is no longer primarily a maker of art: he is an example of a man and it is his art which exemplifies him. This is true at an appreciative and philosophical level even under capitalism, where works of art are treated on the market like any other commodity. In the artist’s new role there is no place for comparative competition. One cannot properly compete to be a representative of Man. It is the contradiction between this truth and the dominance of the art market over all production which destroys so much talent and creates so much confused desperation among artists in the capitalist countries.

John BergerArt and Revolution, Writers & Readers, London, 1969, page 152.

PAIRS 5 - 1956 : 2012 OLYMPIC POOLS


 Melbourne 1956 Olympic Swimming Pool   Peter McIntyre Architect
Building of the Year 1956

London 2012 Olympic Aquatics Centre   Zaha Hadid Architects

One example that officials are keen to highlight is the new velodrome, which uses natural light and ventilation to reduce consumption of energy.
McCarthy* says it is "a fantastic example of a sustainaable building as it uses only half the materials of the Beijing velodrome and overshoots all the goals for reducing energy consumption."
But he concedes London's "star" venue, the Aquatics Centre, is at the other end of the sustainability spectrum. Its spectacular wave-like roof required 3000 tonnes of steel, "which in turn required a lot of concrete to support all that steel."
"Its beautiful but a little bit unnecessary and not exactly a low-impact building."
HIGHER, FASTER, GREENER  The Australian, Wednesday, 18 July 2012, page 11.
(* Shaun McCarthy, chairman of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012.) 

A quick comparison of the construction photographs suggests that the 1956 builidng was greener than the 2012 structure, in spite of the intent of 2012 games to be the greenest Olympics ever - 'more environmentally sustainable and lower carbon than any previous games.'
One has to ask: Less is more? Was the concept of the wave so important as to wave goodbye to all concerns on green matters: style rather than content? Is this why it has been called "a little bit unnecessary"?
By way of comparison, the British battleship, Westminster, is 3500 tonnes of floating steel. Astonishingly, the 'wave' roof of the Aquatic Centre is almost the equivalent of a battleship suspended over the pool, in dry dock as it were. Unnecessary? All for the sake of an image? The 1956 roof structure was an integral part of the whole support system, not just some randomly added form to intrigue.

Links to other PAIRS:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


It is becoming alarming just how our language is misrepresenting actual reality. The computer was promoted as the tool that would allow offices to be paperless. Now we have 'wireless technology.' Just as the amount of paper used has grown exponentially, so too has the increase in the number of cables needed to keep the wireless gadgets charged. There is some chat about trying to get some standardisation in this equipment, but like those visions of compatibility across all platforms, this seems to be a hopeful dream that will never become fact. The real worry is that if we continue to allow our language to perpetuate such hoaxes as this, what future is there for anything sensible to occur? Even the old 'wireless' didn't have the complication of cables that we see today!
Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.
Scottish author & novelist (1771 - 1832) 
 Yes, literally!


While browsing the Internet, the question about events at the Univeristy of Queensland School of Architecture came to mind. What was going on there these days? It had been some time since I had been there. So the site was opened. Mmmm . . . the Venice Biennale. Interesting.

I remembered when a Queensland University of Technology staff member - now at the U of Q - arranged an exhibition at the Biennale some years ago. He used the local corrugated iron as the theme to show things Australian. One assumes that this is the intent of participating at the Biennale. Russell Hall played an important part in this exhibition with his unique corrugated iron designs - or is it corrugated 'steel' these days? The exhibition was truly something unique to this southern island country - the antipodies. Even the iconic Southern Cross wind mills played an important part in the display that was well received by visitors.

This time there was something different by Dr. Anupama Kundoo: a 1:1 model of the Wall House. Does this mean a full-sized replica of the house? The text concealed the image of what one assumed might have been the Wall House - possibly the replica? - but it was difficult to see. So the Wall House was Googled in order to find out more about this place that had been selected to represent 'UQ Architecture on (the) International stage' and become the headline item on its' web site.

'The Wall House by Anupama Kundoo, Architect at Auroville, India, 2000' opened up. (Another site records the house as being finished in 1999?) So it was in India; and at least twelve years old too. What did this place have to do with the U of Q School of Architecture - Australia: now? The images were perused:

Yes, this seemed to be the building illustrated behind the text in the U of Q School of Architecture masthead. The other photographs told more:

The images reminded one of Le Corbusier's Maisons Jaoul in Paris, with some lingering touch of Louis Kahn in Dacca; and the empty Harry Seidler architectural interiors that were always photographed with a strategically located unique item placed 'architecturally' just for the shot.

The adjacent text was read:
 Here the innovation lies in the definition of the building program for a residential house, as well as the transition spaces between the inside and outside. Borders and transitional spaces are defined in a new way. The attention paid to these spaces creates a deliberate and, if desired, flexible buffer space that can change the territorial enclosure according to the changing time of day or climate.
Trees are integrated to create further spatial compositions and a smoother transition to the nature at large.
The stepped terracing continues from the surrounding terrain, penetrates through and through the house and continues on to the other side. The outside penetrates the inside so to speak. The program for the transition spaces is larger than the enclosed spaces.
The window shutters are a series of options that can be seasonally regulated just as we do with our clothes for providing climatic comfort. The result is a skin that is alive and breathes, and an architecture that is dynamic and responsive to the changing human needs and comfort.
An example of an activity in the transitional space is the dining area. The dining table is built out of a single log of rosewood, which nearly extinct now, and by using no other material even for its joinery. The table is formed so that it can be reassembled to gain the whole log with no wastage.
The floor slab above is also innovative. Terracotta pots used in the local area for cooking, with their use diminishing, has been used as a form work for concrete in an area with no tradition of form-work.
The already reduced energy demands of the house through application of solar passive principles are entirely met by solar photovoltaics for electricity, solar water heater as well as solar pump for water pumping.

I don't know if I really understand some of this blurb, but it is interesting. Just why the reassembly of a log is useful is as puzzling as some of the other concepts. But what has all of this to do with U of Q School of Architecture? There is no mention of the U of Q School here. Did it have an involvement?

A look at the School of Architecture list of academic staff members seemed to explain things. 
Dr Anupama Kundoo, Senior Lecturer
BArch Univ of Mumbai, PhD TU Berlin
L: Zelman Cowen (51), 318
T: 3365 3957

So the Indian Architect, Anupama Kundoo, is one of the staff. This clarified the link to the twelve-year old house in India, but it did not help understand how this building had become the icon of this school, sufficient to have a full-szied copy of it erected to showcase the school to the world. Has Australia nothing to talk about? Has the school hit the wall?  Hopefully we are not indulging in the old perception that things from elsewhere are always better - even old things?

Then another matter occurred to me: there was a time when the prerequiste for undertaking an architectural course included the requirement for english, maths, science and art. Over the years this got whittled down to just english. One wonders now if the requirement has become only to have a tablet - of course, this would have to be an iPod: cool dedsign, as the judge said.

Still, the first question lingers: just what is happening at the school? Surely something interesting has happened in the last twelve years?


 On the small island of Mousa just off the east coast of the southern island of Mainland in the Shetland Islands, stands the world’s only intact broch. Well, it is nearly complete. The thirteen-metre high stonewalls have survived the centuries without too much desecration. The other, possibly more transient or portable parts, have gone. Astonishingly, what remains is all dry stonework, stones stacked on top of one another without any cementing infill. It has been constructed using the same techniques as those that build the dykes, the stone walls that surround the fields and jigsaw the hillsides. Stone sits on stone, holding stone with stone, interlocked with the skillful organisation of the ad hoc geometry and form of stones found nearby. The dry stone waller’s rule is: once picked up, a place - the right place - has to be found for the stone selected. That any smooth surface can be created out of a heap of rubble is always astonishing - more so with Mousa because of its’ size: its’ diameter and height.

In most other locations, brochs have been used as quarries, with the stones being removed for other purposes. Only footprints of what was there remain as archaeological relics for the imagination to interpret, and the feet to explore. Sometimes remaining low walls form a maze for our amazement, like the broch at Clickimin in Lerwick. These ancient structures were seen as a convenient source of material, already gathered in one location and sorted. It is the archetypal story of history, where simple convenience and a lack of what we now know as ‘heritage concerns,’ to which we have become perhaps oversensitive, determine outcomes defined by the necessities of existence. (see: HERITAGE - THE 'STORY' of A 'TAPESTRY' -  and SEEING PRESENT AS PAST -  The island location has made any idea of stealing the Mousa stones impractical. This tiny place has a surplus of geological remains even today, and a limited demand for these. Shetland’s is not a fertile ground that encourages great densities of settlement. Transporting the rocks to the Mainland would have required just too much effort. There were other sites where the task of gathering stones for cottages and dykes presented a less daunting challenge - other brochs too.

Necessity can drive astonishing efforts, but it always takes the easiest route - the one requiring least energy; the most efficient: but even this can sometimes show a resolve that is able to surprise us today. It all had to do with the practical matters of time and energy, in this world that knew nothing of the theory of time and motion studies. So it seems that it has been the inevitability of necessity alone that has left us with the structure we have today. One is tempted to label it a relic, but it is more than a relic. Relics have a haunting, sad and separate mystery about them - a vague, whimpering aloneness. The broch of Mousa is an astonishingly beautiful structure with a coherence and pride in its’ being there - a certain certainty. It is a landmark. Indeed, its’ past role, as we have interpreted this, made such a presence unavoidable, as the broch was apparently a lookout as well as a refuge. It was from the brochs that threats from invaders could be overseen and perhaps communicated to other brochs. It was to the brochs that folk retreated when a menace arose.

Protective twin, circumferial, swelling, stacked-stone walls enclose and create voids, whose purpose becomes the subject of hypotheses. This remote marvel stands in its’ solitude on the island, alone in the world, and in the imagination. One walks over rocks, slopes, moor and bog too get to the broch from the jetty where the seasonal ferry link ties up. It is not only the time of the year that determines the transport timetable, but also the weather forecast of the day. This is Shetland where all weathers can be manifest in one hour - snow, gales, sleet, cloud, sun, still and shine. The broch is left unlocked. Such it the remoteness of its’ location that security is unnecessary. The same inaccessibility that made the pilfering of the stones awkward still protects the place. The welcome is in the rock recess on the right of the entry. It is a nice surprise. Torches anticipate your visit and offer immediate assistance for the problem that is instantly obvious. One is invited to pick up a torch and walk stooped under the low, stone-lintel of the lobby, into the high light of the open central court. It is an appropriate gesture to this wonderful place - obeisance. The centre court is indeed a highlight.

How was this space used? This void is so small, yet so large. It has the same puzzling reading inside as the outside form of the broch has in the landscape, where the simple shape of the mass belies its’ true scale in a constant ambivalence of belief and doubt as to its’ real size. The theory tells of timber structures in this central void that is surrounded by the patterning of rock recesses. Timber is scarce in Shetland, with marine debris from wrecks having being collected for structures and furnishings in the past. Older pasts must have known trees, as the islands have their peat beds, but this possibility of forested hills is now difficult to recreate in the mind's eye with today’s naked Shetland - treeless. Was there really such an interior structure?

The rock recesses that make dark patches on the inner curved surface, enhance the reading of the height of this pace with their articulate, tapering stacks stretching to the circle of light above. Their pattern surprises. It steps up to the opening over with a self-consciously organised proportional reduction in size that looks familiar to the post-modern eye. Evidence of timber supports is not immediately obvious. One moves carefully across the rough and uneven pavement of this central court - was there a reservoir, or a fire pit here? - a little lost, until what looks like a crude stair that can be discerned in the disorganisation of the rubble, beckons one into a larger void that eventually becomes a doorway. After stepping up into this opening opposite the tunnel entrance, with a questioning intrigue, rising stairs between walls materialise in the torchlight and confirm the guess of the purposeful approach. A handrail rope is felt as one fumbles and gropes carelessly - tentatively - for some stability on the uneven stones set between the twin layers of questionable wall - unseen but felt as cold, rough and solid.

This arrangement for access within in the broch had been known from words and diagrams. It becomes beautifully obvious in the aerial views of this place; but just how it really worked was never very clear. Now it was. One discovered the broad stones set as treads between two dry stone walls shaping a mysterious spiral of a stair leading to somewhere else around the curve of the cave. The rope rail was useful as the steps were steep and irregular, and the light dim and directional in this all-pervasive black. Managing torch and traipse became a real challenge. Yet there was light at the end of this vertical trench of the walled tunnel - glimpses of it slipping in around a rectangular dark panel that materialised as a hatch door that opened up to the sky, revealing the walkway rim seen in the aerial views. It is discovered that the broch has been sealed off to keep the birds and their droppings out. The sloping door hatch at the top of the stair and a circle of mesh over the courtyard’s oculus protected the voids of the broch from the sea birds that had found them so comfortable to rest and nest in. The problem was the guano - not only the mess and the smell, but also the damage that the chemistry of this material was causing to the stone. Folk who visited in earlier times still speak of the noise that these creatures once made in this space, as being perhaps more overbearing than the smell.

Stepping out into the bright light of the day at the top of the broch revealed the astonishing landscape vista of sea and land. This was a well-chosen place for the supervision of any approaching danger. This day, that allowed the ferry to run, was blue-skies sunny with white fluffy clouds, but windy. It had been some weeks before the scheduled trips could begin again. The brilliance of the southern light glistened on the waters with a blinding dazzle of glitter that always amazes and delights, and allows one to forgive the grim days of gales and storms. It is the image every photographers dreams of - that classic landscape ‘sunset’ vista that makes one instinctively reach for the camera.

Up on top, in the wind and clear light, the making of the broch became more obvious. Between the substantial thickness of twin walls, large flat stones had been used as planks bridging the void, butting against each other to make a pavement. Gaps between these slabs revealed a grim depth of darkness that appeared to have once accommodated something useful. The stones looked so thin for their span that one was more than wary of moving too heavily along this circular promenade, especially when the surrounding walls felt too low. Perhaps it was the wind, the distance from the ground, and the open depth of the panorama that changed perceptions, even though there was a rail to offer some assurance to help manage any acrophobia?

 Retreating back through the door flap into the dim of the stair, making sure that the door was closed to prevent the entry of birds eager to use the place as shelter, one manoeuvred carefully backwards down the shambles of the spiral rock steps. Now, with one’s attention able to notice matters other than how one might negotiate the height of the black path to the top, the eye was attracted to the glimpses of the central court through the openings in the inner stair wall. The walls increased in thickness as they got closer to the ground, making spaces of various sizes in their width on various levels. What were these used for? Strangely, these openings did not offer much luminance for the interior of the stair. When the fine drizzle of the day came with the frequent adjustment of the weather once the centre court had been reached, these edge spaces proved to be good shelters from the rain, offering height sufficient for one to sit in, very comfortably.

So this is Mousa. For years it had been a dream to visit this tiny speck seen from the Mainland coastal road - to experience its’ reality. Now, as one sought sanctuary in its’ sheltering voids, one had time to ponder how this place might have been used. Looking around only emphasised incredulity and raised more questions. The place had power, but why? Mousa is a marvel. It has a newness in its’ strength. Its’ amazing presence humbles us. Its’ structure astonishes, baffles us - bewilders. One is left looking, trying to believe: trying to understand how these walls were erected. What effort? What time? What process? How were these walls used? What did these stones know? What have they seen? All of this is answered by their being there, without any rational explanation for added comprehension to assist with the puzzle. We just know that man had a hand here; that lives were lived here.

Those stairs had seen many a movement; been touched by many a foot - the walls by many a hand. The broch of Mousa’s power gives it a certainty and mystique that one accepts because it is there. As one walks away from it, one is constantly turning around to see it - to see how its’ scale and size is transformed from the known and sensed massive walls into the Legoland model on the slopes. Then Lot’s wife’s view slowly becomes only glimpses of parts - still very interesting parts - until the whole is lost behind hills. It says something of the scenery of Shetland that what appear as gentle undulations in the landscape can hide such a huge mass so quickly. Scale is disguised in the bareness of this weathered land, where even the huge development of the oil terminal at Sullom Voe appears from the distance as child’s trinkets scattered around a croft.

Then, as one leaves the island on the ferry, the quiet certainty of the broch appears as a firm, solid silhouette shaped against the bright sky of the afternoon. It is now a cohesive part of the landscape, growing from it, standing securely on it, as its subtle curves ease its’ mass into that of the land, with both becoming smaller and smaller as the ferry retreats. And still one has to turn to look to see this transformation - to admire it. Mousa’s broch stands compact and unyielding as one retreats. It anchors the island with an assurance and quiet confidence that comes from more than age, although time does enhance its’ being. Its’ presence defies even the suggestions of purpose that the illustration of what it might have been indicates. The interpretative plaque standing beside the entry attempts to explain the inexplicable, complete with quirky guesses of statures, faces, functions and clothing in delicate drawings.

As John Betjemin said of those who interpreted his poems into music and dance: he did not believe that it added anything to his work, but he thanked them for their effort. Here one can similarly thank the archaeologists for their effort. The Mousa broch holds its’ own inner strength - single-mindedly proud and unapologetic. The world is better for having this emblematical place that tells us so much of those of another unknown era with so little: their endurance and intelligence. It leaves us guessing, wondering about ourselves and our times as much as theirs.

Friday, July 13, 2012


The Australian Broadcasting Corporation - known as the ABC - broadcasts an interesting radio programme on design matters, nicely called By Design. The web site reference for the programme delivered on Wednesday 6 June 2012 gave the following text as a summary to introduce the programme - a cryptic note:

In The Field - NGV Street Studio
In The Field visits Melbourne’s National Gallery Victoria ‘street’ studio - NGV Studio.
The architects were briefed to consider Federation Square’s heritage.

Federation Square is a 3.2 hectare mixed development in Melbourne that was opened in 2002. It is ten year’s old. In the scale of things old, even in Australia, it is almost the present - nearly new. It is not as though buildings are motor vehicles that seem to have an extremely limited life when it comes to value. It is not unusual with a vehicle worth $70,000.00, to turn into a listed $12,000.00 in only five years. The briefing for the NGV Street Studio asked for the heritage of this square to be considered.

NGV Studio is the newest addition to the National Gallery of Victoria. It is located at the corner of The Atrium at Federation Square, with the aim of presenting exhibitions, installations and events that engage younger audiences. The first initiative showcased street art, with Everfresh Studios taking up residence.

So what is this heritage that the architects were asked to consider? Is there one? When did it get this? Has the wrong word been used? Is the use of this term some attempt at trying to be clever with the concept of the origins, inspiration and roots of this development? Federation Square does work extremely hard to be different with complex frames and claddings detailed to appear chaotic like the Jewish Museum in Berlin, even though it has nothing to do with this. It all looks like just too much effort to be fashionable. If the brief is not referring these qualities, is it seeking to say that the building has heritage significance now - matters to do with time? Why not leave the future to be what it turns out to be instead of predicting or formalizing future past qualities now? Why should we even try to analyse the present to make it someone else's past in the future?

 We seem to be too close to this place for us to start determining its role in the future. Are we scared of losing it? Embarrassed at our naivety as we seek to justify it? This ‘heritage’ is new. Are we seeking to define future heritage, extracting items from our most recent past as future substance that we believe to be representative of our era - as we see it, of course. How could it be otherwise? One could suggest even today that Federation Square is less than representative of our times, perhaps illustrating only some extreme perversion of the norm. It does work extremely hard and very self-consciously to convert a simple Corbusian slab and column grid structure - the Domino system of 1914 - into something skinned with a complexity of multiple layers that appear to have their own necessities for smart patterning. A close look at the detailing reveals the problems with this effortful struggle. On closer inspection, slick distant images become crude and messy - just too tricky for any elegance; too complex and too expensive to be managed into an intimate, cohesive whole with refined resolution, remaining only a collage of bits and pieces in a shambles of awkward juxtaposition.

But are we so starved of interest in our time that we have to turn our minds to declaring what today’s ‘heritage’ is? Are we so lacking in confidence - so screwed up intellectually - that we purposefully analyse projected mysterious qualities into our recent past for our inspiration and guidance? Are we so arrogant and self centred? Inbreeding has its’ own inherent problems that most are aware of. This referencing seems to have the same senselessness, and, one might presume, the same problems as inbreeding. It is a little like universities that train staff to become staff, that train staff to . . . . Even the most basic of cultures, (well, ‘basic’ to our eyes, but possibly ‘richer’ than ours in the same way), had rules to overcome inbreeding. Ours seems to have condoned it, particularly in our upper classes and royalty. Is this why we seek heritage now? Are we so self-conscious, so self-aware; so self-important, that our understanding of past outcomes is so quickly imposed onto the present for our immediate referencing and consideration? If we could but concentrate creatively on our present issues and stop examining immediate pasts as ‘heritage,’ then we might be doing more for the future - something more fertile and meaningful.

The matter of ‘heritage now’ seems to be mere babble, a play on words and meanings. Anticipating what the issues for any future will be is simply rude. It displays a lack of self-belief; perhaps simple superciliousness. Why should we worry about this? It has little to do with us, even though we are a central part of it. We are it! Should the briefing to the architects have been: to respect the innate qualities of this new place, rather than its’ ‘heritage,’ just as any one should do - to show it respect? This does not mean any weak matching repetition of place or detail. It can also accommodate contrast and allow criticism, as well as an amorphous fuzziness of reproducing whatever qualities might be sensed.

If art and architecture have anything to do with their times, then they need to concentrate on just what this means, rather than to drool over what might become distilled as ‘heritage’ with time now, without any nonchalance or respect being shown for others not yet being. There is offensiveness here. It is like a ‘hyper-intellect’ brooding on its own droppings: anal teacup reading; palm reading - but these have a more rigorous logic and rationale. Is it really a matter of build today, heritage that afternoon?

 Are we playing silly games with the word ‘heritage’? What is heritage? The dictionary ( defines heritage as:
her·it·age[her-i-tij] noun
1. something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth; an inherited lot or portion: a heritage of poverty and suffering; a national heritage of honor, pride, and courage.
2. something reserved for one: the heritage of the righteous.
3. Law .
a. something that has been or may be inherited by legal descent or succession.
b. any property, especially land, that devolves by right of inheritance.
1175–1225; Middle English  < Middle French, equivalent to heriter to inherit + -age -age; see heir

There is this quality of passing on - of being handed down; across; over. Time and others are involved, and culture - cultural change: other lives. Heritage is for the receiver to decide, not the giver. But what is the scope of this scenario: two days; two years; two people? There is a distance that allows difference to be identified, assessed. Interpretation varies with this separation. We need to trust our future – to give it time - not seek to determine it now. We should be prepared to hand matters on to others for them to determine their ‘heritage,’ just as we do now with our past.

There seems to be a cringe factor here, a concern with our own creative confidence needed for us to be what we need to be. It seems that we are unable to do anything without some mental anchor or rationale; unable to act as free resourceful beings; unable to love. We need to assess who and what we are. Are we becoming as beasts feeding on ourselves? Is the digital world making everything just too logical? Oh for analogical times when things were neither black nor white - not just on and off, but in between, that haven of creativity.



The process of designing an object, be this a chair, church, chime or a carriage, eventually reaches the stage where the various parts, their materials, sizes, relationships and fixings need to be documented in order to allow the concept to be communicated to others who are to be involved in the making of the object. In architecture, this process is carried out in the preparation of the working drawings. What is critical is that the message is clear and certain. Any ambiguity merely casues dealys and complications as further information is requested of the designer or the team involved in the documentation.

Just how the information is communicated is critical. It needs to be accurate and complete. The method used to record this data can have an impact on the efficacy of the communication. CAD systems are used in architecture. These have their own formal logic and rigour, just as tradition has too. Techniques for documenting information have been established over time - plans, sections, elevations, details, etc. Yet there is a host of information, thoughts and understandings that never get recorded. These often lie latent behind the formal presentation of the information without ever really being exposed until a problem arises.

There is frequently a story to construction that formal techniques of documentation cannot record. While the drawing might show items aligning, dimensions and tolerances could give other results, even though this alignment might be critical. Here a simple note telling of this important relationship would overcome the problem and highlight the deisgner's intention for the builder. Just too often it is found that the formal technique cannot accommodate the story as an informal note, clarification or an aside. It just does not fit the format being used. A frreehand sketch can include all kinds of information because it is less inhibited, more casual, than a CAD document, but it is seen as too informal - sloppy - therefore unreliable. Appearance - aesthetics - takes control of what is being recorded and how, irrespective of what is known and shown.

In this regard, the drawings for the construction of the plastic toy in the V&A Museum of Childhood, (see above), are worth looking at more closely. The drawings are to scale and show everything as it is intended in exquisite clarity, but freehand details and notes have been added to the formal sections and elevations to further highlight critical issues. Precise intentions at various joints have been detailed in 3D sketches around the main scaled diagrams. A schedule of particular problems has been added in one corner as notes to myself:'July 13 PROBLEMS: 1. Joining wheels; Joints snap off; Jingle ball. 2. Elastic fixing. 3. Legs fixing. 4. Arm pivots. 5. How to fix elastic during assembly.'  Other notes have been added as a warning: 'TAKE CARE that these ribs do not jam under the feet!' Other notes ask questions: 'Surely ends should be covered? How to fix. Maybe elastic can be fiixed to covers? Remember they will be "small parts".' There is a rich depth of communication here that lies between enquiry and seeking.

These informal notes raise issues that seek to overcome surprises. The sectional details are all beautifully drawn, complete with screw fixings, sleeve connections, plastic profiles, fine edge radius dimensions, and the location of seams, but more information has been added. This is the story of the parts that tells more than the main formal images can illustrate, even though they seem adequately complete. That 'This centre section can have a diagonal extension to hold down the weight,' is infromation that is not in the shop detailing. It is clear that the designer not only knows the object in all of its intimate piecing, but he is also thinking of its making and its' use, and is communicating his thoughts on all aspects of the object, including performance matters.

Even though the traditional sections and elevations are illustrated with an explicit clarity, there is much more information that needs recording. It is a little like DIY directions that make everything appear so simple until the first step is taken and the first question of many arises.The freehand details and notes add this thinking, raising issues, highlighting intentions, and seeking the assistance of the fabricator who inevitably does have a role in the making and the assembly of the parts.The designer spells out the rationale of the design and its working in case the fabricator has to make some adjustments. Parameters are set.  It is an interesting study to see such issues exposed so clearly.


Making is an inherent part of any design. Just drawing an end result without considering the process of its making can create conflict when there need be none. It can 'force' an outcome too, by demanding selfconscious distortions in logic and process. The lead soldiers are a surprise and have their own beauty in the concept of their casting.

 So too does the making of the wooden animals. The idea for their fabrication is more amazing than the simplicity of the object itself. Here a doughnut form is profiled into the sectional shape of the required animal. This doughnut is cut radially to give the animal as an object that can then be worked in more detail as required. It is a clever piece of shaping and cutting that shows how the process of making can be just as significant as the 'design' itself.

Architecture can learn from these toys - their documentation and their making. Design is never merely just a pretty shaping of images and colours for others to battle with. It holds its own integral rigour and necessity that has just as important a role in the concept as the original idea has. There is a nexus here where one is informed by the other. Once one becomes more important than the other, there is stress and conflict. Once the rigour of the documentation becomes more important than the message, there is a problem, just as there is if the design becomes isolated from its making.

These are not rules, just matters that ask for each others' recognition and respect, for once the conjunction has become explicit - when message and medium meet - there is a double, integral delight. True creativity is never blind, unique or arrogant.
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