Thursday, May 30, 2013

PLANNING FAILURES: WHO CARES?


Are matters to do with planning in a chaotic mess? Do they need more rigour, more care, and more transparency? The case noted here is just one example of what is going on in Brisbane, Australia. I could tell of many more. Who knows what is happening elsewhere when occurrences like this do not even cause anyone to blink, let alone think or care - or show any concern or remorse?



The following communication, (below), was forwarded to the CEO of the Brisbane City Council on 22-09-2009 at 4:41pm in an E-mail. It related to the proposed redevelopment of Gleneagles, a visionary retirement village established in the 1960’s by the Buffalo Lodge at New Farm in Brisbane. The concept was to house old folk in the familiar inner suburbs of the city, close to the CBD in high-rise buildings: in this case a pair of towers beautifully designed by Brisbane architects, Curro, Nutter and Charlton. The alternative for the aged at the time was to locate them in remote outer ‘leafy’ suburbs in low-set, cluster accommodation, kilometres from convenient public transport and the normal hustle and bustle of city life: in a ‘peaceful retreat’ where the old could wait out their last years in a quiet sadness that was promoted almost as ‘a preview of heaven.’ The Buffalo Lodge had a different concept that turned out to be a great success. It involved an astonishing idea of equity too. The accommodation was not just for the wealthy. Folk paid what they could. It was a truly remarkable project that, unfortunately, was taken over by a church that eventually cashed it in. This is where the developer comes in, full of promises to the old folk until he was ready to develop the towers. The residents were told to go. The story is long and complicated and may be told later.




A short time after the E-mail had been sent, a ‘hard’ paper copy was placed in an envelope, addressed, walked down the road and personally handed to the secretary of the CEO’s office before the closing time for objections. It was an important matter so one’s trust in electronic communication was tested. The hard copy would guarantee at least a second opportunity for the delivery of this communication. It was a backup.




Time passed quietly with the confidence that the objection had been delivered twice, and on time. At least one copy of it might get on file: one hoped that both would. Then one day I heard from a friend that the development had been approved. I was puzzled as Council usually lets those who have bothered to lodge an objection of its decision. Indeed, it has to, because objectors have a right of appeal. So why did I not get any advice? Why was I denied the right to an appeal? So I asked. The surprise response was that I had not lodged an objection.



Now this same neglect had happened just months previously on another development when Council acknowledged its problem. Council had to stop the process and re-issue notices. What might it do here?




My protest was accepted with a cool nonchalance: “We have no record of your submission.” But I had submitted it twice, to make sure it would not go astray! So I continued with a growing frustration: “We have nothing.” “So what do you intend to do about this when I have lodged the objection both electronically and as a printed document comprising nineteen A4 pages?” “Nothing; go away.” Both the Senior Planner and the Lord Mayor repeated this response. No one could care less. The matter caused no one any concern, but my suggestion that Council should have to provide a receipt for any document lodged by hand generated the comment that said that this might be something Council could look at. Has it? How can nineteen pages of A4 go astray?



So what happened? One can only assume two possibilities: that the document handling process within the Council is in a total mess and no one cares; or that there is something strange going on in Planning and Development, and again, no one cares. If one chose to act as some developers do – to turn up for the first meeting with the best barrister possible – things might get further. In the meantime, Council could not care any less about this dual loss or the legal implications involved. One sensed that Planning and Development might have held a ‘positive’ attitude towards this development as the file, that was about eighty millimetres thick, was full of hand written notes that seemed to suggest that many matters had already been considered and approved by various sections of the Council well prior to any public advertising of the proposal. Just what is going on inside Council? The objector is just shoved aside in favour of what can only be seen as a cover up – either of the careless management of documents or of the manipulation of the planning process. One can only guess.



In the end, the outcome was that the developer has apparently decided to not go ahead with the development (at this stage?) as the units are on the open market. All of the arguments as to why these towers are a real problem for older folk seem to have faded as anyone can now purchase an apartment. One is left wondering about Council’s perception of matters given it accepted the developer’s arguments and approved the development!




For the record, this is the objection that was ‘lost.’ The minutes of the meeting referred to in the objection have not been included. These might form the basis of another story. To summarise, the minutes record how the developer promised to do everything possible for the aged to improve their accommodation. There was never any suggestion that the residents would be told to go. It was all presented as a positive ‘win-win’ situation. Names of firms and individuals have been deleted from this record as the issue to be exposed here is not personal - it is about process.




21st SEPTEMBER 2009



THE CEO,

BRISBANE CITY COUNCIL,

GPO BOX 1434,

BRISBANE,

QLD., 4000.





DEAR MADAM,



RE:             DEVELOPMENT APPLICATION A......... –

GLENEAGLES OBJECTION




I have perused the documents included in the development application number A......... that describe the proposal for the redevelopment of the Gleneagles Retirement Units into what appear to be luxury apartments at 79 Moray Street, New Farm, with major alterations and additions to the existing Gleneagles Towers, and wish to object to the approval of this submission on the following grounds.



The Brisbane City Council has listed Gleneagles as a Heritage Place in the BCC Heritage Register. The Brisbane City Council has documented the particular reasons for this listing in specific detail. It points out that Gleneagles is a unique example of development and function and holds an important place in Brisbane’s cultural and social past, and its architectural history. The Brisbane City Council Heritage Citation for the Gleneagles Retirement Units gives the ‘Summary of Heritage Value’ as:



Gleneagles is culturally significant as an innovative and award winning example of high rise accommodation for retirees in Brisbane which provides evidence of changing trends in housing for the elderly and demonstrates an important phase of development in the suburb of New Farm and the city of Brisbane during the 1960s.



Extracts from this Heritage Citation’s analysis of Gleneagles’ ‘History’ expand on these issues:

. . providing practical assistance to their members (of RAOB) by establishing facilities such as retirement homes.



The scheme was to provide self contained double units for retired couples close to the city allowing residents to maintain contact with friends, family and community life. This was considered to be less isolating than retirement villages established in the suburbs . . “Instead of relegating the aged to outlying suburbs, far removed from friends and all familiar things, Gleneagles is in the very centre of convenience”.



Advantages of the one acre New Farm site included extensive river frontage and impressive views . . , its location in a prestigious residential suburb, proximity to the city amenities and the commercial centre of Fortitude Valley .



Maximum areas for gardens and communal areas and provided a large number of units.



Special considerations incorporated into the design to accommodate the needs of elderly residents included eliminating the need to use stairs and totally enclosed lift lobbies . . grab rails, extra wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs and an emergency call system . .



Gleneagles was built at a time when high rise residential blocks were beginning to change Brisbane’s skyline and social trends.



Gleneagles was also constructed at a time when there were greater options emerging for accommodation for older people whose needs varied according to their levels of health and dependence.



New Farm was chosen as the site because “it was close to shops and other city facilities . . and many older people did not wish to live in a home on the city’s outskirts.”



Specifically, the ‘Statement of Significance’ notes:



This is a place of local heritage significance and meets one or more of the local heritage criteria under the Heritage Register Planning Scheme Policy of the Brisbane City Plan 2000. It is significant:

  1. as it demonstrates a significant change in Brisbane’s development patterns during the 1950s and 1960s from predominantly detached dwellings and low-rise flats to an increasing amount of high rise accommodation in the inner suburbs. It is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of the City’s or local area’s history; and
  2. as the first high-rise accommodation in Brisbane for the elderly which provides evidence of changing trends in the provision of accommodation for retirees in Brisbane during the 1960s. It is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of the City’s or local area’s history; and
  3. as an innovative solution to the demand for suitable accommodation for retired residents in a central location which was awarded the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Building of the Year in 1965. It is important in demonstrating a high degree of technical achievement at a particular period.



Having reviewed the development application and considered these issues in the context of both a professional and personal understanding of the details and circumstances involved, my objection is based on the belief that Gleneagles can still perform all the cultural, social and aesthetic functions for which it was designed and praised – that it seems there is no necessity for change of use other than, it seems, that generated by the developer’s ambitions that this development application describes.



The development application analysis of Gleneagles’ heritage qualities has been addressed within the reams of paper that make the application, in a ‘Heritage Impact Report’ prepared by . . . . Architects for . . . . Developments, dated November 2008.



Details in this report need to be challenged, as they do not seem to present matters clearly or accurately. The issues appear to have been given what has become known as a ‘spin’ that seems to strive to give the illusion that real issues have all been addressed adequately and satisfactorily in this application; or that they are of little concern or interest; or that the development will have no impact on these whatsoever. My reading of the report suggests that it distorts and summarizes the facts so as to give a specific bias to offer support for the development application that, I believe, will have a substantially negative impact on Gleneagles and all that it stands for.



The Brisbane City Council needs to be particularly rigorous with this application because of this situation that appears to give a gloss to the death of an ideal for inner-city retirement living – as though everything for the future of Gleneagles could only be in the manner suggested in this development application. I believe this not to be so. Gleneagles has worked extremely well and continues to work well as a retirement village, and is still able to achieve all the cultural and social benefits for which it was so well planned – these being the very reasons for which it has been listed on the heritage register.



Prior to the takeover of Gleneagles by . . . .  Developments (….), . . . .  personally spoke to the then residents of Gleneagles about his intentions for its future. He was very clear about this – it was going to remain a retirement village. He emphasised this by saying (or words to this effect) that that Gleneagles would not be closed “at this point in time – or at any time in the future.” He responded to the doubts of the residents when asked how he thought he could run a retirement village successfully when the church could not, by giving an assurance that his firm had the skills to promote and market Gleneagles more effectively than the . . . . (church) had managed to advertise it.



. . . .  went further with these assurances, telling the residents that he was planning to do up all of the units that had not yet been upgraded; that this would take about a two to three weeks each, adding that a contractor/developer would not be much good if this could not be achieved. He suggested that he would not be adding any penthouses to the towers. For Council’s information, details of these meetings and the responses given to the residents personally by . . . .  - minutes that have been written up from notes taken as the speakers spoke - have been attached to this objection.



In summary, the point is that . . . .  told the residents that he saw no problems with Gleneagles remaining a retirement village. Indeed, he argued that he could and would improve things for all of the residents. . . . . Development’s intentions for Gleneagles were confirmed in The Courier Mail (31st October 2008, page 2) and The Village News (December 2008) both of which reported . . . . ’s statement that the future of Gleneagles was as a retirement village. Given all of these repeated assurances by a developer experienced in his field, it is very unusual to read in the heritage report that Gleneagles is considered to be no longer suitable for use as a retirement village. I believe this to be an incorrect statement. Gleneagles has been designed for independent living and, I believe, remains an excellent place for retirees capable of living independently.



Gleneagles has been and, I believe, still is a ‘retirement village’ under the Act. That most of the residents have been moved out has more to do with other matters and ambitions than the inadequacy of the qualities of the infrastructure or place. Gleneagles works extremely well as a retirement village. That it can still perform well today only highlights the fact that it is a good design (as acknowledged by its award) that functions well for both its practical purposes and for those subtle social and cultural purposes a retirement village requires. It was indeed, ‘an innovative solution’.



The quality of the design is highlighted by the present situation where a majority of units has been put on the open rental market without any further work or alterations being necessary – even to the units that have not been recently upgraded. These original units are nicely designed and detailed with the original fittings and cupboards operating effectively and well. The units are a true reflection of their era and remain, in spite of their age, a very pleasant and desirable living environment.



The units are an excellent example of spatial articulation and an efficient use of flexible space for retirement living. They do everything the original concept asked for. Gleneagles does allow retired folk to live in the area they know, close to services and shops. The demise of Gleneagles seems to have more to do with a lack of desire by . . . . to advertise and develop it as a retirement village than anything else. Gleneagles has not failed; it seems that it has just been neglected. . . . . (the developer) has never appeared to have acted on any of the commitments ‘. . . . seemed to give to improve the retirement village. Gleneagles, the retirement village, has never been promoted as aggressively or as boldly as . . . . has pushed its new, neighbouring tower development adjacent to the original twin towers, or the proposed . . . . Barker Street development opposite.



The heritage report uses the subject of fire egress as a core reason for claiming that the units are no longer suitable for retirement living. This is the very same reason given by . . . . to justify the apparent necessity to evict the residents. Gleneagles has only recently been upgraded, with some units being refurbished and with all fire services bought up to the latest requirements (2003). It is believed that the complex has been certified as complying with all regulations for its use as a retirement village for retirees capable of independent living. I do not believe that this has ever been formally modified, questioned or revoked. It does not appear to be a reasonable argument to say that Gleneagles now no longer complies. With its new sprinkler system and fire doors, it seems that Gleneagles must be one of the safest accommodation buildings in New Farm.



That . . . . appears to claim otherwise only seems to be an argument to suit its desires that look like a preference to transform Gleneagles into luxury apartments. To support its claim of the inadequacy of the fire egress arrangements, . . . . once collected sworn statements on the capability of the residents, claiming that some did not even have the mental or physical capacity to evacuate. Some of these were false and some (very unusually) have been withdrawn, a situation that appears to weaken the original . . . . claims. I believe that Gleneagles could have an excellent future as a retirement village if only . . . . wanted this. Instead we see the whole of what was once Gleneagles thrown away – and lives, histories and stories go with this proposal. Some residents have been there for over 15 years and are now being told to move out after living in New Farm for over 60 years. They were the ones who experienced the benefits envisaged for this place and were still doing this – very comfortably - until told to go.



Residents who once enjoyed retirement living in the suburb they knew, close to services and shops, have now been told to get out, to go anywhere else (just as long as they leave) – Redcliffe, Kenmore, Manly, etc. – into areas, some of which are remote from the convenience of nearby services and shops, and family. It means that residents who could once walk to the doctor, dentist, shops, chemist, etc. now have to rely on transport – mainly private transport because in outer suburbs the public transport system is less flexible. The closure of Gleneagles spells the death of the very vision that the BCC quoted as being one of the core cultural issues for which Gleneagles was listed. It seems that it is not going to be replaced with anything but exclusive apartments and perhaps records of memories.



The original Gleneagles interiors do still exist in sufficient number to be significant. The Heritage Report is vague on this issue and illustrates only the newly refurbished units. These old units are all well designed, using plywood as le Corbusier used it. They hold a sense of the style of the British design of the era and still function well in all details. The balconies have been closed in and do provide good functional interior space. One could always argue about outcomes with this infill in the same way that the original Mini and its successors were always debated. Alec Issigonis never budged, continually saying that he would still use the sliding windows and the smaller motor, even though some users praised the new wind-up windows. One can see the argument for both – just as one can at Gleneagles. While the infill does modify the sculptural qualities of the forms, it does not re-arrange the planning or distort it with growths or ‘contemporary’ appendages. The infill does offer greater flexibility for living without any significant change to the original intent and character.





ANALYSIS OF HERITAGE IMPACT REPORT

In order to clarify the issues and comments made in this objection, specific statements made in the Heritage Report have been extracted and commented upon.



p.2           In an attempt to improve the marketability of the units, the complex was extensively refurbished in 2003 which included a new entry walkway, new foyers, new fire-isolated stairs, sprinklers, new kitchens and bathrooms and glazed balcony enclosures. The complex is now (November 2008) substantially vacant.



I am uncertain about the ‘new foyers’ and ‘new fire-isolated stairs’ – these may have been improved but were not added items. The ‘new glazed balcony enclosures’ were replacements of older glass infills that were leaking. The assessment that ‘the complex is now substantially vacant’ says nothing about Gleneagles – its fabric or design or dilapidation. It says everything about . . . . ’s apparent lack of activity/interest in getting new retired residents to occupy the units – even the upgraded ones. It seems that . . . . chose to leave many units unoccupied, possibly because it did not want to aggravate things by increasing the number of residents it wanted to move out. Who knows? . . . . appeared to have no problem in successfully promoting the Gleneagles units for open rental. The 2003 refurbishment, complete with ‘sprinklers’, highlights the fact that Gleneagles had been upgraded to comply with the latest rules and regulations and was appropriately approved and certified for use as a retirement village.



p.4           The original buildings still extant from the original Gleneagles scheme – Peregrine House and Falcon House – are proposed to be retained. Part of the original basement carpark . . is now proposed to be demolished together with the single-storey recreation building . .



The aged accommodation units . . are proposed to be stripped out . . Most of the existing interior fabric . . relates to the 2003 refurbishment . . Some internal structural demolition is proposed in order to achieve a BCA-compliant fire isolated stair . .



It seems to be misleading to say that most of the interior fabric relates to 2003. There are still a substantial number of original units that were not upgraded by the church. A review of the real estate documents scheduling available units highlights this fact. These are the units . . . . seemed to refer to in his presentation to the residents – the ones he appeared to promise to upgrade.



The scope of proposed development work described in this Heritage Report appears to say everything except that the whole place is to be gutted, stripped down to its raw structural frame with even some of this being modified. In short, Gleneagles, it seems, is to be transformed into new, luxury apartments. To say that the original building will still be there – ‘retained’ - is correct if one understands this to mean that that the towers are not going to be completely demolished to the ground. The casual manner of suggesting that some original portions of Gleneagles are meaningless is a concern when this includes the core community centre of the original village and its basement car park – surely a first for retirees? It is interesting to note that this report has no photographs of the original units – none – only images of the refurbished interiors. It is unfortunate that the character and style of the older spaces have not been recorded here.



p.5           It is proposed to extend the floor areas on the river side and to reconfigure the accommodation to . . one unit per floor. . . new layouts, fittings and finishes.

. . Externally  . . uniformly painted . . . . .

. . Alterations and additions are contemporary in design  



The statement that the original buildings are to be ‘retained’ looks strange in this context. Not only is the frame to be completely stripped, replanned and refitted, it is to be added to! It appears that Gleneagles is going to be smothered in newness – smart, modern ‘contemporary’ newness that could match the new tower nearby. It seems that the original Gleneagles is going to disappear under layers of new work. There appears to be little respect shown here for what the BCC has stated as being the significance of Gleneagles in its citation. This proposal looks rather like saying that the Customs House is a heritage structure that is going to be stripped and renewed and added to in grand modern style (but its structure will be kept) – and nothing will be a heritage concern.



p.5           It is proposed that vibration monitoring of the adjacent heritage-listed building . . will occur . .



The attached report on this matter of vibration management does not look like an objective report but seems to be a promotional proposal. The . . . . (consultant’s) letter dated 7 December 2008 speaks of ‘the opportunity to submit this Scope of Works’ and even gets the name wrong: ‘. . . . Developments.’ One is left wondering just how much this firm knows about the project. It looks like a ‘PR’ document – an attempt to get the job, which we all know to frequently be simple ‘hype’ rather than objective and careful analysis. This document does not seem to say what will be done if the vibration levels are found to be deemed not satisfactory beyond listening to the “stop work” alarm and stopping work – for a while? It looks like a ‘feel good’ communication.



p.6                Although part of the original Gleneagles design, the recreation building is a single storey building of little visual prominence . . . . . and is not highly intact. Its demolition would have little impact on the overall cultural significance of the place.



The small remaining area of original carpark is . . of no cultural heritage significance. Its demolition . . would have no adverse impact on the cultural heritage significance of Gleneagles.



Provided that vibration monitoring during demolition . . . is carried out in accordance with Section 5.3 . . , it is considered that the proposed demolition will have no detrimental visual or physical impact on the cultural heritage significance of Gleneagles.



This is a significant issue. There appears to be a claim that the integrity of a place has no relevance – only the visual impact. This is a serious matter for cultural heritage, transforming it into a matter of mere appearance. It begs the question, ‘What is cultural heritage?’ The core community centre of the retirement village appears to be dismissed as an irrelevance, along with what must have been a very unique basement car park. The ‘provided’ is a concern, because it is not made clear that the work can be adequately performed – and no confidence is given to support the possibility - especially with the . . . . communication to ‘. . . . Developments’ - (the name was printed incorrectly).



p.6           The proposed alterations and additions cleverly juxtapose contemporary design elements . . . . . the proposed alterations and additions do not confuse the original expression of Gleneagles as a high-rise residential complex.



This review and summary looks astonishing like gobbledygook. It seems to neglect to clearly state that the whole of Gleneagles as we know it is going to be gutted, stripped, resheeted, refitted with ‘contemporary design elements’. In spite of this, the heritage report says that one will not be able to confuse the old and the new. Perhaps the old will just never be there to confuse the new? My view is that one will perhaps just not ever be able to see or to recognise anything but the new. Nothing of Gleneagles will remain other than, it appears, some ‘original concrete floor bands and parapet spandrel’s. Cultural heritage is more than infrastructure but it relies on its integrity for its being.



Then we are introduced into (still on p.6)

‘The added building height’ that ‘will help the buildings’ townscape prominence and the form and the materials of the buildings’ new “crowns” ’ that we are told ‘are reflective of the original rooftop steel “halos”.’



The ‘halos’ look like a reference to the Gio Ponti Perilli Building in Milan – a classic of its time. The new “crowns” – read ‘penthouses’? - will more than crown these towers with halos. This looks like spin at its best. ‘Crowning’ these lovely, classic towers is nothing like ‘adding penthouses’ - to maximize heights and profits?



p.6 continues:

As for change in use . . . the failure of the 2003 pensioner accommodation refurbishment and the inherent fire-safety and disabled access problems meant that there would ultimately be no prudent and feasible alternative to a change of accommodation type. The current Gleneagles unit size is smaller than current retirement village standards and Gleneagles is unable to offer the wide range of activities and



This looks like pure nonsense. The once proud retirement village development – the award-winning pride of Queensland - is now described as ‘pensioner accommodation’ with ‘inherent fire-safety and disabled access problems.’ These ‘problems’ are not defined, merely asserted. Gleneagles was refurbished to the latest fire standards in 2003, but now it has ‘problems’ - ? And as for access, the BCC citation quotes how well it was designed for disabled access! . . . .’s own assessment of Gleneagles when he seemed to want to convince every one of his credentials, appeared to be that Gleneagles was well suited to upgrade and run as a retirement village – forever. . . . . tried to evict everyone on the basis of fire. This was challenged but it seemed that . . . . pulled out and asked for more time to consider things. . . . . then looked as though it turned to other tactics to ‘encourage’ residents to leave. My view is that the facts show that Gleneagles does not have a fire problem. Fire egress for the retirement village was designed to allow residents to remain in their units and call for assistance. There is no critical need for any independent running down stairs. I believe that Gleneagles does have a future other than luxury apartments.



The chat about standards and facilities is worrying. The once proud facility is now labelled substandard when it is not; and the talk of a lack of activities is a serious concern. It was . . . . that closed the communal facilities in spite of what sounded like its promise to enhance these. Gleneagles and all it stands for cannot and should not be dismissed just because . . . . might have chosen to let it run down and to stifle communal activity and social harmony.



p.7           (the original architects) . . .were generally supportive of the proposed development.



What does this mean? How ‘generally supportive’ or ‘generally unsupportive’ might they have been? What are the limits? These are gentlemen architects of another era. I feel that they would have been just too polite to reject the vision of these young architects to transform their buildings. Why should they battle? They are close to or are retired and are not looking forward to a fight or an argument. I place little credence in this statement. I find it embarrassingly stressful. Using the ‘original architects’ in this way does not make the proposal sensible. It might say more about the circumstances of the meeting. It looks like part of the spin.



p.7           Part of the cultural heritage significance of Gleneagles identified by the BCC lies in its ability to demonstrate the historical change in residential development . . . The proposal will continue to express a modern 1960s high-rise accommodation building albeit with a new and contemporary expression of current changing events.

. . .enhanced by a modest additional height of two stories.



Gosh, if the Customs House was gutted and enlarged, what would it be other than a ‘contemporary’ newness? How could this newness express its original character? To argue, by way of example, that the Customs House was a ‘high tech’ example of its era does not give anyone approval to gut it, and to add to it with the most contemporary of ‘high tech’ designs today and allow one to still argue that it maintains any heritage relevance. This all seems to be a play on words. There is something bordering on the absurd here when one considers cultural heritage. That something might be significant in its time has little relevance when some parallel but different ‘significance’ is transformed into that of another era.



p.7           its original use as aged accommodation (was) never outwardly apparent in the form or fabric of the place. Even an internal inspection of the original four per floor unit layout would only reveal that the units were small and not necessarily for retirees.

This aspect of significance is only evident in the age of the few occupants who still live at Gleneagles. . . . it is considered that the proposed development will have little impact on this aspect of significance.



One might consider it an excellent quality of the place that it does not scream out – ‘aged.’ Some have praised the integration of retirees into a community. It seems to be an insult to the original award and to the occupants (of varying ages from 60 – over 90) to suggest that the qualities of a place should be adapted and altered just because it does not proclaim itself to be something. Then there is what looks like the ‘punch line’ – the ‘few occupants.’ Again, the ‘few’ has no reflection on the place  - just as ‘the age of the residents’ has nothing to do with it (it is a retirement village after all!) It seems to have everything to do with . . . .’s apparent reluctance to fill the units with retired folk (over 60s as apparently suggested by . . . .) to maintain the village as seemed to be promised. It is difficult to see how the transformation into luxury units could not impinge on the significance of Gleneagles.



p.7           The other area of significance identified by BCC is the creative and technical quality of Gleneagles as an innovative design solution for aged accommodation. This relates to qualities of space planning and construction inherent in the layout . . This area . . . will be impacted upon . . The discussion in Section 5.2 above identifies the fact that the continued use of Gleneagles as retirement accommodation is no longer viable and there is no prudent and feasible alternative to a change of accommodation.

. . . . . .the important creative achievement of Gleneagles was the idea of an inner city, high-rise accommodation development. This innovative idea remains intact . .



This looks like real spin. There appears to be no ‘debate’ in ‘5.2 above’ – just assertions. Gleneagles is viable but it seems that . . . . (the developer) just does not want to operate it as a retirement village. Yes, not only will the innovative idea of inner-city retirement village, high-rise living be demolished in plan, it will also go as a matter of fact, with all of the residents being ‘encouraged’ to leave. This development represents the death of an idea and an ideal – affordable, inner-city living for the retired who can maintain contact with their familiar surroundings, close to services, shops and other amenities rather than being forced out into the outer suburbs. This development has forced some folk out into unknown, distant suburbs remote from shops and services. It is making a development that was planned to give practical assistance to the retired into what looks like an exclusive set of luxury apartments. It changes from a layout planned for ‘exclusively-retirees to more-general occupancy’ (p.8) – to single floor apartments for the exclusive: the select few, it seems, who can afford millions of dollars (c.f. prices of the new adjacent . . . . units). There is an enormous difference here in things cultural.



p.8           the change . . . can be mitigated by in-situ interpretive devices which tell the history of Gleneagles. Sufficient documentary and photographic resources are available to mount an effective permanent display along the covered walkway wall . . augmented by oral history of previous residents.



This is astonishing. Completely strip the building, add to it, expand it, make it ‘contemporary’, replan it, then add photos to show its past just to keep its cultural heritage alive? This is like arguing for the demolition of (say) the Customs House, and then arguing that photographs and noise will satisfy its heritage. I wonder if . . . . will let the residents who were ‘encouraged’ to leave, add their stories to the oral history? Heritage, it appears, has more substance than this – it has more integral meaning; and it needs more care and attention if it is to survive. In spite of ‘sufficient documentary and photographic resources’ there are, surprisingly, no images in the report of the original interiors.



p.8           From the discussion above, it is concluded that there will be no significant detrimental impact on the historical or creative significance of Gleneagles.



This astonishing conclusion seems to have been reached in spite of the evidence presented that similarly looks like a set of unsupported simplistic statements and assertions that ignore the reality of the development proposal that appears as though it will significantly modify everything Gleneagles stands for.



p.8           The proposed development will have no visual impact on the cultural heritage significance of Bertholme . . . Notwithstanding this lack of impact . . . there are no significant views which will be impaired.



Are visual matters the only concern? The impact of the new apartment tower on the east of the two Gleneagles towers is a lingering new and will be a continuing concern. It highlights the risk involved in planning assessments. This structure modifies the qualities that Gleneagles was planned for. The stepping of the towers (in plan) gives good, unimpeded vistas to a maximum number of units and good light, breezes and privacy to all. The new tower shades units on the east side of Peregrine House so that only late afternoon sun reaches the some southern spaces. It also creates towers overlooking towers.



p.9                 Bertholme should remain in tact and should not be adversely impacted . .



‘Should’? This sounds very tentative and uncertain. Heritage must be managed with much more certainty and care than appears to be being suggested in this application.





This objector believes that, for the reasons and analysis noted in this communication:



  • the material change of use is not compatible with the conservation and management of the cultural heritage significance;
  • the development does not conserve the features and values of the local heritage place and does not contribute to its cultural heritage significance;
  • changes in the local heritage place are not appropriately managed and documented;

and

  • the development does adversely affect the character, setting and appearance of the local heritage place.



Cultural, social and aesthetic matters are subtle and elusive and must be carefully and properly managed if they are to survive with meaning beyond mere memory as decorative ‘arty’ images and background sounds. Gleneagles need not be transformed into exclusive, luxury apartments but can still provide everything it was planned to do – to provide a quality and affordable place exclusively for retirees in a convenient and familiar location close to shops, services and family.



It is for these reasons that I believe this development application should be rejected.



YOURS FAITHFULLY,



. . . . .


N.B.        Minutes of meetings with Gleneagles residents and TDD on 6th December 2006 and 12th April 2007 are attached – for information: (not included here).





This is the document that was ‘lost’ by the Brisbane City Council – twice!

One is left wondering: Was there something that the Council did not want to know?

It is difficult to believe that both submissions of this document could have been lost ‘accidentally’ unless Council’s systems are truly so unreliable. If the inner workings of Council are in such an outrageous chaos, why is Council not interested in correcting matters? Why show no concern with my ‘loss’? My complaints were shoved aside with barely a nod of recognition. “We have no record of your submission. (Go away.)” With such an apparent lack of document control, it would seem to be so easy for Council to discard anything it did not want to see or know if it so chose! What happened to Quality Assurance? What happened to my submissions? What has gone wrong with due process? What hope is there if our futures are to be planned in this manner?


This is why we need more rigour, transparency and care in our planning processes: all of them.

For more on ‘gobbledygook,’ see: TOWNPLANNING VISIONS -

P.S.
On 'blind eyes,' one has to ask: why did Council approve (did it?) ceiling heights less that the 2400mm minimum required for a habitable space in the church renovations of Gleneagles? It is astonishing that Council seems happy to ignore this matter - is it a concern? - as if everything was just fine, a little like the objection: see no evil; . . . ?


Monday, May 27, 2013

ON WEAR AND TEAR




Years ago I purchased a pair of shoes that I was always very proud of. They were wonderful to wear and were always comfortable and uplifting, not just lifting me slightly in height, but also in spirit. They taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. It is a lesson that our culture seems to have neglected. Jane Jacobs has called ‘Forgetfulness’ . . . ‘the fifth demonic horseman of the Apocalypse’ (p.173, Dark Age Ahead). It is, she has argued, the root cause of all the dark ages we have known. It is forgetfulness that we need to attend to today if we seek enlightenment, along with its themes: the matters being forgotten. The shoes reminded me of this.




They were a pair of English ‘Church’s’ shoes, relics of an era when things were well made and well loved in their making: a real craft. Even the logo reflects a time when punctuation was considered, and considered important. William Morris might have worn ‘Church’s’, such is the philosophy of their quality. The shoes were all leather - uppers, inners and ‘unders’: the sole. They were real shoes, as my father might have said, all neatly stitched and welted, with the sole being beautifully branded with the ‘Church’s’ name embedded into the depth of sheen on the polished under surface in a way that declared an obvious pride in the objects that were being offered for the feet. Today the ‘Church’s’ name can still be seen on shoes and the London shop; and they still look as good – both shoes and shop - with the prices reflecting the quality. I paid forty pounds for mine in the early 1960’s. It was a fortune for shoes but I had fallen in love with the idea of timeless quality. Twenty years later I was still wearing the same shoes that periodically needed to be soled with a new wearing surface – some ‘Rubberoid’ product that was adhered to the lovely leather sole as a half sole. The branding remained clear and trustworthy on the inside of the shoe. Eventually the shoes had to be restitched around the welts, but they were always a wonderful fit and feel. One walked differently with the ‘Church’s’ on. They were made for wearing and walking.




The shoes would have been loved by the modernists who scoffed at the other pair of ‘Church’s’ I purchased some years later – the brogues, all beautifully decorated in exuberant layers of pinked and perforated leather. I still wear these just to nark the modernists, especially Bruno Taut. They still have the grand feel of purposeful quality that I experienced when I first put them on. But it was the original pair of ‘Church’s’ that remains the favourites, like first loves. These were plain, a surface of leather shaped up from (or down to) a sole with minimal piecing made possible by clever cutting, to be tied with laces that passed through holes that were a simple piercing of the sealskin, without any metal, grommet, backing or lining to decorate or support this orifice. Yes, the shoes were sealskin, dark (nearly black) with a beautiful rough texturing, not like alligator skin, but not unlike it either. The shoes, in the very best concept of modernism, relied for their expression on the materials and their functions: the form was the function; the function the form, as Louis Sullivan said it.




But let us not misread Louis because his was a rich poetry, not the mere mechanistic idea of fact and performance that it has become by lazy interpretation or misinterpretation – or is it just careless, mindless, ignorant repetition? His phrase is nearly always taken out of context in the way Rudyard Kipling’s ‘east is east and west is west, and ne’er the twain shall meet’ is, because it continues with ‘until . . ‘ One word suddenly changes the sense and importance of the whole, yet it is often ignored. Sullivan’s text is not as compact in its context to have its common interpretation so easily refuted, but the change in substance is just as dramatic. Sullivan spoke of the ‘function of the rose’ being the ‘form of the rose’ and vice versa: ‘the form of the rose is the function of the rose.’ This subtle understanding strips the commonplace interpretation of machine efficiencies promoted by Corb, (but rarely practiced by him), away and replaces it with a mystic gentleness and poetic frailty that is difficult to speak about in the everyday today, let alone in the world of the big, bold, grand and different that ‘Architecture’ has become – see Bilbao and recent work in China and Dubai.




My shoes reflected this Sullivan subtlety, even though they appeared to be brutally modern, especially when compared with the brogues and the other layered, but more simple patterning of classic shoe styling that emphasised the front, back and sides of the footwear with double lines of heavy stitching, if not extra or different pieces of leather. The development of the trainers, (or sneakers; once the simple sand shoes or plimsolls), has played more and more with this piecing of the uppers, (and lowers), in such an exaggerated way that it becomes difficult to understand how the footwear can be economically made. Perhaps this is why the assembly lines have moved into places where labour is cheap and workshop rules non-existent?




But the lesson in my shoes was not in their presence, experience and fact alone. In the very best Japanese manner that gives as much care and attention to the packaging as the product, the box of the ‘Church’s’ was substantial. The nice fit of the well-made top was a pleasure to remove from the equally well-mannered base. The graphics were tastefully placed on to a cream surface in a way that anticipated the perfect placing of the shoes inside. Removing this top was an action that was heightened by other senses. Apart from the obvious enjoyment of the compact rigidity of the box, there was the rich smell of new leather that oozed, welled up from the first opening and became stronger and stronger as the contents were revealed as mysterious objects wrapped individually in fine white tissue. The touch of this special frailty enriched the impression of quality and care in a way that made the revealed object even more beautiful. The weight of the shoe – the first physical experience of the contents – eventually became shared with the enjoyment of eye and hand - touch - where shape, firmness and finally the feel of the fit, completed the wholeness of the opening experience and its expectations. One was reminded of Henry Wotton’s (and Vitruivius’s) ‘commodity, firmness and delight’ further expanding the architectural interest in shoes that Taut began with his explicit critique of the brogues when he called for all decoration to be abolished as a mortal sin: yes, a crime.




But there was more. In the box was a small piece of folded card with a neat fine cotton tie that carried the now familiar, bold, left-handed, italic typeface of the ‘Church’s’ logo and, in the most polite fashion, thanked one for choosing their product and wished one all the very best with its future. It certainly was a far cry from today’s thundering hype where, in similar circumstances one is hammered with the cluttered logic of exaggerated spin that screams out the unique wonders of the product in a rude, egocentric and over-boastful manner, all without any manners or thought for the individual or any future. Yet the ‘Church’s’ card said more: it gave instructions for the care of these shoes. It was this text that changed me by restating the example of older times that we have forgotten. The polite note simply stated that the sealskin should be polished regularly with clear, natural polish, a surprise since the shoes were almost black and simple ordinary logic might have called for black polish. But no; it was as if this surprise was expected, as the text continued to respectfully explain that by using natural polish, the scratches and scuffs that are a normal part of shoe-life expectancy can be added to the rich texture of the sealskin markings and create a pair of shoes for the wearer that have a special quality and character of their own, all because of this wear and tear, not in spite of it. ‘Church’s’ had found a way to make ordinary wear and tear a part of the enriching of the object, not its demise.




This is what we have forgotten in our striving for perpetual youth. We are living in a culture that makes things that become less with wear and tear rather than better; and perceives aging in people in much the same way Those in the antique business know of this quality that is seen and admired by architects, and others, as tourists in old places: the wear by touch of the cathedral wall or rail; the wear by weather of the roof or the stair by use. This scuffing deterioration is all part of the enduring beauty of place and things that we know and love. But ours is an era of things that become less with a simple scratch or dent. Consider how the motor car with the gleaming perfection of its surface, like that of the perfect precision of titanium and glass architectural fashions, is spoiled by the tiniest mark or dent, even by the glimpse of a spider's web. ‘Touch up’ kits and cleaning materials are seen for sale everywhere in order to help overcome the concerns of this damage and dirt that changes the precision of gloss. Objects are made to look stylish rather than having any sense of real purpose in space and time, or an understanding of any future. The most perfect of taps becomes a scratched mess once the multigrips have been used to remove the cowl to access the washer. There is no understanding of how a tool will be able to maintain the function as well as the appearance in the original design; and there is no care either. Only the immediate urge to have and to hold and to display is addressed: the excitement of the presence of style. Perhaps the logic of this disregard merely sees a future where the object is discarded for the next fashionable upgrade? My shoes remained just as beautiful many years later, even with the constant wear and tear and maintenance: in fact they improved.




‘Rötring’ can be used as an example of this lack of interest in upkeep, and its eventual understanding. Yes, architects once used pens and ink to draw documents! The original ‘Rötring’ pen came with a beautifully sculptured conical, black plastic nib base that held the fine, nicely pierced tubes complete with a plunger that self-cleaned when shaken and controlled the flow the viscous, black Indian ink. But the drama of drying ink always eventually made one try to remove the nib for a good flushing, even with the very best care and attention. It was then that the battle began. As with the smartest of slick, smooth, satin chrome taps, one was asked to grasp a smooth, conical form and rotate it to allow access to clean and maintain the pen. Older architects will never forget these frustrations and the strategies used to overcome this impossibility. Numerous techniques were practised in order to force or conjure the release of the hard, almost insoluble, dry ink embedded deep within the threaded tube. Shaking, soaking, hot, cold - praying - were all used. Then sonic devices came onto the market to more savagely attack this problem with a scientific mysticism. The manufacturers of ‘Rötring’ must have known of these universal frustrations, because one day a new model came out. Instead of the original black fountain pen, screw-fill style of instrument, (like the car, the models of the objects that existed for older technologies established the patterns for the shaping of the new), the new object became a set of possibilities in red ochre that included a plastic nib base with truncated edges and a very magical little plastic doughnut with a matching hole with truncated sides and a heavily textured outer edge - all in bright red: the classic ‘Rötring’. This little tool became a simple spanner for the removal the nib.




This straightforward small object and the thoughtful reshaping of the nib meant that even the most stubborn of dried messes could have enough torque applied to make them give in without any damage or scratching or mangling. Without this tool, the cleaning of the pen often meant the breaking of it. The idea was so simple. It even enriched the brand image that was once only a styled, fine red line that ran around a joint in the stub of the pen. Here function and form made more sense of everything: the purpose, the maintenance and the brand. It was not long before I had the file out to reshape all my old nibs so that the magic circle could be used on both the old and the new pens. The tool continues to work well to this day, unlike those taps that were so subtly shaped into the organic silver-sheened oneness that is now defaced with a messy set of mangled scratches from tools that still refuse to remove the cowl, so solidly is it set in soap and grime, with are the natural messiness of such objects and their workings. The designers/manufacturers seem to care nothing about this. Yet there is no new wonder here. All older taps were shaped with fine hexagonal bases and edges that allowed for the spanners’ grasping, adequate enough to apply torque for the necessary regular repairs and maintenance without disfiguring the design.




‘Church’s’, like ‘Rötring’, knew about and cared for the life of the shoe and its expectant involvements and demands: its use. The scuffs and scratches were not to be disguised, patched up by a blinding mass of opaque black; they were seen as an opportunity to enrich the texture of the already naturally marked leather to create something that can become more personalised and loved in a future of care similar to that of its past, in its making. And it worked! The shoes never received the mucky, thick, Kiwi Black polish that deluded the eye and concealed the scratches. These were an essential, a natural part of the shoe. The shoes were always treated to the dull sheen of the fresh and natural waxes that would highlight all the markings, celebrate them.




There is another matter that has been forgotten: it is not only the nature of being polite; it is the understanding of things unique. ‘Church’s’ spoke of the pair of shoes gaining a special and individual character, using language that seems similar to that which might be used today when one has text thrust into the face declaring that the apparel chosen will be unique, making you – yes ‘YOU!’ – the only individual in the universe to have such an object. You and you alone will be made special by wearing, using or having such a thing, whatever it might be. It is the ‘YOU DESERVE TO HAVE OUR EXCELLENCE’ strategy. Here the issue of ego is raised. Today’s egocentric importance is highlighted aggressively as excluding all others, stepping beyond them: being better in a savagely competitively way - standing on and above all others and being noticed are the important issues here.




The ‘Church’s’ experience could not be more different even if it reads similarly as words. The ‘Church’s’ future spoke of a circumstance where one could happily exist in the crowd, could endure the wear and tear and be enriched, personally, with no exclamations or concerns. The shoes could carry this spirit without any public declaration of betterment, of being more or superior. The shoes just were. They accommodated a future that included rather than excluded; they allowed more to become part of the whole rather than insisting on less, or to be claimed better and more wholesome than all others; more sought after because of its special speciality. The ‘Church’s’ experience is one that we need to consider more carefully. There is no future in grand and singular design for designers’ or wearers’ egotistical stakes. There is a future in accommodating all that is whole and wholesome; being caring and inclusive. These may appear to be old-fashioned words and ideas, but they have been forgotten in the hype of the ever-changing new and newer – the bigger, better and brighter: the best of the unique best, now fashionably labelled ‘bespoke.’




‘Church’s’ way is forgiving, embodying an acceptance of difference and diversity and an accommodation of disruption, trials and tribulations: of misfortune, difficulty and distress. It makes no demands on a vision of perfection or excellence, but it is rooted in this. It does not bleat about the importance of an original vision or a personal preference, nor does it insist on any acceptance of these. It is not art forcing art for art’s sake. It is not design designing for designers by design for awards or rewards. It has no designs on anything but a view of subtle enrichment by ordinary natural existence, the everyday, allowing the various necessities to be incorporated into a whole that has yet to be – to become.



It is the care and attention given to the understanding of the rigours of the future that glow as the example to remember in the ‘Church’s’ shoes. This was the lesson that was learned and has never been forgotten. We have to find ways to accommodate the ordinary in the special and the special in the ordinary. We must remain humble and give more and more attention to the intimate detail that attends to real futures, real experiences and real people in ordinary living, and find out once again how diversity and difference can become whole. As Jane Jacobs has argued, (refer Dark Age Ahead, Vintage, New York, 2005.) the richness of a culture is in the detail. There is nothing in grand designs but grand voids if the details of necessity are neglected. And the issue may need only a very simple but inspired red ring to make it a wonder – a bit like a stitch in time. But do we have time to get things back on track? We must learn to manage the stress, distress, worries, difficulties, burdens, anxieties, tribulations, hardship, pain, suffering, troubles, and misery: all things that, like scratches on shoes, are a real part of the ordeal of living that must be accommodated before they engross modern existence with their stress that seeks only useless diversions, entertainments and distractions in design and living. Religion once played this role, promoting tolerance and contentment. We forget this at our peril because we are currently being torn by the wearing; and worn by the tearing. What must we do?