Sunday, June 29, 2014

AIA COMMENTS – AT LAST


It has taken nearly two months since the original report was published on 5 May 2014 for any formal response from the architectural profession to appear. At last the AIA - no, not the American Institute of Architects but the Australian version of it - has commented on the proposal to redevelop Brisbane’s Cultural Centre, a complex designed by the late Robin Gibson: see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/on-death-of-robin-gibson-architect.html  But even now that an AIA statement has been revealed, the report is spoken about as ‘one obtained by The Weekend Australian,’ as if it was all to be kept a secret, not ever meant to become public. The article concerning this report is included below. Why is the profession so silent on important matters? Why does it maintain a presence so low that the public knows very little about it and its views? Why is it so introvert, careless of the public it is there to serve?

Following the original article ‘Brisbane cultural centre to be radically redesigned under new master plan,’ the blog WATERBOARDING PLACE WITH HIGHWAYMAN PLANNING - see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/water-boarding-place-with-highwayman.html  - was published on 9 May 2014: but there was nothing from any professional body on what was clearly a problematical proposal. Even the first report’s title knew that it was a ‘radical’ scheme. Why was there only a void left for all to gaze into? Why such a sly, shy approach to what is very much a public matter? This cultural precinct is an important public place in Brisbane. Why does the profession hide its informed opinions? Why are its views and attitudes left to be ‘obtained’ and published by others? Was it a leak? Are architects scared they might offend someone? Are all architects fighting each other for a job?

Proposed redevelopment of Brisbane's Cultural Centre

This is the report published on 28 June 2014:

High-rise towers would defeat modernist icons: architects
JUNE 28, 2014 12:00AM
Associate Editor, QLD
Brisbane

THE Australian Institute of Arch­itects has blasted the proposed high-rise redevelopment of Brisbane’s South Bank cultural precinct, warning that commercial towers would have a “significant and enduring’’ impact on the ­integrity of its key buildings.
Its blunt assessment of the draft master plan, obtained by The Weekend Australian, will spur the debate over the Queensland government’s plans to rejuvenate the complex, based on the controversial “brutalist’’ edifices by prominent architect Robin Gibson.
Public consultation over the draft master plan closed last night, after Arts Queensland was forced to acknowledge Gibson’s “moral rights’’ had endured after his death in March, and that his family would be consulted about any changes to the buildings along with collaborator Allan Kirkwood.
But the transparency of the process was undermined when Arts Queensland revealed the submissions would not be released without the parties’ consent. They would be collated, analysed, and the “themes’’ made public instead.
The Institute of Architects des­cribes the riverside arts precinct as unique in concept and valuable to the national estate. The interlinked Gibson buildings — the award-winning Queensland Art Gallery, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Mus­eum and the State Library of Queensland — “need to be ­preserved and maintained whilst addressing the many shortcomings found in the street network and way-finding’’ around them.
The president of the institute’s state chapter, Richard Kirk, said they would be “in the top 10’’ of modernist buildings in the country. “It’s a bit like they are our (New York’s) Central Park.’’
Mr Kirk said the AIA was not opposed to redev­elopment of the site: after 40 years, a review was welcome.
However, its submission warns that the design concepts in the draft master plan appear to be at odds with the architectural values of the existing buildings.
“The inclusion of commercial towers, office or hotel, will detract from the uniqueness of the precinct, allowing intrusion of existing and potential surrounding uses,’’ the submission says. “These could by no means be considered small-scale or fine-grained.’’
Hotel and office towers of up to 30 storeys would rise above QPAC and the museum to help fund the redevelopment, the plan shows.

Master Plan for Brisbane's Cultural Centre Precinct

While anything from the profession is hopefully better than nothing, this report that one assumes to be an accurate representation of a formal AIA document, has some problems. The profession knows that architects have moral rights to their works. Why leave this for others to reveal - ‘forced to acknowledge’? Why remain silent? Why not demand that moral rights be respected? Why not insist on transparency in all matters to do with this issue? Might there be a potential job slipping away if one does?

Queensland Art Gallery

There is something ambivalent with the AIA message that seems to explain this lack of desire and rigour to demand outcomes and respect. The claim is that the redevelopment ‘would have a “significant and enduring’’ impact on the ­integrity of its key buildings.’ What? Are some buildings more significant than others in this ‘riverside arts precinct’ that ‘the Institute of Architects des­cribes . . . as unique in concept and valuable to the national estate.’ This looks very strange; puzzling. The text explains that: ‘The interlinked Gibson buildings — the award-winning Queensland Art Gallery, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Museum and the State Library of Queensland — “need to be ­preserved and maintained,’ but only, it seems, ‘whilst addressing the many shortcomings found in the street network and way-finding’’ around them.’ What on earth is this message seeking to communicate? Is there a serious problem with this award-winning work that is so ‘valuable to the national estate’ perhaps only in part? What are the pieces that are valuable? Does the library that has already been drastically redesigned by others, really hold such unique prestige and integrity? Are architects seeking to have ‘a bit each way’ here in the hope that they might get a job to redesign this whole important area? Why else question or doubt work that the argument says has to be respected and protected? Why claim that there are serious faults with this award-winning architecture, its integrity? There seems to be a real issue here with intent. Is this the professional problem that exists, where all architects appear to believe that each can do better than the other?

Queensland Art Gallery and Museum

Gosh, the report declares that: ‘The president of the institute’s state chapter, Richard Kirk, said they (the cultural centre buildings) would be “in the top 10’’ of modernist buildings in the country. “It’s a bit like they are our (New York’s) Central Park.’’ ’ Then surprisingly there is more: ‘Mr Kirk said the AIA was not opposed to redev­elopment of the site: after 40 years, a review was welcome.’ So there it is. This precinct is getting old, out of date, and needs to be redesigned – well, re-appraised. Why? It looks as though the AIA wants to have this place - “in the top 10” - both protected and redeveloped. How on earth is any member of the public meant to interpret this piece of apparent gobbledygook? Are the Americans, the AIA, calling for the redevelopment of Central Park? Even Kirk himself has built in this area and must know the difference: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/heritage-story-of-tapestry.html  and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/pairs-4.html 
That ‘ “The inclusion of commercial towers, office or hotel, will detract from the uniqueness of the precinct, allowing intrusion of existing and potential surrounding uses,’’ would seem to be a good reason to stop any redevelopment. But the AIA seems to be not unaware of the potential for work for its members here, suggesting that some ‘small-scale or fine-grained’ intervention might be acceptable, whatever this might mean. Is it even possible that this place could be developed without any impact? Are architects so weak and pliable as to allow this silly, idealistic idea some credence? Surely change must be the aim of any intervention?

ABC Studios, South Bank  Richard Kirk Architects

If this part of Brisbane is so important as to generate such a submission suggesting that this unique part of our national estate needs to be cared for, then it must be respected at all costs. Having ‘a bob each way’ in order to perhaps get a job to make a bob appears to be a cunningly political stance: dog whistling? The AIA needs to make its mind up, because politicians will interpret its vague position in favour of some change/development to mean that what the government envisages is satisfactory and acceptable. It is, after all, only a matter of degree.



The AIA has a role to play in public debate, like universities and the professionals themselves. Playing such ambivalent games or keeping silent, or providing private information in any submission, does not make it easy for the public to participate sensibly in the debate in any informed manner. If this award-winning work is so important, then it must be kept, not played with or ‘improved.’ This idea is just an insult to Robin Gibson. It really is a matter of either- or, just as it is with environmental matters. It cannot be both. Any action to redevelop/redesign, fine-grained or not, will change Robin Gibson’s work - its intent; its style. Involving others via moral rights can be tricky too, as folk can be manipulated, their words twisted; their gentle manners used against them to prove that anything is possible and desirable when everyone might know otherwise. Transparency is important. Respect is not negotiable.

South Bank, Brisbane adjoins the cultural precinct

Job grabbing is never a good reason to not take a position and fight for its integrity. The AIA needs to learn this. It also needs to learn to be accurate in its statements. ‘Central Park’? No, this cultural centre is nothing like Central Park. Indeed the whole redevelopment of Brisbane’s South Bank area is nowhere near the scale or character of Central Park. It was the architect Rex Addison who, many years ago, showed graphically that Brisbane’s green area was only a postage stamp when compared to the scale of Central Park. In comparison, the Brisbane strip of green that now includes a university building and a television studio development, (by Kirk), is almost incidental. Why do we get this strange comparison here? Does the AIA really think that this is so?

South Bank Parklands

If we are to have any quality architectural debate, then we need quality input from our profession, not vague and irrelevant, promotional or 'feel-good' statements that allow anyone to be right and no one to take offence. Robert Frost’s Mending Wall poem comes to mind:
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.

Performing Arts Centre

Maybe the AIA needs to remember that it needs to demolish walls around its professional ivory castle if it is going to be able to act with any honorable and subtle sensitivity for its public and gain its respect: to be appreciated. It may have to offend in order to achieve this outcome. Safe ‘win-win’ statements get everyone nowhere quickly with their cunningly careful ‘spin-spin.’ One problem is the manner in which historically, Queensland architects who have spoken out have been blacklisted. One architect recently reported that he was given no government job for nearly 26 years after criticising one government proposal! Little wonder that the State still chooses to evade transparency. It seems to be in its genes.


P.S.
To get an indication of the astonishing history of politics and policing in Queensland, one should read Matthew Condon’s books: Three Crooked Kings, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Queensland, 2013; and Jacks And Jokers, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Queensland, 2014.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

CELL ARCHITECTURE


It has to be one of the most interesting uses of the word ‘architecture’ seen for some time. The word ‘architecture’ is usually adorning texts that speak of the ‘architecture of’, say Medicare, or some other matter where it seems to refer to some broad organizational sense, supposedly as a metaphor, but generally it is merely a decorative placement that seeks to impress. In this ABC TV Australian Story played on 3 March 2014, the word was used in different manner, with a more, well, ‘architectural’ sense. The question was: “How to build the architecture of cells in your body.” The researcher, Ben, has been working on this for some 15 years. “We asked very basic questions about the architecture of cancer cells,” he said. What does this mean?


Ben goes on to talk about the research work: “We found an essential structure, a key building block.” Using the Jenga game as a model to explain the concept, Ben, who has developed this approach at the University of New South Wales, spoke about removing “the key block and the pile - in his case the cell - collapses, just as the Jenga pile does.” It seems that TR100 causes cells to kill themselves 100% of the time. “We have found a loophole,” he said. Ben explained that the proof of this research will be in 10 years time “when we have a drug treatment.” It was Wittgenstein who noted how scientists calmly say that they will have a solution to any problem in five or ten years time, “as if this was necessarily so.” Indeed, one hears this statement time and time again, in much the same manner that the word ‘architecture’ is bandied about.


While this researcher has perpetuated this cliché, the interesting matter with language here is that ‘architecture’ is used in such a relevant manner, having to do with real structures and failures, even if these are referring to a game that stacks blocks to establish the challenge to remove as many as possible prior to catastrophic collapse. The one that causes the tower to topple is the loser. The usage appears to have relevance here beyond the sound of the word and its apparent added prestige, as seen in phrases like the ‘architect of . . . ‘ - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/architect-of.html
It is indeed an unusual context.


But this does not mean that things might be improving. More recently, on ABC TV News 5:00pm, 12 June 2014, the word ‘architecture’ was used in yet another surprising context:
“the welfare system needs simpler architecture.” Perhaps we all need a simpler architecture? Can we learn from Jenga?



Blue Point Tower, Sydney   Harry Seidler Architect








Mmmmm: Maybe we have already learned from Jenga?

There is an interesting matter to ponder here: does architecture always move from order into chaos, changing over time from the rational rectangular prism of Blue Point into twisting, tumbling towers; from Meis to Gehry? Does architecture conform to the laws of thermodynamics with its ever-increasing entropy, evolving from the early purity and simplicity of classicism into the rich florid curves of baroque? And then what? Does it stride off into a new beginning, a new order after chaos destroys itself in the same manner as the Jenga model that requires restacking to restart the challenge, only to fall yet again, and again? Maybe the Jenga game can explain something more profound than we ever thought possible? What might the new order be, become? What might the ‘restacking’ be?

Friday, June 6, 2014

THE ARCHITECTURE OF ARCHITECTURE




More and more, everyday, we hear the word ‘architecture’ and ‘architect’ used in an unusual context. Any idea that the Board of Architects of Queensland might be able to manage the use of the word ‘architect’ becomes an incredulous proposition. Even the use of the word ‘architecture’ has implications for the Board as this is seen as what an ‘architect’ does. Such phrases as ‘the architect of Medicare,’ (Australia’s healthcare system), and ‘the architect of Gonski,’ (the review on education in Australia), are common in today’s media discussions on the recently released budget. The word is used in some sense of designer, organizer; overall manager; inventor of the programme; the one who conceived it.



One of the most surprising uses was heard on ABC TV The Drum on 2 June 2014. With the usual bravado and self-certainty of commentators, the male voice blubbed on and on with a degree of self-importance: “. . . arranging the choice architecture so people can make decisions easily . . . .” Just what was this person trying to say? What hope does the Board have in its quest to control the use of language? What is ‘architecture’ here? It looks something like ‘organisation’ - by design, with some preconceived patterning; some unique arrangement or preconception: its ‘architecture.’





Given this sense, one could speak of ‘the architecture of architecture’ and ‘the architecture of architects’. It seems that one could make something of substance out of anything. Consider:
A study of the architecture of architects and their architecture highlights the architecture of this relationship that structures an architecture that reflects both the architecture of the architects’ preferences and the architecture of their preconceptions that develop a complex architecture of ambiguity reflected in the architecture of place arising from the architecture of each architect’s office: their juxtapositions.
Does all language eventually become gobbledygook? Why has ‘architecture’ and ‘architect’ become so fluid, loose, so as to suggest that there might be some real and deeply meaningful sense and relevance in almost any contextual fabrication?




Language is rich and fertile in its adaptations, but are things getting out of control here? Is this free use of the words ‘architect’ and ‘architecture’ diminishing perceptions and understandings of architects and their work? Or is it that these uses of ‘architect’ and ‘architecture’ are only hoping that some prestige and importance might rub off from the referencing of this aloof profession? Perhaps a little of both is involved here, as the profession does not enjoy much respect in the community. Architects are seen as dilettantes who promote their own unique ambitions using other people’s money and lives; in short, they are seen as a waste of time and money; a complete irrelevance.


The only way out of this dilemma is for architects to become more responsive and responsible members of the community. Then their roles and their works may not be so easily transformed into meaningless, stylish grabs that could be inspired by some of today’s architecture that is no more than this itself.



25 JUNE 2014
The odd use of the word 'architecture' continues:
ABC TV 7:00pm News 25 June 2014 - Leader of the Green Party, Christine Milne said:
" . . . support the existing architecture of the Emissions Trading Scheme." The practice appears to be unstoppable. What impact is it really having on the perception of architecture and architects? Unfortunately it does not seem to be useful in any way at all.

30 June 2014
The frequency of the unusual use of the word 'architecture' is increasing. It almost appears to have become a fashion. Kevin Andrews, on ABCTV 7:30 Report, 30 June 2014 said: " . . . come back with an architecture and see if it works." He later expanded on this statement, as if seeking to clarify it: "He'll come back with an architecture, proposals to restructure the system." Kevin Andrews was referring to changes in the disability welfare system.

Later this same evening, on ABCTV Media Watch, in a comparative example, this phrase was used: " . . the architects of the Nazi Holocaust." It seems that the dictionary will have to be modified given this growth in understanding: or is it the growing popularity of a misunderstanding?

5 JULY 2014
And again!
The Weekend Australian headline article reported that: 'Professor Garnaut made a final plea for the government to keep the carbon-pricing architecture in the current scheme.'
We might need a new word for 'architecture' soon. Maybe 'building'?

8 JULY 2014
And yet again!
The Australian, in a story titled 'Hewlett-Packard bets on the Machine of the future.' reports Jim Merritt, HP's Asia-Pacific enterprise services chief as saying: "HP's new Moonshot server already incorporates the new compute core architecture that will go into the Machine."
Does anyone know beyond some vague sense of feel-good relevance what 'architecture' means? Where does this leave architecture?

9 JULY 2014
It is almost becoming a daily event.
On ABC Radio RN, The World Today, 12:15 pm, 9 July 2014, the word was again heard: ". . climate change architecture . . " The use of  'architecture' in this context seems to have gained a general acceptance through its repetition. Just where this leaves architecture is something that will have to be observed and assessed over time. It does not appear to be useful for a profession that is struggling for an 'everyday' recognition and relevance.

8 JANUARY 2015
It was noted that the recording of the usages of ‘architect’ and ‘architecture’ would stop, but this one just had to be jotted down. It is a corker! The words were in a report in The Australian newspaper on 5 November 2014 titled Palmer mine bid rejected:
‘One of Mr. Palmer’s top executives was found to have been an unreliable witness and the architect of “misleading” sworn statements.’
So it seems that one can be the architect of anything good, bad and/or ugly.
What chance does the Board have in what seems like its futile attempt to manage the usage of the word ‘architect,’ especially when it has so much trouble defining the word?

and it continues:
23 NOVEMBER 2015
The Independent reporting on the Paris attacks:
'the Paris apartment where Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected architect of the Paris attacks, was killed along with two other people.'

and again:
24 JANUARY 2017
Asked about China joining the US’s stead Ciobo said the original architecture allowed other countries to join.
ABC Report 24 January 2017 Australia open to China and Indonesia joining TPP after US pulls out.

13 February 2017

"This is a disappointing move. I hope the architects of it clearly understand the ramifications of the decision that they're a party to."  

EXPERIENCE AND ARCHITECTURE

 

The were two short extracts from Oliver Sacks, The Mind’s Eye, Picador, London, 2010, that caught the eye and challenged the mind:

p.131
She had discovered for herself that there is no substitute for experience, that there is an unbridgeable gulf between what Bertrand Russell called “knowledge by description” and “knowledge by acquaintance,” and no way of going from one to the other.

p.134
Given enough time, Sue might have been able to see all seven levels on her own, but such “top-down” factors - knowing or having an idea of what one should see - are crucial in many aspects of perception. A special attention, a special searching, may be necessary to reinforce a relatively weak psychological faculty.

In spite of the ‘unbridgeable gulf,’ Bertrand Russell’s categories of knowledge do appear to have been given a relationship in architecture where esoteric theory often drives outcomes for one to experience in the subtlety of unique form and place: in 'MY' work. All architectural activity is based on some theoretical premise, be this some simple, naive practical belief, or a pure philosophical approach that is seen as the shaping force behind experience: or so the profession likes to believe. Designs are explained using various adopted conglomerate theories to rationalise the outcomes. It is as though one cannot trust intuition or precedence.


Given that Russell suggests these forms of knowing, “knowledge by description” and “knowledge by acquaintance,” have no necessary or possible relationship, ‘an unbridgeable gulf,’ perhaps the profession needs to reconsider its broad approach that likes to hypothesize on strategies and then analyse outcomes as some form of proof. The whole approach might need to be reconsidered. Is the profession working on a totally false premise? Is it wallowing in words for the sake of sounds and status?

The second quote from Sacks might help us understand this matter. Seeing what we believe (see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/seeing-what-we-believe-idyllic-visions.html), looked at how statements and images modify our perceptions. Sacks points out how ‘knowing or having an idea of what one should see’ can shape what and how one sees. Indeed, this was precisely the proposition in Seeing what we believe. Most works of architecture become familiar to us through print publications and photographs perused prior to the experience of the place. One carries ‘baggage’ to the initial encounter. Is this manipulation supporting the rationale behind the profession’s use of theory and the assumption that this might hold some relevance for understanding and experience? Are we being told how to see; what to see; how to experience; what to experience?


The proposition could be that theory in architecture is a mere indulgence, a participation in pseudo academic worlds and words seeking to illustrate genius and different cleverness; an attempt to tell others how flippant oddities are so logical; how 'MY' work, opinion, perception is so intellectual. Are the carefully framed and cropped photographs a part of this charade that wants to reinforce its own platforms of belief? Are these photographs and texts determining how we experience buildings and place, providing preliminary understandings to this experience? Do these theoretical games change the way we see? Do they distort our experience? Are we living in a ghosted place; a fantasy, phantom world?

Why are we so distrustful of our emotions? We seem to be placing every importance on “knowledge by description” while trying to influence, to manage our “knowledge by acquaintance,” even though our bodies might be telling us something different. Is our general discontent shaped by a latent schizophrenia? The whole profession dislikes emotive matters, seeing them as personal and unreliable indulgences, matters to be pushed into the background behind the facts. Has science had this impact on our attitudes to our work and our works? Have we forgotten Paul Auster's words, that 'even the facts don't tell the truth'? Or Harold Pinter's writing of 1958: 'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.' Feelings can be as true and certain facts.


The world of feeling is included in matters religious where evasive gentle, sensitive and subtle issues are engaged, made accessible. They are matters that the ordinary world excludes so brashly, harshly: it destroys these sensitivities; mocks them. One dare not mention these concerns in any architectural debate. One would not have the nerve to suggest that there might be some essential relevance or necessity here other than in some broad, theoretical manner that remains irrelevant for our world and us today.

Yet the history of architecture is full of buildings celebrating matters of feeling and belief - religion. These structures encompass a deep and complex symbolism that we simply categorise as having an importance to the past, if at all, describing the ideas as being merely the superstition of uneducated peasants. Still, we drool over these buildings and places while we distrust their beginnings and inspirations. There is an enormous gulf here that places matters emotional into the field of aesthetics that can be described, rationalised, separated from any aspect of personal experience: my feelings. It is indeed that separation between “knowledge by description” and “knowledge by acquaintance,” where acquaintance is kept in the realm of the ad hoc; the irrelevant; the personal; the random flippancy of unreliable feelings. Description becomes the most important matter. Things have to be able to be described, explained; hence the importance of words and structured images that illustrate these texts.


There will have to be significant changes in our attitudes before we are capable of giving experience the full importance it carries. The subject is more than ‘experiencing architecture’ in Rassmussen’s analytical manner. Here matters of humility, compassion and contentment become involved. Already one can hear the moans and groans, and the frustrated pencil tapping on the table that demonstrate an irascible discontent that comes with the silent ‘claptrap’ categorisation: ‘go away and do something sensible.’

All of this and one has not even mentioned ‘love’; but it is love that lies behind it all: that rich, emotional caring commitment that defines outcomes with a clear and exuberant honesty, exhorting a contagious involvement in life itself, and its living and sharing: its mystery; its beauty. St. Paul said that the greatest was love:
'And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.'
1 Corinthians 13:13
But what sense does this quote have in any architectural debate? This is the core of the matter that needs attention if we are to understand more about our “knowledge by acquaintance": our experience and architecture.



P.S.
This is an aside that starts another reverie: theories. All action has its theory or theories, but why are some concepts so invasive so as to become the core issue to be promoted as the experience to be experienced - c.f. Ghery/Hadid?
What might be a reasonable proposition for starting any architectural work? The traditional craftsman's approach was: 'having concentrated, he started work.' Maybe, in our complex world today, at the very least, the proposition might be that every part of a building, no matter how tiny and ‘irrelevant,’ should be given its right respect - right size, right place and right relationship: the accommodation of its necessity. One could call it Buddhist design (c.f. Schumacher Buddhist Economics). Engineers seem to understand this better than architects: consider the Firth of Forth bridge. In this context, consider also Hadid’s steel roof framing for Glasgow's Riverside Museum of Transport that has been specifically shaped to suit a theory; and then think of the wonder of any flower, its simplicity, its integrity.























The strategy seems to be: whatever it takes.