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.

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