Friday, August 15, 2014


The Guardian in Britain carried the report:
What should the government's architecture review focus on? | Oliver Wainwright

What is interesting for Australia, Queensland, is that architecture might be a subject that could be focused on by any government. Here it is simply astonishing that a government might set up an architecture review to focus on anything other than the closing down of the architectural department, or the removal of the position of Government Architect. One finds it difficult to think about the ambition of such a review and what it might consider.

In Queensland, the new LNP, (the conservative Liberal National Party), government has dismantled the traditional Department of Works, smartly called ‘Project Services’ because it employed an array of interrelated professionals who worked as project teams to develop, design, document, construct and manage projects for government. What used to be an efficient, profitable department has now been decimated. The LNP sacked 14,000 public servants soon after being elected on the promise of sacking no one! Who cares about architecture? Certainly governments seem to believe that architecture and architects are an unnecessary indulgence that can be dispensed with.

The interesting matter is that the Department of Works was once considered to be the reference point for quality in details and outcomes. If any architect wanted to find out how best to detail anything, or what the best material or product to use might be, it was to the Department’s details and specifications that they turned. Now there is nothing left but a skeleton few. Government does not realise just what expertise it has lost. As for the idea that this closure will save money: well, sadly, government will eventually discover how expensive it is to deal with different architects on a one by one project basis, no matter how much they might squeeze the fees with demands for ‘Best and Final Offers’ – see:  This BAFO process is contrary to normal tendering principles, but governments don’t seem to worry about such things these days. They explain these distortions away with the explanation that they are becoming ‘commercially competitive.’

Governments will soon come to realise that value is never merely just about numbers, as Oscar Wilde noted: knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Knowledge is a useful thing; a little knowledge is very dangerous. In a few years’ time government will have a great idea: to establish its own architectural or project department to maintain better control and management over projects and to save money. In the meantime, the situation will struggle to maintain some appearance of sensible strategy as projects get handled by those without the intimate knowledge gained from years of experience that is required, indeed demanded, by government clients.

Then there is the position of Government Architect that has been made into what is almost a ceremonial appointment that holds no power or authority other than in making the right noises when politically necessary, as required, as requested. Dissent in Queensland is not well accepted: see -
When will this position regain its stature and authority and start producing a consistency of quality outcomes for our State?

There has been an announcement of a new government tower project – see:  - but the publicity has never mentioned the architects involved - information is best kept secret, as our Federal Government knows in its handling of refugees; nor would the government be interested in listening to any critique of this William Street project, now under construction, that is squeezed into the most remote corner of the CBD framed by freeways and freeway exits. It will achieve the one thing that seems to be important: it will become a landmark for government identity; a symbol of the ‘can-do,’ height-challenged premier who constantly seeks out dominance and ways to dominate.

The public perception of architects in Australia is extremely poor. One must wonder what the various Boards of Architecture, (managed by the States), are doing to improve things. It seems to be not very much at all. In Queensland, the Board is indulging in a CPD, (Continuing Professional Development), campaign, hopefully trying to develop skills with the adding of numbers and the ticking of boxes, while setting an unconvincing example of care and concern with skills and quality with its new, very poor graphics to promote itself: see -

Chaos and uncertainty reign, because the critical measure - outcomes - are being neglected in favour of a focus on political processes and preferences, and the calculations of economics and efficiencies. What hope is there? Even our city of Brisbane removed the position of City Architect many years ago; and the city looks as though this has happened too. It has been left at the mercy of Town Planners, powerful experts indulging in the ambiguities of language and the apparent certainty of numbers: see -  and

So ‘Focus on Architecture’ - where should one start? With architecture, might be a good start: caring for it; understanding it; respecting it; wanting only good outcomes and working hard to achieve these. Playing carefully managed games will get nowhere. In order to achieve quality results, one has to make space for architecture to be: to be what it wants to be, (Louis Kahn), not what everyone else expects of it - and sometimes this is not very much at all: see -

ON INTELLECTUALS - cliques of time and fashion

He was a learned man - an ‘intellectual’ - but he had based his beliefs on a tome; a rather esoteric document with a memorably exotic title published by an American scholar. Time caught this ‘intellectual.’ The many subsequent publications of this American scholar repudiated his first theoretical effort that used complex mathematics as a model for design strategies. This scholar’s later writings - many multi-volumes - became rich in a more intuitive, practical, emotive approach to design, but in spite of this repudiation, our 'intellectual' remained steadfast to the original vision. He constantly argued and defended his beliefs, pouring scorn and contempt on all who saw sense in the different, subtler, more personal organic approach to design and doing. It did not seem to matter to him that the original author of his ‘bible’ had veered away from it: changed.

Our ‘intellectual’ never came to see any sense in the later design approach in spite of the original author’s variance. Our ‘intellectual’ was always right. No matter what argument was put up, no matter what proof, he disparaged all who thought differently to him. Once he praised a thesis that he believed was the very best of the year. The thesis confirmed and developed the stiff and formal logic of the intellectual’s preferred approach to design. Others thought that another thesis that promoted a different, richer, more instinctive approach, was much better, not only in subject matter, but also in execution. The intellectual totally disagreed and would not even consider the others’ positions. So the others took the scholar’s ‘prized’ thesis and read it. It was handed back covered with red marks that highlighted factual, grammatical and structural errors in the text and its logic. The intellectual refused to pass any comment on this assessment and never showed any desire to discuss the issue. The prize was given to his preference.

One finds that the staff and writers of Quadrant, an Australian literary and cultural journal, seem to have much the same problem as this intellectual. There appears to be a total disregard, and worse, a rudeness, shown to those outside of the preferred ‘conservative’ group: ‘the smelly little orthodoxies (of) unthinking Leftism.’ Irrespective of position or argument, others who might differ will never be heard or be published in this journal. It is like the staff and writers of the similarly ‘conservative’ The Spectator magazine: no differing opinion and nothing critical of it or them will ever be published, but everybody involved gleefully feels free to blast away almost abusively at all and sundry, giving the false impression of a fresh and open approach to all ideas, not just those of their own. This magazine publishes an interesting section on words, but its own errors in its texts, when highlighted, get ignored in the general enthusiasm of the self-congratulatory harangue. Quadrant appears self-centred in this same way, but less screaming, more ‘correct,’ but no less aggressive. Here all seems to be about mates and beliefs that get reinforced by each other gleefully quoting themselves and those who are in agreement, while savagely mocking those who don’t think likewise, with the editor using his authority of having the final say to produce the first and last blast in a ‘masterly’ overview. There is an illusion of caring for ideas and exploring these with rigour, but sadly this enterprise is carried out in a very selective zone of ‘conservative’ self-interest. It is a framework that lessens rationales and arguments by their limitation of scope of interest and the firewalls involved in these perceptions. Disappointingly, this circumstance diminishes both of these potentially excellent publications.

One does become critical of silly intellectuals. Just intellectuals calling themselves by this title makes them appear, in the array of crude concepts, as ‘self-pleasurers’: indulgent - dull gents; and ladies too. One has to remember that science, as with all ideas, progresses with disagreement, with challenges and disputes; with questions, doubts and doubters rather than with a gentle, happy, safe acquiescence. The latter position is just too easy, too comfortable to promote rigour, even though it might produce a fake image of authority and scholarship. It is a little like university staff who cluster likewise to protect themselves, their positions and their ideas by gathering like minds together, appointing previous students and colleagues as staff, while shunning those who might be critical of them, or who might question their thoughts and actions, or lack of them in order to avoid the awkward challenges and difficulties of difference: see On Education in the right hand column.

Karl Popper made it clear - there is greater depth in doubt than in safe agreement and the sycophantic confirmation of mates: see his Conjectures and Refutations. The quality of any conjecture relies on the quality of the refutations. There is only a benefit in open questioning, never a problem, even if some like to promote this latter view with personal ridicule. We must remember that this questioning discomfort is better than the safety of the closed shop when it comes to the development of ideas and the growth and perception of futures. The protection of any position is like inbreeding - it has the same negative results: deformity and insanity. Why is it so difficult to understand this? One might have hoped that an ‘intellectual’ should have understood the problems with this particular limited relationship. Perhaps these persons are too concerned with their own self-important labelling as an ‘academic’ or ‘scholar’ than with the resolution of the quality and the beauty of an idea, allowing it to become what it wants to be rather than what the individual chooses it to be, or would like it to be. These people seem to spend just too much time criticising others while protecting themselves, their clan, and their own ‘unique’ thoughts; displaying their agreeable cleverness, unchallenged.

Being ‘all of one mind’ does not make you right; it only means that you are a member of a club. Architecture is not immune from this ‘safe’ grouping either with its cliques of time and fashion. So it is that the role of the critic in the profession and practice of architecture, and in the teaching and training of this profession and its practice, remains so important: essentially crucial. The question is: how does one open minds to unknown challenges, to the testing of different questions? There is little point in debating anything if one is there only to protect a position. The value of such interaction lies in the situation where both parties are prepared to listen to each other, to learn, and to change positions if the ideas and their inherent sense and logic call for it. To be like our first ‘intellectual’ and to persevere with a position irrespective of it being repudiated by its originator who had the openness of spirit to be prepared to look, listen, and to change rather than languish in a lie, will achieve only what one thinks to be so. There will be no surprises. We must remember that, as Heraclitus said, ‘All is change, and change alone is unchanging.’

Sunday, August 10, 2014


The match is not the elephant, but the tree provides this bulk. The section of the underground building accessed by a subterranean stairway, complete with water on the roof slab brings to mind Peter Stutchbury's Invisible House in the Blue Mountains, Australia.

As an aside, it is indeed strange that an ‘invisible house’ can be so clearly photographed. Every house could be called ‘invisible’ in the context of this odd title. Buildings might never be seen, or might be seen only in part from some locations, but it is not until one has moved into a certain position that the whole can be seen; and this will vary as one moves around, just as it does in this ‘invisible’ place. The name appears silly; a little pretentious?

On 'seeing' this house 'as' an elephant, see:

It is interesting to note that this house has a garage side that never seems to get photographed - see plan above. The images are all very carefully selected to promote a preferred vision. On this subject, see:  

Links to other PAIRS:

Saturday, August 9, 2014


It was Wittgenstein who formalised the notion of ‘seeing as’ in his philosophical investigations. He used the ‘duck-rabbit’ - see:  - image to illustrate this phenomenon that envisages an alternative object or thing in the same matter or diagram without any change other than in the manner in which it is perceived or ‘seen,’ hence the title ‘seeing as’ - one interprets or ‘sees’ this configuration ‘as’ this or that, or . .   These illustrations are a little like the diagrams that have an either-or interpretation, that come to be categorised as illusions, like the faces-vase graphic used in this voussoirs blog. There is a dancing ambiguity in these graphics that intrigues.

Traditional art is full of such playful games that hold a deeper meaning in their symbolism without compromising any function - see:  The match in form is one aspect of the arrangement, but this expression also frequently embodies an emotional or symbolic reference that once was familiar to all. It is a situation a little like that explained in The Sentiment of Flowers or Language of Flora, a late-Victorian book that defined the symbolic nature of each blossom, a latent understanding that needed no explanation for the masses, in the same manner as the message of the white feather (coward) was understood by all. Flowers held more positive meanings than the feather. These references were incorporated in a variety of items. Jewellery was a particular favourite for referencing love, commitment and eternity. The very act of engagement with such an object was one of remembrance: of our remembering the more subtle matters of our vibrant, scintillating world. The experience was enriching, enabling ordinary, everyday function to incorporate the mystery of life itself: its feelings, its enchantment. - see: The Spell of the Sensuous David Abram  Vintage Books  1997.

Pewter Duck Jug

The idea of matching forms has not been forgotten, but the symbolism has. Take for example the Japanese artist who saw a similarity in the form of her vagina and the kayak – see:  She seems to want to claim some originality for her ‘creative’ vision unlike the traditional artist who saw no role for personality in any work. Our modern era seems to want to highlight the unique characteristics of each individual and seeks to promote these with the same exuberant hype that is used with an equivalent false intensity in the advertising of a washing powder and the performances of men and women in sport and athletics. One of my favourites was the screaming voice of the commentator who yelled out with apparent uncontrolled excitement: “If that ball had gone in it would have been a goal!” - as if the definition of a goal might be something different; as if this close call could add some nationalistic credence and pride to a poor performance that is never named ‘defeat.’

One wonders why such delights in resemblance make any claim for originality. They are fascinating as such alignments and allegiances tell us more about qualities, functions and forms. There is no difference in the chance seeing of a image and its naming in a certain massing of clouds. These things just are - an ordinary ‘seeing as.’ Maybe our whole world is a ‘seeing as’? Such readings occur regularly, frequently in the happenstance of shadows and smoke. That the image might get formalised more substantially only anchors this delight for us in time. The lens cup is a wonderful example of such an outcome that has appeared without any claim for the genius and originality of great art. Here a standard lens, (in this case a Canon L series lens), has been cast as a perfect reproduction to become a plastic sheath to enclose a coffee cup. The lens form and detail works beautifully in this surprising role that one discovers with use requires the same finger grips as the lens adjustment to lift the cup. The textured rings accept the fingers with much the same physical comfort in each role. The whole is a visual delight and an intellectual game. The lens cup is a perfect, full-size reproduction of the lens, needing no modification for this new role. One is shown how a lens cannot only be seen as a cup, but also how it can indeed become a cup with very little distortion or manipulation. It becomes an item that plays a simple but delightful role in ordinary life. There is no need for any art gallery performance or hoohaa. There is just the making of this thing to be enjoyed by all. It is a little gem.

We need more such delights in our lives, wonderful little things that make no claim to individuality or self-importance or specific creative genius: but this rather mechanical transformation of matching forms can be much more. Our era makes boasts about its rational substance, its science. The lens cup shows a little chink in this armour that isolates us from matters of feeling and symbolism. We live in an era of signs that try to tell us specific things. We have much to learn about the richness of ideas and references - this ambiguity. Let the little lens cup constantly remind us of these possibilities that will need to be rediscovered if our lives are truly to be enriched by the things we make, for these can echo subtleties to constantly remind us of our feeling for and the mystery of this world that we are a part of. To claim blind dominion over it, (and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  Genisis 1:26), seems to be a rather dull self-asserting beginning that has changed our understandings - limited them with the brash certainty of assumed superiority. In the same book another writer considers our world differently, more poetically; more modestly; more enigmatically, with a latent wonder:
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
Psalm 8:3-4

The real Canon 24 - 105 L series lens

Architecture seems to struggle with this twin situation. There have been attempts to adapt images and forms to fit different functions, but these turn out to be crass and crude tourist attractions or mere quirky oddities: see -
for the logic of these strange extremes.

Even the apparently more sophisticated attempts at 'seeing as' in architecture appear as blatant as the tourist 'big thing' promotional building - bold and singular, lacking the delightful ambiguity of the graphics. The buildings reveal a degree of intellectual effort to achieve the outcome rather than displaying any native necessity.

28 January 2015
for interesting beer can/chilli nut tin.

12 June 2015
I among all of the E-mails one receives, there are the endless jokes and frustrating promotional messages that intersperse the relevant messages. Then there is the occasional odd one that intrigues. The following E-mail was received today. There is a duality in this experience that leaves one perplexed. Has it anything to do with 'seeing as'? One might call it 'Cambridge Guessing.' The piece about those who can and those who cannot, and 'great minds,' may be mere an indulgence, boastful hype to encourage one to pass it on with a proud 'YES,' somewhat like a chain letter.

 Here's another trick of Doctor Dementia to test your skills...

Can you meet this challenge?

We've seen this with the letters out of order, but this is the first time we've seen it with numbers.  Good example of a Brain Study: If you can read this OUT LOUD you have a strong mind.  And better than that: Alzheimer's is a long long, way down the road before it ever gets anywhere near you.

7H15                    M3554G3
53RV35                    7O PR0V3
H0W                    0UR M1ND5 C4N
D0                    4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5!
1MPR3551V3                    7H1NG5!
1N                    7H3 B3G1NN1NG
17                    WA5 H4RD BU7
N0W,                    0N 7H15 LIN3
Y0UR                    M1ND 1S
R34D1NG 17
W17H                    0U7 3V3N
7H1NK1NG                    4B0U7 17,
C3R741N                    P30PL3 C4N
R3AD                    7H15.
PL3453                    F0RW4RD 1F
U                     C4N R34D 7H15.

To my 'selected' strange-minded friends: If you can read the following paragraph, forward it on to your friends with 'yes' in the subject line. Only great minds can read this. This is weird, but interesting!

If you can raed this, you have a sgtrane mnid, too.
Can you raed this? Olny 55 people out of 100 can.
I cdnuolt bliveee that I cluod aaulclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.  The pnhaoamnel pweor of the hmaun mnid, aocdrncig to a rrcscaheeh at Crdmabige Uienvtisry, it dsneo't mtaetr in waht oedrr the ltrtees in a wrod are, the olny iprnoamtt tnihg is taht the frsit and lsat lteetr be in the rghit pclae.  The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sltil raed it whotuit a pboerlm.  Tihs is bcuseae the hmaun mnid deos not raed ervey lteetr by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.  Azanmig huh?  Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slneplig was iopmrantt!  If you can raed tihs fwrarod it.