Friday, August 15, 2014

FOCUS ON ARCHITECTURE

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: http://www.hpw.qld.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/ProcurementGuideInvitingOffers.pdf  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 - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/aia-comments-at-last.html
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: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/queenslands-power-tower.html  - 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 - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/planning-failures-who-cares.html  and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/town-planning-visions.html



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 - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/on-intellectuals-cliques-of-time-and.html


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