Wednesday, November 16, 2016


The invitation was clear and specific:

14 OCTOBER 2016
10:30AM – 5:30PM


Presentations on Alternative housing Models between the Scale of the Detached Dwelling and the Tower

Please join the Abedian School of Architecture for an all-day symposium discussing alternative approaches to housing, presented by a panel of leading Australian architects and educators. The panel includes Jon Clements, Clare Cousins, Vokes and Peters, Greg Bamford, Lindsay and Kerry Clare, and Bond University lecturers Jasper Brown, Justin Twohill, and Vanessa Menadue.

Jon Clements, FRAIA is the immediate past president of the AIA at the national level, and a founding partner of Jackson Clements Burroughs, Melbourne.

Clare Cousins, AIA, is the founding director of Clare Cousins Architects, Melbourne, established in 2006 and recognized nationally for design excellence in housing.

Stuart Vokes, FRAIA is a director of the nationally recognized practice Vokes and Peters, Brisbane, established in 2015 and recognized nationally for design excellence in housing.

Dr Greg Bamford is an Honorary Senior Fellow in the School of Architecture at the University of Queensland, where he is a member of the Housing and Urban Studies Research Network.

Lindsay Clare, LFRAIA, and Kerry Clare, LFRAIA, are directors of Clare Design based in Sydney and the Gold Coast. Winners of the 2010 AIA Gold Medal, they are concurrently visiting professors at the University of Newcastle and Bond University.

Jasper Brown is director of Jasper Brown Architects, Brisbane, and a Senior Teaching Fellow at Bond University.

Justin Twowhill is director of Bureau Two, Murwillumbah, and a Senior Teaching Fellow at Bond University.

Dr Vanessa Menadue is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Bond University, coordinating design studios and the environmental studies curriculum.

We look forward to welcoming you to this event, and thank Westera Partners and Hames Sharley for their additional support.

It seemed interesting, so the decision was made; we would go.

It was not until we were there that we discovered that the session had been given an alternative smart name: Between Detached House and Tower: Alternative Housing Models. Might this title have made it more attractive as a proposition? Why give it a new title?  

The Forum
It seems that much more attention had been given to the event over time. Was there something urgent in its original promotion that had made any detailed deliberation somewhat awkward at the time? Was there some necessity for haste: to get it out there fast, whatever? The speakers had now been given their schedule:
10:35am Lindsay and Kerry Clare
11:25am Jasper Brown
11:45am Justin Twohill/Vanessa Menadue
1:30pm Volkes, Peters, Bamford
2:30pm Clare Cousins
3:45pm Jon Clements
5:00pm Panel

One was left wondering about the sequence offered in the promotional material: the list was not even alphabetical. Was it merely a random listing, completely ad hoc, or just a record of what had come into one's mind in the rush to publish and promote?

The day was windy; perhaps showery: the weather bureau had said that there was a high was moving up the southern coast of Australia bringing an unusually cold change. The swaying movement of the nearby pine trees confirmed the prediction. The morning started on time, an odd event because prior occasions had shown no real interest in punctuality. Professor Adrian Carter began by introducing the subject, housing, speaking about Utzon’s House and Garden December 1963 article, House and Garden’s 15th Anniversary. The Kingo housing was yet again raised as the paradigm. It seemed that this subject had a history: was it an Adrian favourite? Did he not have other ideas, ideals to promote?

Singapore housing

In spite of the promo, it was not Lindsay and Kerry Clare who were going to make the presentation; just Kerry Clare. Lindsay just sat to one side, ready to leap to assist when needed to connect the audio link. Kerry began by apologising for the repetition of a talk she had given in Sydney, and for its ‘Sydney-centric’ concerns. Should one ever repeat a talk? How can the enthusiasm be maintained: indeed, how can the relevance be centred, concentrated, when the talk had been crafted for another circumstance? One saw the blandness, the emotional dysfunction in the talk given from his miniature ‘cheat’ cards by Juhani Pallasmaa – see: It was a blatant, unrehearsed repeat, completely out of context. The occasion relied on the personality, his reputation, for its rigour. Surely this Abedian event was not just another collation of speakers from sundry prior occasions gathered together to make a quick and snappy ‘Housing Symposium’ that would look good on the CVs of the staff and some local practitioners? It seems to have happened before. Were the attendants merely pawns in a game of academic self-promotion, caught up in the desire, the need to earn points for CPD? What is CPD doing to our profession? Is CPD really achieving anything other than a schedule of numbers? Dare one see this as a win-win situation where those who present and those who attend both gain points?

Lindsay & Kerry Clare


Singapore development

Amsterdam development
Kerry Clare began her re-presentation with statistics and diagrams that impressed. The argument was that there was no real need for high-rise buildings in spite of the projected growth – well, nothing more than 20 stories: really, 20? That seems pretty high to me. The quotes rattled off: “Tall buildings increase inequality.” Matters concerning neighbours’ solar and wind rights were mentioned, along with the need for ‘deep reveals’ for solar protection that are usually neglected in the slick curtain wall detailing. High-rise was not good for one’s health: tall buildings sway.

Yeerongpilly Green

Kerry Clare then offered some images from her travels, research she had undertaken in Singapore and Amsterdam on high-rise living. It was interesting and alarming. Singapore was sensitive enough to insist on cultural balances while seeming to ignore the social and functional impacts of high-rise living, although the lower open areas under the tall buildings did offer good opportunities for local gatherings. Amsterdam appeared a little more gentle, more accommodating, but was really just as extreme. Kerry Clare moved on to trees in Victoria – 60,000 in Melbourne valued at $650 million, each with an E-mail address: and people apparently have so little to do with their time that they send the trees E-mails! Are we caught up in the ‘grand, unique ME’ bespoke presence? The Clare’s latest competition win was then displayed in the context of many years’ work: Yeerongpilly Green. The talk was a blend of statistics, quotes, platitudes and self-promotion that said that tall was not good: tall meaning over 20 levels, even though the suggestion was that it should be limited to 6-7 stories, like old Paris. Why give in to allow 20? What might Lindsay have said?

Jasper Brown

Jasper Brown quietly mumbled his introduction, noting how humbled he was to be a part of the list of presenters. Why? He enthusiastically leaped directly into his theme of SIP – ‘structural insulated panels.’ He told the gathering how he had made these in his two-week Christmas break at a local wood workshop, and explained how the idea of a ‘panel-home’ had grabbed his imagination almost to the point of fanaticism. He listed his historical inspirations for his love of courtyard housing, and pointed out how fortuitous it was that the competition had come up: ‘Starter Home on a Shoestring.’ Amongst the judges were Kevin McCloud and George Clarke of architectural TV fame: Grand Designs and Amazing Spaces. Media makes experts very quickly. Brown presented his submission in detail. What seemed odd was that his costings were so cheap. Had he forgotten the cost of labour, and the additional overheads and profits that builders always include? He virtually acknowledged his neglect in his admission when he admitted that his figures for his competition entry were ‘ambitious’ at best: the design brief figure of $80,000 might really be $100,000 or more? Who cares? The statement was said with a certain, humorous nonchalance. The intent appeared admirable, as was the humility, but the misrepresentation was somewhat concerning. Do all architects do this? Is this why architects are so disliked: their irresponsibility; their carelessness with figures; their determined preference only for special ‘arty’ outcomes? One should point out to Jasper Brown that government is spelt with an ‘e’ - not ‘govornment’ as his slide revealed: little things are really important. Does this slip reveal the true Jasper Brown who, one might assume, cares little for fact?

Justin Twohill

The Gold Coast seen from the edge of the crater.

Justin Twohill, promoted as being with Vanessa Menadue, made the next presentation without her. He began his crisp talk smartly titled Kicking Off The White Shoes, with a broad analysis of the Gold Coast – ‘temporary and transient’ with a location of the edge of an old volcano; a place of 1.2 million people dominated by the car. He drew parallels with Munich, Milan, Prague and Montevideo as vibrant cities of the same size, and asked why the Gold Coast might not be likewise. Should the Gold Coast be like these places? He made an odd statement about going over these details time and time again, noting that while we might all know this information, “It is the kind of thing we do with students.” Was this group of architects being treated as ‘students’? It did not sound good. Had he no other technique for presentations? Housing in Berlin was offered as a model: this development was allowed to touch all of the boundaries and create private green courtyard areas with multiple access points to the units. This arrangement allowed for a certain intimacy to be structured into the larger scale of development. It was a model that he used for a student study at Broadbeach, where the idea could be tested. Cars were eliminated to make things easier. The scheme was an interesting and informative study and was presented as a possibility for the future. It seemed promising, but was it only Twohill’s enthusiasm that made it interesting?

Mount Warning

Gold Coast development showing high-rise buildings in the distance.

Seven levels, but something else is needed.

The odd thing was that this model has already been tried on the coast in some of the newer areas one stumbles upon from time to time, and it does not look or feel good. What is wrong here. It seems that the problem has nothing to do with the model: that implementing it everywhere will not give the good ‘Munich’ or ‘Berlin’ result that the study implied. One should never expect a Munich or a Berlin in just 50 years! Perhaps one should not try to recreate these places on the Gold Coast? Time has its impacts, as well as the ethical and theoretical impacts of other eras. Old places embody other depths, from age itself and from other beliefs of other times, and different commitments. There is something more than the profit, the model, the appearance, the beauty, the style, the function here: and density has little to do with it too. There is something other, something bigger, something deeper, more primary involved - love, belief? Is it geopoetics? The clever squeezing down of the minimal plans for improved density statistics is irrelevant; it is not the answer even though it might be described as being environmental and affordable with agreeable social impacts. This strategy – 1 bedroom/3square metres – makes life and its living like a zoo, where everything appears superficially satisfactory; but the issues of ordinary living, or natural being, are ignored in the rush for the compact, profitable display. Issues cultural and spiritual need attention: spiritual!!

Why accept up to twenty levels when contact with the ground is lost at 6-7?

Gold Coast development: similar to Munich in scale, but . . . !

Yet everything looked wonderful. The visual presentation of all of the speakers was fabulous: the work was all so very attractively slick too. Should one blame CAD or modernism: both? While there was a latent critique of modernism is the general dislike of the high-rise, all the work that was shown referenced it and its ideals in the crisp and clean detailing of the work: the bland intersections of planes; the intersection of bland planes. We need to know more about this. Are things being made just for appearance? The mega-matters seemed to hold more importance than the mini-issues: the experience of turning on of a tap - the tap touch; the design; the basin; the space; the feel of the floor; and me: the experience of standing, turning, looking, feeling. Mega-matters of light, ventilation and space reigned supreme, just as any modernist would have liked them to be. The little ‘ME’ was never there. Only stylised, fashionable or appropriate story-telling figures were included in the images, like the quirky roller-skating girl: WOW!

Stuart Volkes

The afternoon started on time, with Stuart Vokes introducing his Open Space: One lesson From Suburbia talk. He began by noting how it was good to be at Bond, quoting Aalto: “One cannot be a prophet in his own land.” So did we have a prophet here, from the U of Q in Brisbane? Mmmm: ambitious or a joke? ‘Stu’ Vokes noted that he had been ‘spooked by sprawl’ and had been impressed by the writings of Greg Bamford who was sitting nearby. Vokes eulogised the qualities of the 1950’s suburbia where folk enjoyed ‘borrowed scenery’ and space for all choices. Recent suburban developments of the 1990’s showed how this open space had been filled in with the demands of more living space and swimming pools. Greg Bamford then stood to speak of the God – Garden Orientated Development. The problem was that there was only one microphone, so the speakers had to talk sequentially. His subject seemed to be about ad hoc, leftover spaces where children could leave toys lying around. This characteristic appeared to suggest a desirable quality as was once seen in backyards. This, it appeared, was the suburban message that was illustrated in both Canadian and Copenhagen examples. Folk everywhere appeared to leave toys lying around! Was this a real marker of good shared space or just a lack of suitable storage? Was it carelessness?

Stuart Vokes took over once more after Bamford had finished, and spoke of his own project work. He showed his interest in healthy spaces and places, showing how he was able to idealise the presence of nature in the siting of his work. His projects revealed a remarkable inventiveness and subtlety. Old Queenslanders that had undergone extensions were delicately and sensitively adapted to become beautiful homes with neither force or exaggeration. The work highlighted the possibility of working with tiny spaces. It was a considered delight. The new projects were equally careful in their intent and resolution.

Clare Cousins

Clare Cousins started by declaring that ‘density does not have to be high.’ She showed off her office and explained her work. The first scheme presented was a revamp of an exiting project by another architect - “Shit” she called it. It is truly unfortunate how architects see the work of others as rubbish, stuff that can always be bettered by the critic. Her transformation was clever and sensitive and did make a substantial difference; so one could perhaps forgive her brashness. It turned out it be a lovely scheme, more subtle than its beginnings. Does the second grab always have the benefit of the primary resolution as a starting point? Cousins then moved on to her interior work that was modest; and then to the NIGHTINGALE project work. The idea was that the architect was the developer. The programme offered a total package, with visions of and ambitions for affordability, environmental sensitivity and social, community responsibility. Apartments were designed and sold complete with covenants that managed profitability, all for the dream. It looked admirable, but seemed to be a work in progress. Was there just too much enthusiasm for this untested ideal? What will human nature do?

Jon Clements

After a quick stand-stretch-and-relax break for the attendees, Jon Clements started to talk about his Melbourne firm’s work that sought to “blur the boundaries; to expand them.” One wondered: what boundaries? The idea was that any “house could be a home.” The general principles were: social interaction/community; respect for privacy/person; importance of daylight, ventilation/outdoor space; minimum environmental impact. He noted that it was difficult to always achieve all of these intentions/ambitions. The drive for daylight and ventilation made one think of Le Corbusier’s early writings: are we really having problems with these Victorian-era issues today?

The project work was shown. It revealed a broad scope of housing work with densities varying from 1 bedroom/40 sq metres to 1 bedroom/3 sq metres. It was all very cleverly planned and articulated; made to look artfully beautiful. He told how he had argued to overcome planning restrictions to achieve the intentions. One has to be concerned that planning matters are so readily ‘negotiated’ to be otherwise. Is this why our cities are so bad today? Generally the spatial planning was good, but some arrangements were extremely tight. No doubt these have sold: rental properties? Some projects made no allowances for cars, just bikes. What is the future of the car when there is no space for it?

The day broke at 4:53pm for a wine. The intention was to gather again and chat, but one had to go. It had been a long day.

Utzon's Kingo housing

What was one to make of this day? High-rise is bad? But what is good: 20/6-7? Is slick, no architraves or mouldings detailing important? This architecture still seemed to aim for an elite, bespoke beauty beyond the ordinary: as made for photographs in magazines. How will this become the norm? Should it? There still seemed to be something bigger missing here. None of these projects/ideas appeared to offer new solutions for our problems today. We have probably already looked at all of these issues in the 1970’s. It was then that the street was important, as was supervision and local safety: ‘defensible space’ was the chant. Safety was not mentioned today, but it will be in the future. Time will catch this up soon.

So what should happen? It seems to me that Town Planning is involved here as the guiding, or misguiding force. If there is to be change, and there should be, then it will not come with new architectural models or different densities; it might come with different planning. But given that we are mostly dealing with existing patterns and infrastructures, then we are deadlocked. There has to be significant change; this has to be broader than simple architectural solutions or talk. It is more than in-fills. Cities, habitation, needs modification on a scale never before seen - maybe as in Paris: demolition on a grand scale? Ironically, Paris was the most dense city in the world (Kerry Clare): why not treat our places the same? Demolish them for an ideal – but we need ideals to act on; we need ethical beginnings rather than anti-ethical or aesthetical ones. We need roots, depth, commitment if we are to have an enduring future, not an award-winning one. Awards pick out one-offs and eulogise them. We need to be aware of awards that puff up persons and promote works in their own self-important context. If we want cities with meaning, substance, as we seem to think those older settlements overseas have, then we need not only time, but also quality on a scale never before seen in Australia: commitment to compete and complete, and to achieve lasting quality.

All the presentations had marvellous graphics. The computer has changed things. Only the Clares had some lovely sketches (Yeerongpilly), but these turned into slick perspectives that are really very impersonal, like all the images shown. Individual skill has gone. It is a step that is also reflected in the work. Generally all of the project work was of a good quality, but it was all ‘modern’ in its ambitions, flash, smooth, glossy, made-for-the-camera styling. Indeed, Clements noted that one project had not yet been ‘photographed,’ by which one could interpret that it had been photographed by the casual clicking, but not yet been subjected to the smart eye of the ‘architectural’ photographer who makes every image cunningly iconic – see:



The work showed this similar impersonality. Vokes’ lovely little Queenslanders were transformed into look-no-hands – no trims, skirting, cornices, nosings, sills, drips, etc. of the modernist: no decoration other than a few ‘arty’ holes that were explained away as being inspired by necessity - “A knot fell out, so we continued the theme.” There were no mouldings; none of the lovely quirky detailing of old that reminded one of Hersey’s three-some theory of classicism and other studies that show the importance of profiles and light: how these little variations do so much. No, all the project work was pure ‘showroom modern.’ All kitchens were boxed; like all the stairs. There were no projections or overlaps to spoil the crisp edges of the cubical forms and their alignments. Where have all the nosings gone; the drip edges; the toe recesses? Where is the subtle care for the hand, the eye, the foot? Loos, “Decoration is a crime,” would have been pleased with all of the projects that had ‘full flush’ as a core ideal, like a poker game. Not much has changed from the Mies, “Less is more,” ambition, even after years of arguing otherwise and knowing better. Is modernism just too easy to achieve? Its void makes conceptions and solutions simple, easy; straightforward, uncomplicated. One does not have to think or know any differently: the rules are elementary and straightforward, accessible to all and sundry. We need richer theories; more complex ideals and concepts. The defensive space of the 70’s was never raised; just the fact that details cannot be seen beyond floor 6 or 7. We need to revisit the old in order to embody its intentions in the new. Why do we waste so much time going back over things? Racing forward has become a reality as well as a cliché: see -

The general theory of this new work can be summed up as: community/ society/ social/ environmental/ ‘green’/ daylight/ ventilation/ affordable. One does not know much about the latter other than the word and the intent. Perhaps this work is more expensive than other? Why is there nothing deeper in the ideals than this odd list of perhaps and maybe; ordinary functional ambitions that are almost trite in the order of matters subtle and meaningful? How can meaning be held?

But the importance of intimacy and care beyond the macro becomes evident in the ordinary, everyday world of the toilet area. The Abedian School’s (multi-sex) toilet space had the filthiest toilet bowl I have ever seen: absolutely dirty, astonishingly so! I have travelled China, Thailand, and beyond and not seen worse. What is going on? Does Bond’s Abedian School not care? Is it merely a facade; a smart building for the promo page? Perhaps; its brochure uses it on the front cover, but shows the ‘techno’ arm in the shed with only a glimpse of Sir Peter’s architectural wonder in the detail: is this the real identity – the matters technical are all in the shed; the matters promotional are all in the ‘Abedian’ building? Get the cleaners in, please! Care for the little things.

Abedian School of Architecture

Between the various talks there were others. Some say that ‘the between’ holds more significance than either/or. It was an overheard discussion; or should one say a chat that presented itself to the ears of others, such was its lack of concern for the privacy/personal space of those nearby. It was a monologue; the speaker must have had a tolerant listener:

“”Am I right or not?”
“I would have liked to have been an apprentice.”
“I taught myself.”
“No one teaches you to design buildings. One is told to use one’s creativity.”
“If you look up the Internet no one says how to design buildings.”
“Am I right or not?”
“I have designed one house.”

What can one make of this.
The ideas are worth pondering, just as all of the issues raised at the symposium are too.
We need much more care and subtlety in the macro if we are to have beautiful cities: but how do we start? We need more than tiny, wonderful pieces and parts; but it is a beginning, a tease: it is not an answer.

“Am I right or not?”  

Gold Coast developments: quality is much more than the number of floors 

The high-rise coastal development of the Gold Coast.
Council is keen to remove all height limits.

Gold Coast mixed development: like old Paris in configuration, but . . .!

There is no shortage of 6-7 storied developments, but something is still missing.

Mount Warning, NSW: vent at centre of the crater

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