Tuesday 22 February 2011


Corrugated iron on a 'patchwork' building Lerwick, Shetland:

Corrugated iron shed Scalloway, Shetland:

Notice the unusual detail to help the gable to resist the Shetland gales.

We like to see corrugated iron as an Australian icon but it has a history much broader than this narrow colonial base. 'Leaves of iron' can easily refer to cladding in the Shetland context as anywhere else, even though trees and leaves are much more scarce in this environment than in the Australian countryside.

View of Fetlar from Unst, Shetland, looking southeast.

Monday 21 February 2011


This image is from the front page of The Weekend Australian 5-6 February 2011. It shows the damage caused by cyclone Yasi:
 It is interesting to look more closely at this image to try to understand why things have fallen. 'Bricks and mortar' seem to be more clay blocks and mortar that have an interesting extruded cavity. It looks like things may have failed or torn along the proverbial 'dotted line' - ?

Tuesday 15 February 2011


Since Brisbane flooded in January 2011, there has been much comment and review on the circumstances of this event in the media – both electronic and print. What one might call ‘the facts’ of the situation remains mixed in a vague scattering of opinion; but there seems to be sufficient information that has been confirmed by repeat reports to allow one to begin a chart of the situation that might loosely be seen as ‘facts’. If there is ever going to be a responsible response to the management of Brisbane’s future, then these facts need to be understood and agreed upon.
One might begin such a list like this:
  • There are some hydrologists who have always believed that another 1974 flood was possible for Brisbane – refer Hugh Lunn’s report in The Weekend Australian 12-13 February 2011, INQUIRER, page 4; et al.
  • Hydrologists knew that there had been much higher floods than 1974 and that the history of such events has shown that there is never any reason to believe that these extremes would never be repeated or bettered – see Hugh Lunn report; et al.
  • Wivenhoe Dam has been and still is being promoted as allowing a 2m reduction in 1974 flood levels. No comment is made on higher levels but it seems to be implied that these too can be managed similarly - see seqwater Internet site  http://www.seqwater.com.au/public/catch-store-treat/dams/wivenhoe-dam:
It is anticipated that during a large flood similar in magnitude to that experienced in 1974, by using mitigation facility within Wivenhoe Dam, flood levels will be reduced downstream by an estimated 2 metres.
  • Brisbane Q1:100 design levels were reduced below 1974 levels on the basis of the Wivenhoe Dam. This opened up more low land for development. - see http://resources.news.com.au/files/2011/01/20/1225991/887259-110121-brisbane-flood-study-jun-1999.pdf - This Brisbane River Flood Study was prepared by City Design. Section 6, Flood levels Along The River, notes: At the Port Office gauge the flood level corresponding to the calculated 1 in 100 year design flow of 8,600 cubic metres/second is estimated to be 5.0AHD. The current development design flood level, based on the 1984 study, is 3.8 AHD some 1.2 m lower than the level predicted in this study. From the two flood profiles plotted on Figure 3 it can be seen that the flood levels calculated in this study vary from 1.0 m to almost 3.0 m higher than the current development design flood level in Brisbane.
  • Brisbane has grown substantially since 1974 – various TV reports.
  • Wivenhoe Dam manages only a portion of the Brisbane River catchment with the Bremer River and Laidley Creek catchments lying outside of the dam catchment areas – various TV reports and Hugh Lunn; et al. It is this circumstance, along with others, that is used to support the prediction of the likelihood of yet another 1974.
  • A full dam is equivalent to no dam – Hugh Lunn; et al.

If these ‘facts’ are agreed, then all of these matters need to be reviewed as a set, with implications of one assessed side by side with those of the others.
History, it appears, has shown that the hydrologists are correct – that the Wivenhoe expectations were at best very optimistic, or were based on the dam never filling; or assessed without an analysis of the increased impact of flooding with an increased percentage of the dam filled; and perhaps with all calculations seeming to ignore any parallel impact from catchments outside of the dam. What is what?
Why have the hydrologists’ opinions been put aside and not debated publicly or acted upon? How did this happen? Why?
Similar questions can be asked about the dam itself – was there any study of the likelihood of any increase in risk with increase in fill? – of increase in risk with the parallel increase in risk from other catchments? What work has been done on this?

What to do now?
If another 1974 flood is likely/possible, then what should the flood levels for Brisbane be? Should they be raised? How can this be managed? Can it? What impact? What implications?
Have things now got to a stage of just being too complicated, leaving us to be idiosyncratic Queenslanders – bred tough and able to just keep jumping up for more of the same as we keep doing more of the same?
It is a very difficult circumstance but it must be faced this time so that we might know what to expect in the future.
Being hopeful is just not enough.


Brisbane and regions west of this capital of Queensland were seriously flooded in mid-January 2011. The floods in some areas were so bad that they have been classified as perhaps a 1:200 or even a 1:500 event. The images of the water and the damage it caused were simply unbelievable – astonishing. There is no intention of dismissing this extreme regional flooding, but this text is concentrating on the impact of the water on Brisbane that had its last serious flooding in 1974. It was after this flood that the Wivenhoe Dam was constructed – to protect Brisbane from any repeat event. The details are:
Wivenhoe Dam promotional material states that it will reduce these levels by 2 metres – see http://www.seqwater.com.au/public/catch-store-treat/dams/wivenhoe-dam
The Government report on Flood Warnings for Brisbane classifies 3.5m as a ‘major flood’ – seeming to verify the Wivenhoe Dam marketing: see http://www.bom.gov.au/hydro/flood/qld/brochures/brisbane_lower/brisbane_lower.shtml;
see also http://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/~/media/b602b5cc-053d-4192-9968-37dca7e84ec6/pdf_icrcs_stage_3_technical_pre_feasibility_appendix_e.pdf where Q100 figure of 3.3AHD is suggested, varying between 2.8 – 3.8 AHD, confirming 3.5m as the promoted reasonable, realistic working average for Brisbane.
The question that remains is: what is the most appropriate Q100 design flood level for Brisbane because, alarmingly, the 2011 levels were one metre higher than this 3.5m figure?

In order to get some understanding of an appropriate realistic level, it might seem reasonable to ask an hydrologist for a level at which he might be prepared to locate his archives in a known flood area. Here expertise and practicality would come together with a intimate tension in a response that would avoid the pollution of undue self-interest and any distortion from an over-enthusiastic optimism. Well, this question was asked.

When a Queensland Government hydrologist was asked about the design of a development for his department on a flood-prone site a couple of years ago, the advice received from this hydrologist was that the 1974 flood level should be used as the design level for the archives. The explanation was that he believed that Brisbane could still be exposed to an equivalent 1974 flood because there was a very large catchment below Wivenhoe Dam. So 6.0m became the design RL (1974 level plus 500mm) for the critical, archival storage, a function that equates closely to habitable space in a domestic residence.

In the chat during the extended flood coverage on television, one commentator noted, almost as an aside (that was never further analysed), that Wivenhoe Dam protected/managed only about one half of the catchment of the Brisbane River – a statement that seemed to confirm the hydrologist’s words. Maps shown on these television reports also confirmed this graphically, showing Wivenhoe Dam to the north with a large catchment area below that gathered into the serpentine form of the river leading to the bay. When asked why Brisbane’s exposure to another 1974 flood was not being discussed in any public forum and why it was not public knowledge, the hydrologist merely suggested that this was not a fashionable topic. It seemed that it had something to do with political sensitivities.

Wivenhoe Dam information gives the expectation that 1974 flood levels will be mitigated and lowered by 2 metres. This is reflected in the data above with the lower level being used as a development guideline. The Lord Mayor, during the television coverage, noted that his Council required all development to be 500mm above the 1:100 flood levels for Brisbane – as if this was a reasonable defence of the criticism being directed at the Brisbane City Council. What he did not say was that these design levels had been revised and lowered from 1974 levels after Wivenhoe was constructed.

So why was there so much damage in Brisbane with this flood? It is not just that the city has been more densely developed as the Premier keeps repeating. If the Q100 levels have been reduced by 2 metres (the exact figures need to be checked; 3.5 will be used here) when compared to 1974 levels, and Council is asking developers to work to a level 500mm higher than these reduced figures, then designers/developers are being allowed to work to levels that are 1.5m lower than the 1974 flood level (using the 3.5 figure as an average for this example). The 2011 flood peaked at about 4.5m. It is being argued that Wivenhoe Dam is playing its role, but a full dam is the same as no dam; and there is, apparently, the large catchment below Wivenhoe Dam beyond anyone’s control. Simple maths gives the statistics that this 2011-flood level of 4.5m is 0.5m higher than the design level required by the BCC (again using the 3.5 figure).
Was it the pressure from developers to open up low lands, and the pressure from the real estate industry to remove the stigma held by 1974 flooded properties, that perhaps prompted what might be the silence on the apparent likelihood of another 1974 flood level being reached? It would seem that announcing that this could be so now might expose many to massive claims and embarrassment. It would appear likely that changing the design levels back to 1974 plus levels (to 6.0m) now might do likewise and have serious implications on real estate and development – and those in power. Is this why we are being told to be ‘Queenslanders’ – “bred tough north of the border” - and gullible? - just clean up, build up and shut up and wait for the next flood as things just keep going on as usual? One hopes not.

The Lord Mayor has called for an investigation into this matter but he seems to be backing off. Did he say too much without thinking? The Australian of 13 January 2011 interestingly has given an account of him apparently saying more at another earlier time. Here he is reported as being critical of a lack of action on a report that said that the design flood levels for Brisbane were too low – but he, too, has done nothing in his role as Lord Mayor. It seems clear that an investigation is indeed needed.

The 1974 floods involved about 8,000 properties – see http://www.bom.gov.au/hydro/flood/qld/brochures/brisbane_lower/brisbane_lower.shtml.
2011 floods involved over 20,000 (some say up to 30,000) properties and the flood level was about one metre lower than that of 1974. It looks as though the extra 12,000 (approx, using the 20,000 figure) properties that were inundated in 2011 are all part of the new post-Wivenhoe developments that have been built on what now looks like an over optimistic assessment (one hopes not a deceit) promoting lower flood levels in low areas. The enthusiasm for the promotion of anticipated lower flood levels has placed the new owners of the 8,000 properties that were flooded in 1974 in a difficult position, and it has hurt those who are still there and who suffered in 1974, all of who were, from all appearances, promised relief and safety with the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam. It is difficult to understand is whether this idea that the 1974 levels could re-occur was really known to be a possibility or otherwise by some. If Brisbane had used the 6.0m figure as the design level (1974 plus 500mm) for post-1974 development and managed the acknowledged flood-prone areas rigorously and responsibly, then it seems that the devastation would have been very much reduced.

Hopefully an investigation will expose the facts (see FLOOD FACTS). Already we have had repeated spin and a random spray of accusations and the usual platitudes, like: “Queenslanders are unique and pull together” – and keep building on flood plains, and keep getting flooded, and building, and flooded, and building, etc., while being told to believe otherwise? Sadly it seems that Queenslanders lazily, with an almost bizarre enthusiasm, accept this as the necessary Queensland spirit: “When the going gets tough, the faces shine” (Channel 7); ‘We’re Queenslanders – everyone has a ton of guts; and we will fight back.” (Channel 9); etc. Will we ever learn about the real situation? The matter is extremely serious as there has been loss of life, much trauma and extreme stress and financial loss yet again. The disaster will happen again and again and again if nothing is done other than to repeat clichés about Queenslanders being tough, etc. They will have to be if the reality has been ignored, perhaps allowing expectations of a brighter future to be falsely and wrongly promoted.

There is what looks like stubbornness in governments too, that seem to like to get their own way in spite of everything. The fate of the CEO (with planning qualifications) who argued against his Council on the matter of the development of the flood plains in his city comes to mind. If reports are true, he was threatened with legal action by the developer and was eventually sacked by the Council.

One again wonders if there is another silent culture in Queensland too, one that values the bushy’s ‘common sense’ more than any professional or expert ‘educated’ advice – where professionals are seen as too theoretical, with limited practical knowledge of the ‘real’ world, leaving those with their feet on the ground knowing best - and developers and builders (those at the coal-face of the industry) knowing best of all? Are we to be left being told that we are all “local heroes” along with cliché after cliché after cliché, while the floodwaters rise and leave us tons of mud and mess time and time again?

Simple logic would have it that if we had learned anything from the 1974 flood, we should have had, at worst, less than a few thousand properties flooded in this 2011 inundation that was lower than 1974. This lower level is ironically spoken of as “a great blessing”. The disaster raises many questions: does greed, self-interest, carelessness, and a disregard that ignores the possible facts and the likely potential impacts on thousands of lives for what might be personal/political gain, have any involvement here? A quick review of the flood history and its outcomes might suggest that the design levels for Brisbane are too low. The question that has to be answered now is: given our experience over time, what is the most appropriate Q1:100 level for Brisbane? It appears that there will be no easy answer.

Thursday 10 February 2011


Heinrich Wölfflin's wonderful text Renaissance and Baroque is always worth reading and re-reading. Sir Herbert Read said of  Wölfflin that he found art criticism a subjective chaos and left it a science. This old copy of his book was published by The Fontana Library (Wm. Collins Sons & Co.Ltd.)  in 1964, second edition, May 1966 - $1.30.
One part of the text that, throughout, is illustrated with some beautiful drawings, describes the differences in the facade of one project, Il Gesù, that was originally designed by Vignola and was later revised by Della Porta. These schemes are illustrated on pages 104 and 105 of the book (see below) with the text detailing the differences being printed on pages 103 and 106. The comparison is intriguing and surprising, as is the book itself, of which this comparison is so tiny an example. As raised in 'REVIVE BEAUX ARTS?', the matter of classicism needs far more attention than we seem prepared to give it. It appears to be just too easy (and fashionable) to dismiss it without any real understanding of what is being put aside. There is a wisdom and subtlety in this work that needs to be explored in detail, not so that the work can be copied, but that some understanding of the minds that assembled these parts and why, might be gained. The study could highlight a framework for action and thinking for us today, and stimulate a tolerance that seems to be missing in our time.
There is another matter than requires comment: one cannot but notice how these illustrations in this book look so 'naive' to our eye. They are beautiful in a special way only if we put aside our expectation that everything should be computer perfect. Even the way the photographs have been handled in the text - collected classically into three packages of gloss paper located at the quarter points within the bundle of the yellowing pages. We get so used to everything being perfectly where it needs to be that we should think more about other times that required other efforts with other technologies to gauge how our technologies are having an impact on us.


This is project by Foster + Partners working with Co-architects Adamson Associates in New York, USA, 2000-2006 - see: http://www.fosterandpartners.com/Projects/1124/Default.aspx
Here the scheme is illustrated and described in detail, with a summarized introduction:
'Hearst Tower’s distinctive facetted silhouette rises dramatically above Joseph Urban’s existing six-storey Art Deco building, its main spatial event a vast internal plaza, occupying the entire shell of the historic base. Designed to consume significantly less energy than a conventional New York office building, it is a model of sustainable office design.'
It shows yet another approach to keeping of old facades.



The idea arose, so one had to experiment – with sincere apologies to all the poets involved. The strategy is not unlike an illustrator using an artist’s work in another context – again, ‘with apologies to . . ..’ The notion was to prepare a ‘poem’ – at least something with the appearance of a poem - using a limited collection of texts, a set of rules and chance. The texts envisaged were the poems in one issue of Quadrant – hence the apologies. The first step was to take all of the poems not in texts (and no titles) – in this case from Quadrant June 2008 because this was the issue that was being read when the idea arose – copy them and cut them up into separate lines to be placed into a large envelope, mixed and selected at random to make a new collection of lines – a new ‘poem’ if one dare label this mix as such. Even the title was to reflect the same strategy: using all the letters and numerals in ‘Quadrant June 2008’ mixed as ‘8 QUADRANT JUN0 20’ – ‘THE MELANGE’ clearly identifying the strategy to mix, with a cheeky allusion to Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’.

The rules were:
shake the envelope;
take a line from the envelope randomly without any looking, preview or review; strategy, thought or intent – using chance alone;
paste each line down as it is drawn directly onto a sheet of paper into sets of four lines – ‘quartets’ or ‘quadrants’;
make twenty sets of four lines to reflect the ‘20’ out of the ‘2008’ -
(it just happened that the maths worked out this way);
the ‘8’ will remain as the allusion to Eliot’s ‘4’;
use the exact text, punctuation, capitals, format, font and style in each line as it has been copied – as in e.g., ‘QUADRANT’;
nothing is to be changed, re-worked, adjusted, modified or altered in any way;
no original text or context is to be checked, appraised, reassessed or judged.

The outcome is attached. There is no pretence as to quality, any claim to poetry, or any critique of poets, poems or poetry being suggested here. The intent is transparent, free and open: an opportunity for things to happen randomly within a fixed set of parameters. The idea looks at how random choices can create new relationships and contexts in alliances that form in the mind – or is it the body? - in a manner that, upon reflection, can only astonish. It is perhaps like a metaphor for life – c.f. Jung’s synchronicity? – where things happen and make their own new sense in a somewhat startling way.

It is for this experience that the outcome is being blogged, for others to ponder – nothing more. There is a mystery in chance that belies our understanding but seems to rely on our subtle and subconscious efforts to enrich an interpretation and perception for its being. Does it only show how optimistic our senses are – we are - when seeking to make sense out of things that are purely ad hoc: are faith, hope and love involved? Is this how we live? Is this the very nature of our world? Are all things basically random and relative as quantum physics suggests? Are we close to sensing another sense through a different set of senses that work randomly as well? Is it ‘another’ sense or just us – basic, poetic beings struggling to understand and establish an affinity with the infinity of chance possibilities of which we are a part? Are our faith, hope and love changed by our questions and analysis to give us ‘the trap of apophenia’*? There are indeed many questions and probably just as many – or more - answers.

* Chance is still working its strange magic. After completing this piece, one reads in The Spectator 20 June 2008, in Mark Mason’s  Trivia really is very important, you know : ‘apophenia’, the mind’s propensity to see patterns even where there are no patterns, and the reference to ‘the trap of apophenia’ seen in the listing added here:

Apophenia (Wikipedia)

Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness".

“While observations of relevant work environments and human behaviors in these environments is a very important first step in coming to understand any new domain, this activity is in and of its self not sufficient to constitute scientific research. It is fraught with problems of subjective bias in the observer. We (like the experts we study) often see what we expect to see, we interpret the world through our own personal lens. Thus we are extraordinarily open to the trap of apophenia.

In statistics, apophenia would be classed as a Type 1 error (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity). Apophenia is often used as an explanation of some paranormal and religious claims. Apophenia may be linked to psychosis and creativity.”

Klaus described the early stages of delusional thought as self-referential, over-interpretations of actual sensory perceptions, as opposed to hallucinations. Apophenia has come to imply a human propensity to seek patterns in random information, such as gambling. Apophenia can be considered a commonplace effect of brain function. Taken to an extreme, however, it can be a symptom of psychiatric dysfunction, for example, as a symptom in paranoid schizophrenia where a patient sees hostile patterns (for example, a conspiracy to persecute them) in ordinary actions.

JUN0 20

He drilled them so their stories became one
anyone can see the mincer is not to be messed with.
In years of innocence so long ago
And this is still that same world of course:

The vicious and the smug have all the clout,
neatly beneath their wings and fall asleep.
And the lodgings and the liquor were cheap.
of perhaps. Neither subtlety nor beauty

As they buckled to the hard task of silence.
the dying time proved slow and hard
And then at last he did a midnight bunk.
In line with some punitive little scheme,

The cloth of their jackets straining,
as if it had been treated with a dye.
The falling plays a favourite refrain
an unfinished stillness heavy with fear

An unbending Presbyterian.
but once I saw it being packed on Wednesdays
Or the woman at work;
It’s funny how their nipples get bigger.

The one continuing sign of him you saw
fruit wood and wrist-thick old briar
And knew the boy would lie, would have a go
comb and pluck out tufts of white fluff

as if a shroud
All those pastimes you thought
a river system aerial
could never hope to cover him

up and down my sleeves
Was the crate of his empties out the back.
to remnants of what has been.
and clouds are spreading froth across the sky.

onto the sands of Jervis Bay-
an album, photos, card from long ago
heavy as grain in a bin.
lying in bed wishing irons to rust, dusters

Fitting the handle to the twisting blades
where occasional pools of water sit
Gaunt and severe as the gaze of any elder,
The night my sister received the news

Some breathing hard, as if from work,
His smile returned, no place was this for tears
One of them always keeps an eye on the world.
of steady raindrops humming in my brain

The landlord was giving the guy a break
We could slowly sink in the silt
That he could cry on cue, and make his tears
Then steadily there’d grow another stack.

A screw buttons the rings of the mouth. Once
lurked beneath the shiny surface of my childhood
It moves like a cartoon, a mobile tap
but spoke like a woman who’d put up a fight:

you would never be asked to axe;
Deceased family and friends
in crevices and creases. It fills like a balloon;
A red blister growing unseen, unfelt

she sat straight up in the hospital bed
and the murmur of troubled men.
whether you swam every morning
Not his dear mother, though he loved her so

They gave him space, remembering what he’d done
if you hadn’t done that by now, it’s too late;
Captive, bearing mute witness
in reverse: falling open overhead

in unbearable blue. It is a cathedral
like a haemorrhoid. A swollen berry
of the hand as the mulish handle resisted.
the table’s in its grasp, thanks to metal wings,

All those hymns, sermons, prayers!
No words, no praise nor blame;
And when released about six months ago
the drunken roar remembered all these years

some days ago I do not
Inside, she’d waved a blade about-
from the grip of his frantic wife.
that I had always seen from her-

won’t warm you up; it’s too late
can be viewed through the gape in the head.
my breath a small bellows in the aching air
hide and crouch    clapped pouch

In the context of things architectural does this sense of the random equate with O. Gehry's crumpled paper becoming the basis for form?

Tuesday 8 February 2011








There was just astonishment when the new war memorial at Springbrook was first encountered. The monument read almost as a parody of a shrine, seeming to mock the feelings that such places are meant to engender. As can be seen in the photograph, the memorial strives for a strict formality with its axial path leading to a circular place marked by a minute, almost ‘jokey’ obelisk – like a chess piece on the Champs Elysees. The sense of a pious parade promenading along this axis is laughed at by the playground that it passes. Likewise, any possibility of solemn reverie being likely when one is resting on the seat provided near the small entry rocks pretending to be boulders, would be tortured by the scramblings and screams of the children, even potentially, for just the frame for play suggests this outcome. Trying to hide behind the tree will not change this outcome - perhaps it may be aggravated - and shifting to the other seat is no solution as it faces the play area, supervising it. It is not as though the play space can be ignored from any location. It dominates the area, located in a central position in this clearing with the memorial slipped in beside it in a tight squeeze, fitting snugly, rather like the last piece of a jigsaw.
The scale of this memorial structure, especially with its relationship to the play area, makes it appear as a model of a memorial, a place for children to enjoy. It is this ambivalence that tests the integrity of this place with what can be experienced as a mock sincerity. While this is an emotional worry, there are practical issues to be concerned about. How does one declare the memorial a special place for remembrance and reflection when it occupies the same place as the play area – its juxtaposed twin? The memorial could easily be seen as an extension of the play equipment. It will certainly be seen as something to play on. This raises other concerns. As the photograph shows, the play equipment has a special soft fall area, with equipment detailed for the safety of little fingers, fine legs and gleeful faces all distracted by fun and forgetful about caution. With the attraction of nearby ledges, piers, steps and the tiny obelisk, the concrete, stone and metal memorial can easily be seen as a play space – ring a-ring o’ roses?; but it has none of the safety features necessary for such a purpose. What latent threats lie ready to trap a child?

So there is a twin concern: the mock, almost mocking sense of this memorial and its adjacency to a play space, with each concern generating further anxieties. It appears that there has been little attention given to these matters, while that given to the decorative illustrations on the panels surrounding the mini-obelisk seems to have been exuberantly excessive. It is a shame that so much money and effort has gone into making this place where the possibility of mystery and quiet awe is diminished by the trauma of raucous play - even as a ghosted presence – and the decorative exuberance of the illustrations.

One is left wondering: do proposals for memorials ever get reviewed prior to their construction? If the argument for this memorial is that it will give Springbrook a place for the Anzac Day march to congregate, then one has to express concern about whether the crowd (even a small one) could ever assemble in this place with some simple dignity and functional comfort for any ceremony, without the play space causing a problem, either just by being there or being used. The ground on the opposite side of the path falls away fairly steeply, making any assembly an awkward lopsided affair with a bias to the playground. Indeed, it is the sense of honest and dignified ceremony at this now cluttered forested clearing that is missing. The pieces are there, trying to look like a memorial, complete with most of the popular clichés, when the eye is constantly engaged in the distraction of the colourful, and what could be seen as more interesting play equipment. One shudders to think of the possibility of this place encouraging children to participate in war games. There are enough clues in the decorative cutouts to stimulate such an interest, and the proximity to the playground suggests that such an interaction might be very likely.

Saturday 5 February 2011


A few days after category-five cyclone Yasi had crossed the North Queensland coast at Mission Beach on Tuesday 1st February 2011 at about midnight, causing substantial damage to the regional villages, towns and their surrounding crops, a journalist was inspired to ask the question: “Why do buildings fall down in a cyclone?”
The journalist put the question to a University Professor to get the answer.
The cameras rolled and panned in on the professor’s serious face and then pulled back. The professor moved learnedly across to an open laptop, the new symbol of scholarship, that was conveniently showing the map of a brown Australia with the huge white swirl of the cyclone moving across Queensland, and sat down.
He then began the explanation using his hands to illustrate the forces involved: “When the force of the cyclone is greater than the resistance of the building, the building falls down.”
Cut to a short silence, almost as if dismayed by the erudition of the answer.
Well, now we know.
What was not said is that we are Queenslanders and will want to rebuild.
As Premier Bligh said, lips aquiver “We are Queenslanders. We’re the people that they breed tough, north of the border. We’re the ones that they knock down, and we get up again.” (reported in The Australian Literary Review, Volume 6. Issue 1, February 2011, p.24). – and, one wonders, to be knocked down again?
The wisdom of this platitude never seems to be questioned. In the context of a pub brawl, it seems foolish. In the context of not learning from experience – or wanting to - it appears extremely silly.
We need a discussion on all of these matters:
Why rebuild? Where to rebuild? How to rebuild?
Then there is a further, more subtle and complicated layer: what to rebuild? People’s lives are involved here – their relationships to place, to landscape and to each other. The matter is not just one of falling buildings – yes, they fall down because a greater force than can be resisted pushes them, like being shoved in crowd. There are many more, and more complex questions to be answered to determine appropriate future actions. How can the future be made better than just doing the same again and again? The question should have been: “How do we rebuild again after a cyclone?” Then a more meaningful and useful response might possibly have been given. The question certainly engages a set of more challenging possibilities involving people and place. Universities should be aware of this and should be doing more than passing off simplistic explanations as gems of wisdom.


Re-reading John Summerson's classic text on Inigo Jones (Penguin, 1966, price $1.90 - old books still have an importance that should never be overlooked) raises the question: should we revive any of the Beaux Arts teaching methods? With the recent establishment of new schools of architecture in southeast Queensland, the question seems to be timely. The Bauhaus system of architectural education has been  the model for most schools of architecture now for nearly 100 years. Is there a better model? Is the craft basis, complete with workshop, still useful? Can it be improved? It seems just too easy to keep on doing the same again and again, without asking more and more questions in the struggle to be better and better - indeed, to be the best in the world. Why not? Does the business model not allow for such a risk?
Why has this question come to be asked?
Summerson's text on the facade of The Banqueting House, Whitehall is the stimulus:
The Banqueting House facade is a different matter altogether, and a wonderfully harmonious design. The Palladian diagram borrowed for the exterior coincides nicely with the scheme of the interior, whiich is to say that it prescribes seven bays of superimposed columns; as in the interior, Jones made the lower order Ionic and the upper an improvisation on the Composite. The diagram also prescribed a division in the facade giving prominence to the three middle bays. The interest of the work, however, lies less in the diagram than in its detailed development. Perhaps the first thing to observe and remember about the Banqueting House is that the normal wall surface is rusticated almost from top to bottom, all horizontal and vertical joints being firmly cut into a V. The effect of this is that there is no 'dead' surface larger than a single stone and that anything superimposed on the pattern of rustication must justify itself either by strength of relief or intensity of contrast. Jones uses both. At each end of the facade is a pair of coupled pilasters, their two nearly-joined areas of plain surface effectively quelling the force of the rustication as it approaches the corners. Next inwards comes comes a single pilaster between two windows (deliberately the weakest area), then a column in the round which, however, is not quiet in the round because beyond it the wall surface presses forward to claim half its thickness. The next column is a half-column on this advanced surface and this brings us to the centre. This subtle increase both in advance and relief in the middle three bays gives the facade its fullness and vitality. Much of the art, however, is in the orders of columns themselves. The columns are unfluted and nakedly smooth against the rigorous crust of rusticated wall, a sensuous combination reminiscent of Giulio Romano from whom, indeed, it probably comes through the Palazzo Thiene - the one building by Palladio where Giulio's influence is paramount. The friezes of the orders are unenriched but, ranging with the capitals of the upper order, is a sub-frieze of masks and swags. This, the only piece of naturalistic carving in the building, rhythmically celebrates the ascendancy of thee orders over the mechanistic hardness of V-jointed stones.  (p.p.55-56)
To understand what Summerson is seeking ot explain, one has to go to the photographic image of the elevation. Only here can the subtlety be seen. Plan and sectional detail drawings would make things clearer and more explicit, but the photograph is all we have. A close look at the shadows tells the story. What is discovered is that the facade is just too easy to glance at and dismiss as a familiar, bland, old-fashioned classic image. Summerson's observations help direct our eyes to the richness of this form and the quality of thought that has gone into its making. There is an exquisite play with planes and alignments of columns, with an equal consideration given to all of the other elements. The width of the shadows illustrate this. What Summerson does not point out is that there is a vertical play in the columns too. The upper set is so very slightly more narrow than the lower set and they are made of a different stone.
It is this intriguing interest in detail that plays such an important role in the reading of the facade that makes one ponder the possibilities of the Beaux Arts approach to things architectural for us today. What might one learn by preparing measured drawings of such a work? What else is hidden? Such a task would alert one to the very thinking of Inigo Jones. Why should we be so pompous as to just reject such an approach now merely because this dismissal was an essential step in the making of the Bauhaus and the framing of its approach?
Lutyens went through a stage in modernism when his work was mocked as nonsense until Venturi showed us how to see its unique expressive skill and wonderful humorous qualities. How else might we see things Beaux Arts today? It is simply unacceptable to dismiss anything on the back of the phantom progress that sees only better in the future as it races from the 'worn-out' past. The challenge needs to be reviewed. Let us start by drawing the orders. Then draw the classic buildings. We may learn about the importance of detail and from the rigourous thinking in and the deliberate intelligence of this work.We might find just how different it is to establish forms by ad hoc morphing than by other more purposeful means, and how one fine dimension can be so critical for the whole. Instead of modernism's 'less is more', we may come to see how 'morphing is less' and how formal, classic thinking is not merely formulaic; and realise how it can be useful for us today.
Some may see such an idea a just nostalgic nonsense, but there are other possibilities here. If nothing else, the tasks will not only improve the drawing standards of those participating, but they will also stimulate the appreciation of the skills of past eras that did not have electronic gadgets to play with - and it will put the concept of copybooks into a new context too.


CLUE: This person is a well-known architect.

Tuesday 1 February 2011



musings on ‘Rehabilitating Australia’s National Museum’ Rob Foot
Quadrant October 2008.

There seem to be varying visions on the subject of what a museum might be. To assist with this dilemma we could take a clue from Ananda Coomaraswamy on art and why it should be exhibited. This text is old but why is there always a preference for the phantom ‘progress’ even in ‘wise’ academia? Is it the search for the ever-new and ever-different PhD that is the problem? Using Coomaraswamy’s understanding, one might say that a museum was a space in which to explain matters of time and place clearly and objectively, not to allow – well as far as might be possible - ignorance, fashion, style, politics or prejudice to interpret or re-interpret any period or event in any particular manner. This has nothing to do with displaying things ‘all without being lectured at on what (one is) supposed to think about them’ (p.25); nor does it have anything to do with displaying objects in an entertaining void. It has to do with what was and is, not what might have been or might be.

Indeed, art gallery curators could learn a lot from Coomaraswamy’s essay and stop describing what is obviously a 250mm round brown, glazed bowl only as ‘a 250mm round brown, glazed bowl’ and tell more about their subject. They could also learn much more about the nature of light. Reflections - glowing and glaring - frequently cloud the stylish displays rather than elucidate them. Indeed, this 1943 text may also help with what now appears to be a problem – is aboriginal or indigenous art ‘art’ (p.64).

This understanding about exhibits may mean that things that some folk do not like or agree with are exposed for public viewing. There is an openness and freedom required – as well as an intelligence and tolerance - so that issues can be displayed with an informatively objective text and context. Mr. Windschuttle in his enlightening piece on the Blainey Affair (p.30) has shown how even universities are not open and free – or intelligent or tolerant. So, one might wonder, what hope is there for any museum? It seems that both museums and universities suffer from a similar form of ‘substance abuse.’ Mr. Rob Foot makes this problem in museums clear in his article in Quadrant October 2008 - ‘Rehabilitating Australia’s National Museum.’

My first visit to the National Museum of Australia (the NMA as he refers to it) was to experience the new and controversial building rather than to analyse the exhibits. I recall a disappointment with the museum - the exhibits as well as the building. There was a lack of clarity of intent in both, with many matters appearing just too clever – over-smart and exaggeratedly ‘postmodern.’ Mr Foot clarifies some of these concerns with the displays in his perceptive piece. An analysis of the building is another subject, but what seemed clear to me in my reading of the forms, colours, concepts and relationships was that there was a determined semiotic intent in the whole and perhaps a message in what appeared to be giant braille on the upper surfaces of the building. This left me puzzled, so I asked one of the attendants about this: ‘Was it braille? What did it say?’ Well, I might as well have asked him if the marks on a piece of clay in my pocket were Linear A or B and requested a quick translation of these impressions. So I left with a huff, a grunt and a chip on my shoulder, grumbling something like: ‘You should know or be bothered enough to find out seeing that your job is to assist.’

I have, since this time, always been critical of this fun-and-games smartness with what I still believed to be braille that was well out of reach for something shaped for an intelligibility to touch. It looked like a frivolous game in decoration – totally inappropriate and grossly insensitive. So it is that I have often put this point across. The information in Mr. Foot’s essay that explains that this braille actually originally said ‘Sorry’ and ‘Forgive us our genocide’ changes everything. I do not agree with the sly and sneering interpretation that he places on it. It seems to me that this message spells out exactly what was happening in the community. ‘Little Johnny’ (yes, Australians are brutal) did not want to say sorry, but the general masses did – even our old mate ‘Blind Freddy’ could see the need for it. ‘Kevin 07’ (fresh Australian comic book hero) showed this was the case, as well as the crowds on the Harbour Bridge and the skywriter above. There was a screaming silent ‘sorry’ waiting to burst out, but it was being silenced politically. This created a swelling tension and latent frustration in the community that needed to say sorry both publicly and formally but was not given its voice.

The use of text as graphics on buildings is something we have seen for millenniums in all places and cultures. In the context of the NMA and with the understanding of its intent, the braille as architectural text works beautifully, echoing the architectural role of text and saying exactly what was happening at this time. To claim otherwise is to distort the story. That the now Director of the Museum apparently juggled the huge ‘Sorry’ and ‘Forgive us our genocide’ dots around to mess the message because it may have embarrassed the PM (with the architects laughing ‘behind their hands’ – why even think this of architects?) is as bad as Ed Capon of the Art Gallery of New South Wales removing letters in, say, ‘CORREGGIO’ carved in the sandstone frieze of his gallery just because the PM did not like Correggio’s luscious, sensuous works or different politics. One wonders: what did the rearranged braille say in the end? Was Mr. Morton clever enough to spell something else out in the true mocking style of the Australian larrikin in a public toilet, or did he just leave a careless shambles like a ruffian raider in an ancient town defacing the messages and images of old power? No wonder the attendant was so useless – poor fellow. My apologies.

Why protect a PM when the rest of the population is calling for a clear and loud ‘sorry’? Why change the story of the time? It seems to me that the braille text is not some clandestine or snide attempt to present ‘the finger’ to the PM et al. No, it looks like an entirely relevant poetic architectural statement that accurately and sensitively identifies and expresses the feeling of the nation at this period. The mutilation of this message by the Director can be seen as an act of political espionage that, sadly, says something of this era – but only of the few. One could also see this circumstance as a grand statement of how Australians like to treat their artists and architects – and ideas: their ‘trick’ as Mr. Foot describes it, suggesting a silly, random game rather than any necessity and essential commitment. So, it seems, it is appropriate to have the braille bastardised on a public building, but inappropriate to have this act revealed to the attendant to let all and sundry know. This introduction to Mr. Foot’s article is used to show the beginnings of the rehabilitation of the museum – the correction of past sins: the ‘revolution’ (p.26). I see it as a real worry. We now have our national museum in the hands of a man who is apparently prepared to juggle and confuse messages to suit his personal and political whim.

There are many matters that lie in a similar field to this. Mr. Foot writes (p.26): ‘Thankfully  . .“The Australian land mass was formed over many millions of years, yet the way we think and live in it is still evolving. Just as we shape the land, it shapes us, our ideas and our understanding” . . replaces . . “The result [of European arrival] was biological invasion on an unmatched scale, and extinction of many native animals and plants.” ’ While one might wonder about how exactly we have shaped the land and it us – (mining, clearing and matters ‘Australian’ like beaches, barbecues and Phar Lap come to mind rather than any subtle love of landscape and Aboriginal ‘songline’ effect) – and perhaps why ‘natives’ was left off the list in the second, original text, it seems to me that these statements are not alternatives but make perfect sense as a set of sentences for the one placard. The fox and budlea come to mind amongst many examples of ‘biological invasion’ that the new text so easily glosses over in its attempt at a ‘win-win’ evasive language.

Only the other day my mother told me how she would buy rabbit during the war because it was the only meat available (probably for the price – two shillings each). Even today rabbit remains a good ‘chicken’ substitute. Reading the text that Mr. Foot apparently dislikes: ‘ “Big landowners hated rabbits. Yet small farmers and poorer Australians, both European and Aboriginal, needed them. For the price of a cheap rifle or a few steel traps, they had endless meat for their families and skins to sell for cash.” ’ (p.28) rings true to me. In another country at an earlier time it was also my father’s experience. In the Shetland Islands, he went out as a boy before school to shoot a rabbit or two to sell or trade for eggs; or to collect wood for the home fire (or for sale) from the other side of the island. The ‘replaced old display that read: “ Europeans saw Australia as a place that had always been dry …’ (p.25) - (that could also easily sit beside the discarded ‘ “Over time, we have developed new ways of understanding the land” ’ on the same placard) - made me think of father again. He often repeated the last words of the ‘Farwell’ (both The Pommes Farewell and The Bushman’s Farewell to Queensland) with a raw discontent, as part of a lament as he thought of ‘the old country’: ‘Thou scorching, sunburnt land of Hell!’ It seems that Europeans did indeed see this land as dry - and very hot. It was. It is. Perhaps our water problem today is that we have lost our understanding of Australia as a very dry country along with any idea of just what this should mean for our population and our use of the environment.

One wonders if Mr.Foot’s intellectual aggravation has just got too much momentum for him to keep a reasonable and fair eye on things, because some of his points have sense and substance while others seem to be problematical. In this context, Mr. Foot’s excitement over Phar Lap’s heart – ‘which illuminates in its recess as you approach’ and ‘from another angle . . . you see it, in cut-out, inserted into an anatomically appropriate space (where else?) in a huge photograph of the famous horse to which it belonged’ seems awkwardly odd because he appears to endorse this almost kitsch display as somehow appropriate and meaningful. The problem with most new museum exhibits is that the ‘fun-and-games’ possibilities of display design often crush the heart (forgive the pun) of the reality. Things trite and just-too-smart become the core and memorable experience rather than any other understanding. I am thinking here of subtle and rich matters like how landscape and art can indeed move and shape minds and emotions quietly, richly and evocatively. But then one might perhaps be more careless with a race horse than, say, with the subject of race in Berlin’s Jewish Museum. The exhibits in Daniel Libeskin’s beautiful museum – ‘powerful’ is often used – incorporate just about every trick in the book and rudely ignore the significance of their place. No wonder there was a debate about whether the museum should be left empty, completely without any displays at all. One of the few exhibits with an intimate strength is the one in the lower corridors that contains personal items and tells individual and family stories in a rather ordinary row of small shop windows. Most of the sliding, swinging, switching and swaying devices in the nearly always just-too-clever exhibits in the upper spaces of this labyrinth kill the thing they are supposed to be addressing. In a daze of excitement, Mr. Foot seems to fall for this indulgent game that ignores its context and message in favour of the more entertaining ‘bells and whistles’ experience. His great enthusiasm for ‘the hilarious Henley-on-Todd annual “boat” race along the dry river bed that bisects Alice Springs’ (p.27) seems to highlight his interest in fun and farce.

What is worrying with these changes to the NMA is that we might be manipulating texts to cleanse them of their rude and crude power and modifying the reality of the original experience and its context. One worries about the concern with the use of, say ‘Europeans’, when they were; and of being sensitive about ‘brutal’ farm practices when these, in part, were too. On the perceived bias with environmental concerns and things ‘green’, I wonder how Mr. Foot would like to see the very serious problem – ‘biological invasion’ seems truly appropriate - we now have with the imported toads being presented as an exhibit. Is this toad problem all a ‘greenie’ plot that needs a neutral or positive re-interpretation? Should we have toad games: guess which one will hop the greatest distance?

It all seems to me that texts are becoming cleansed in the way political spin and Yankee ‘speak’ use words to restructure and reshape a simple message with a distorting complexity of estranged meanings; e.g. ‘non-core’ to fudge a lie and ‘sub-prime’ to blur greedy irresponsibility. This is language that puts icing on the turd. Thank God for Eric Bogle who sings about ‘the 11th of September’ rather than the much more used and abused ‘9/11’. Australians do not talk like this. We have always put the day before the month, and still do – all the time: ‘24/7’ if simple English is no longer understood. We used to be more honestly blunt when considering matters (look at the English officer and the Anzac’s lack of intimidation) and had much more fun with letters than merely ‘buggering up’ signs. Museums should present things without spin and gloss – like it or not – and not in any decorative or cleansed manner. They have an obligation to reveal things as they were/are. There is no room for any manipulation – left or right or funny or clever. A ‘right’ version is just as objectionable as a ‘left’ version of history or times, just as an interpretation for cleverness or entertainment is. This means that attitudes and intents need to become more open, rational and objective – tough, rigorous, committed and tolerant.

Do we really have to discover/rediscover what it is/was to be Australian? Do we have to deny or reinterpret times when a spade was called a ‘fuc’n shovel;’ when over-pompous politicians were mocked and ridiculed openly; and when intellectual matters were poo-hooed as the work of ‘wankers’? Do we have to present matters in some ‘entertaining’ form for diversionary fun? Let’s see it all in its great raw, richness and not cringe around protectively with false neutrality or play ‘Oh! Gosh!’ games with any era. Oh, by the way: aboriginal art is art. Perhaps the better question is whether Western ‘art’ as “individual self-expression” alone is art. Hirst’s pickled shark comes to mind. The arrogance of the questioning proposition is astonishing. Is it just the analytical intellectual who thinks that aboriginal art may not be? Is this the same mindset that worries about ‘European’ and ‘brutality’? Let’s exorcise the nonsense with a loud Aussie expletive -‘....!’ (your choice). ‘Frilled not grilled’ is good Australian fun - tough, rough, a little careless and to the point; but the braille ‘Sorry’ is much better, richer – more resonant and articulate: but alas, these words and ideas are certainly not as hilarious as Mr. Foot finds Henley-on-Todd. One could see his as rather ‘dry’ humour.

We must not forget how humour, irony, disrespect and cheek all form an essential part of our being Australians. These qualities accompany a blunt straightforwardness that Mr. Foot seems to want to deny. No one might know ‘what “the Australian way of life” ’ (p.25) might be, but as issues arise, there is always a loud cry about things being seen to be ‘un-Australian.’ We must not let the pretence of pseudo-intellectual, politically-correct perceptions change our understanding of things - like it or not; just as we must not let a vacant ignorance play any role in interpretations of our past or present. ‘This quiet, successful and largely unremarked revolution’ (p.26) seems to be far more sly than the more honest braille, ‘Blind Freddy’ statement because it seeks to present what it believes to be ‘neutral and historically informative material’ (p.26) in a very mannered and neutered way: ‘castration’ comes to mind. It may not come with ‘a long and disdainful sneer' (p.27) but it does look just far too self-interested and smart - smug, as can be seen in the claim: ‘The NMA has been markedly improved, overall, and much credit for the many positives should be given where it is clearly due’ (p.29). Placing positives on real living negatives is not useful. It just conceals – covers up - and places just about everything and anything it touches into the seemingly ‘safe’ but very muddled world of ‘non-core’ and ‘sub-prime’ visions.


Mr. Rayner’s design concept for what could be described as a ‘floodable home’ published in The Weekend Australian 22-23 January 2011 is a concern - (see THE 'FLOOD-PROOF' HOUSE for the full report). The ideas are schematic and simplistic: raise some of the habitable spaces above flood level and make the rooms easy to clean out; yet the image suggests a fully resolved scheme that promises more complex and refined possibilities than these basic aims. The words suggest that there is some relationship with the character of the traditional Queensland house, but this seems to be optimistic. The concept of stumps, or structure, going to the roof, all clad in a skin of what is called ‘bling’ may describe many of Brisbane’s recent buildings with their dramatic ‘Sieg Heil!’ roofs, raking posts, floating panel walls and projecting planes; but the words conjure up a smart pole house rather than the subtle sophistication and necessity derived from the traditional building system that was used with eminent success for buildings varying in scale from the basic humble worker’s cottage to the elaborate decorative grand mansion. This range of success was achieved without apology or tension and with much integral grace, charm and dignity, free from the whims of forced fashion with its egocentric, self-conscious search for style. The Rayner sketch is also graphically ambivalent, indicating a puzzling patch of blue that starts one wondering: Is it river frontage or flood? What are the various pieces and other patches for? What are the blocked forms and projections doing? The Queenslander has an honest form and is adaptable for all sites, not just for river frontage or flood-prone sites. It fitted all locations - the modest, narrow inner-city streets as well as the grander avenues of more open areas, all with memorable outcomes.

There is another concern with this proposal that promotes itself as a solution for flood-prone sites using a financial parallel: it equates the cost of building this floodable home with that of the rebuilding of a typical Queenslander, as if the Queenslanders will need rebuilding. I can recall the 1974 floods and the ridges projecting above the liquid sludge in Fairfield, but I cannot remember the rebuilding of Fairfield. Indeed, the homes are still there, and can still be looked at with some incredulity – until January 2011 when we saw it all again. The buildings on the 12,000 plus extra post-1974 inundated properties may be different, but if a Queenslander needs to be relocated away from the flood waters, then it can be moved on the back of a semitrailer. If the traditional house needs to be repositioned above the floods, then it can be raised on taller stumps. Some of the newer homes are capable of a similar flexibility. The Queensland house is an extremely adaptable design that used durable materials. Why rebuild the Queenslander that had water rise through it? The Rayner solution seems to ignore these qualities and possibilities as it does the essential character of these places. It also glosses over the issues of functions, context, and orientation in its model, disregarding the significance of these matters for the shaping of form while having no qualms about being explicit with stylistic elements.

The Rayner strategy overlooks critical questions: Is the existing design flood level for Brisbane too low? What is the most appropriate design flood level for Brisbane? This matter of flood heights is brushed aside with the apparent brash implication that, with the Rayner concept, water level just does not matter; that water can be readily accommodated in the design. Flood levels may not be important for a new home that is apparently happy to go underwater at, it seems, whatever level might arise, but it is critical for the rest of Brisbane and for Brisbane’s future.

In spite of this floodable home solution, I suggest that the flood trauma will remain. The floodable home concept seems to be happy to have the lower carport, store, laundry, living area, entry and main stair all flooded, along with the upper-level kitchen, dining and living areas – and perhaps a toilet/bathroom space too – all apparently without any significant impact. It is as though these areas can all be made water and mud-proof, and built to be easily hosed out. The design promotes the uppermost floor (of bedrooms, study and ensuites) as the refuge for belongings to be moved to above the rising flood levels that are anticipated never to reach higher than the intermediate level. The acceptance of this arbitrary flooding limit appears to be one of the more obscure aspects of this scheme that seeks to promote some assurance on the basis of a hopeful design assumption alone. The principle is that if the water gets to the third level, then the whole of Brisbane would be in serious trouble too. This communal disaster seems a strange limit to use for a design criterion. Having the walls opening on the second level to allow for the mud to be removed from these spaces might provide an opportunity for interesting awning walls but it will not mean that life will be easy or back to normal without any major hassles. One must also remember the obvious: that costly kitchen and bathroom areas are not easily moved up to a higher level.

Images like the Rayner sketch suggest a quick fix to a very complex matter and avoid yet another fundamental question: Should we continue to build on the flood plains? It is a question that should have been asked in 1974 but was sadly ignored, put aside by the apparent (or hoped-for) miracle of Wivenhoe Dam with its promise of a reduction of two metres in the 1974 levels. These figures seemed to be taken as gospel by the Brisbane City Council that illustrated them on maps to show the reduced impact of a future flood on Brisbane. The fact that Wivenhoe Dam only ever managed water flows from one portion of the total Brisbane River catchment never appeared to be a concern to anyone, just as the idea that the dam might fill up never seemed to be contemplated. One new danger with this floodable home idea is that suavely presented schematic concepts like Mr. Rayner’s only offer us yet another ‘Wivenhoe’ distraction and assurance. The heartache will remain even with Brisbane’s transformation into a quirky third-world-styled river village – a pole city complete with copious layers of ‘bling’, a fashionable word that can be defined architecturally as an exuberance of expensive and ostentatious excrescences for a slick and smart show, like flashy jewellery worn especially as an indication of wealth.

This concept is really no solution to the problem of flooding or for the character of a rebuilt Brisbane. One might as well suggest a ‘pontoon’ house that rises up the poles with the floodwaters. At least it would always be above the wet. If one was to use some sarcasm, it could be said that such an approach could become yet another icon to show how Brisbane is a ‘world class’ city complete with ‘world class’ technology – a little like that used on our floating walkway, a part of which is now apparently still floating away out to sea along with numerous other pontoons.

The problem of floods in Brisbane needs to be looked at in all of its complexity and addressed with the hard decisions that were neglected in 1974. It is this delay that makes everything much more difficult today. There are no easy design or other solutions to this dilemma. If the issues are ignored again, we can only look forward to a future of flood; clean up; patch up - flood; etc., again and again. Being told that Queenslander’s are tough and resilient may be somewhat reassuring in times of hardship, but this does not make such a future set of confronting challenges a necessity. Decisions on actions needed to change the future require careful and rigorous assessment and review, and should not be sidetracked by attractively entertaining diagrammatic images that divert attention by delineating the ghost of a mirage for a hopeful future that is unlikely to be what the design seems to want to promote.

 29 MARCH 2019
Robinson Architects has designed a self-sufficient, flood-proof home that floats over the Australian bushland: ‘Self-Sufficient, Flood Proof Home Floats Over Australian Bushland’ - see: https://www.lunchboxarchitect.com/featured/platypus-house-robinson-architects/

Mies van der Rohe put the Farnsworth House on stilts - but . . .