Monday 30 April 2012


The idea was that we should re-visit the Arab Institute to show this beautiful building to our friends, so we strolled along the Seine after passing Notre Dame until we had to cross over to Nouvel’s Institute that could already be seen addressing the aspect from some way off. After achieving the almost impossible and surviving the road crossings, we moved onto the site of the Arab Institute and through the geometric masses that marked the entrance. The tight spaces opened up into a large forecourt that presented the wonderful wall of irises, Nouvel’s mechanical, light-sensitive, climate control devices that cleverly reference traditional Arab patterns in art and design. It was good to see again – just a grand a spectacle as it was remembered. But what was this?

To the right was a large free-form mass, curvaceous, glossy and white. This was new. It looked temporary. One sign seemed to suggest that it held a display of Zaha Hadid’s work. It was not at all clear. It looked as though Hadid could have designed this little mass as an icon to exhibit her work. Or was the display in the Institute building? The building was a strange contrast with the classicism and rigour of Nouvel’s building. Here were bold three-dimensional surfaces bulging and billowing with forms similar to those coloured blobs in an oil lamp. The mass made no particular gesture to Nouvel’s building other than with what one might assume to be an intentional indent opposite the entrance to the Institute. But was this merely a chance relationship? It held no certainty that this dent was created by design for any other purpose than it looked interesting. The remainder of the building was introvert and self-centred, and gave no hint of it knowing where it was. It could really have been anywhere.

It was attractive. One was drawn to it to touch it – to feel its reality; to look at its detail, for it had a surreal presence that was enhanced by the juxtaposition with the rigour of Nouvel’s formal grids. Wandering around what looked and felt like epoxy-coated fibre glass, one repeatedly pondered on what it was; how it was; what it was for; how it achieved any function; how it was made; and how one entered this cloud. While all but the last question could remain vague and unresolved, it seemed that how one should approach this building might be more explicit. The uncertainty left one uneasy. After making the assumption that the void between two bulging white masses might be a ramped entry, we wandered up to explore the possibility. It was strange that there was no confirming graphic that might have helped us in our dilemma as the way in, like the remainder of the form, had no straight lines and no visible termination.

Weaving up the ramp along its curves, one could again touch the white. It held an unusual lack of reality in its perfection. The question seemed to be: can something ever be so completely without blemish? The hands sought to confirm that it could be. It did feel beautifully smooth – not a pimple or a grain of grit disrupted the flow of the feel. Then there was a void and a glazed wall. We assumed this was an entrance so we walked in. The interior was as freely curvaceous as the exterior, but one had no indication of where one should go or what one should do once having passed through the doors. There were no signs here either. So we wandered around seeking out some sense of organisation. No, this way was a dead end. The other way opened up into spaces displaying various models in other voids enveloped by epoxy forms with a ‘futuristic,’ integral shaping.

Our confusion must have looked obvious. Two tall, uniformed guards approached us and asked us for our entrance tickets. We offered them the ones purchased for the Arab Institute, but were bluntly told that these would not do. Other tickets for this display had to be purchased. How were we to know this when there was nothing to explain even the purpose of this building? There was a stunning lack of any information and signage. It was all as vaguely amorphous as the building itself. Where did one get these tickets? At the Arab Institure. But it was closed. The Gaelic shrug and the threatening uniforms made it clear that there was no logical or rational strategy here that could achieve any result that might allow us to move in beyond this point, so we left in silent protest. Typical!

At least we knew something more about the building. On the way back down the ramp we discovered that parts of the curved walls allowed us to reach over onto what might be a roof. Did the white forms wrap the whole building with a continued refinement? No. The slick walls stopped with an elegant curve that lapped a secret gutter to catch the water running off what one might label as the roof. Standing on tiptoes to get a better view, and reaching further, one could see that the ‘roof’ was a taut, translucent membrane that let light into the interiors. It was an interesting discovery. But how did the membrane meet the gutter? The fingers probed. Great blobs of ‘squeezy’ sealant could be felt along the edge of the membrane at the gutter. The stretching to see more revealed an enormous messy strip of wide, bulky goo that had been smeared thickly over both membrane and gutter to seal the junction. There was no elegance here, just muck. While everything easily accessible to the eye was a pristine, hi-tech wonder – look at me, no hands! – once the detailing was out of sight, it became carelessly mundane. One was left wondering about the other joints that could not be seen. The DOMUS aerial image on the Internet showed that there were many other situations that required careful solutions to remove water and stop its penetration. What happened here? One could not be hopeful that everything was as beautifully resolved as the detail of the lower exterior surfaces.

The disappointment was that the gleam, gloss and wonder were all just a false, showy style, concealing some less than mundane detailing. Did this prove that Hadid’s work was mere decoration – a skin for appearance only? After seeing Nouvel’s work again, one could appreciate its coherence, logic, depth and rigour. It made Hadid’s work look careless, shallow, in spite of its attractive skin. Did all of Hadid’s work suffer from this lack of interest in concealed detailing? Is style the essence? If there is so much effort spent on achieving the desired image, and so little care given to the joining of the parts that cannot be seen, then one has to ask why  - why it is not unfair to make the claim that the work is all about appearance rather than anything else. All the joints in the white panels were perfect, but those unseen seemed, well, just sloppy.

Clever computers are able to develop and define the most complex of forms and make them, but how things are joined together and made waterproof needs the more traditional architectural input, techniques and understanding. Even though this might not be as dramatically exciting as computer work, the joint and the seal remain critical to the success of any architectural outcome and offer as great a challenge as does the shaping and making of the shell. Managing some highly visible joints carefully while not spending any effort or time on the unseen parts, does give the appearance of a smart hoax. It suggests much the same carelessness as was displayed for the visitor who was left stranded in a no-mans-land of indecision because of the lack of signs, either metaphorical in the making of the semiology of the masses, or in the specific information provided as diagram and text. This neglect suggests a lack of empathy for others involved in the building – the ‘users.’ What looks to be most important is only ME and MY form.

It could have been anywhere. Indeed, it is Zaha Hadid’s Mobile Art for Chanel. It has been itinerant since 2007, but this mobile pavilion has now has found its home in front of Jean Nouvel's Arab World Institute in Paris  - see

So the relationship with the Institute was purely ad hoc. So much for seeing meaning in a situation: apophenia - refer CHANCE AND DESIGN -;postID=3567903141577772216


The Abu Dhabi promotional presentation in the local Abu Dhabi art gallery showed the proposals all together. Following the slick hype of clouds of colour and their Mobius movements on the three-D, super panoramic video screen that curved around a sprawling, plush theatrette space, the group was ushered through into an area that had looked like a surreal photographic mural behind the moving radial images. This illusion turned out to be another display space viewed through a heavy chain curtain. After pushing the chains aside, the fuzzy haze disappeared to materialise as a gallery that housed a large model of the proposal to develop Saadiyat Island just outside Abu Dabhi. It was in this development that the Frank O. Gehry Guggenhien, the Jean Nouvel Louvre and Zaha Hadid Performing Arts Theatre were to be built – on the edge, beside and into the sea. The bulk of the development was dense housing. The model showed all three schemes together in their context, as well as the housing and the core Zayed National Museum that used the tail feathers of the falcon as its inspiration – a symbol of force and courage. It was heroic, not only for the president but also for the architect. The Foster group under the direction of Lord Foster himself was designing this museum. The presenter advised that Tadao Ando was preparing concepts for a maritime museum on the site allocated nearby, but this had not yet been modelled. The group of architects seemed to have been chosen from various places around the world as if to give this development immediate international prestige. Or was it just a marketing ploy? There appeared to be no rationale or necessity to gather such functions in this particular place. Either way, the invitation to build seemed to offer the architects the chance to do anything they wanted – the more extreme the better. They did not let anyone down, least of all themselves.

 The theatre building by Zaha Hadid looked like a giant sperm – perhaps a whale - wriggling sinuously out into the ocean; all, it seemed, self-consciously formed to create an interesting arrangement of complex melding curves and surfaces that could startle and excite. Boxes seem to be very undesirable these days where computers can so easily generate ever-new alternatives using programmed random distortions. Jean Nouvel’s new Louvre was more modest – more classically subtle and discreetly relaxing. It had a large perforated dome sheltering the boxed spaces below, hiding them under this hovering roof as if to disguise their perhaps undesirable presence, and further camouflaging them with a scattering of dappled light falling across their rectangular surfaces to create a delicate, confusing illusion of amorphous solids, voids and water. It was explained as a response to context – the harsh light and heat. Then, as if biblical in its declaration, there was Frank O. Gehry’s new Guggenheim, like a trash heap beside a swamp, appearing more interested in making an outrageous statement than anything else. It seemed as though boxes had been thrown willy-nilly perhaps by way of protest, and had been fixed in this ad hoc positioning and labelled as a building, a Gugggenheim outpost, in an attempt to match the Bilbao outcome. The Bilbao Guggenheim has set the example for the success of architectural extremes. It has become the envy of all places seeking international attention and acclaim.

The first glimpse of the Gehry model revealed a replica of a pile of trashed cartons thrown aside into a random heap. As one looked closer, trying to read the messy mass as a building, it seemed that a curved pieced of card could be interpreted as the linear entrance vault. Nearby, to one side of the main pile, a minute element appeared. What looked like braced timber framing that could have been a part of a shade structure was neatly modelled in the finest of detail. This particularity was an odd and puzzling clash in scale with the schematic bulk of the main mass. The form of the building was casually, almost carelessly, modelled in bland boxed card and some seemingly random conical and curved paper shapes. Why was so much attention given to such a mundane, almost insignificant part of this model that made its big parts from simple folded, rolled or bent card? Even what was assumed to be the entry was only a curved card with no supports. It looked like a rolled envelope shoved into a letterbox. The model really looked a shambles. What would water do here? How would it run off? How could it be kept out? Well, it probably doesn’t rain enough to worry. This is desert country. But sand? Will the whole gallery eventually be covered in trapped, drifting sand to become a giant dune? One needed to know more about this clutter in order to be fair to it, although first impressions are sometimes difficult to overcome.

Nearby, in a glass box, was a continuous video loop of Gehry, the man himself  - Frank O. – talking about his scheme in his rich, melodious, mesmerising Yankee drawl. It was like slow rap music with a Cohen-like resonant depth. He repeatedly, almost laconically, explained that the building sought to be a response to place. It had some sheltered areas on the outer edge. Well, this only heightened the dilemma. Did Gehry think Abu Dabhi was a pile of rubbish? Did he think that a few shelters around this pile would be enough for him to say that the building responded to the climate? Is this why so much detailed attention had been given to a tiny piece of shade framing when all other forms were left more than broadly diagrammatic, with all of the details ignored? It seemed as bizarre as the whole concept that appeared to be asking, “How can I be most outrageously provocative?” Had Gehry run out of time for this presentation, or ideas?

It truly was very strange. Perhaps this is what the promoters were wanting? One kept on going back to view the model in order to see if there was any substance to this proposal. Was it just a try-on – a joke? If shelter in this harsh environment was the theme, where were the other shelters? It was not at all clear if the bits of card were solids, voids or sun screens – or any combination of these. It was an enigma. Looking at the proposal with an open mind and a casual, uncritical eye, one slowly began to envisage wind tower shapes, and forms reaching out for light. The muddle eventually took on the scale and hectic appearance that one found in the buildings around the souks and the nearby alleys and lanes. Viewing the massing, one slowly experienced the familiar feel of chaos that some areas of old towns in the region have. One recalled the random roof scapes of these buildings, all so varied and ad hoc, that offer such extraordinary vistas. These prospects presented an identity that could be described as a clutter of chaos that matched the model’s character. Is this what Gehry was trying to touch? Why does he simplistically try to explain the outrageous pile as a response to place with a few perimeter shade areas in this hot climate when it might entail a more sensitive and complex strategy? Is it just not politic to say such things about the local villages and towns, or is one reading too much into too little? 

The proposal makes more sense as a response to the random complexity of traditional planning patterns and form than a climatically driven solution. One could envisage the cones allowing into the dark, cool shaded interiors, those beautiful shafts of stunning light that one sees from a domed oculus, or slicing through the framing of a souk. The shambles held the possibility of shaping a beautiful array of interrelated spaces, both large and small, similar to those one sees in traditional lanes and courtyards. Let us hope that this is the meaning. Just building a mess is too easy. The ad hoc jumble will still gain international awareness because everyone will be talking about the sheer cheek of Frank O. Is he too good for anyone to believe that he can accept the proposition that the random pile will do; or is he so bold and brash as to propose one for no other reason than he can build one? Or is there another agenda? But what can be said of Z. Hadid’s theatre? Much the same, but its references are more obscure. It has an organic appearance that suggests skeletal remnants or heaving dunes. Perhaps skeletal remnants on dunes? Or it is one of the many super luxury yachts in the region: true theatre on water?

In an era that sees the drama of climate change impacting on our lives, and where wars seem to be a part of our everyday experience, the attention to things climatic is becoming a cliché. Likewise, we see the familiar images of devastation everywhere. Broken, smashed, leaning, twisted, holed, fragmented, knarled, deformed buildings remain as ruined remnants of war and terror. Such images appear on the news only too regularly. One has to wonder why Gehry (et. al.) works so hard to produce similar images as new ‘arty-smatrie’ buildings? Abu Dabhi has a twisting building already – a wobbly tower. Clever. More quirky distortions are proposed or being built elsewhere in the Emirates. What is the sense of this other than newsworthiness? – more strange; higher than highest; most unique; etc.: something to talk about; free advertising? A disc-shaped hotel was passed on the way into Abu Dahbi – smart: pause for a photo; ogle in amazement; move on to the next. Could an alphabet-shaped range of hotels be constructed for a hotel chain? What could or should one spell? Could more complex twists be made? A Mobius strip building? It all sounds so really - surreally - very odd, but it is all very possible just because it can be done. The question is: should it be done?

Architecture has to be better than random games manipulating malleable forms, otherwise it is just a forum for the greatest ‘”OH!” - “Oh dear!” There is no doubt that such architecture will stimulate attention and tourism. It becomes a freak show. The danger is that these slickly smart – smart-arse? – buildings will become models for young minds to either match or better; as though it was the norm; and that the attitude of the new and most-fashionable ‘master/mistress heroes’ will set the stage for mirrored stances, attitudes and actions: “ME is good.” Gehry’s enigmatic explanations could set a precedent, just as Hadid’s suave stance might. The promo image of Zaha looked like a front-page pose for a fashion magazine, with the head photographed from an unusually low angle, framed with fan-blown hair, in full frontal rawness with the eyes looking down, casting one into the role of the ‘lesser’ mortal. I have never seen her like this before. She usually looks, well, different to this. There is no humility or apology here in this image – just ‘Look at ME! ME!’ Vague memories of a range of images of the same ilk come to mind. Lord Foster offers a different, more surly ME, with no hair to dramatise the appearance. After all, he is a Lord: praise the Lord.

There is something strange going on here. Is it a cultural thing or the ravages of promotion and fashion taking control of architecture as it has in just about every other aspect of our lives that face the void of meaninglessness in ever-new distractions at every turn: slick cars; smart phones; magic tablets; fancy food; designer clothes; all with matching watches and accessories to die for – if only. The Hadid image and building model – the lights really come on! “Isn’t that quaint?”: let’s play on/off – reminds one of a recent advertisement for a very expensive hotel. Here, a bronzed, nearly naked, beautiful female is sprawled over a designer’s lounge by a bluer than pristine blue pool, with a heavy gold necklace draped around her neck, with the words above in classic, elegant script in a fresh blue sky: “Luxury just for you.” There is not a blemish anywhere. Hell, is it possible? For me?? Luxury!! Perfection! Shucks. Thank you so-o-o-o much! Alas, it will never be thus.

Are the Abu Dahbi projects all touching a similar vein? Nouvel’s Louvre seems to have some sense of a serious architectural/environmental agenda/theme/rigour to consider and talk about without exaggerating any egocentric hype or ideal. It is quietly introvert. A hovering, gentle and supremely delicate, shimmering beauty seems latent here rather than any exclamation screaming ‘NOUVEL!’ It is located centrally, between the exuberant, exclamatory extrovert confidence of Z. Hadid and Frank O. Maybe such proclamations have to be separated by a mediator? Nouvel’s Louvre sits as a glimmering gem between two stones being flogged as extra-precious diamonds without any testing or rationale being available to check the rating or quality. Will these buildings sink or swim? Will these schemes have sufficient stamina and integrity to have and to hold meaning beyond just being alarmingly different? Can they sustain a future wellbeing beyond the immediate interests of journalism and propaganda?

 One might hope for this as the best outcome. Such a conclusion could transform perceptions – even first ones – and offer new visions for a meaningful future. The alternative is unthinkable – the screaming success of cynicism. Change is rarely ordered, but it seems a folly to ignore simple, subtle, humble human qualities in favour of the exuberance of promotion. It may be an entertaining diversion, but it will distract only for a short time until life matters begin to concern us once more. It is at this time that sustaining substance is sought in the silence of solitude. It is rarely found in the exclamation, but the desire for it may be embalmed in one - a desperate, despairing, anguished cry, as illustrated by Edvard Munch.

Monday 23 April 2012



It seemed a good idea to buy a carry bag for the laptop to make it easier to lug around. After all, the laptop is portable and a carry bag would protect it and make transporting this wonderful piece of equipment more convenient. So the options were reviewed. An Australian design was chosen, as it appeared to do everything one would want; and it looked attractive too. It was black with neat grey detailing and a subtle red graphic brand mark on the front flap. The attached blurb praised all the qualities of this carry bag, so it all looked good – just what one wanted. It offered sound protection for the laptop with soft inner surfaces and dense foam, and had convenient zipped pockets that could take the charger and other sundry items. A rear pocket could carry paperwork and other thin flat objects. So the bag was purchased.

The tag on the bag showed a commitment to the product and created confidence in it:
We work hard to make sure that you love your STM bag so much that you buy another, and another, and another, and then you tell all your friends about your amazing bag with brilliant features, convincing them to get one for themselves.
We love to hear your feedback and comments, they help us adapt the bags so that you get the features you need to make your life easier. You can contact us with your comments and questions using the form below or by email to Please double-check the email address you provide. Our privacy policy outlines how we treat the information you share with us.

The laptop fitted well, the charger squeezed in, the telephone connection line fitted into a smaller pocket, and the A4 pages and folder slid neatly into the rear pocket. Everything seemed to be going fine. The bag was placed on the shoulder and adjusted for comfort. Computer travelling had started. It felt heavy and the bag moved around on the shoulder, but one assumed this was only a matter of getting used to the new bag – teething problems. The bag was taken overseas. After getting used to the annoying airport protocol of taking the laptop out at every security station for separate scanning, one soon also became familiar with the awkward load on the shoulder that still kept moving and grudgingly accepted both situations.

The bag had a bad habit of sliding off the shoulder, especially with hands full of other luggage when repeated subtle adjustments could not be made. It became a real frustration. It wasn’t until we were home when freer hands and time back in Australia allowed the opportunity to look more seriously at the slipping problem. A repeated experimental study showed that the rhythm of walking made the shoulder strap slip to one side within the loose, padded strap sleeve that had a non-slip grip on one side and a grey embroidered graphic in black nylon on the other. This shoulder pad was able to slide along the length of the strap so as to allow for easy adjustments for various lengths that people might prefer This device overcame the need for any extra clips on the bag and strap for required adjustments. The sleeve was not fixed to the strap in any way.

After repeated tests in different circumstances, it was finally observed that as the strap took the load of the bag, the strap slipped across the inside of the sleeve, to force its way to one side of this pad. The grip side of the sleeve held the pad in place on the shoulder until the strap load was at the extremity of the inner edge of the sleeve, at which time the sleeve rolled over on the shoulder, placing the load on the slippery side of the pad that was now facing down. This surface offered no resistance to the load that was still pulling to one side, and so the sleeve slipped along the shoulder until it was pulled back into position, to start the process all over again. Ironically, once the sleeve had rolled, the broader firmer, padded, non-slip side of the sleeve stopped it from rolling over again. Pausing to manually roll the grip side back into its correct location on the shoulder was useful for only a very short time. The tests showed that it took only twenty paces of brisk walking to have the whole slip, roll and slide completed.

Once the process had been understood, it became more and more frustrating. So photographs were taken of the problem in its various stages of slip, roll and slide, and sent off to the manufacturer – well, to the company distributing the bags in Australia, for, upon a closer inspection, in spite of the boasting of the Australian design, the bag had been made in China. During the photo session, it was discovered that a simple movement of the shoulder up and down gave the same result as walking. The photographs were e-mailed off with an explanatory note.

A response was received shortly after. It offered praise for this research. The company representative noted that it was only with such feedback that the product could be improved, and the company was always trying to do this. The company representative promised that the company would review the design and replace my bag with the new model that would be out in about three months. This seemed a long time to have to put up with the problem, so I experimented by cutting a piece of stiff vinyl and fitting it into the sleeve. The hope was that this might make the sleeve pad more resistant to turning. Well, it did work, but only improved the situation for about another fifty steps, at which time the whole sleeve jerked over and slipped down the shoulder.

Some many months later after hearing nothing and still suffering the shoulder problem, the company representative was contacted. The message was that the new model bag would be out shortly. It had a slight improvement made to the shoulder pad. My bag was to be sent back at my expense, and the new bag would be forwarded to me when it arrived. So the bag was packaged, posted and we waited.

Then, a little later, the new bag arrived. Still smart, but with an appearance not quite as suave as the previous bag, the new carry bag had extra pockets and a similar strap sleeve that looked a little larger. I packed the laptop and its accessories into the new bag and walked out to try it. Thirty steps down the road the sleeve rolled and the bag slipped. I was more frustrated than ever. So an email was sent off advising the company that the new design still had the same problem.

Seeing that the company appeared so interested in design feedback, I thought I might help it by pointing out a couple of other problems that had been experienced with the design. When the charger and cords were in the front pocket, the front flap was unable to reach the Velcro strip to close. This Velcro strip had been stitched to the lower front edge of the bag and picked up all of the fluff and fine trash from the floor when placed on it. Standing the bag up against a chair, a wall or a piece of furniture would almost always result in the bag sliding over. This was as frustrating as the shoulder problem. It just fell down time and time again. The underside of the bag was the same slippery nylon used for the top of the sleeve. The bag needed a non-slip lower surface to make it stable. These issues were carefully noted for the company to consider, as the previous information suggested that this Australian design team was interested in useful feedback. I felt pleased that I had purchased an Australian design. But . . .

The tune had changed. The response was blunt. There was nothing wrong with my first bag. What was I complaining about? It must be my shoulder. No one else had complained. Nothing more could or would be done. Go away. Try another manufacturer’s shoulder pad. The response was very disappointing. So I threaded the strip of vinyl onto this strap, wedged it into the sleeve and it is still there. At least it is a small improvement. The bag is still slipping on my shoulder and the floor, and has collected an amazing array of fluff that gives the Velcro the appearance of felt and diminishes its effectiveness. Maybe this is not so critical as it still does not do up over the charger. I remain frustrated. Now the zipper has broken!

I have decided never to carry this bag again when travelling. It is used just to protect the laptop as I cart in around in the car. It seems to do this well. I carry the strap rolled in my hand and hold the handle on top of the bag. Occasionally, when essential, I pop the sleeve onto my shoulder. I always have to check to see that nothing has fallen out and have to use a prop whenever I want the bag to stand up on the floor beside me. Australian design? Who cares? It seems to me that I was given the classic call centre PR brushing aside. Nothing has been changed with this new bag design and it seems clear that no one wants to know about any other issues either. The bag is still being made in China and is sold here at quality Australian-design prices. I know how much the Chinese sell bags for in Beijing.

Since this experience I have looked around at other carry bag designs. There is an American design that solves all of these problems. A stiff, broad shoulder pad is fixed firmly to the strap and does not slide or roll. It sits on the shoulder with a secure and certain confidence. The Velcro closure is stitched about seventy-five millimetres from the lower edge of the case and stays clean. The underside of the case has a textured non-slip surface so that it stands exactly where placed on the floor without the hint of any uncontrolled movement. The bag closes when full. I know that next time I will not judge the design by its appearance and promotional material but by its performance – and I know what particular performances one requires in a carry case now that I have experienced failure. It will be Belkin next, not STM. It was interesting to discover that the problems I had experienced were not a figment of my imagination or a problem with my body as I was prompted to believe, and that another designer was aware of these problems and had addressed them thoughtfully. They issues are real.

Maybe STM has learned. I know that my model bag has the problems that I have passed on to the company. Perhaps its newer models have responded to the feedback? I have not researched this. All I know is that good design is more than creative marketing. It engages the simplest of issues and addresses their needs so that one never has to consider their accommodation or make allowances for them. Only then can the design truly offer the admirable, unselfconscious usefulness that good work and wellbeing requires. It is always more than beauty and slick graphics. It cares too. Sadly, it just seems to take time to learn – for everyone.
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Sunday 22 April 2012


There is as quality in graphics that makes certain concepts and references explicit. These factors usually establish an integral relationship with the subject being stylised. The process is known as creating a logo. A logo is a graphic device that establishes the identity of what it is marking and adds something more. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. It is this characteristic of images that makes logos so important. A good logo can transform an entity and make it a household name - immediately recognizable in all of its subtle references that should ideally collude to reinforce the unique characteristics of the primary subject. There is a rich transparency and immediacy in good graphics. It is all more than just a stylistic game. The danger with these images is that a bad graphic carries the same authority in a negative manner. The creator has no control over how an image will be read, in spite of any specific defined or theoretical intent.

The pure new wool logo is one of the great logos - simple, recognizable, memorable, unique: beautiful, compact. The new Woolworths logo does much the same but with less panache and a bit more 'noise.' It reads as an apple peel 'W,' leaving one with ambiguous interpretations - fresh fruit or leftovers? It is very pretty, but maybe it places too much emphasis on fruit when Woolworths stands for so much more? Yet it does work. It is a recognizable image that has an intrigue in its cleverness that interests one. Hence it is memorable - well, it becomes familiar. We live in a cloud of logos. Everywhere we look we are confronted with a logo or specially designed graphic styled to prompt the particular message and feeling. Our world seems to never exhaust the possibilities for creating new identities. What are these images doing to us?  Traditionally logos were more than markers or signs. They were symbols holding power; rarely something arbitrary or merely pretty.

Today it seems everyone and every group needs a logo as a decorative marker of 'me.' It is a little like keeping up with the Jones's. Cigarettes need them (look at the plain packaging protest); noodles; television stations; corporations; transport providers; even governments have to have them. It seems that everyone, yes, even firms of architects, has to have a smart graphic as a part of being there. So it is not a surprise to see that the Board of Architects of Queensland now has one. Well, I think it has. On opening the annual renewal of registration correspondence, a series of marks were revealed in the top right hand corner of the first page. This looks to be a logo location. There were four shapes in different greys that seemed to sit in a random relationship, almost forming a square - well, what one assumed to be square-ish. But what was this hieroglyphic assemblage. What was the message? What was the sense of these markings? Was this a logo? It held nothing architecturally obvious or any sense of alluding to a formal statutory body. The words below - BOARD OF ARCHITECTS OF QUEENSLAND - suggested that there was a relationship between the marks and the words. Looking more closely at the shapes, one could guess that the top left shape looked rather like a letter B, but incomplete. What on earth were the other shapes?

The eye wandered down along the darker tones of grey and rested on an angular image that looked like the letter V turned upside down. This was a puzzle. The mark opposite this inverted letter had an odd shape in paler grey. It looked a little like a pair of calipers as it had a pointy end with two curving 'arms' extending from this lower corner. In the same grey tone above this strange shape beside the B, there was what appeared to be a portion of a numeral - zero. It looked like part of a naught and reminded one of ink-ribbon type from a worn ribbon and dirty keys. But what was this grouping? It started to look like a flower - four petals of something - but not a very good flower. Petals are always more and better organized.

Starting again with the first hypothesis that proposed that one shape was supposed to be the letter B, the guessing game was extended with the assumption that B stood for BOARD in the name below. So where was the A? The O? The Q? No match was immediately obvious. It was confusing to see a set of four shapes all of equal presence in two tones when one was trying to match BoAQ to the graphic design. Gosh, perhaps the V is the A; and the part zero is the 'o,' but shown as O. Where was the Q? There was only one choice left - the calipers must be the Q. Well, it took a while, but one could postulate that the pointy end was the tail of the Q and the remainder of the shape was a portion of the O form in upper case. Even with this logic, it was difficult to convince the eye to see this lower right mark as the letter Q. The shape kept on looking like part of a lower case 'a,' following the example of other incomplete letters. The mind was constantly trying to see 'architects' in this mark, leaving the V stranded, without any role in the theory being tested. The shape was reading as an insert marker for the letter B above, a connection reinforced by the darker tones, rather than as an A. Where was the B to be inserted? Maybe the adjacent bracket image - } - created by the matching grey shapes on the right of the 'insert B' message had something to do with this? Or are these twin mystery shapes in pale grey a 'g' for grandma's glasses?

In spite of this quandry, the idea that these shapes referred to initial letters of the text below seemed to be the best guess. Flowers and approximated squares appeared to have no necessary relationship with this body, and there was no other obvious identity that one could fathom as being relevant. So perhaps these shapes display an attempt to make something meaningful out of the initials of four words? If so, one has to ask: why do it in this fashion? It is all very confusing. There is no immediate identity or recognition that grasps the eye or mind in this assemblage. Why two greys? Why treat the 'o' of 'of' as being equal to the B, A and Q? It confused. Ordinary speech and text places a lesser indentity on the 'of.' Referring to the title in this manner makes it appear - after much thought, reassesment and training - as 'board OF architects queensland.' Hey, there is another 'of' in the words below! Surely not? Why graphically refer to one particular 'O' of one 'of' in such a significant way and not the other? The letters really are: BOAOQ. The graphic has only four shapes!

What on earth is going on? This anomoly makes the image far more baffling. If one is referencing letters, then they must all be referenced if things are to be clear: surely? - especially given that it is the insignificant 'of' that is being discriminated against. Why acknowledge only one of the two in the text? Why not ignore both? Maybe the hypothesis is incorrect and the graphic / logo has another meaning? Who knows? The really surprising thing is that this is purportedly the graphic for a Board of Architects. Surely someone could have reviewed this before it was finalised? Were architects involved? This is a design profession. What is happening here? There has been much discussion and criticism about the 2012 Olympic Games graphic, but this London logo has more certainty, clarity and identity than the BO^a image. What has gone wrong? One might have hoped for a stunning logo to represent an office related to a professional design body - especially the authority that controls the right to practice. The current logo - if it is one - only seems to confirm the cliche: don't use architects, they leave you in a mess and cost you a lot of money.

Graphics need to be better that is. They are never just pretty patterns. They require rigour and effort - a struggle to seek out an essence that can be grasped in a marking in a moment. The task holds some of the qualities of letter design. The current graphic is toying with this - poorly - and misses the sense of identity that an iconic image can shape. Is this a reflection of where the Board is? - the profession?

The sense of the making of an image can be clearly experienced in the puppets made for the stage play 'War Horse.' Here pieces of cane and fabric are operated by three people. While all of these factual and functional details are clear for all to see, one reads the whole assembly as a horse. The illusion is so powerful that the team took one puppet to the Sandown racecourse in Britain. The image and its identity can be best appreciated on YouTube - see 'War Horse Puppet at Sandown Park, Esher.' There are other related YouTube sites too. The puppet is simply astonishing. It is this sense of identity and authority that good graphics display. One is also able to see such transformations in traditional design where, with an equal presence and without compromise to the image or the function, a bird can become a jug or a paperweight. We seem to struggle with such remarkable parallels today, preferring - well, anything but this transforming, transfiguring delight.

Flicking over to the second page in this correspondence from the Board of Architects of Queensland, the eye was again presented with the same corner image, but this time it was crowded with bold text nearby that read as a command - a demand: 'Return completed application form with payment of $155.70 by 31 May 2012.' Hum! The Board does need some advice on graphics. This juxtapositioning was just crude. It also begged the question that related to the registration itself: why does it cost the same to be registered as what the Board calls a 'Non-Practising architect' - 'I declare that I will not practise as an architect in Queensland' (go to New South Wales?) - as it does for one who practises, complete with the appropriate 'FITNESS TO PRACTISE' ticks? Why pay to not practice? Surely one just goes and does this, as Christopher Robin explained to Winnie the Pooh when Pooh asked how one did nothing? Do we need a new category: 'ex-architect'? 'Exceptional'! What is being controlled here? The word 'architect' is bandied around by all and sundry these days in a miriad of differing contexts and no one cares. One wonders why the effort is being made to control the word when its current usage seems to be so out of control. Perhaps the new graphic logo,  (if it is indeed this), is an appropriate indication of the state of the Board today?

Weeks after publishing this article, when searching for more information of CPD, the graphic appeared on the computer screen in full colour. It was a surprise. Instead of making things clearer, it only raised more questions. The appearance of colour made one recall the importance of having a graphic that can be as expressive in black and white as it is in any hue. This graphic seemed to be searching for an identity in choices that appeared random.

 Assuming the four shapes in the block are references to letters: the B was dark grey; the O was olive green; the A was red ochre; and the Q was tan. The text below these markings, in block lettering, was pale grey. But there was more. This graphic was now located on the upper left side of the page, with a red ochre line below it and another line of text to the right reading 'Board of Architects of Queensland' yet again; this time in upper and lower case, red ochre letters in a different typeface. Why are things getting so complicated; so varied; so ad hoc? Below this underlning of the logo and the additional text are two dot points: 'protecting the public'; and 'advancing education in architecture'. This line of letters is in the same font and colour as the additional title, in lower case. Is this a mission statement or is it what the Board thinks it is doing? One might like to know more about both of these activities and how the Board thinks it is achieving good outcomes for everyone. That the Board is apparently happy with its' new graphic identity only raises more and more quesitons about its' role in the profession.

28 January 2015
See also:


This article is part of a set - CARBON 1, 2, 3 and 4 - that has relevance for CPD: see note in CARBON 1.

Carbon: going off the grid

  • From: The Australian
  • April 20, 2012 12:00AM

 Allan Jones has a vision for Sydney in which greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 70 per cent by 2030. Picture: Adam Knott Source: The Australian

WITH the help of 13 major property owners, including Lend Lease, Stockland, Colonial First State and GPT, the City of Sydney is about to generate its own electricity.
Not only that, it will supply hot water for heating and air conditioning to buildings without using additional electricity, delivering substantial cost savings.
At 15 locations in the CBD and inner-urban residential zones, gas-fired generators will be able to supply 70 per cent of the city's electricity and cut greenhouse emissions in city buildings by 40-60 per cent. The city's remaining energy needs will be met through renewable sources such as solar. Starting with the city council's own 230 buildings, the plan aims to take the city entirely off the grid, supplying low-carbon power at a competitive price.
Combined with master plans for capturing and recycling water and "greening" the waste stream, the vision holds the promise of transforming the Emerald City into the "greenest" city in Asia.
It's the brainchild of engineer Allan Jones, who was headhunted from the City of London's Climate Change Agency. In Britain he introduced local energy generation and renewable energy projects and delivered large cost savings in the process. His vision for Sydney is no less transformative, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent by 2030, with a suite of initiatives including using gas recovered from sources such as landfill, the sewerage system and treated household waste.
It sounds futuristic, even overly optimistic, but implementation has begun. Cogent Energy, a subsidiary of Origin Energy, was recently chosen as owner-operator, and the first generator plant is expected to be in place at Town Hall by the end of 2013.
Known as tri-generators, the plants perform three functions. Firstly, they generate electricity, thus avoiding the huge network costs incurred in transmitting power from the Hunter Valley. Secondly, they capture heat normally vented to the air. This is used to supply hot water and to heat buildings in winter. And thirdly, an absorption chiller converts the hot water to cold, which is used for air conditioning in summer. These systems are up and running overseas and are more than twice as energy-efficient as conventional coal-fired power.
Ten buildings in Sydney already have small tri-generators in the basement, supplying some of their own needs. But the key plank in the Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy is a network of generators in strategic locations around Sydney's heart, making the power and hot water available to commercial and residential premises alike.
For this, Jones needed commercial co-operation. He studied land ownership within the city's boundaries and discovered 60 per cent of city land was owned by 11 private companies, as well as by the City of Sydney Council, Sydney University and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). In an Australian first, they have joined together as the Better Buildings Partnership (BPP), with electricity and hot water from the tri-gen scheme to be available to the entire city property market.
Amanda Steele, deputy chairwoman of the BBP and sustainability manager for Stockland, tells the deal the collaborative aspect is very attractive. "You can achieve a lot more if landlords work together to solve problems," she says. "And it makes tri-generation much more efficient if the load is shared."
Steele says Stockland has already managed an emissions intensity reduction of 38 per cent in its office assets and 18 per cent in retail over the past five years. Stockland took this approach ahead of the introduction of federal government reporting requirements for businesses using more than half a petajoule of energy per year - equivalent to 10,000 homes.
Sydney's tri-gen plan now offers low-carbon energy, which will further cut the company's energy intensity. "Gas produces lower emissions anyway," Steele says. "But with coal-fired electricity, only 30 per cent of the fuel produces electricity, whereas tri-gen gas generators are 80 per cent efficient."
The tri-gen scheme nearly failed because of regulatory barriers and what Jones likes to call the "energy dinosaurs". Existing legislation requires all electricity generators to join the national electricity market - a prohibitively expensive exercise.
While Jones has jumped this hurdle - by piggy-backing on the licence already owned by Origin Energy - he says the system has to change. "It's really a barrier to anyone - a community wind farm or a small regional town that wants to supply themselves with electricity. You can do that in other countries, but you can't in Australia." Existing small-scale generators are forced to use one of the major companies to carry the power over local distribution wires.
Sydney is the most power-hungry area in the country. The Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS found the city's localised power generation could remove the need for $1 billion worth of new network infrastructure. This unique private-public co-operative approach to reducing greenhouse emissions holds the key to a smarter, cleaner city.


This article is part of a set - CARBON 1, 2, 3 and 4 - that has relevance for CPD: see note in CARBON 1.

Carbon: an early focus on solutions pays off

  • by: SPECIAL REPORT: Deb Richards
  • From: The Australian
  • April 20, 2012 12:00AM

 GE Ecomagination director in Australia Ben Waters. Picture: Adam Knott Source: The Australian
IN 2005, the head of US multinational General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, saw the writing on the wall.
While its roots lie in Thomas Edison's invention of the lightbulb at the end of the 19th century, GE has embraced the megatrends of the new millennium, which Immelt identified as affordable healthcare and clean energy.
These have become the cornerstones of GE's company strategy, though not without creating some stakeholder discontent. In a company used to being tied to short timeframes and quarterly reporting, Immelt adopted an unusually "long view", despite a "no" vote from the company's top 40 executives.
A commitment to renewable energy generation and energy efficiency was launched under the "Ecomagination" banner with ambitious targets.
GE cut its greenhouse emissions by 22 per cent by 2010, by which time $US5 billion had been invested in clean technology R&D.
It was a successful move.
GE has saved $US130 million in energy costs since 2005, and more than 140 new low-carbon products have been developed, generating more than $US85 billion in sales and services to 2010.
After conducting its 2010 review the company recommitted to increasing its energy division revenue at twice the rate of other parts of the company. The director of Ecomagination in Australia, Ben Waters, says: "It's always easier to resist change than it is to embrace it. But companies have to transition. It's coming, and it's in one's interests to act early."
Research commissioned by GE last year highlighted the key issues for Australian business and its adaption to the challenges of climate change. More than half the 130 senior executives interviewed by the Economist Intelligence Unit felt their company was ready for a low-carbon future, and 70 per cent had started implementing a strategy for reducing carbon emissions.
However, separate research by Vivid Economics found Australia is lagging many trading partners in using the changes to generate income. "Economies that can grow while reducing their carbon emissions will be best positioned for higher prosperity in a carbon-constrained future," Vivid Economics director Cameron Hepburn says.
GE's early shift to a solutions-based approach means it's now in the box seat. With the arrival of carbon pricing in Australia, GE is working with major polluters on reducing liabilities, and with governments and smaller businesses on a range of initiatives, from LED lighting and electric vehicles to wind and solar power generation. It has a $20 million research agreement with CSIRO on research projects, including smart grids and "virtual" power stations.
Flexibility and adaptive responses are key. "We think about the needs of customers, not what products we have and how to sell them," Waters says. "We make revenue, take out the cost and solve customer problems."
At Springfield, a new 100,000-home city being built on the southwestern edge of Brisbane, GE technology is helping to make the development independent in meeting its energy and water needs.
It's also working with the City of Yarra in Melbourne to make 35,000 homes and 10,500 businesses carbon-neutral by 2020.
GE recently won a $130 million contract with Leighton Contractors to establish a wind farm at Geraldton in Western Australia. Nearby, GE has invested in Australia's first utility-scale solar power scheme, a 10-megawatt project on 80 hectares that provides power to WA's Southern Seawater Desalination Plant.
GE has partnered with Virgin Australia in a consortium developing biofuel from mallee eucalypt plantations. CSIRO research shows biofuels could reduce aviation emissions by 17 per cent, generate 12,000 jobs and cut avgas imports by $2 billion over 20 years.
Six and a half thousand GE LED streetlights are about to be installed in the City of Sydney, with estimated energy savings of between 70 per cent and 80 per cent, as well as lower maintenance costs as the lights last for 20 years.
Waters is excited about a carbon-constrained future. "This is about real jobs, real business and real money, coming from a change that's important to the world as a whole."


This article is part of a set - CARBON 1, 2, 3 and 4 - that has relevance for CPD: see note in CARBON 1.

Carbon: the case for tree change

  • From: The Australian
  • April 20, 2012 12:00AM 

 Andrew Grant says the need to find new ways to reduce carbon emissions is urgent. Picture: Tomasz Machnik Source: The Australian
FOR the past 12 years, Andrew Grant has known that planting trees can be good business. An early entrant into the complex world of carbon pricing, Grant says he is "rapidly becoming the grey old man of Australian emissions trading".
Having been the lead adviser on the NSW government's ground-breaking Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, which from 2003 required energy generators to reduce carbon emissions, Grant left his environmental advisory work at Ernst & Young to head a start-up company in 2005.
He now claims CO2 Australia is the country's "leading carbon business", dealing in carbon credits earned through planting trees and paid for by high-emission polluters. The trees suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in measurable amounts, and polluters get credit for having reduced the amount of the gas that would otherwise have been in the atmosphere.
While some plantings become managed permanent forests, others offer different benefits. The vision is for salty, eroded or acidic farmland to be transformed. Cash-poor farmers are paid to plant trees that arrest land degradation, something they could not otherwise afford. This replenishes the land, provides wind breaks and an ongoing lease income for the farmers and, most importantly, helps combat climate change by locking away carbon. The client company gets one carbon credit for every tonne of carbon dioxide saved.
With major clients such as Woodside and Eraring Energy, CO2 Australia already has 22,000 hectares of plantings, equating to more than three million trees, and is protecting 3500 hectares of native bush. Over a 30- to 50-year growth period, this reduces carbon emissions by 15 million tonnes.
CO2 Australia expanded to New Zealand after an emissions trading scheme was introduced there in 2010, and it has since diversified into being a carbon trader in its own right. Grant expects the July 1 start for the federal government's carbon tax to be a boon, as it will open up a new customer base in Australia and internationally. "The carbon credits are the same metric, no matter where in the world the project is based. It speaks a business language - price it, trade it, build it."
Carbon dioxide is already the fastest-growing commodity trade in the world. As the federal Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, recently pointed out, the World Bank's 2011 report on carbon markets showed a near 13-fold increase in four years - from about $US11 billion in 2005 to $US140 billion in 2009-10. "The sheer scale is amazing," Grant says. "It has the same growth dimension as social networking."
Planting trees is, however, very "land-hungry". As part of its voluntary carbon reduction program in 2007, Qantas offset its carbon emissions from a single day of domestic and international flights - 40,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases produced by 950 flights carrying 100,000 passengers.
CO2 Australia's offset solution for that single day's worth of emissions involved more than 200,000 trees in permanent forests covering 130 hectares.
Grant says climate change is happening faster than originally predicted and the need to find new ways to reduce carbon emissions is urgent. Several studies show that tree plantings, renewable energy and energy efficiencies can all play a role, but will not be enough to do the job on their own. "We have to pursue all known solutions, we have to find some more, and we have to do it all quickly."


One proposition on CPD is that the Board of Architects of Queensland should be taking a far more pro-active role in promoting seminars that will allow architects to gain the required points for this continuing professional development. If one accepts the idea of CPD, then it makes sense to have quality sessions properly managed and promoted, that could be truly useful to the profession, rather than throwing open the opportunity for any and every Tom, Dick or Harry to start a business running point-accruing seminars only because the Board has made this accumulation of numers a necessity for registration. By raising this concept, one has an obligation to show what might be possible by way of example. The Australian Business Magazine 'The Deal' - issue April 2012 Vol 5 / No 3 - published a section on Carbon. The four articles are published here for information, along with the suggestion that the Board might like to arrange for these folk to be speakers at seminars in the future - see CARBON 1,2,3 and 4. It would be a good start to the CPD programme.

Whether one agrees with it or not - both CPD and carbon - it appears that things to do with continuing education, carbon and energy will be here to stay. What impact will these have on architecture? It is a reasonable question that needs to be explored and debated. On carbon matters, the tri-generators spoken about in CARBON 4 are of particular interest, as is the strategy for managing energy in Sydney CBD. While the subject is intriguing, what we must always remember is that architecture is more than things environmental. We should be careful not to be attracted to the fashion of the day and neglect the richness that is architecture. Remember history - both the history of architecture and that of the big money spinning programmes that were developed to save the world: QA - quality assurance, and Y2K - the turn of the century drama. We forget these at our peril.

Carbon: making the big switch

  • From: The Australian
  • April 20, 2012 12:00AM 

 How much the carbon price will hurt depends on a company's place in the energy chain, says KPMG's Nick Wood. Picture: Adam Knott Source: The Australian
DESPITE the many cries of alarm about the effects of the carbon tax as its implementation date draws near, the private sector is getting down to serious carbon business.
From July 1, the federal government's Clean Energy Future legislation imposes a price on carbon emissions and stimulates investment in renewable energy while encouraging energy efficiency and improved land management. It represents a significant structural change for the economy, with the pain to be cushioned by incentives and compensation packages.
Nick Wood, associate director of climate change and sustainability at KPMG, has been readying CEOs and CFOs all over Australia and advising them to see it as an opportunity. "There are issues, but it's not a disaster waiting to happen," he says. "It's really about the speed at which business can adapt. You want to make a smooth transition, not too fast or too slow."
In fact, the carbon "tax" is not a tax in the true sense, but a way of "costing in" the gases that have been generated as byproducts of our thirst for growth and high standards of living. The theory is that if the activities that create these gases are made more expensive, then there will be a natural inclination to switch to less costly - and therefore "cleaner" - technologies. The big question is: Can severe adjustment pain be avoided while we develop another way to fuel our high living standards?
The effects will vary across business sectors. "It requires different actions, depending on where you sit in the food chain," Wood says.
The companies that produce more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year are the big emitters that will be directly liable. They include power stations, mines, heavy industry and waste disposal. Based on data submitted to the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme, it is expected that about 500 companies will fall into this category.
They will be paying $23 per tonne of carbon, increasing by 2.5 per cent a year for three years. After 2015 the pricing becomes flexible and will be determined by an emissions trading market. The revenue will help households cover higher electricity charges, and the rest will be ploughed back into industry assistance and investment in clean technology and energy efficiency.
It's been estimated that the top 10 companies will pay nearly $4 billion a year, minus whatever government funds they get. Coal-fired electricity generators, such as Macquarie Generation, will attract little compensation and will feel the brunt. Macquarie recently said it would lose $100 million of its projected $140 million profit this year. "For this tier the carbon price means the company must buy and sell a lot of carbon credits," Wood says. "How it interacts with the energy market will determine its success."
Surprisingly, there is still a role for coal in this energy future, if the cost of the carbon can be justified financially. Electricity markets are highly complex, but companies that have done their homework are already positioning themselves. Explaining its plan to purchase 100 per cent of the Loy Yang coal-fired power station and the adjacent brown coalmine in Victoria, Australia's largest energy generator and retailer, AGL, says the carbon price has provided certainty for investors.
The government's $9.2 billion "jobs and competitiveness" program includes a range of assistance packages for "trade-exposed" big polluters, such as cement works, petroleum refiners and steel and aluminum makers. The Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, told parliament recently the carbon price would effectively be reduced from $23 a tonne to $1.30 a tonne for many of these businesses. The assistance is to be reduced progressively and will be reviewed in 2014.
According to Wood, these industries have multiple liability issues. The quality of their data and how they structure permit buying and selling within the company will be key factors. "The core mechanism of the carbon tax is straightforward. Complexity arises in how a company makes the transition."
The next sector down is at the sharp end. Medium-sized manufacturers, infrastructure and building products companies and the food industry will be buying materials on which the carbon price has been levied. Electricity costs will be higher, so usage and costs will need to be factored into monthly reporting. Also, the compliance requirements will be tricky, and the management of product cost increases must be watertight and transparent, because the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission will be vigilantly policing unjustified price hikes. Woods says this sector needs to work out how it will reduce electricity costs, and to identify any carbon "hot spots" within the supply chain.
The retail sector will need to look for energy efficiencies to address increased power costs. Yet that may not happen. There are doubts whether price signals alone are enough to meet the 80 per cent reduction goal for greenhouse gases by 2050.
Price hikes of 20 per cent a year in electricity charges due to infrastructure and other non-carbon- related factors have not provoked a widespread change of behaviour. In theory, efficiencies such as changing lightbulbs, switching off appliances, adopting new, less electricity-hungry technologies and processes should be easily achievable, with a quick cut to emissions, lower costs and higher productivity. But there is still resistance.
A 2011 Australian Industry Group survey of its membership found that while energy-intensive firms considered energy efficiency part of their core business, more than two thirds of the far more prevalent small to medium-sized enterprises had not improved efficiency in the previous five years. A number of them were even less energy-efficient.
Caroline Bayliss, of the not-for-profit Climate Group, says the solution lies in helping business see the need to innovate and adopt best-practice methods. "It's not just about compliance. It's about transforming the market, so that business brings carbon emissions down and pushes profits up."
The Climate Group is a global organisation initiated by Tony Blair while he was the British prime minister. Here in Australia, Bayliss works to bring governments and corporations together to identify ways of doing good business with lower carbon demands. Companies such as IBM, Origin Energy and General Electric are exploring ways to co-ordinate with government to build "climate- smart precincts" in which integrated services and information and communications technologies reduce energy costs and emissions.
The Climate Group will be investigating the role of electric cars in corporate fleets and is involved in other leading-edge integration projects. "This is showing what can be done," Bayliss says. "It's about thought leadership. The carbon price won't do this on its own. To have a new low-carbon economy, you need to have a positive outlook and to actively seek opportunity."