Friday, 13 July 2012


The Australian Broadcasting Corporation - known as the ABC - broadcasts an interesting radio programme on design matters, nicely called By Design. The web site reference for the programme delivered on Wednesday 6 June 2012 gave the following text as a summary to introduce the programme - a cryptic note:

In The Field - NGV Street Studio
In The Field visits Melbourne’s National Gallery Victoria ‘street’ studio - NGV Studio.
The architects were briefed to consider Federation Square’s heritage.

Federation Square is a 3.2 hectare mixed development in Melbourne that was opened in 2002. It is ten year’s old. In the scale of things old, even in Australia, it is almost the present - nearly new. It is not as though buildings are motor vehicles that seem to have an extremely limited life when it comes to value. It is not unusual with a vehicle worth $70,000.00, to turn into a listed $12,000.00 in only five years. The briefing for the NGV Street Studio asked for the heritage of this square to be considered.

NGV Studio is the newest addition to the National Gallery of Victoria. It is located at the corner of The Atrium at Federation Square, with the aim of presenting exhibitions, installations and events that engage younger audiences. The first initiative showcased street art, with Everfresh Studios taking up residence.

So what is this heritage that the architects were asked to consider? Is there one? When did it get this? Has the wrong word been used? Is the use of this term some attempt at trying to be clever with the concept of the origins, inspiration and roots of this development? Federation Square does work extremely hard to be different with complex frames and claddings detailed to appear chaotic like the Jewish Museum in Berlin, even though it has nothing to do with this. It all looks like just too much effort to be fashionable. If the brief is not referring these qualities, is it seeking to say that the building has heritage significance now - matters to do with time? Why not leave the future to be what it turns out to be instead of predicting or formalizing future past qualities now? Why should we even try to analyse the present to make it someone else's past in the future?

 We seem to be too close to this place for us to start determining its role in the future. Are we scared of losing it? Embarrassed at our naivety as we seek to justify it? This ‘heritage’ is new. Are we seeking to define future heritage, extracting items from our most recent past as future substance that we believe to be representative of our era - as we see it, of course. How could it be otherwise? One could suggest even today that Federation Square is less than representative of our times, perhaps illustrating only some extreme perversion of the norm. It does work extremely hard and very self-consciously to convert a simple Corbusian slab and column grid structure - the Domino system of 1914 - into something skinned with a complexity of multiple layers that appear to have their own necessities for smart patterning. A close look at the detailing reveals the problems with this effortful struggle. On closer inspection, slick distant images become crude and messy - just too tricky for any elegance; too complex and too expensive to be managed into an intimate, cohesive whole with refined resolution, remaining only a collage of bits and pieces in a shambles of awkward juxtaposition.

But are we so starved of interest in our time that we have to turn our minds to declaring what today’s ‘heritage’ is? Are we so lacking in confidence - so screwed up intellectually - that we purposefully analyse projected mysterious qualities into our recent past for our inspiration and guidance? Are we so arrogant and self centred? Inbreeding has its’ own inherent problems that most are aware of. This referencing seems to have the same senselessness, and, one might presume, the same problems as inbreeding. It is a little like universities that train staff to become staff, that train staff to . . . . Even the most basic of cultures, (well, ‘basic’ to our eyes, but possibly ‘richer’ than ours in the same way), had rules to overcome inbreeding. Ours seems to have condoned it, particularly in our upper classes and royalty. Is this why we seek heritage now? Are we so self-conscious, so self-aware; so self-important, that our understanding of past outcomes is so quickly imposed onto the present for our immediate referencing and consideration? If we could but concentrate creatively on our present issues and stop examining immediate pasts as ‘heritage,’ then we might be doing more for the future - something more fertile and meaningful.

The matter of ‘heritage now’ seems to be mere babble, a play on words and meanings. Anticipating what the issues for any future will be is simply rude. It displays a lack of self-belief; perhaps simple superciliousness. Why should we worry about this? It has little to do with us, even though we are a central part of it. We are it! Should the briefing to the architects have been: to respect the innate qualities of this new place, rather than its’ ‘heritage,’ just as any one should do - to show it respect? This does not mean any weak matching repetition of place or detail. It can also accommodate contrast and allow criticism, as well as an amorphous fuzziness of reproducing whatever qualities might be sensed.

If art and architecture have anything to do with their times, then they need to concentrate on just what this means, rather than to drool over what might become distilled as ‘heritage’ with time now, without any nonchalance or respect being shown for others not yet being. There is offensiveness here. It is like a ‘hyper-intellect’ brooding on its own droppings: anal teacup reading; palm reading - but these have a more rigorous logic and rationale. Is it really a matter of build today, heritage that afternoon?

 Are we playing silly games with the word ‘heritage’? What is heritage? The dictionary ( defines heritage as:
her·it·age[her-i-tij] noun
1. something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth; an inherited lot or portion: a heritage of poverty and suffering; a national heritage of honor, pride, and courage.
2. something reserved for one: the heritage of the righteous.
3. Law .
a. something that has been or may be inherited by legal descent or succession.
b. any property, especially land, that devolves by right of inheritance.
1175–1225; Middle English  < Middle French, equivalent to heriter to inherit + -age -age; see heir

There is this quality of passing on - of being handed down; across; over. Time and others are involved, and culture - cultural change: other lives. Heritage is for the receiver to decide, not the giver. But what is the scope of this scenario: two days; two years; two people? There is a distance that allows difference to be identified, assessed. Interpretation varies with this separation. We need to trust our future – to give it time - not seek to determine it now. We should be prepared to hand matters on to others for them to determine their ‘heritage,’ just as we do now with our past.

There seems to be a cringe factor here, a concern with our own creative confidence needed for us to be what we need to be. It seems that we are unable to do anything without some mental anchor or rationale; unable to act as free resourceful beings; unable to love. We need to assess who and what we are. Are we becoming as beasts feeding on ourselves? Is the digital world making everything just too logical? Oh for analogical times when things were neither black nor white - not just on and off, but in between, that haven of creativity.


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