Friday, 10 November 2017


It is surprising what one discovers when cleaning up one’s computer. This piece had been drafted up ready for publication, but had been forgotten, perhaps lost under its bland working title – JOHN E-MAIL. It is still worthwhile thinking about.

The E-mail read almost as a plea for help:
Just going through cleaning up my computer. I asked my son what this meant. He didn't answer.
Subject: Fwd: Can you please tell me what this means?
From the upcoming RAIA seminar series “AG Urbanism’ speculates on the notion of a parasitic city. Sydney 2050 Fraying Ground examines the future as a condition of the present; the future occurs to the extent that the present allows for its own transformation. The project consists of investigations at all scales in which drawing and mapping and thus the reinvention of terrains and ground will continue to produce sustainable interventions. Part of the project is the investigation of new urban strategies, which because they incorporate the process of ‘fraying’, ‘knotting’ and ‘parasitism’ are able to operate at all scales.”

One could only sympathise. What on earth might one say? How could anyone respond? Little wonder that the son gave no answer. How might one help? Youth usually understands computed confusions that confound age, but not this astonishing shambles of a text!

The words gave the impression that they were collected together using the strategy that believed that any bewildering nonsense will promote one’s ‘genius’ just because of the rude brashness. Such a text is so striking that it silences everyone with its blatant cheek, allowing the author to believe that this lack of any response from anyone feeling threatened by this boldness, only highlights an inferior mind, a lesser intelligence bowing to a superior one.

Humbug. If one is unable to simply state what one’s ideas and intentions are, then it is the author who has the problem, not the reader.

The revealing proposition was inadvertently exposed by the silly, pretentious statement in the ABC TV 5:00pm news of 12 June 2014: “The welfare system needs a simpler architecture.” That two wacky statements might stimulate some sense appears at odds with ordinary logic, but they did. The words ‘simpler architecture’ rang loud and clear, and resonated with an equally certain: “Yes!”

We do need a simpler architecture that can be spoken about in simpler English. We need to learn that complexity has no inherent value in its own being, when implemented just for its own sake, for confusion and dense befuddlement. Complexity is not clever; it is confounding; baffling. Tortured English like tortured architecture leads only to a muddled mess of words, ideas, forms and messages that do not elevate any author or work into the realms of creative genius, even though these might highlight ME! loudly and clearly by ordinary amazement and dumbfounding astonishment. “WOW! How stupid!” seems to be a preferred reaction that demands attention, and distracts, apparently being considered better than the quiet enrichment involved in the experience of simple meaning.

There is little doubt that this preference is misguided. The approach reeks of selfies and their culture that centres only on the individual's primal scream: “Look at ME!” Architecture involves others and needs to accommodate them with grace and ease; care and consideration, not eye-catching exaggerations and distortions. This is its responsibility: its ability to respond in silence rather than to loudly, proudly declare.

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