Tuesday, 5 December 2017


The way in which architects manage to isolate their projects from their contexts has been raised in various texts:
and more . . .

Aerial view of Sydney, NSW

Promotional image accompanying the proposal

It is almost as though they are afraid of the neighbours, embarrassed by these others and their adjacency; their proximity. Has this something to do with the idea of the unique, 'grand' design, or is it the assessment of the development next door as being somehow deficient, incompatible with the wonders of the architect’s work? Has it got something to do with the interaction that might be perceived in some way as unfavourable? It happens, in spite of the frequent emphasis on context and its importance, and, perhaps, even the claim that the context has been an inspiration for the work, or whatever, etc. One has heard most of the rationales for strategies in architectural making and shaping. As in art generally, the story often suggests and embodies more than the work itself: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/swell-sculpture-festival-2013.html

53 Palomar Street, Freshwater

One of the worst examples of this desire for isolation, for the exposition of the solitary self, recently arrived in an E-mail. The narrow slot of land had been passed and commented upon previously: was it really a separate block to be developed? Indeed it was. It might have been standing empty for some years, but the E-mail illustrated a house that had been designed for this thread of a block, a proposal that also had the benefit of development approval. Now, with this sanctioned design to show what was possible, the five-metre wide block was up for sale.

53 Palomar Street, Freshwater

The proposal

The design was slick, but, as the E-mail asked, “What has happened to the neighbours?”: “They seem to have forgotten the house and apartment block on the boundary.....lol” The house was illustrated standing boldly alone with verdant, open slopes on either side, as if it was standing in parkland, on a remote island, or in some wondrous National Park like the Lake District in England: see - http://www.clarkeandhumel.com.au/buy/for-sale/53-palomar-parade/ There was no indication of any other development, even though this portion of Sydney is densely developed. There was never the suggestion that the house was not alone, or anywhere at all. Only an incomplete, feint zigzag line on one side of one boundary suggested something, without identifying exactly what this indicated: might it be pavement; a garden wall; a shed; a two story house; or an apartment block?

The site and the neighbouring lines

The proposed floor plans and the verdant site

The site plan with no indication of a neighbouring anything

The block involved is so tiny that it does not show up clearly in Google Earth. The slither of land is difficult to recognise as it reads like an offset from the boundary for the existing buildings. In spite of this - or is it because of it? - Google Earth makes it clear that this house is not standing unaccompanied in a wilderness of open green space. Freshwater is indeed a dense sea of roofs beside the sea.

Freshwater - Google Earth

Now there is no intent to comment on the quality of this design, its appropriateness or otherwise for its purpose or this site. The issue here is that contexts are important if assessments are to be made with some sense of reality. Offering some hopeful, ‘dream-world’ vision of Utopian grasslands when things are obviously otherwise, to the extreme, seems tricky; unfortunate - careless? Surely, if the design for this very narrow site was appropriate and clever, it would be seen to be a benefit to show how this unique solution was so appropriate for its context, by illustrating its interaction with the other structures around it. But no! There is only the proposed new residence planned for the long, thin block, and nothing else but bare green slopes.

The site on Google Earth

The point is that we are unable to make any reasonable assessment of anything when the information is so incomplete; not just in this case, but in all architectural presentations and promotions. Consider how frequently we are asked to make judgements today when we know so little, or are presented with only carefully selected pieces of information. The more content we have, the better the decision can be. Trying to push, to promote, to illustrate ideas and intents in such a limited, specific manner is a real worry. It is not only happening here, with this development project up for sale – land only estimate $500,000 AU – but it occurs nearly everywhere and every time we see an architect make a presentation; and in every architectural magazine. The 'grand’ design is shown in its full, uninterrupted glory, free from any distractions – just ME: “Look at ME!”

Even the shadows are alone, uninterrupted and uninterrupting

It is a real weakness in our world that is making things difficult by trying to turn them into something other than what they truly are. Sullivan's cry for honesty needs to be considered in its full richness and depth: ‘the function of the rose’ is the rose, its form, in the same manner in which the form is its function – this integrity. A little knowledge is truly a dangerous thing. We must do better than this, always, if we are not to be left living in a dream with blind hope, misguided and alone, facing constant, sad disappointments as the world is discovered to be different.

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