Monday 25 September 2023


Reflecting on the review of the Abedian School of Architecture School’s Spring 23 exhibition and talk, (see:, one pondered some more on both the students’ efforts and the Stutchbury work. There has to be something there in the students’ projects to learn from, in the same way as one should be able to gain an understanding from Stutchbury’s exemplary works – for his projects are distinctive in conception and execution, as has been shown by the number of awards they have received: see - One wonders what might cause one to question this output from the school and this office? The subtitle of the blog gives the clue: the contradictions that arise from both the exhibition and the talk, which have been alluded to in the review.

With the students, one has to ask: is the problem one of communication rather than quality of work? We have students who have never drawn, trying to perceive and piece together 3D information graphically, as drawings. In the past, in other schools of architecture, one has seen brilliant students able to clearly express themselves in writing to achieve levels of excellence, while struggling to do likewise graphically; visually. At the exhibition, one saw that fairly basic drawing classes were being given at the Abedian School, so it could perhaps be difficult for students to become fluent in this form of communication, even if the ideas and intentions are impressive. Along with what might be a struggle with expression, one wonders if it might be that concepts and ideas discussed between students and staff as they are being developed, are so well known and understood, so familiar, that the mangled or incomplete message revealed in the alien drawing process is sufficiently satisfactory to remind all involved – those ‘in the know’ - of the verbal ambitions that may be admirable? Might this explain the issues: inherent problems with communication revealed as contradictions in the complexity of the design presentations?

One also knows that the reading of drawings, let alone trying to encapsulate a precise message and intent in this perhaps unfamiliar technique, can be a struggle for some; others even have problems understanding models: drawing might only be one aspect of the problem. In one way, there is little difference between CAD and a pen or pencil; and a great deal of difference in another: the point is that CAD does not make anyone more capable at drawing; it does not make a good artist or architect out of nothing: it is a tool. AI might offer a lot more in the whole array of things architectural in the same way as speech changes a Google search with this alternative to typing, but more is required: the understanding of the searched material, and the integration of meaning into forms and functions. We need to use these tools effectively, and learn the best way to involve our judgement and feeling in this task, both matters one exercises in the hand drawing process which holds an immediacy between body, thought and output; a coherence that is shattered by CAD with its methodical, mechanical distancing. It is this remoteness that allows the author to become entranced by the output of the technology. Irrespective of the process, it is the end result that is critical - the quality of the thinking in the material/design searched for, not that of the slick form of the presentation that can superimpose an extravagant gloss onto images. The stranger sees what is on the wall with all of its potential contradictions, nothing more. Thoughts, intentions, and ambitions about the project remain remote if not explicit; they are unknown. It is this point that should always be remembered in graphic communication where appearance is important, but not the heart of the matter: it plays a supporting role.

The exhibition exposes this point, highlighting all the strengths and weaknesses in the projects for the visitor, in the same way as the talk does for the listening ear and seeing eye. Does social media change this experience, diminish it with visual and textual images being so fluidly entertained, judged, agreed to, dismissed, all with the familiar flick of the finger that is ready to leap onto the next set of images or whatever takes one’s fancy? We are in a time of turmoil that reminds one of the early days of the electric guitar where musicians were struggling with the conflicting interest in discovering and experimenting with the new, and making good music. Today, we are struggling with many new things while seeking unknown quality outcomes. Religion points out that, in the cycle of things spiritual, we are at a low point, the place most distant from understanding - in an ethereal darkness. Seeking to truly know matters rich and meaningful is a struggle. We place bespoke differences, unusual distortions, and unique intrigues onto ordinary perception and consider it exotic art/architecture, bespoke personal expression, when there are potential levels of meaning involved that we know nothing of and remain completely unaware of; and have no care for. The struggle for wholeness in being is disrupted by this perverted indulgence in the singular and the self.

The Stutchbury approach to design seems to be something like doing a jigsaw: an intimate search for and examination of a precise, fine fit/match with a predetermined, fixed set of discovered pieces. Each design, and every part of it, is a response to a set of concerns, resolved into a specific and jewel-like gathering of piecemeal outcomes to become a coherence. Any broader approach beyond the ‘jigsaw problem’ appears to be ignored as the work evolves within its intriguing bubble to give beautiful outcomes. How one responds to the removal of the bubble is another challenge. Has all architecture become a work in a bubble? One might even see the response to the many as a work in a bubble, like a quirky high-rise, or a ‘designed’ community: c.f. a Gehry tower and Utzon’s Kingo development.

The challenge is to burst the bubble, to go beyond the limitations of the jigsaw challenge and discover how we can manage much more with the same care and attention; how we can build something like metaphorical fractals, or shape holograms to make forms that hold detailed meaning in every part, able to be replicated on the larger scale infinitely and remain enriched, like life itself; nature. Architects may be ‘problem solvers,’ but they are defining the problem too narrowly; too specifically, with jigsaws that we choose to see as 200, 1,500, or 5,000 pieces, or otherwise, thinking that number might be the critical difference here - the higher, the better. The question is: how do we build an organic architecture, not with any replication the Wright style, but by implementing a system of ordinary, profuse variety and inclusion to embody meaning in a city, town, village, house, and shed? We might do one house wonderfully, but this is like healing a minor cut: we need to heal the soul; the whole. It is a concept foreign to us who admire special, individual things, fine and quirky offerings holding a pretence to meaning, matching the experience but not the substance. It is too easy, simply naïve, to consider that one can capture real value by replicating the experience rather than by embodying wholeness in the work itself to achieve the desired outcome: e.g. the idea that, if art is expensive, it is good; that if architecture amazes it is good; when we know that wonderful art is desirable and attracts huge prices; and that beautiful architecture really amazes. Placing large prices on an artwork proves as little for the outcome as creating an amazing piece of different architecture. It is something like a work in a gallery being perceived to be good and relevant, meaningful, just because it is there. The situation is highlighted by the question: is the bucket on the gallery floor displayed as artwork, or placed to catch the drip from the leak in the roof?

Continuing the jigsaw analogy in a different way, with a different, extravert scale, one can suggest that PS creates the most exquisite jigsaw pieces ever seen, without bothering about the fit. The work may be wonderfully ‘fit’ for purpose as an item, but not for any bigger picture – both literally and metaphorically. One is teased with the possibility that the whole world can be ‘Stutchbury-ed’ into a wonderland of sensitively resolved care and consideration by extending the microcosm into the macrocosm; but it seems to be a phantom reality; a hopeful dream; a charade. The intensity and energy in the PS projects distract and engage with an enthralling inwards, contained concentration allowing the external issues to be agreeably neglected with a blind positivity. One really has no idea of what a Stutchbury city or suburb would be like, or how it could be achieved, although one might hope for one. The problem with modernity is that, even in multiplicity, it is singular: c.f. city centre developments.

Modernity creates highlights that are fenced off from ‘the remainder.’ We need an architecture that is inclusive; one that respects and relates, rather than domineers with an inner arrogance that diminishes and denigrates other works with a competitive drive making bespoke things ever more extreme and more impressive. We need to do away with the idea that cocky difference is creative, clever and all-conquering - even desirable. We have to seek out the richness in things ordinary and humble; that wonder seen in everyday little things that embellish their context with a grace that enhances rather than differentiates; that garnish with a beauty rather than make demands and raise threatening challenges to identities and expressions.

Here one thinks of the ordinary, traditional village. Can tradition teach us more instead of producing theatre sets like Poundbury, pretentious visual skins that have no depth or relevance other than in their determined, fanciful, nostalgic intent? Architecture needs to be seen as less of a solution to a puzzle; more of a seeking out of subtle qualities that can be shared and will endure; that reach out to the other for completion and support - wholeness. Architecture has to go beyond personal display and skilful scheming, beyond the individual expression we see as heroic ‘art/architecture,’ if we are to achieve anything like the completion of the jigsaw of life and its living. Our cities, towns, and villages are a scattering of pieces from many narrowly prescribed, different jigsaws, all seeking a dominance to achieve a vision never shared. Maybe Edwards ‘manners’ might be a simple, straightforward beginning? Raging ambitions only aggravate the situation that needs a caring humility and respect, not the boastful finger and mocking assessments of others’ works that creates the contradiction in the complexity of puzzle solving when everyone is working on a different jigsaw. No matter how this is done, or how beautifully these are separately resolved, in the broader pattern of things, we are left with a shambles of parts.

One might understand this dilemma by thinking about how the collected works of PS might coalesce. Look at the published ‘projects’ – see: - and ponder. The challenge is not how the prefabs and trailers might collect as a group, but how all of the projects might be gathered together. Even the output from one office can struggle to be anything but an intellectually coherent body of work; not the systematic body of or framework for any city, town, village, or suburb. We need to discover what is missing. Here lies the strange contradiction within the complexity of design matters:

the subtle response to the feeling for place embodied in the careful, detailed resolution of an inner coherence creates an alien presence in the context of multiplicity that excludes rather than coalesces. It can be seen as a jigsaw piece that lacks all connecting protrusions and recesses; a virus without any attachment proteins seeking a host cell. We need to rediscover how to create vital linkages in projects ready for, and hoping for - wanting - appropriate anonymous connections/associations that enrich instead of creating gems ready for mounting as brilliant solitaires for bespoke, egocentric display.

Saturday 23 September 2023



The notice arrived: one was invited to get tickets. The formal process was followed, the ticket reserved, and the date was put into the calendar. The evening was the ASA (Abedian School of Architecture) 2023 Spring Show and public lecture to be held on Tuesday, 19 September 2023, 5:45pm. The ‘renowned architect’ Peter Stutchbury (PS) was presenting the talk, so it seemed that it would be an interesting occasion. One would be able to see the students’ current projects and hear PS talk about his work that one knew as being carefully considered and meticulously detailed; striking in its bespoke clarity and intent.

Abedian School of Architecture.

The formality of the ticketing system for these occasions always seems unusual, unnecessary, as the evenings are free public events where tickets are never asked for at the door. One complies and attends without complaint; it seems that this is what one has to do. Maybe the numbers are used for catering, as drinks and nibbles are provided?

The exhibition corridor space.

One arrived at the event in the cool evening of a warm day; there was a light breeze as the sun set. Folk were already milling around, chatting, drinking, perusing the exhibition of the student work or ignoring it: was it just all too familiar for some? One moved into the much-photographed display corridor and began looking at the work placed on tables and ledges, and adhered to walls, the notorious three dimensional surfaces that make the mounting of exhibits difficult to manage in an orderly fashion.

It had already been decided not to bring a pen and notebook to record matters for a review of this exhibition and talk; one was just going to relax and enjoy the presentation of projects and ideas: but the critical eye does step in as one is confronted with the contradictions in the complexity of designs and their display, giving rise to thoughts that get fixed in one’s mind, to return yet again as one mulls over matters later.

The observations were not too different to those made on an earlier occasion where a similar exhibition was reviewed some years ago: see – This time the displays reached from the floor to a height of about three and a half metres or more, making parts of the exhibition impossible to comfortably inspect, let alone read. Other portions of the display were in the shadows, or had texts so small as to be difficult to interpret in the gloom of the low level of light. One wondered why a design-centred school would make such poor, basic decisions. It is not as though the rigour of displaying on curved tapering walls has not been explored previously - (by Andrew Kudless at Bond) - or that good illumination might be a surprise requirement. Could it be that the display was just a matter of looking impressive, rather than intending to be an intellectually informative exhibit presented for close inspection, as there was a lack of guidance to explain the context and relevance of what one was looking at and why?

On perusing the students’ illustrations, one could see lines mysteriously starting nowhere in particular, and finishing likewise, highlighting the classic CAD approach of adjusting and approximating relationships that are left unresolved, to be covered up by the distraction of the slick appearance of the shiny print. This ‘fuzzy, near enough' strategy is similar to the careless ‘the builder will work that out on site’ approach in documentation: it never happens this way. When studied more closely, plans were found to have problems with awkward, sometimes impossible juxtapositions, and windowless rooms, all of which were made to look amazing by the very convincing, dapper presentations. Sectional drawings appeared to be a popular technique for the illustration of an idea, an approach that frequently left one wondering just what one was looking at other than an attractive, slick print. The understanding of a project is enhanced by a section, but the section alone tells very little about the whole.

Large models of various projects were generally schematic 3D diagrams seeking to be expressively convincing, with thin strips of cardboard or plastic suspended in the air to suggest long, high walkways between towers of conglomerate sets of remarkably, (impossibly?), cantilevered blocks that showed no obvious way of being built or suspended, but making dramatic gestures for the passersby. It seemed that one was not meant to scrutinise these things; just to be impressed by them.

The quality of the presentation techniques far outstripped that of the intentions and ambitions actually achieved in the final design work, leaving one concerned about fairly basic design/communication failings that one might have thought should have been raised in the progressive critiques of the work. Just how was the school really managing these matters?

The core problem of the exhibition was that it seemed to be structured for appearance alone, leaving one uncertain about the context of the work, the relationship between drawings, details, models, and the briefs, and the educational intentions. This ambiguity left one in an uncertain place where a critique could easily be misdirected, and successfully challenged; but there were fairly basic matters that one could grasp hold of and comment upon. There appeared to be a lack of recognition of functional and structural requirements in both the projects as presented on paper, and in the models. One was a little perplexed with some of the projects, while being interested by others.

The ‘way to look at the world’ studies - if this is what they were - seemed to set analytical tasks for students to deconstruct artists’ paintings in a way that no artist would ever consider or contemplate; and then various gadgets appear to have been designed to see the world in a particular manner, perhaps inspired by this analysis? One was sad to see, for example, a William Robinson painting pulled to pieces and ‘explained,’ with the strategy then applied to another example - reconstructed – apparently to give a necessarily ‘meaningful’ outcome because of this logic. All these studies were again slickly pieced together into impressive glossy books, with the production again outdoing the content. Was this exuberance just for this display? One wondered what the task was intended to achieve. If this was the best work of the school, what was the quality of the remainder not on show?

William Robinson painting: The Revelation of Landscape.

The outcome of other books was more clear, especially the ‘drawing class’ publications. It seems that drawing skills are no longer a requirement for architecture, so students are given basic ‘how to draw’ classes at university, using an analytical, step-by-step, almost ‘kindergarten’ approach that defines the essential progression required. It looked like the naïve, ‘You too can be an artist’ approach – or was it ‘You too can be an architect’ . . . ‘in six easy steps: as seen on TV’? One was concerned with the deliberateness of the teaching; its rational, soul-destroying certainty. Was everything just too considered; too prescriptive; too rational?

One was happier with the ‘experimental materials’ studies; and the ‘working drawing’ books, but these needed more rigour. One wondered just what supervision the students were getting, especially with tasks that have specific approaches, defined techniques for clear communication, and logical steps and strategies in presentation. Was the problem a lack of construction knowledge or a disruptive interest in the final appearance? One got the feeling that an infectious, communal excitement about approaches, ideas, and production generally might have blinded everyone, both students and staff, to the rigour required, both in the work itself and its critique. The attractive perfection of computer outputs for presentations, with a ‘no hands’ distancing that allows any intimacy to be perceived as something mysteriously otherwise, has to be managed carefully, as one can easily be encouraged to believe that the spectacular ‘quality’ of printed outputs is an inherent part of the ‘quality’ of the work, when it is clear that this is not so: ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ comes to mind. There is an emotive involvement here that has to be approached in the same manner as ‘the reader over one’s shoulder’ - (The Reader Over Your Shoulder Robert Graves, 1943): one has to stand back, be aloof, remote, and perceive the work for what it is, as a stranger might, in order to see what is really there, rather than to be left admiring the persuasive techniques of the output as being something like a self-assessed acclaim.

After about three-quarters of an hour, people began moving into the auditorium space, to get seated for the talk. The evening was begun with the ‘recognition of country, the elders past, present and emerging’ as the required text goes. One wonders just how serious this statement is: is the acknowledgement merely just woke? What is actually changed by this ‘recognition,’ other than the enhancement of some feel-good, political correctness? An announcement of the Bond 232, (2023, May semester), student prize winner was then made; PS was introduced; and the talk began.

Peter Stutchbury (PS)

The opening was somewhat of a surprise: PS presented and spoke to slides that made one recall Paul Jacques Grillo’s 1960 book, What is Design? and Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects 1964 publication, leaving one wonder why these books are ignored today. Items that seemed like clichés - issues that have been generally accepted over time and have become remarkably unremarkable because of the frustration of their being ignored - were being presented as new, core concerns that were apparently the basis of PS’s thinking and approach to his work - his inspiration. There was something strange here with the diverse concerns from other times that referenced: the operation of the bee’s wing, and its simplicity compared with mechanical drones; how mining was destroying country when wind turbines were a solution; how suburbia with its crowded housing was undesirable development caused by colonial models being introduced into colonies; how the trapdoor spider designed its flap; how food additives were causing cancer; how removing shoes inside the home reduced asthma (no dog shit); how developers were now using the same housing models internationally – the death of regionalism; how ‘Hampton’ houses were being dug into steep sites to fit, instead of being shaped to suit the site (Palm Beach, NSW); how the termite nest was a model for temperature control in high-rise buildings; how frogs eggs could lie dormant for seven years deep in the river bed; how traditional designs were so perfect in every way; how the aboriginal perception of place, seasons, and time was more sensitive than the westerner’s understanding of these things (based on what was going on in the world rather than a subdivision of four); how design in nature was exemplary; how electric vehicles were the solution for our word; how building on flood plains was irrational; how ‘aesthetic’ fish traps fooled the fish; how nature can be a source of medicines and materials; how the ‘guiding’ lichen was always on the south face of the tree trunk; . . . There were many statements about ‘our property’ that seemed to refer to a family rural holding that was never located or described in any detail. This introduction looked like a collage of ideas, inspirations, and inquiries from a distant era.*

A map of the various indigenous languages.
"The Aboriginal languages are more complex than Japanese."

After PS had gone through his preliminary thoughts and concerns, he moved on to talk about his project work with the Australian aboriginals. It was during this part of his talk that he paused, noting with some alarm that he had only another ten minutes allocated for his presentation. He asked if he might take an extra five minutes; this was approved. PS must have known that he had at least another half hour to go with his prepared talk, but he continued on as though nothing had changed, not asking again. Project after project was spoken about until he concluded with a short video dedicated to a client who had passed away: the ‘lovely man with three degrees, one architectural,’ who wanted to watch the milky way. One might have expected that an architect who was so careful with details, and things subtle, might not just have meandered on with his presentation regardless of the commitment he had apparently agreed to. This was yet another contradiction in the complexity of the evening.

Night Sky House.

Sydney Olympic Archery Park.

Sacred Mountain House.

PS’s work is beautiful; it is always carefully pieced together and nicely considered; it is exquisite; solitary – standing apart both in fact and in quality, even when it is heritage work: but one is left a little uneasy about his critiques that suggest that his approach might be the solution for everyone, everyday: one might only hope. His work was shown along with various aboriginal paintings that PS noted were always showing plans of country, illustrating places that could be recognised precisely by others, such was ‘the knowledge.’ The suggestion appeared to be that there was a similar quality of understanding/sensitivity in his work; or was it that he wanted the projects to be seen in this way, to be enriched by the special beauty and wonder of the art?

Heritage project - Joynton Avenue Creative Centre.

The constant reference to ‘country’ left one wondering just what it meant. Was it something like ‘placemaking’ that is a jargon word that no one really knows much about?# Given this interest in landscape, PS’s promotion of wind farms as being a solution to the ‘mining problem’ seemed naïve and careless. The marvellous Cage of Ghosts book, (Jon Rhodes, 2017), revealed clearly how aboriginals named their landscapes in great detail, in elevation, and knew/know them intimately; in a way more subtly complex than as mere plans: place was spiritual. The wind turbines could be seen as mining the ‘Father sky’ with huge ‘London Eyes’ just as aggressively as any mine gouging into the earth; and nailing the hills, ‘Mother earth,’ with their massive tower spikes serviced by kilometres of roads, leaving one wondering how, with such a crass carelessness, they could ever be acceptable to any aboriginal anywhere in Australia.

In the same way, the acceptance of the electric vehicle as a happy environmental solution seemed potentially problematical. Was the total impact of energy being considered here, or just the cliché PR of the manufacturers? With one of many factories churning out 1,000,000 vehicles a year each, what is the total energy equation for earth? How does this extractive effort equate to the environmental ‘saving’? How do matters work out when futures are included? One cannot forget that millions of vehicles need roads, charging locations, and parking lots . . . all defacing ‘Mother earth.’ There are inherent problems that lie latent here.

Basin Beach House.

The neighbours are not shown.

A glimpse of the neighbour of the Basin Beach House.
(See below for images of the house in context.)

Looking at PS’s work, one puzzled about his critique of suburbia: what is his solution to this dilemma that is sprawling across the world at a pace greater than ever? What is needed to curtail this momentum? PS suggests that his approach might be essential here, but his works suffer from the singularity of modernism – see: and His works are beautiful places alone in the wilderness, neither wanting nor caring for neighbours. If a project did find itself in a particular context, (c.f. Basin Beach House and the Indian Head House - see below for images of context), it just ignored the surrounds it thought little about, or simply disparaged, and the opinions of others that were considered likewise, in favour of the preferred understanding of place and its perceptions, responding to these alone, irrespective of what stands nearby. One wondered about Trystan Edwards’ Good and Bad Manners in Architecture, 1924.

The Wall House.

The Beach Hut.

The prefab house alone in the wilderness.

How might the prefab houses be gathered together?

Even PS’s prefabricated house was illustrated as a beautiful, stand-alone structure, when the intent appeared to be economical, mass production to solve the housing problem. This well-resolved building is illustrated as most of PS’s work is, as a mounted diamond: a solitaire to be admired for its bespoke singularity. How might fifty of these prefab buildings be located together? Where might they be placed? Do we just get more suburbia? The mobile trailer workshop/dwelling concept design was presented with the odd statement that the canvas top allowed a better relationship with - yes - ‘country.’ How? What? Was one encouraged to see this mobile place as a potential tiny home – alone in the wonder of a beautiful wilderness?+ How do six of these trailers sit together? Do we get just another caravan park? What is PS’s approach to a plural architecture – the many? Plurality is a necessity in everyday life; it is the singular that is specialised; unique; bespoke: arrogantly alone, even if quietly seeking solitude. The difference is that between city and country. Does one assume PS designs for ‘country’ alone?

The trailer with the canvas top to link to 'country.'

The trailer set up alone in the wilderness:
the grand vision of the tiny house dream.

An extra bed in the wilderness.

How might the trailers be gathered together?

Priramimma House.

PS might create wonderful buildings with beautifully crafted furniture and special details designed for each place, wanting the classic timber frame-and-brick veneer-and-plasterboard-and-roofing tile approach to suburban development to go, but the real issues in this mass development of habitation appear to be ignored; suburbia is far more than boring, itemised repetition. It involves traditional skills and the training of contractors, and a variety of ingrained attitudes in various professions, promotions, and the public. To tell the many that they are wrong, and to offer a ‘diamond’ as a solution, even replica ones, appears to be problematical. The solution is never that straightforward. Something else is involved here beyond the cliché cry to ‘educate’ the masses. Real issues need to be attended to and resolved with care and sensitivity; they cannot just be trampled, mocked, or dismissed; we are dealing with lives.

A suburban house - someone's home.

A suburban street - someone's address.

The Invisible House.

The Invisible House was sold off and 'developed' - much to PS's chagrin.

How can design be managed for the masses? C.R. Macintosh puzzled about this and worked to achieve a satisfactory outcome without success. PS seems not to be worried about the complex relationships involved in repetition and number; he is the master on the singular; the alone. The neglect of this problem of multiplicity, with the many, their expectations, and proximity, remains a serious contradiction that leaves a gap in, and weakens the logic of the argument for a ‘designed’ outcome: MY design. While PS’s work in Brazil is admirable, it seems to seek some credit for tasks similar to those that Christopher Alexander was involved in, where crafted solutions are adapted almost in an ad hoc process to assist the needy. One wonders: how might PS assist the needy here - Australians in their ‘unsatisfactory’ suburban settlements? The approach requires more than a random collation of piecemeal solutions, and, in the international context of ‘need,’ seems to be an inappropriate proposition.

One wonders: does PS’s understanding really grasp the depth of symbolic meaning involved in his cultural references, or does this understanding happily remain as shallow words and their obvious associations alone? Here one recalls the enigmatic wind turbine strategy, and the cryptic EV solutions to the world’s problems: what is the real impact on ‘country’ of these ideas? There is a strange irony in PS’s thinking where PS, who expresses a sensitivity to matters aboriginal, seemed amused with his story about the aboriginal who lost his car keys, so left the new vehicle in the stranded location to be used for spare parts. The story has sad hints of the derision in the cliché ‘go walkabout careless laziness’ of the aboriginals promoted by the political right. The photograph that PS spoke to as an example of aboriginals caring for country showed a group of aboriginal people under a Bunnings-type folding shelter in the desert, (the ones seen at markets), complete with plastic folding tables and chairs, possibly purchased from the same place, without any comment on this anomaly: no worries! All of these cheap Chinese products apparently have ‘no impact’ on such sensitive people, when one might assume otherwise! PS showed how some aboriginals preferred to sleep outside under the stars rather than being locked up inside the bedroom of a traditional western house, such was their sensitivity and awareness. The contradictions left one puzzled.

That planners might be a problem in our world today was never suggested; that students might need to be challenged with more rigour and be presented with more substance was never raised. PS did suggest that a good student problem might be to build a house from the rubbish skips of a construction site, noting the waste generated today. PS promotes himself as disliking waste: “I value architecture that has no waste.”

Stutchbury Indian Head House - see Street View below.

The ‘extra’ half hour of his talk had passed when PS used his own home as an example of how materials can be - should be – used and reused. His ‘concrete and canvas’ home was interesting; it has obviously been tailored to his needs, his likes, and his dislikes. It looks like a poetic exercise in adaptive shelter, complete with the courtyard holding ‘fire, water, sky, and earth,’ at least as actual items if not managed and considered symbolically. PS’s ambitions to design everything seems quaint and skilful in a Scarpa way, but looks to be unrealistic as a comprehensive approach for the revitalisation and re-invigoration of the suburbia he scorns. Is there is something of the dilettante lingering here?

Basin Beach House.

The talk noted the serious problems the world has to address; highlighting them may help, but when works ignore the clear design issues, as in matters like the poor display and the singular, MY architecture, what hope is there? Are architects just too indulgent? There is a need to step back from MY expression; MY ideas; MY creativity; to become engaged with a less personally expressive involvement that considers broader issues in more general solutions. The ‘I am right’ attitude needs to be changed. Narrow, specialist outcomes like those that accommodate staring at the milky way, may make wonderful stories and present lovely images in form, detail, and place, but they do nothing for the masses but exclude them; allowing the many to see architects as indulgent and arty, existing in an irrelevant, elite sphere. How can ordinary wonder be captured?

Night Sky House.

The Beach Hut.

The prefab concepts with their numerous variations suggest a better, brighter future, but how are these to be gathered together as they have to be? Not everyone can live on hectares of wilderness. The forms might not be the colonial model, but they are of that genre - (the Queensland house was effectively a prefab): the PS designed prefab buildings are stand-alone structures that potentially gather together side by side, not unlike the suburbia that is so maligned; a sprawl that is jokingly identified by PS with a brashly mocking cynicism as “some of our office’s housing – ha, ha, ha!” - followed by a silent “as if we would do rubbish like this.” One has to acknowledge that these are the real places where the majority of the masses live with some degree of contentment: see –

The logo creator.

The final slide of the evening was the statement: ‘Know Your Country’ set out in three lines with the ‘o’s all illustrated as ‘aboriginal’ concentric circles linked with sets of parallel squiggled lines to give the appearance of a diagonal aboriginal painting. It was a sad, nearly jokey image that made one recall the fake aboriginal art that is causing so much trouble both locally and internationally; yet here we have its images presented in text to highlight matters aboriginal and ‘country’ as a cliché, promotional graphic, similar in concept and intent to those logos seen on commercial items like washing powder. We have to be both careful and consistent in these matters. Here one recalls the crass crucifix clock seen in a church, where the cross formed the pointers to the 12, 3, 6, and 9.

Leaving the auditorium after a couple of questions that developed into an inaudible personal conversation, one approached the main glass door only to find it locked. Even though this was a public event, the exit button on the side of doorway had to be pressed; then one discovered that the pull handle needed to be pushed: yes, it was a night of complexities and contradictions.

As Paul Jacques Grillo noted, good design has rigour and coherence, an emotional content embodying resolved care and concern. Jargon words and cliché concepts are for decoration and proud display only. Quality outcomes are never the result of a ‘tick-the-box’ consideration; good design has an integral consistency and a certainty about it; it is not there as a picking and choosing of preferred possibilities: it embodies a necessity and a coherence - it is never personal; or a personal expression.

We have to avoid the hackneyed phrases concerning place and country and seek to understand what the true experience of aboriginal feeling is really about. Here Bill Nedjie’s little books are useful: Australia’s Kakadu Man, Bill Nedjie, 1986; Story About Feeling, 1989; Old Man’s Story, 2015. Bill Nedjie saw what was happening with the aboriginal world and decided, as an elder, to publish these books to record the aboriginal experience and understanding.

Ananda Coomaraswamy pointed out that we cannot see other cultures - the aboriginal world - from our western perspective. We have to try to understand these worlds as they were/are understood by those who lived/live it - the aboriginals. This is a difficult, if not impossible task. It is one that requires humility and sensitivity; care and rigour; not the rational, analytical mind that science has told us can resolve anything; or the brash presumptions of ‘progress.’ We need to understand that the aboriginal world is a world of spirit - rich in symbols.

We have much to do. We need to indulge less in our feel-good concepts, admirable acts, and ‘understanding’ words approached with a hagiographic, architectural vision - any personal indulgence - and attend to the real issues without isolating them into narrow, specialist solutions. It is never easy, but the strategy needs to be open and honest; broad and general; impersonal - poetically rich in an unpretentious, everyday, unspecific manner. Religion is involved here too: individual responsibility and remembrance.

Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn (Martin Lings) tells us about symbols:

Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn The Book of Certainty The Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, 2015:


. . . and since he (Satan) had in reality only the fruits of the Garden of the Soul to offer them, that is, the known and wonted objects of perception, being himself everlastingly barred from the Garden of the Heart, he could only tempt them with forgeries, giving the known and wonted objects of perception a semblance of strangeness by suggesting abnormal and irregular uses for them.


. . . when, in connection with the dhikr, the Qur’ān speaks of the mathal – ‘example’ or ‘symbol’ – it is referring to the essential or ‘vertical’ likeness between higher and lower domains, such as those already mentioned between the Heart and the soul. A symbol is something in a lower ‘known and wonted’ domain which the traveller considers not only for its own sake but also and above all in order to have an intuitive glimpse of the ‘universal and strange’ reality which corresponds to it in each of the hidden higher domains. Symbols are in fact none other than the illusory perfections of creation which have already been referred to as being guides and incentives to the traveller upon his journey, and they have the power to remind him of their counterparts in higher worlds not through merely incidental resemblance but because they are actually related to them in the way that a shadow is related to the object which it casts. There is not the least thing in existence which is not such a shadow . . . Nor is there anything which is any more than a shadow.

One might note how art/architecture today delights in a semblance of strangeness by suggesting abnormal and irregular uses of concepts, forms, and materials. Perhaps we can come to see the artist/architect as one who seeks to reveal the shadow of meaning rather than one who is engaged in self expression; as one who seeks symbols . . . the illusory perfections of creation - (see note ON ORIGINALITY below).

Traditionally art/architecture is never about the person: Ananda Coomaraswamy noted how every man is a special kind of artist; it is not that every artist is a special kind of man.

Again, the words of Ananda Coomaraswamy might help us understand symbols; he wrote that the lion is not merely a symbol of the sun, it is the sun in one of its aspects.

(Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art, 1956, Dover.)

Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn (Martin Lings) points out the difficulty involved for us today:

Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn The Book of Certainty The Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, 2015:


But although today men are so far from the Paradise as to be almost beyond the reach of any reminder of it, the men of old were still near enough to be keenly aware of its loss; and indeed it is no exaggeration to say that the most of what the ancients have left behind them is stamped more or less clearly with the consideration of how a man might return to the Paradise and become once more the true man. It is for the sake of this return that the Lore of Certainty was given to man by means of the religions.


It is owing to the natural tendency of all earthly things towards degeneration that the proportion of those who follow the Path is much smaller in later than in earlier times.


with apologies to Robert Venturi.


Peter Stutchbury was born in 1954, and graduated from the University of Newcastle in 1978, so may have missed these Grillo and Rudofsky1960s reference books.








Basin Beach House in context:

Basin Beach house Street View:
see - where all context has been framed out,
with exterior images limited in number in favour of selected interior photographs.

The neighbours opposite the house.

The house is located at the end of a row of development like Rietveld's Schroder House: see -

The street context.

The street front of the house can be seen in the distance.

Indian Head House in context:

The house is located on the south of Avalon Beach.
Avalon Headland (Indian Head) is on the north of Avalon Beach.

It looks like the tent house that was originally erected on the site is still there:
it is the dark green rectangle just left of the centre top of the photograph.

View south along Surfside Avenue: the house is to the south, next to the apartment block.

The house can be glimpsed on the right, looking south.

Notice how the architectural image chosen to be published cuts the neighbouring block of units out: see above.
It shows two people and a dog standing on the open corner as though alone in a wilderness, not looking at an apartment block on their right, or the car park directly in front of them.
See also: where no context is revealed, just a plethora of interior details.

Even a 'no waste' house needs wheelie bins that turn out to be the great leveller in our society.

The avenue looking north.

The avenue, a cul-de-sac, looking north.

The house has a view of Avalon Headland (Indian Head) on the northeast.

The adjacent buildings on the north.


The guile with which architects present their work only develops a lack of trust with the profession.

It took some time to find this house on Google Earth, but one arty image in amongst many in the architectureau study of the house: Portrait of a House: The Making Peter Stutchbury’s Indian Head House – see: - revealed that it was adjacent to the car parking area at Avalon Beach with a view of Indian Head. The house is called Indian Head House, but is not located on the headland known as Avalon Headland; it looks across to it. This headland once had a rock face that resembled an ‘Indian Head’ so became known by this name. Time has seen some changes with rock falls: see – One wonders why the house is not known as the Avalon Beach House.

Perhaps architects prefer headlands? Lindsay Clare, who introduced PS at Bond 232, published the Clare Granny Flat with the location being described as being Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast in Queensland, when it is really located further south at Palm Beach – see:

Both projects appear to have been photographed using the classic architectural deceptions – see:

The glimpse of Avalon Headland (Indian Head).

The Tent House


PS noted that he considered himself, at 69 years old, an 'elder' and,
in the tradition of the aboriginal world, deserved to be listened to.

29 SEPT 23



The concept of being ‘original’ is explained by Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn in The Book of Certainty. It is not a matter of being quirkily bespoke, different, or uniquely expressive. It has to do with a tracing back to ‘the Original.’ It has nothing to do with individuality.

Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn The Book of Certainty The Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, 2015.

p.32 Note 25.

. . . a Sheikh has said: ‘The spiritual man has desires; the profane man is his desires.’


As to the Highest World, It is the Divinity itself, apart from Which there is nothing at all, and of Which the other three worlds are as a series of reflections growing less and less distinct. It is this reflecting of the One Reality which is the praise referred to in the opening quotation, since to act as symbol or reminder of Him is all the praise of which a creature is capable; and since there is nothing, even in the lowest world, which is not a symbol and which is not above all a symbol of Him in that it must ultimately be traced back to Him as its Original, there is absolutely nothing which does not praise him. Thus praise may be called the very root of existence, since without it a creature would fade into nothing; but the fallen man does not understand this, tending to consider earthly things as if they were independent realities, because the Fountain of the Lore of Certainty does not flow freely enough in his mind to make him conscious of their highest and most essential aspect, wherein they never cease to praise.

See also: