Thursday 30 May 2024

JOHN DALTON - SHADES OF STYLE


While the ‘big,’(including BIG), international names in architecture get published with much heroic fervour, filling shelves, magazines, and news reports with all of their grand designs, the smaller, local practices get ignored, or are seen merely as ‘followers,’ (not very good ones), of this mainstream work, the boldly publicised, ‘iconic’ designs. The ‘local’ projects are seen as being inspired by the illustrations of this glossy output; lesser ‘cousins’ as it were. So it is that ‘local’ architects work tirelessly with very little recognition, or, at best, with merely some modest, ‘local’ acknowledgement that never equates to the scale or tempo of what the international scene loves to engage in, with much exaggerated hype. The ‘local’ work is always seen as something less than that of the ‘masters’ – something that is easily ignored.


Foster.

Foster.

BIG.

BIG.

Foster.

It is a change to see a publisher take on some of the ‘local’ architects, to review their oeuvre and make their work better understood locally, and known internationally. Australia has its ‘heroes’ like Boyd, Andrews, and Murcutt who have been acclaimed internationally, but the more ‘local’ figures who might be praised for their work by their fellow professionals in their own town or city, remain in the shadows of these ‘celebrities’ - such are our times.




Elizabeth Musgrave.

That Bloomsbury has published two books on ‘local’ Brisbane architects can only be a cause for celebration and congratulations. Karl Langer and John Dalton were important figures in the Brisbane scene. It is the book on John Dalton that is being looked at here, only because it was the first of these two to be read. The book, written by University of Queensland academic, Elizabeth Musgrave, was published on 2 November 2023,+ with a local book release a month later. The publication is based on the PhD Musgrave completed on the subject of John Dalton, and covers his life and work, arguing that Dalton’s work and professional life had a significant impact on environmental attitudes in Australian architecture, as the title reveals: John Dalton - Subtropical Modernism and the Turn to Environment in Australian Architecture.


John Dalton as a young man.


Leeds, 1948.



Leeds, 1948.


John Dalton was born in Leeds, England. The book does not include the story John Dalton told Daniel Callaghan, who was close to Dalton both as a professional colleague and a neighbour. Dalton spoke to Callaghan about his inspiration to leave his homeland on a £10 voyage to Australia on a few occasions.^^ This story must have held some importance in Dalton’s memory for him to repeatedly bring it up. It is an interesting, seminal tale, as it sets the framework for the whole understanding of Dalton’s interests and work in his chosen country. While he had promised his father that he would return to England, he never did so, other than as a tourist, later in life; he came to love his chosen country.



1948, 4th Test, Headingley.


It was at the Fourth Ashes Test at Headingley, Leeds, 22- 27 July, 1948, where Bradman batted and Australia scored 404 in one day to win,^ that Dalton was inspired to move to Australia. He was entranced by these suave, athletic figures, dressed in beautifully knitted, cable-patterned, cream jumpers, with long, bright, white trousers and informal, open-necked, white shirts, playing with sleeves rolled up nonchalantly to just below their elbows to reveal their wonderfully bronzed arms in the blazing sun of that week.# Dalton told himself that, if Australia could produce sportsmen in weather like this, then that was the place he wanted to call home. He carried this vision all of his life, truly entranced by the ‘baggy green cap’ that seemed to linger as a symbol of his inspiration that day – his delight in the sun. The ‘baggy green’ would frequently come up in conversation throughout his life. At Leeds, as a young man, Dalton had a vision of a sunlit country, where lives flourished freely, casually in the cooling shade and shadow that produced healthy, elegant, athletic, and successful sportsmen like Bradman et.al. – true, sun-tanned heroes with an alluring, casual elegance. Where else might one choose to be in this world but the country that raised these men?


Bradman's baggy green cap.


The 1948 Australian cricket team - "The Invincibles."
It is the only team to tour England unbeaten.

Rooted in this beginning, and enthused by his vision, Dalton arrived in Brisbane, trained as an architect, and eventually set up in private practice. Musgrave spells this story out nicely, leading into her review of Dalton’s work, analysing the impact that things environmental had on it. There is little wonder that Dalton might be interested in climate, as it was his vision of such a marvellous, balmy place with its stunning, enjoyable, lay-back, outdoor environment that produced such amazing natural sportsmen, that brought him to the sub-tropics. It was a place he must have seen, from the usual solemn, grim, dank Leeds, as ‘bright, white, and green,’ open, fresh, breezy, and sunny, supporting an informal, open-air lifestyle unknown in the formality of chilly, soggy, and gloomy post-war England.




It is puzzling that Musgrave did not mention this beginning that seems so critical to the whole of Dalton’s work; but this is not the only concern with this book that seems to suffer from the demands of a certain strategy with things ‘PhD’ that insist on a prescribed approach to research and reporting in order to be considered relevant - proper. The book records Dalton’s early life coherently, but, when it comes to his professional output, it fragments into what seems to be a forced ‘environmental’ analysis that would have been revealed more succinctly in an historical presentation of Dalton’s life and work in the style used by J.M. Freeland in his writing on Hunt, in Architect Extraordinary, The Life and Work of John Horbury Hunt: 1838 – 1904, published by Cassells, Melbourne, 1970. Alas; was the message that such a ‘narrative’ format would not make a PhD – “Maybe a Masters”? With PhDs now essential for any, even a minor employee, in academia, does this necessity force researchers to find subjects to study and analyse in the required format to allow one to join this ‘learned’ enclave? Are studies fabricated under pressure just to survive in the academic world?




Generally reviewing matters, the book's subject as identified in the subtitle, seems contrived; was it structured to create a PhD out of Dalton's work? - Subtropical Modernism and the Turn to Environment in Australian Architecture. This explanatory title reads like a proposition looking for a reason to be, rather than a defining matter arising from any vital source or necessity; but what is 'environment'? It does not seem to be explained, yet it is used in the book as frequently as we hear 'country' these days; and just as loosely.




Does 'environment' mean: design for climate, or the relationship with our natural world; responsibility for it, or our psychological fit with it; or built environments; or the environmental impacts of materials; or maybe appreciating vistas and appearances; or ....? At times it seems to be a bit of everything. In the end, the claim is that environment is 'a mindset,' which seems to be a bit fuzzy, leaving the publication a little baffling in its intent, a situation made worse by poor expression, mistakes, and messy punctuation well beyond what has become the norm these days. Was the book written for speed readers to feel good about things? The whole study seems to be a muddle of good historical bits with a struggling analysis of the work distorted to fit the title. It looks as though if one says 'environment' enough times, the case will be proven. 'Intersect' is another annoyingly, oft-repeated word.##




While one can praise the intent of Bloomsbury in taking on this subject, one has to acknowledge that this book has been very poorly edited. That a publication of this apparent stature could seem to have so many errors, is a concern.* It looks as though neither the author nor the editor ever carefully read the proof; or perhaps the editor was skilled at phonetic and shorthand cropping for texting on social media, and careless with the finer points of English, grammar, and punctuation: or was the editing work done by AI? The book seems rushed, but it took five and a half months from its formal publishing date, as recorded by Bloomsbury, (the later one),+ to get delivered, and it is still scheduled as a 12 week wait if ordered today. One does wonder if it is not a 'print on demand' publication, where books are printed periodically, overnight, only to give the quantities that have been ordered. Does the book suffer from being ‘only about a local architect’? The book gives the impression that it has been slapped together cheaply within hard covers, (it has ‘paperback’ binding), with 216 pages, 71 illustrations, black and white, to be sold for a top price - $169.0: (now $122.41 online).




The publication lacks any skilled graphic design input, offering an outcome that presents a sad contrast to its stylish subject. Here one can reference Phaidon's publications, and note, in particular, the book on graphic design by its chief designer, Alan Fletcher, The Art of Looking Sideways, as an example of quality design approaches, both as the book itself and its subject matter; as well as Phaidon's latest tome on unbuilt architecture: Atlas of Never Built Architecture, 368 pages, 500 illustrations, in colour, $200 - available for $150/$130 - by way of contrast.



In the Dalton book, all the images are small; some images cannot be read; and the discussion about some of the photographs is unable to be adequately comprehended as an image, while other references scream out for an illustration that is not there. The lack of any colour illustrations also limits one’s reading of Dalton’s output, and any true appreciation of its presence in its environs.



Graham House - bland additions and alterations only highlight Dalton's stylish touch.

The book refers to Dalton ‘designing for delight,’ but what does this mean as an environmental matter - feeling 'cool' in all senses? The emphasis on environment weakens as other matters are introduced and discussed, but the divergences are never investigated; rather, they are accommodated as best they can be in the broad environmental thesis. The whole study, oddly called a 'narrative' towards the end, as if Musgrave wished it was one, seems to force the outcome just too much. One wonders if it is trying to read too much into Dalton's work. Was he merely a sensitive stylist who held a longing for living in the warmth of the sun? His original inspiration at Leeds seems to offer some guidance to understanding the man and his approach to his work.



There is one word in the book that has been used only once, towards the end, (in a Vokes and Peters quote), that appears to sum up the man, his work, and his self promotion: 'elegant'; yet little is made of this in favour of Dalton's chant about ‘sunlight, shade, and shadow’ which reminds one of Corb's statement about light on form, that has not been mentioned. In the same way, Wright seems to be ignored in the discussion on buildings relating to sites, and interiors opening up, both internally and to landscapes. Musgrave fails to highlight and discuss an obvious point in this text: how Dalton ‘s work relied on skilled professional black and white photography for its promotion, with carefully framed and edited images being the source of the understanding and debate about the work. How illusory might this strategy have been? Does Dalton’s work hold authority only when seen as a photograph?


Compare this snapshot with the professional image on the cover.


It appears that the book would have been much better had it concentrated just on Dalton's work historically, as the narrative it seems to want to be, rather than trying to 'prove' a point. In the ‘environmental’ analysis and discussion on sources, there are several issues one can raise. Might Dalton’s Spears house be more 'Queensland's Farnsworth' than a homestead-inspired home? One has to ask: what role did Mies play in Dalton’s work? Musgrave discusses Dalton’s brick walls as 'environmental' elements, but these look to be inspired by the Barcelona Pavilion's array of planes applied to a basic house plan, rather than having any significant environmental role; the true impact of cavity brick panels would be minuscule when the remainder of the house appears to make no such similar commitment to energy management.




Musgrave’s argument for Dalton’s apparent rejection of the flat roof in the development of his housing projects seems to ignore the fact that the flat roof still keeps cropping up in various different ways along with the skillion. There are Hayes and Scott sources that seem to go unnoticed too, leaving one to wonder if there are more. Dalton worked with Hayes and Scott before going into private practice, and once spoke enthusiastically about how Cam Scott took a compass onto the site and perused the lay of the land when he first started a project. Scott also pioneered locating hardware and light switches at 900mm off the floor instead of the traditional four foot, six inches – approx. 1350mm. Scott told the story of how one client cynically praised him for his idea to lower light switches, by saying how good the idea was because the height enabled him to switch the light on with his foot when carrying the morning tea tray into his wife. Scott also developed the idea of excavating the site under the timber floor so as to cleverly keep the floor at ground level, using perimeter brick walls with offset attached piers to accommodate the traditional stump cap, bearer and joist detailing. This excavation was not an environmental matter as Musgrave seeks to make it. The idea sought to emulate American slab-on-ground construction before it became possible and popular here. Subsequently, Scott was one of the first to work with concrete slabs on ground, originally carefully detailing every keyed joint for each small segment defined by the wall locations in plan and the size of the pours; eventually casting the slab as a whole, allowing it to crack naturally, if at all, as is done today. The joints proved to be just too problematical, and to expensive.



Dalton's last house.

One can only praise the intent to publish this book, but the execution does beg for more clarity, care and attention. In spite of this, the book gives a flavour of Dalton and his work that is the beginning of a public record that needs to be noted and noticed, and praised for what it is: stylish environmental design by an Englishman who, at 21 years of age, had a vision of an enjoyable, healthy, and casually friendly, open-air lifestyle at a cricket match won by the bronzed Australians in an unusually hot and sunny Leeds, in the middle of the remarkable English summer of 1948.# It was an inspiring experience he carried as a guide throughout his life. How could such intense desire ever be ignored when it causes a man to leave his home country to enjoy what became his mantra: sunlight, shade, and shadow, concepts and realities that shaped his life’s work? There is little wonder that Dalton was so critical of matters Postmodern, as these had nothing to do with sunlight or lifestyle, just theoretical ideas. Perhaps this 'baggy green' inspiration was also the reason for his apparent lack of interest in institutional and civic buildings that engaged other concerns that had nothing to do with his experience on that formative day in Leeds in 1948?






Leeds housing, circa 1948.


+

Or was it the 10 August 2023? - see: https://www.bloomsbury.com/au/john-dalton-9781350291539/ and https://www.amazon.com.au/John-Dalton-Subtropical-Environment-Architecture/dp/135029151X  -  Bloomsbury records two different publishing dates.



^^

Musgrave merely notes in her text that Dalton and a friend 'conceived a plan to travel together to Australia,' (p.15), without asking why: see note on the weather that week and THE GAME below.


^

https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/australia-tour-of-england-1948-61329/england-vs-australia-4th-test-62688/full-scorecard


*

There are possibly over two hundred matters requiring attention/correction/review/checking that have been noted, including errors in words; questionable expression; and problems with punctuation: an average of nearly one per page.


##

Might one argue that it took Dalton’s experience of an unusual English summer to make Australians realise what they had, thus supporting the ‘cultural cringe’ notion that sees incomers with unusual accents to always be more knowledgeable and experienced that any local? It is a circumstance that one frequently sees in academic circles in Australia.


#

https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/j.1477-8696.1949.tb00941.x



1948 was a special year for England’s climate, as well as for cricket. The wet, stormy and cold weather of the early months that broke records, finally changed in March to give three months of mild, sunny days, described as an ‘excess of sunshine,’ the greatest ever for the month of May. It was weather that again changed to cool, unsettled times until the last week in July which experienced ‘excessive heat’ – recorded as a 78 year high. This changed in August and continued to the end of the year as colder, wetter days, with intermittent milder times ending up with heavy fog for days in November, and cold December weeks.

The dates for the test at which Dalton made up his mind to travel to Australia were 22- 27 July – the period of ‘excessive heat’ following the months of ‘excessive sunshine.’ Dalton not only saw the elegant, bronzed Aussies in ‘404’ winning action, but he also experienced this delight in the days of extreme sunny heat that he envisaged, in his feeling for Australia, these sportsmen enjoyed throughout the year. It must have been a grand climax after enjoying an unusual three months of ‘excessive sunshine' that stimulated a transformative experience, highlighting his delight in sun, shade, and shadow, his life’s guide.


THE GAME

This is a report on the game played in 'extreme heat' at Headingley in 1948 that changed John Dalton’s life:

https://cricmash.com/flashes-to-remember/ashes-1948-the-heist-at-headingley


Ashes 1948: The heist at Headingley

July 26, 2020











by Arunabha Sengupta

Leeds, 27 July 1948.

Bradman and Headingley. In Test matches since 1930, the combination had brought forth scores of 334, 304, 103. This would be his last Test at the venue. The entire reserved accommodation was sold out by the first post on 1 January 1948.
158,000 crowded in for five days, and many more were turned away.
Let the ones who say ‘the game is bigger than the individual’ go and take a walk in their conccted dreamlands. No one would watch cricket had it not been for such men. Don Bradman was the greatest of them all.

But by the start of the fifth day, things looked bleak for the great man and his team. On the eve of the final day, he wrote in his diary, “We are set 400 to win and I fear we may be defeated.” He said as much to scorer Bill Ferguson. Fergie even instructed the coach-driver to collect the team by mid-afternoon, anticipating a quick end.

England 496, Australia 458 (Bradman b Pollard 33), England 362 for 8 overnight.
Norman Yardley used the heavy roller to break the wicket up even further. And then two overs and three runs into the morning, the England captain appeared on the balcony, signalling Laker and Evans to come in.
Australia needed 404 in 344 minutes.

During the changeover the police announced that lost children and their parents should go immediately to the office and wait there so that no announcement had to interrupt the match. Bradman used no roller at all.

Morris and Hassett began cautiously. Yardley introduced spin soon enough. Morris stroked a couple of boundaries off Laker, and Evans missed a stumping down the leg.
Hassett grinned towards the pavilion and measured off a foot of his bat. It was a spinner’s wicket.
With so many runs to play with, Compton’s chinaman was put into operation. Immediately Morris was missed, once again by Evans, the keeper fumbling the ball with the southpaw stranded down the wicket. Morris 32, total 55.

Two runs later Hassett pushed at Compton, got the edge and was thrillingly caught one-handed by the bowler inches off the ground. 57 for one in 75 minutes. 347 required in 269. Bradman in to bat with the clock showing one o’clock.
He immediately pulled Laker for four and was up to 12 in six minutes.

Now Yardley made a bloomer. No Pollard, no Bedser for Bradman. Since Compton was getting his wrist spin to turn, he brought on Hutton. Morris took three fours off him, Bradman two more.

96 for 1 in 90 minutes. Australia up with the clock. Bradman 22. Compton sent down a googly, Bradman did not read it. Away it went past Jack Crapp at slip for four.
Another slip came up. Bradman glanced a four. And then another googly, another snick and Crapp dropped him again. England could have won it during that over. Instead, Hutton was taken for more runs.
At lunch Australia 121 for 1, Morris 63, Bradman 35.

After lunch irregular bowlers continued. Seven fours came off two overs.
Morris passed his 100, Bradman his 50. At 59 Yardley dropped Bradman at backward point off Cranston as he mistimed a drive.
And then he hooked Cranston and Pollard for boundaries, but snapped something on his side. Pollard had to rub him vigorously.

At 4.10, after 147 minutes of batting, Bradman reached his 29th and final century in Test cricket. 19 and a half years between his first and last Test hundreds. Only Sachin Tendulkar has a greater between-hundred duration with 20 and a half.

And just before tea, at 108, he was down the wicket to Laker and Evans missed a stumping yet again. In the very next over, Morris was dropped by Laker off Compton.
A tale of butterfingers. Atrocious fielding by England.
At tea Australia 292 for 1, the tide had turned completely.

Morris did fall at 358, caught off Yardley for a personal score of 182. 301 runs added in three hours and 37 minutes. Miller was out at 396.

Bradman hit a four off Pollard to bring his score to 173 and the total to 400 before blocking the rest of the over to allow young Neil Harvey get the winning boundary off Cranston. Well, if Bradman had punched Pollard for a winning boundary the previous over, even the duck in his final innings at The Oval would have let him end with a Test batting average of 100.

Australia 404 for 3. Bradman 173 not out. Victory by seven wickets and The Ashes retained in one of the most fascinating chases on a square turner. Bradman at Headingley, 963 runs at 192.60.
The last time Bradman was seen scoring runs in Test cricket.


Friday 24 May 2024

PLANNING FUTURES


A recent news item reported on the residents’ concern with a high-rise proposal for the Fortitude Valley in Brisbane, Queensland. It is a protest that one sees frequently: the worry with surprise developments that are never expected, not even by the Town Plan: https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/residents-say-16-storey-tower-bid-breaches-faith-with-valley-plan-20240521-p5jfh5.html



The problem with city planning is that the name appears to promise some organised future, but in reality, the process is one of outlining possibilities and receiving propositions that are presented to those who should have planned, Councillors, and others in power, with the outcome being negotiated to fit something that the ‘planners’ and others think that they can ‘get through’ all the required processes with a good dose of canny cunning and spin.



So it is that surprise projects come up for what is called ‘approval,’ when they probably have already been ‘approved’ informally. The ‘planning’ exercise by what is usually now called the ‘planning and development’ section, becomes one of persuading the public, and maybe other Councillors, that the agreed, negotiated proposal is appropriate, and fits ‘the intention’ of the plan, if not the exact profile, words, or figures.



This farce then goes through all the processes the plan might require for development approval, and get approved in spite of every objection that may have been made in accordance with the requirements of the defined process. The exercise becomes one of countering all objections with ‘special conditions’ that have been tailored to address each and every point. This approach might even have clauses itemising x, y, and or z ‘all to the engineer’s approval,’ and conditions similar to this, thus getting over the hurdle of the objection by postponing the approval within an approval.



It all becomes a very tricky game that could be done away with and managed with rigour and meaning if a real plan was in place; a plan that did illustrate, describe, and define just what the future of a city might be. After all, this is what a ‘plan’ is. If planners did the work and clearly spelt out in detail the future that was envisaged in a plan, then no one would be surprised; and the game of cleverly creating ‘special conditions’ can be done away with, because everyone would know what the aim of development would be; the end result would be known.



This does not mean that things would not ever change. Plans can be looked at and modified appropriately in accordance with feedback, in an organic process of fitting pasts, presents, and futures together in an informative way. The idea of ‘progress’ needs to be dumped in favour of an enlightened process of assessment. Plans could make futures more modest instead of always increasing heights and densities to suit developers who always want to squeeze more and more out of less and less.



The irrational approach of surprise projects appearing in the public eye after having gone through countless negotiations to finally get ‘the nod,’ needs to stop. Futures can be and need to be planned properly, and enforced. One could argue that even now, if the sloppy plans that we currently have were properly enforced with the rigour needed, things would be a little better than they are; but the world is not like that. Planners have become over-viewers; sometimes getting involved in the planning of the projects that they are approving. Processes and systems get very messy. What is required is a properly planned future, and the rigour to enforce this. It means that planners have to make commitments and to stick to them; then the public will not have to endure the surprise we see reported in the news.



If planners are unable to do this, then the profession might as well be abolished, because the world will not need planners, just good negotiators and spin doctors. These artful dodgers could not give us outcomes that are any worse than those we see today: just look at our ‘award winning’ housing developments and our cities and towns, and despair.