Architecture Media's editorial director Cameron Bruhn reviews the 2012 National Architecture Conference.
The atmosphere I experienced at “Experience” – the 2012 National Architecture Conference – was one of personal and professional camaraderie. Acquaintances were renewed, friendships were made and tales from the battle lines of architectural practice and teaching were shared at this annual gathering of Australia’s architectural community. Conference creative directors Michael Rayner, Shane Thompson and Peter Skinner invited us to share an architectural experience and it was with pride and generosity that Brisbane’s architecture community welcomed delegates to their city.
The conference theme of “experience” was a loose construct. I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense, rather that the theme allowed the invited national and international speakers considerable license to give their own account of what “experience” means in the discipline or practice of architecture – or both. I suspect that this loose construct was a direct consequence of the triumvirate behind its creative direction.
The creative directors each brought different architectural experiences to the task of directing the conference and I get the sense that each decision they made as a team was discussed and debated with no one position dominating. I will confess that this sense of the dynamic behind the creative direction is slightly more than a suspicion. In the lead-up to the conference I caught up with the trio over dinner to hear more about what they were planning. It was one of the most enjoyable architectural conversations I have experienced in recent years, but it also boded well for the conference. In a conversation that reflected the broad church of Australian architecture, they spoke passionately about the various streams and of the ways in which they would be realized as a collective vision.
The conference program was diverse and engaging – and one that was a reflection of the diversity of the audience. There was a notable lack of navel-gazing and a palpable sense that architecture can make for a better experience of the world – no matter where in the world you live or your financial circumstance. A key programming move was to eschew open-floor conversations in favour of a concluding roundtable chat between a speaker (or speakers) and a luminary from architectural education in Queensland. This set an energetic pace for proceedings and acknowledged that many of the more fervent debates at a conference happen outside the arena. This outside space is both physical and digital – in the official (and unofficial) fringe program events and in the noisy social media conversations that unfold simultaneously.
The range of speaker interpretations of experience ranged from the phenomenal to the reflective to the subversive. As I think back on the presentations, I am reminded of the cherubic wit of Kathryn Findlay as she used her finger to make a popping sound with her cheek as an audible description of an ancient Japanese landscape experience (Peter Skinner’s mimicry of this is still making me giggle).
There is also the perspective that only the experience of building creates. In walking us through his projects from the 1970s to the present, Peter Rich reflected on the “way we did things then,” reminding us that experimentation and the refinement of ideas over time are at the core of the practice of architecture. Then there is the subversive, alternate experience of buildings – the one the architect can’t design. Kjetil Thorsen brought this to life with a film of a motorbike rider climbing all over Snohetta’s Oslo Opera House.
Experience gave delegates a thorough dose of architectural inspiration and, with the conference in Brisbane for the first time in almost twenty years, there was also an opportunity to experience this rapidly changing subtropical city. Being a Queenslander by birth, I left with the good feeling of hometown pride.