“We embrace ease and eschew risk at our peril.”1 Written in the closing lines of Laura Harding’s review of extensions to the National Gallery of Australia, these words could just as well form the personal motto of their author. Faced with the task of reviewing a contentious public project, amidst the swirl of competing agendas, and to a strict word count, it must have been tempting to polemicise or simplify the story – but this is not how Laura writes. Her articles take a far riskier position. Walking a tightrope, or better, multiple tightropes, she paces out in erudite and concise phrases the spider‐like narrative strands interwoven through the architectural project. Ultimately, we are not just offered the critic’s informed judgement but insight into the many possible angles from which judgement could be made. This makes for educational, entertaining, and deeply satisfying reading. A contributing editor to Architecture Australia since 2006, Laura regularly writes for the publication and its online counterpart, ArchitectureAU. She has also contributed to Architecture Review Australia, Landscape Architecture Australia, Monument magazine, and Houses magazine.
Despite her considerable acumen as a critic, Laura is primarily engaged in architectural practice. She is a key contributor to the work of Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects, where she has worked since 1996. Over the past year there has been lively debate about the state and purpose of architectural criticism. If we are to invite public interest in architecture, we must transcend the mystification of practice that makes architecture seem the selfish product of a singular creator. Laura Harding’s writing, as exemplified in her National Gallery review, expands the narrative by bringing to light the contingencies, compromises and generosities embodied in practice.
Note: Established 1986, the Adrian Ashton prize was first introduced in 1986 as a biennial award, but is now awarded yearly. Adrian Ashton was a past president of the Institute and founding member of the National Trust in NSW; however, it is his role as the first editor of the NSW Chapter’s ‘Architecture Bulletin’ that this prize commemorates.
1. Harding, L. ‘Extending the NGA’. Architecture Australia. January/February 2011.