AA Prize for Unbuilt Work

The inaugural outcomes of our new prize celebrating architectural invention and exploration through unbuilt work.

This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting

Jury overview

Mega-projects in Dubai and China by Australian architects with big international practices; a design for a pivot hinge by Howard Styles, a one-man-band from Canberra; Richard Goodwin’s polemical treatise on public space; Crowd Production’s investigations of changing domestic patterns; carefully crafted bespoke houses from all over the country; student projects; affordable, sustainable housing of varying kinds; explorations of urban form, digital and otherwise; speculative sketches; developed designs; public and commercial work of all scales, by all kinds of practices. The jury for the 2007 AA Prize for Unbuilt Work had a rich array of work to consider.

The range of entries also pointed to key social issues and revealed some bizarre disparities – for instance, the urgent need for genuine affordable housing (well represented in many submissions) contrasts starkly with the flamboyant effects of the Dubai marketplace.

So how to proceed? There are many versions of what the unbuilt can be. Were we looking for a fabulous project that should have been built, or a speculative work that exploited the potential of “paper” architecture? Interests of jury members differed. Peter hoped for a project, “more architecture than drawing; a serious project, not built that should have been, flashes of under-appreciated brilliance, design as experiment, ideas for the future.” Anthony sought “an engagement with the potential of architecture – in the broadest sense of the discipline, and in all its media incarnations – to speculate, to educate, to critique and to question, going places where built work, for obvious as well as less than obvious reasons, can’t go.” But we were all open to compelling work of any kind. We were all looking for strong ideas, developed through architecture, whatever the medium. We were wary of the trap of thinking that ideas are only found in theoretical work, not in proposals for buildings. We sought a close connection between the idea and the work, between thinking and making – thinking through making, in all media.

After exhaustive examination of the 92 entries, we returned to a project that at first we had thought “too unlikely, indulgent and nutty”. It kept drawing us back, enthralling us with its rigour and completeness. Invoking the work of Russian architect/artists Brodsky and Utkin, it was also utterly local – a joyful celebration of architectural potential. The four highly commended schemes delighted us in other ways, and we particularly enjoyed the diversity of architectural work demonstrated through this group of schemes: a process for producing more nuanced urban density and height regulations; a bridge so good it should have been built; a witty and polemical scheme for affordable housing, with a very serious intent; an exploration of urban expansion around Barcelona, which the authors suggest also offers ideas for how South-East Queensland might manage its projected growth. Together, the five winning projects point to a great diversity of architectural activity, and to the many ways that the unbuilt might contribute to architecture.

Architecture is rich and complex, and the health of the discipline requires the sparks and provocations of the unbuilt. If the profession is to remain vibrant and relevant it needs both speculation and intellectual enquiry at its edges and the evolution of its centre. The AA Prize for Unbuilt Work is a vehicle for celebrating both. We hope that as the award progresses and develops these different kinds of unbuilt work will inflect and influence each other – we look forward to more projects for buildings that have real conceptual depth, and to theoretical projects that have the power to engage and challenge the profession.

2007 AA Prize for Unbuilt Work Jury: Shelley Penn, Peter Skinner, Anthony Burke, Justine Clark


With 92 entries the jury had a lot to consider. View all entries at the online gallery, www.architectureaustralia.com.au/unbuilt/results/

AA Prize for Unbuilt Work

A Clinic for the Exhausted
Michael Spooner


A scheme that at first seemed too unlikely, indulgent and nutty to carry the mantle of winner, but one too witty and pretty and bold to ignore. Wearied by the search for a champion, though not quite exhausted, we returned to the Clinic. It was clearly old-school; drawing as architecture, even if the drawing was digital and finely modelled. It did reek of last-century picaresque roman-a-clef tongue-in-cheek cockamamie self-indulgent absurdist magic-so-called-realism. But slowly it drew us into the theatrical architectural world of its subject. It gently intrigued us to consider again the ambiguities and vitality of this key phase in recent architectural history. Was this possibly the first sighting of that ultimate irony, a revival of postmodernism? Or was it, more humbly, simply a painstakingly referenced and affectionate homage to that remarkable architect – Peter Corrigan?

The Clinic is unbuilt, but equally clearly it could be built, in titanium if need be, within the capabilities of contemporary construction. But should it be built? Against glittering backdrops of gluttonous consumption, implicit exploitation and shallow spectacle in millennial mega-cities, this project proffers a portrait of an individual, engrossed and engaged in catching and constructing culture. Yes, I would love to see it built, if only as a bronze casting from a wax-print model. Ideally it would be a monument at the scale of a man, with the rhinoceros sized to fit inside a human heart.

Author’s description
The stage is set for an act apart, the reconstructing of Building Eight by Edmond and Corrigan as a boat disenchanted with its ocean home, a genealogy that reveals a ship as the greatest reserve of imagination.

Among broken chandeliers, our path reaches a lifeboat. This boat alludes to the ability of Starling’s shed to become a boat and back again, or to have always been a boat. This one raises bodies from the waters of Greenaway’s Seine, only to emerge from the ocean. A boat-barrow-boat.

Atop, a reading room and writing room express Peter Corrigan’s love of Jean Genet. The central mast holds the remains of his letters. Taut’s glass pavilion, the Eddystone Lighthouse and Ledoux’s wandering eye collide in an act that reveals Aalto’s sanatorium as the only answer to madness.

Greta Garbo was told to think about nothing as she stood in the guise of Queen Christina, the camera drawn to her face. Like the first notes of Fellini’s opera singer to the head of the man-bride beneath Satyricon’s water, Corrigan is wed to this boat as a male transvestite, dressed in the costume of theatre.

The act? Peter Corrigan in an oversized bath, admiral’s hat on and playing, like Shakespeare’s Prospero, with a toy boat. Beneath, Fellini’s slaves push, pull and twist the cogs and wheels, forcing the bathtub to roll, pitch and swivel. Corrigan can point his bath anywhere he wants on the imaginary horizon line, in the knowledge that his every movement drives the propeller of the city beneath him.

An observation deck and rooms for cartographers are provided to map Corrigan’s directions. But the mechanisms of Corrigan work here too, and there are only walls enough for one room at a time, because, as Kafka remarked, that’s all we ever really need.

From a tower Icarus found entry into the void, the moment captured as a leg protruding from the surface of the water. This tower is more lascivious in its gaze than the other, though precedent has been set in the gynecological architecture of Lequeu, and in the gaze from the crosshairs of a draughtsman (not to mention the contract). All that is left to do is jump up and down to make the legs flap.

We descend to the remains of the great deluge. Noah’s ark has long since been left to rot, though Gehry’s building would surely be advantageous if the need ever arose. Gehry’s donkey, being the golden ass that it is, floated away and we have been left with only a rhinoceros – Fellini’s lovesick one at that. Beneath his iceberg roof, the rhino endures his wait, for while an iceberg never reveals its depths on the surface, the rhino is captured in a surface of depth, the reflection of an iceberg.

What this project follows is merely a sense of logic, that the logic of nonsense takes care of the middle and hopes that the rest will take care of itself.

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A Real Walking City
Harrison & White / Cameron White


Urban planning strategies to encourage increased residential density around transport nodes or open spaces often use simplistic 400-metre- and 800-metre-radius circles to encourage more intense development within five- and ten-minute walking distances. Resulting density models take the form of tiered wedding cakes. Like our tiered taxation system, the mathematics is simple but overall fairness is questionable. Tiered models correlate crudely to smoothly graduated phenomena and inevitably produce distortion, inequity and disputation at the thresholds. Harrison and White’s project proposes densities (and hence heights) based on more sophisticated modelling that simulates real walking times, allowing for street layouts, thoroughfares, intersections and topography. The demonstration project, centred on the precincts around Mitcham and Nunawading stations in Melbourne, results in a persuasively responsive urban massing model. The process rewards routes and arcades leading towards the nodes, generating a texture of narrow directional block forms close to the activity centres while allowing lower, deeper block formations in the diagonal (NW, NE, SE, SW) sectors. Most intriguingly, the articulated form-model generates a public space texture reminiscent of those old-world cities evolved from centuries of pedestrian movement. The richness of form derived from one simple correlation of accessibility and building density is persuasive and suggestive of further application. This truly computer-aided design technique is commended to all with a commitment to planning, rather than simply legislating, our cities.

Architects’ description
This project describes a master planning approach rooted in walkability. It proposes a direct link between walkability, urban form and population density …
Smart Growth planning strategies emphasize growth boundaries and encourage the increase of residential developments within walking distance of public transport – “walkability catchment areas” – in an attempt to contain urban sprawl and achieve more sustainable cities. These catchments are often illustrated using 400-metre- and 800-metre-radius circles (representing five and ten minutes walking distances respectively), drawn from a central point – typically a railway station. This strategy reflects the desire to attain denser, more connected and sustainable cities, but it oversimplifies and assumes that street layouts are radial, or people move “as the crow flies” (in a straight line).

A Real Walking City proposes a more accurate technique for connectivity analysis and has been applied to a growing city in Melbourne. It uses relatively cheap 3D animation software used for crowd simulation – similar to technology used in Peter Jackson’s film of Tolkien’s

Lord of the Rings. This technique enables designers to send out an “agent crowd” walking from a central node (e.g. railway station), interacting with street layouts, intersections and topography to attain a more accurate shape for the walkable catchment – how far people can actually walk in five and ten minutes.

The technique can be used to assess existing walkability and as design decision support while testing proposed urban designs. Almost real-time comparative studies can be undertaken: does street layout option A have a larger pedestrian catchment area than option B? The technique can also inform decisions on where increases in residential density should occur.

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Barcelona and the Satellite City
Rethinking Growth: Hyper-Density and Relational Equilibrium
Jennifer Chen, Liam Young and NMBW Queensland Office


The brief for the 2003–2004 Quaderns ideas competition, to which this work responds, noted an “interest in addressing issues of what housing does rather than what housing should be like.” The AA Prize jury responded to both the sophistication of the organizing logic and the dexterity of the design hand. The proposal structures a large urban swath on Barcelona’s periphery by interweaving models of what a productive landscape (as much as an active urbanism) might be. It tests a series of intricately interconnected speculations, working through urban and architectural scales, and reflects on social, economic and environmental registers. The jury particularly enjoyed the team’s understanding of the unbuilt project as a vehicle for design research.

With the cross-programming of the blocks and their intricate programmatic connections with the podium and the landscapes, the work immediately struck the jury. It works intelligently across scales, with a strong sense of quality and commitment. It is distinguished by its intricacy and complexity – it is much more than the one-liner too often associated with speculative work or the unbuilt genre. The “relational equilibrium” comes from a frank engagement with the complex issues of housing for 400,000, and the exploration of the potential for civic and urban invention – aspects that are too often buried under carnival-esque spectacle or overly burdensome demographics. While the deep sections into the underground podium spaces caused some discussion and concern, this compelling and broadly scaled architectural response to “what housing can do” impressed the jury. This provocative scheme pulls together significant new ideas at the intersection of architecture, urban design and agriculture.

Architects’ description
This international architecture competition entry responds to a call to rethink growth, given a projected migration into the Barcelona region of 400,000 people over twenty years. Outcomes of the speculation are demonstrated on specific sites in Barcelona and in the satellite city of Amposta, two hours from Barcelona by very fast train.

The 97-kilometre conurbation of Barcelona supports a population of 1.5 million at 15,400 people per square kilometre. Every day 1.16 million people make the pilgrimage across the city limits on foot, by public transport or in cars (the majority). Traffic congestion makes Barcelona the second noisiest city in Europe.

In the last twenty years the population has increased by 36 percent. The population of satellite cities grew by 325 percent. Housing has become unaffordable. People have been dispersed from the city to satellite cities and to regions outside the municipal boundary serving as dormitory ghettos for low-paid workers. Building regulations and the cost of housing within the city have made some areas outside the municipal boundary denser than the city centre. Barcelona is one of the worst performers in Europe in terms of population dispersal in relation to the built-up area.

We propose an update of current policies of conservation and renovation. A strategy is required for combining existing urban fabric with a range of new typologies. Social dynamics in the city now occur on its edges around infrastructural hubs. A constructed carved-out topography is proposed in reclaimed industrial areas to form networks of hyper-density sinks. These are structured around landscape as infrastructure to absorb growth. Satellite cities are made desirable to a range of income groups to break the dormitory ghetto cycle. Without these strategies Barcelona would be unable to accommodate the new population and the pattern of sprawl around Barcelona’s satellite cities would worsen. They re-centre the city’s pattern of growth. With the overlay of new networks of density, traces of the labyrinthine historic city are configured into new constellations and Cerdà’s grid is freed to reclaim optimum potential.

A string of residential towers lines the new high-speed train line, acting as a foil to the horizontal city. These dense concentrated communities key into the existing transport system. The Amposta site represents the idea of an alternative rural lifestyle adjacent to satellite cities to attract a broad range of socioeconomic groups. The given site is extended into a dispersed linear city between Amposta and the adjacent coastal port. Agrarian programme is intertwined with urban programme worked into the existing land-use structure, aiming to achieve a state of relational equilibrium across programmes, vertically stacked along an existing canal with horizontal programmatic mats inhabiting exhausted farm plots.

The projected population growth is of a magnitude similar to the one faced in south-east Queensland. The aim was to establish a speculative approach that might be applied to local circumstance. The crucial test is demonstrated by outcomes exhibiting a relational equilibrium resonating within and between the city

and the satellite city.

Competition team
Jennifer Chen, Keith Hudson, Andrew Steen, Stephen Tritchler, Lucy Williams, Andrew Wilson, Liam Young.

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Agricultural Baroque
The Rexroth Mannasmann Collective and Lucy Tibbits Architects


“Say NO to neo-Georgian, every Australian family deserves Agricultural Baroque.” Agricultural Baroque is a polemical and witty work, with a serious intent – to contribute to the discussion about affordable housing in the suburbs.

The project draws together two distinct strands of Australian architectural thinking – the fascination with the well-crafted shed and the interest in suburbia – and reminds us that these are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the architects suggest, these two apparently distinct discourses might be productively brought together. Pointing out that rural + urban = suburban, they argue that the shed type is as relevant to the suburban project home as it is to high-end residential architecture. But this work also revels in the vernacular decorative tradition of the suburb. It resists a nostalgic formal interpretation of this tradition, instead locating the desire for decoration in the interior: “Cheap shed + patterned luxurious interior = domestic bliss in agricultural baroque.”

This work delights in the pleasures of everyday life. It does not sneer at the suburbs, but seeks to improve the suburban built environment. Both irreverent and deadly serious, the presentation is littered with one-liners that simultaneously convey an affection for the suburbs and suburbanites, indicate salient project “features”, and provide a tongue-in-cheek critique of the housing industry.

“Jenny said we wouldn’t need an architect, but I am so glad we used one … They just thought of everything.”

Architects’ description
The genealogy of this design descends from vernacular sources in Australian architecture. Structurally it is based on the simplicity of the Australian woolshed (rural), whose form expresses its tectonic post-and-truss structure and protective skin. The design pragmatically incorporates the screening and climate control of the Australian verandah, both for internal thermal protection and for outdoor living. Internally it is descended from the Victorian and Federation ideal (urban), wherein internal colour and decoration were paramount. Each of these paradigms is embedded in the history and mythology of Australian architecture. (Rural + Urban = Suburban.) Architect Glenn Murcutt is a prime example of a long line of architects who have blazed the way for a residential architecture based on a distinctive functionalist tradition developed in Australia … The shed typology exudes a practical reasoning that is as relevant to suburban project homes as it is to highly detailed residential architecture.

Victorian and Federation-style houses are a popular feature in many Australian suburbs. While many new suburban homes are built in a variety of nostalgic styles based on these models, the Agricultural Baroque confines this tradition of decoration to the interior. The decorative features allow an expression of cultural and personal elements within the integrated architectural space and surface of the interior. Patterned carpets, a stencil finish to the concrete slab in the living zone, and a patterned fabric finish to the insulated internal sliders all contribute to a luxurious and attractive interior architecture. A palette of patterns and colours to choose from allows a personal touch to this intimate domestic space.

And, as we all know, a shed less decoration = a duck.

Agricultural Baroque is not a duck. Agricultural Baroque is a radical approach to suburban house design. It is a sensible idea. Put your money where your life is (on the inside), and on the outside, create an environment: plant a tree.

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Warburton Rail Trail Pedestrian Bridge


As a type the pedestrian bridge provides an opportunity to explore fundamental experiences of passage and transition, the making of form and the relations of form to structure, land-marking, speed and scale. In Australian built examples, the opportunity is often missed. This is not because architects always fail. Indeed, it is more often due to the limited comprehension of the ways that bridges and our experiences of them can enrich our lives, and of the value of such enrichment. Sometimes a failing of architects, more often a failing of clients.

This proposal, conceived for a limited competition, is delightful and convincing, presenting a challenge to the trail of lost opportunities. Except that it remains unbuilt! Let’s hope that whatever was built was even better. As an entry for our consideration, it succinctly and eloquently communicated a resolved and sophisticated concept, eminently do-able and certainly desirable. The essential vision is of two paths extending to connect at a pivotal, elevated point. Conceptually, the bridge almost disappears, reduced to a brief span of timber, perhaps six metres long, and curving to connect the two concrete decks which cantilever from the bush on each side of the highway. The two structures are shrouded by fine, draped mesh, providing enclosure and shade, and lending a somewhat animal-, even bat-like carapace against the simple frames of the trusses. It is usual with pedestrian bridges for approach ramps to give abrupt access to a flat deck across the main span. Here, this approach is rejected in favour of a continuous, gentle climb that culminates at the central, tenuous link – the moment of arrival and departure, a place for outlook and for pause.

Architects’ description
This project is for an invited competition for a pedestrian bridge across the Maroondah Highway in Lilydale. It reconnects fragments of the Warburton trail at the site of a former railway bridge and, at the same time, creates a gateway to Lilydale from the east as the highway begins to descend to the city.

The design responds to the context of the Warburton trail – its memory, its physical presence and its landscape. In doing so, it forms a highway landmark for Lilydale, with a significance and meaning related to its larger environment.

The bridge form is driven by a series of observations and reflections …
1. The bridge is an extension of the trail from two sides – the key motivation is to rejoin a severed line.
2. The bridge emerges from a landscape that is particularly dense on the north side and from a land form that creates a natural panorama from the middle of the highway.
3. The bridge is the third in a series over time, and the earlier bridges spanned a much narrower opening in

the highway, while carrying a much greater load.

We saw an opportunity to mark a moment, or a turning point in the centre of the bridge – the trail bends where the axes of the trail on either side intersect. The walkway rises to its highest point in the centre and the cantilevered structure breaks there – creating an opening and a lookout at the centre. This break coincides with the old contours of the narrower highway opening under the former bridges.

We thought of each bridge side as an extension of the landscape reaching out over the road. The surface there is stabilized earth, trail-like, while the centre break is steel and glass – more like a railway.

We liked the clear, straightforward structure of the rail bridges and responded to this in the truss form. This rises relative to the descending walkway on the north, creating the drama of a tall structure, and a response to the tall treescape on the north edge.

The draped cladding responds to the delicacy of the treescape and the shaded dappled light it creates. The required two-metre side enclosure is made of a woven steel mesh, which wraps over and suspends out from the bridge in parts, forming a shaded enclosure in and under and a merging of the tree landscape with the bridge.

Planting is a key part of this experience and we proposed the augmentation of the copse of trees on the north bank as well as dense planting for screening between this copse and the houses to the west.

The new object would evoke bridges of various kinds – rail truss bridges, but also lifting bridges over water, and rope suspended bridges. At night, the gold and silver mesh interacts with its lighting to make a more blurring, sparkling landmark.

Project team
Graham Crist, Brendan Jones, Simon Whibley, Peter Johns.

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special MENTION

The Suburban Detail of the Month Competition and Calendar
The Rexroth Mannasmann Collective


This “work” seems to deserve a special category of its own – the prize for built unarchitecture, perhaps. The jury has awarded it a special mention, in recognition of this inventive programme’s role in Melbourne’s architectural culture. The Rexroth Mannasmann Collective’s Suburban Detail of the Month Competition and Calendar is a playful attempt to encourage the architectural community to overcome its “burb blindness”, to celebrate the quirky and compelling aspects of our everyday built environment. This is not a proposal for an architectural project, but rather an invitation to develop inclusive and engaged ways of seeing and thinking. Architectural culture often glibly dismisses the suburbs (despite the fact that much architectural output is located there). With its affection for the small, uncelebrated wonders found in the suburban world, this programme and its built outcome – the calendar – ask us to open our eyes and engage in more productive encounters.

Architects’ statement
We were captivated by the beauty, absurdity and originality showcased behind paling fences. Slick inner-urban junctions and nice architectural features no longer held us enthralled: the makeshift and the out-of-vogue remnant were making us stop and salivate. We encouraged people – ourselves included – to overcome the “burb blindness” that comes with taking things for granted. We wanted to develop a keener eye for the littler distinctive details in this simultaneously public and private world.

Verbal descriptions were not enough.

We needed pictures.

We decided to make it competitive … Entry requirements were simple – bring along your photos of a suburban detail that appeals to our sense of humour, irony, the absurd, the distinctive or the just plain beautiful …

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Published online: 1 Jan 2008


Architecture Australia, January 2008

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