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Chifley Square

I congratulate Architecture Australia on an interesting tribute to the 2009 Gold Medallist Ken Maher.

However, I draw your attention to the article “Crossing Disciplines” by Helen Lochhead, which comments on Ken’s urban design work. This identifies Chifley Square as an example of Ken’s fascination with the ground plane and canopy.

Hassell, including Ken Maher, was engaged by the City of Sydney to provide design development and documentation services on a project that already had an approved Development Application. All the qualities described in the paragraph on the project were already conceived of and illustrated prior to Ken’s involvement. The concept and DA is my work and that of the City Projects team. I was the urban designer at the City of Sydney’s City Project Unit at the time and I continued to work closely with the Hassell team through the design development and documentation phases, as well as through construction – “Working with … the City Projects Unit” does not reflect the authorship of this project.

I would also point out that the project was completed in 1996 and that the perspective image was printed back-to-front.

Tim Williams

Greenfield Architects

In response to John Raiton FRAIA’s letter “A Public Voice” and the essay “Future Infrastructure” by Rob Adams (Architecture Australia vol 98 no 1).

In 2006 a group of Canberra-based architects (six to eight practices) decided to form a loose collective to attempt to increase the presence of architect-designed residences in greenfield sites. Initially the “Greenfield Architects” wished to pursue an altruistic notion of making the new sprawling suburbs a much more pleasant place to live. This notion was later dropped and the pursuit failed. What we were trying to do is described below.

Research In the new Canberra suburbs, architecturally designed homes represented a maximum of 6 percent of all new residences. This obviously meant that 94 percent of the market went elsewhere – to builders, developers, designers, draftspeople and individuals. The majority of new homes were designed and built by project builders.

We initially approached project builders to find out if they could utilize our design skills. The project builders were only willing to pay between $900 and $2,000 for a design and they felt that the extra cost of an architectural design was not worth the benefits. Basically, the project builder market was highly competitive with cut-rate pricing.

A major concern of people purchasing greenfield blocks of land was the total cost. The homebuyers had a sum of money, which was only slightly flexible, and they wanted a place to live and grow. That is, homebuyers wanted a house and land package for a stated sum. People felt, whether real or not, that architectural designs had no fixed price – they could get a home for $400,000 or maybe it would end up costing $600,000.

In this context we felt that entry to the 94 percent market lay within a new design/construct model.

The Scheme The central idea of the Greenfield Architect scheme was to have a design for a particular block of land at a certain price. For instance, the public would buy a block of land at a ballot or sale office. At the sale office there would be a flyer stand or a computer where they could look up their block and section number and discover a number of architecturally designed houses for their block at certain prices.

The scheme worked in this way:

a) The Greenfield Architects would get all site information of a suburb from the land developers before it went on sale. For instance, all contours and heights, orientation, block sizes, cut and fill, location, etc.

b) From this information we would create designs for specific blocks. In a general sense we came up with twelve designs that would fit most blocks.

c) Each architect could create as many or as few designs for each of the blocks as they wished. The key here was to create diversity and choice for the homebuyer.

d) Each design would be pre-approved by the planning authority (if required).

e) Each design was fully costed by a builder that the architect had worked with.

f) The design with its block definition would be loaded onto a website where the homebuyer could search for a design. For example, they could search for Block 23, Section 8, Suburb: Harrison. A number of designs would be shown and they could be ordered by price, star rating, inclusions, bedrooms, etc.

g) The website would display a graphic of the design (the pros and cons of displaying plans was much discussed) with contact information for the architect.

h) The homebuyer would contact the architect of the desired design, discuss the design and then formalize an agreement to build with them or, if risk was an issue, with the builder.

Growth We saw huge potential in the scheme once it was up and running. Architects from Perth could put their authority-approved and costed designs on the website for Perth greenfield sites. Australian expats could also engage in the program for overseas sites. We had much interest from people who heard of the scheme and wanted to see the website – they weren’t only interested in greenfield sites but also in urban infill.

The scheme failed.

In the first instance, time and money stunted the progress. The Greenfield Architects met for about eighteen months from June 2006, working out the organizational plan and producing some designs. A website was costed and ideas about its workings were produced. Unfortunately we were all small business or sole practitioners and the time spent producing what is initially a free design took away from running our respective businesses. None of us could survive without income.

In the final instance, recognizing that this was solely a moneymaking venture and not an altruistic notion of improving people’s lives took a toll on my enthusiasm. I came to realize that no matter what designs we produced the fundamentals of sprawling suburbs would continue without much change – we would get richer.

An anecdote I tell my clients is that in the 1960s or 1970s a family house in Canberra would be about 120 square metres and would sit on an 800-square-metre block. There would be accommodation for two adults, three children and one car. The backyard would have an oversized ash or oak tree with room for play or barbecues on the weekends. Today that block of land is split in two (400–450 square metres) with two 50 percent houses (each 200–225 square metres). There is car accommodation for at least four vehicles and possibly four adults and maybe some children. There is definitely no room for a tree, and because there is no room, most play and entertainment happens somewhere else. Where is the environmental sustainability and improved suburban life? And yet the sprawl continues.

The trend towards houses on smaller blocks is developer-driven. We attempted to find a new way to deliver architecturally designed homes to the populace and I think this would work but the underlying fundamentals of suburbia need re-evaluating. I think a more interesting approach to suburbia is not to think in terms of suburbia at all but in townships and community sizes. How far away from a city is a suburb no longer considered a suburb? Is it when many of the jobs are in the community and not in a commutery of vehicular-determined jobs? Can we bring a township/community close to a city or will it simply turn into a suburb?

There are many architects out here that are thinking fundamentally of how to go forward because that is what we do.

Grahame Legge, Design Foundry, Gundaroo

Non-Fictional Narratives

I am writing in response to Andrew Leach’s review of Non-fictional Narratives: Denton Corker Marshall in the January/February 2009 edition of Architecture Australia. We wish to bring to your/his attention and to the attention of your readers, the following:

Overall his review is ill-informed and fails to reveal anything other than the obvious. The critique, limited to such insights as “coffee-table book”, “curious object” and “useful visual record”, sets out to devalue the content, the topic and the purpose of the publication. As such it falls short of being a meaningful critical review.

Mr Leach may have overlooked the point that the publication has been structured around Leon van Schaik’s text. Mr van Schaik’s key text was determined by the editorial committee as the central organizing device for presenting information as a record of the recent work of Denton Corker Marshall.

We find it curious that Mr Leach’s critique features the visual aspects of the publication design that he likes least, while he overlooks presenting the visual content that he seems to prefer.

We also point out that disrupting conventional expectations is a valid tactic in all design, architecture and the presentation of text and images in publishing. To this point, we offer him a clue to help unravel the graphic mystery he so cleverly describes as “stripy photographs signal Asia”. The answer he seeks can be found buried just below the surface, in the line of thought he seems to pursue, “the horizontal interference pattern muddying the images of Chinese projects …?”

His comment that the Denton Corker Marshall book is “a visual homage to the radical tone of S, M, L, XL” is again ill-informed, insulting and incorrect. This comment denies knowledge of contemporary communications design culture.

We wonder why Mr Leach did not bother to pick up the telephone to satisfy his curiosity about matters of content and design that seem to elude him, rather than set out to publicly trivialize the work of a design practice that actively supports the architectural profession and an architectural practice of significance.

Garry Emery, emerystudio

With Thanks

I have just “Googled” my architect Edward Alexander. After twenty years living in a most wonderful house designed by him, I have often wondered what happened to him. He designed my house in 1989 and it has been a constant source of joy each day that I live in it. The house was designed for the specific needs of my husband, who has MS. Edward designed the house for his needs and for my lifestyle of cooking and entertaining. The land is waterfront on Lake Macquarie and Edward was able to design a house that still impresses guests today. The University of Newcastle has for many years used the house to demonstrate to OT students how a house can be beautiful and still fulfil the needs of the very disabled. I felt that I should tell the world what an impressive design job Edward did for me and that each day, when I wake up in this house, I think of him and his wonderful abilities.

Carole Hamilton



Published online: 1 May 2009


Architecture Australia, May 2009

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