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public-pirate partnership

Good burghers of Brisbane have awoken from summer naps to witness what must be, surely, Australia’s cheekiest Public-Pirate Partnership. The citizenry appear jolly rogered by the buccaneer Multiplex, who sailed silently up the Brisbane River (“Maiwar” to the traditional owners, to whose custodianship we mouth respect) in broad daylight and made off with 4.2 hectares of river. From her watch, Captain Bligh saw nothing untoward about this occurrence and noted how, with the troublesome water concreted over, this one-time river bore a comely resemblance to that jaunty southern pleasure port, Darling Harbour. The extent of loot pillaged by the PPP is still being tallied, but it is believed to include valuable views into and out from the historic William Street precinct, respect for public consultation processes, a quaint local precedent of setting buildings back from the water’s edge, and thirty percent of the width of a fine, if somewhat lazy, river. Before casting off, the brigands aim to moor nine speculative apartment and office buildings in the river and to construct a substantial bulwark of car parking structures between the city and the fine new Treasure Island. To inspect the treasure map, go to http://www.coordinatorgeneral.qld.gov.au/north_bank.

Peter Skinner FRAIA

debating Education

In his foreword to the January/February issue of this journal Alec Tzannes, President of the RAIA, painted a bleak picture of architectural schools as devoid of practitioner engagement and leadership, isolated from the profession and ill-equipped to prepare graduates for the “real” world. His view overlooks the valuable contribution made by hundreds of practitioners to architectural education in this country, at the same time as it demeans the effort of full-time academics. In 2007, more than three hundred architects, engineers and other professionals were employed sessionally in the architecture programs in NSW alone, teaching anything from two to ninety hours during the year. Many more voluntarily brought their diverse experiences to architecture schools as critics, guest speakers and adjunct professors, as collaborators in research and design projects, and as members on advisory boards and in the formulation of curriculum. Students and academic staff alike enjoyed the input of “exceptional design architects” who are internationally recognized, such as Chris Bosse, Peter Davidson, Michael Hensel, Richard Hassell, Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin, as well as local heroes and RAIA award winners such as Philip Thalis, Paul Berkemeier, Frank Stanisic, Dale Jones-Evans, Gerard Reinmuth, Nick Murcutt and Rachel Neeson, Neil Durbach, Thierry Lacoste, Richard Leplastrier – there are many more. It is a similar picture at architecture schools across Australia. To all of you, famous or not, we would like to express our gratitude – by the very fact of your generosity you are “genuine leaders in contemporary practice”.

We note generosity because teaching, for the practitioners who do it a few hours a week as much as for those who make it their profession, is poorly paid compared with current salaries in industry. Relocation from a successful practice to a leadership position in an architecture school entails a dramatic cut in income and requires commitment not only to teaching, but to the administration and research work of an academic. Despite this, academic positions are hard to get. Contemporary academia is not a refuge for the dull, the incapable or those looking for a transition to retirement. And despite the rigours of the job, many academics do continue to practise, those in senior roles as well as newer academics who have only recently left full-time practice.

The criteria for academic appointment in Australia, regardless of the discipline, are higher qualifications or equivalent research track record. Research by design is not discounted, but it does not easily equate with the activities of day-to-day practice, where authorship is distributed and ideas shaped by external factors. Research activities are linked to federal government funding, so it is naive to suggest that universities waive them, since a decrease in accountable research leads ultimately to less money for teaching our students. Alternatively, as in the USA, teaching-only positions for design “stars” could be funded by industry or professional associations. Another option is to return architectural education to the traditional vocational training institutes, where research is not required (nor funded) and practitioners pass on existing knowledge without the criticality that independent scholarship provides. This would, however, lead to a reduction of status and income for the profession as well as a narrowing of graduate attributes. Our own view is that graduates require broader higher-order skills of spatial and material understanding, critical thinking, ethical judgment and a capacity for research and self-direction. These are not attributes engendered in a technical training or apprenticeship model.

Fortunately, Australia has a very thorough and world-respected system of accreditation for architectural education that evaluates graduates in terms of both broad attributes and vocational competencies. Responsibility for accreditation lies jointly with the RAIA and the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA) through the Architects Registration Boards in each state. Visiting panels, including members of the RAIA, have evaluated all subject areas from first to final year and have given the degree programs in Australia full accreditation, a fact that runs counter to the president’s claims of inadequacies in national education standards born of an absence of design leadership. Does the RAIA not have faith in its own processes?

Surely the global success of Australian architectural education should be celebrated by the very association whose hard work and involvement ensures its quality?

Associate Professor Sandra Kaji-O’Grady, Professor Peter Burgess, University of Technology, Sydney; Professor Tom Heneghan, University of Sydney; Associate Professor Harry Margalit, Catherine Lassen, University of New South Wales; Professor Steffen Lehmann, Professor Michael Ostwald, University of Newcastle.

I generally support my colleagues’ response to Alec Tzannes’s foreword, but not without reservation. Some brief comments:
• Schools are being forced into a single mould by university funding models and appointment policies, the emphasis on research and the narrowing of the type of publications and research activities that attract status and funding. Let’s be honest, the mould is antithetical to a practice orientation.
• Scholarship and research alone are an inadequate means of critically and appropriately informing teaching. Practice can and must play an equal role to ensure the discipline of architecture does not become merely the speculation of architecture.
• The wonderful contribution of the profession to casual teaching is noted but it must be acknowledged that there are limits. Full-time practitioner academics are needed within the schools to ensure balance in shaping the curriculum as well as the character of programs.
• Critique by the profession of the schools is useful but there is also a pressing need for united action, including securing better funding models for educating architects.
• The brilliant work being produced by the younger generation of architects does not fit with a bleak view of their education.

David Stafford FRAIA
The University of Newcastle

Normally any discussion regarding architectural education and its relationship to practice is laudable, and to this end I read Alec Tzannes’ “Changing Education Culture” with interest (AA Jan/Feb 2008).

Against the backdrop of Kevin Rudd’s apology, Keith Windschuttle’s forthcoming second volume on the fabrication of an Aboriginal history and the ensuing “culture wars” between this Sydney-based author and Melbourne-based Stuart Macintyre (currently Harvard) and Robert Manne, among others, makes me think that perhaps Tzannes has shot the proverbial first “salvo” in the “architecture wars”!

Tzannes advocates a clear model for architectural education based on “case studies … architectural precedents … history of exceptional practice”. This is in opposition to “studio design programmes” that are “removed from real experience and historical fact or case study”. The opposition, albeit stark, is not as interesting as Tzannes’ proposition that the prior method results in graduates better equipped for practice.

My question, then, is how does an investigation into, say, pages 37–51 of Alice in Wonderland, plus a composer before, say, 1732 and buildings designed by, say, Fumihiko Maki (an actual week-long exercise set in a typical Corrigan design studio [RMIT] of the nineties) fit into Tzannes’ world view of architectural education? Have I been hoodwinked by six years of pluralist/revisionist, dare I say irreverent, thought? Should I hand in my degree? Or is Tzannes actually advocating that only certain practitioners teach so as to ensure a particular education?

My reading of Tzannes’ foreword suggests that in an ideal world we’d educate all aspiring architects at the feet of the “masters” through some reading of canonical texts. My feeling, however, is that that’s just the beginning. The stuff that makes good practitioners is exposing them to a more plural education.

Are we producing better practitioners, or is Tzannes’ hermetic education stifling the very dialogue our practitioners must have with the society they serve?

Stefano Scalzo

Alec Tzannes responds to the above letters, and that in the March/April 2008 issue.

In my foreword I argued for better pathways to connect “best practice” and architectural education. This seems to have been misunderstood by some. I do not refer to the many design studio teachers on casual employment, who generously work at universities. Their contribution is valuable. I refer to integrated academic career paths for leading practising architects and vice versa. Curricula should address place-specific, historically accurate case studies in architecture. To clarify, I don’t favour teaching methods that rely on an individual’s particular way of designing, except in exceptional circumstances. Architectural education should be about learning how to think without prejudice, about principles in design and integrating factual information and proper research. I am also an advocate for architects to be educated with the widest and most open approach to knowledge and different points of view.

aboriginal baroque

There were many strands to the discussion of Indigenous housing (AA Jan/Feb 2008). A typical panel talkfest. Indigenous housing form is varied but the system of delivery is unsustainable due to political nonsense. Indigenous housing in Australia is distinguished by its top-down money, mainly direct from the feds in Canberra. The “Aboriginal industry politburo” – a series of quangos, committees and protest action groups – eats away at any fund before it can build a house out bush.

For example, a one-million-dollar budget for three houses out country would lose at least a third of that money in debate. Another million hidden dollars would be lost at the Canberra top end, in wasted bureaucratic political nonsense. There are lots of plane journeys, and hotel costs, at the top end of Indigenous talkfests. Lots of lawyers. In essence, the budget for any realistic project is in minus figures before the first sod is turned. That’s the problem.

Very much a loss–loss situation all around. A completely unsustainable waste of time and money. A political theatre of the absurd. In real terms we are only discussing a house or cabin. There are not enough of them. For anyone out country, black or white.

A subcommittee in the country (outback) will look something like this. It will have its own leader fund and organization on location. Invisible and unknown as to how it is organized or funded, though usually there is a chain of advisory admin officers with four-wheel drives; health people, often linked to church organizations; and political activist groups and shoddy do-gooders via the feds or the state government. Then there are the real recipients, funded via welfare from the Centrelink Office. Most Aboriginals are on the dole … and like unemployed whitefellas, they receive about $480 a fortnight. That money does not a house create and never will.

If one lived like a Buddhist monk or St Francis of Assisi and had a nice room or lodgings, or shared with reasonable people or family without any personal dramas or sickness, then there is enough to buy food, some clothes, perhaps fund a mobile phone to communicate with friends, try to go to school or stay home and be safe. Only if there is a house.

There would be no money left, though, for a car to go to town, or visit Granny, or get to the shop/co-op store or pay for children’s normal requirements. Those children have no opportunities anywhere near the average Kath and Kim in the burbs. We all know that. If on the booze, well, it’s a wipe-out. There needs to be a focus on developing flexible TAFE courses for young builder/tradies. Improved travel allowances that are job-specific. (Say, work in a transportable housing factory in the city.) These are the basic ground rules architects need to know.

As to land development or micro villages, maybe the allotments need to be leasehold communities. Leasehold works well. No capital costs other than “basic” road and survey and services. Then the natural tendency for mob action can be used for civic buildings from within the collective itself, rather than continual institutional corrective agencies.

If the “community” or one person or a couple wants a house or privacy, there is none available anywhere. The talkfest eats up the budgeting funds. Besides, it’s seen as “a collective”. The nurse may have a house, the teacher too, and certainly the administration. They are higher up the food chain of church and state. If people go “private”, there are race issues and political issues with landlords. That is the norm in the city or bigger country towns. Not an easy option.

If people seek kinship via “the community” it is just as bad as the money gets eaten up again in administration and talkfests and the elders get the dough first. There is no viable work other than this “mission stuff”, often demeaning charity that eats away at an individual’s ability to self-actualize. Not many of the recipients gain pride or succeed.

Myth busted … so it’s rations rations rations, rules rules rules, rigidity … essentially keeping the political status quo of despair. Many go on a walkabout of despair, sit under a gum tree out country with Chateau Coolibah. There is nowhere to go to be alone, no place for solitude in comfort, nowhere to sit quietly, to sew, to knit, to think, or read or write. Just the tribal collective mob. A pack. As to notions of hunting and dancing or culture and gathering, that is theatre stuff. Great.

If an individual wishes to be a Kathy Freeman, for example, she has to really be exceptional. Run like hell. Ditto the young men – if they wish to be Mundine, they have to learn to fight. There are few other role models available. Noel Pearson is perhaps the best. Attitude is essential.

Arts, law, politics and sport are about all that high-achiever Aboriginal people can aspire to. Architecture … well, that’s a thought. What is it? Domestic crafty-basket-weave roles are easier for the women, but impossible for the men as there is nothing much to do. Handy to be a bush mechanic. Even if one makes it in the “arts” seriously, it too is dysfunctional and poverty-stricken and driven by handouts, grants and political nonsense. A CD is made, or a film about country, a painting or two. The Indigenous arts at grassroots level are surrounded by do-gooders and “dysfunctional collectives”, often well-meaning white “society matrons” or radical activists (cultural pariahs). Any attempt to get realistic is thwarted by the body politic, with overemphasis on the “collective”.

If Kevin Rudd, for example, gets too soft-hearted … and he probably is … the funds will get rorted and more despair than repair will be created. Fewer houses. If he gets realistic and sets up a mobile housing unit that is only that – “architecturally administrated” without interfering anthropologists, environmentalists, shrinks, health workers or politicians – and just starts to build commonsense housing, he will be accused of being a dictator. Great. It is the only way the housing stock will be increased. That is all it is. Shelter.

They need to get the land allotments, get the water and power, hire the personnel (architects and draftspeople plus the tradies) and just build the houses. Agricultural Baroque could become Aboriginal Baroque. It needs no more discussion about form or process. Bring the Australian vernacular to the forefront of culture, make that work simpler and better insulated.

Vandalism is rife and pindan dust is never-ending. Robust design and appliances are needed. Certainly the gas is available in the Kimberley and the Pilbara. So full circle we are back to the resource companies like Woodside and people like Fred Chaney again. Political connection at the top end and the boogieman of the multinationals.

Robert Wood



Published online: 1 May 2008


Architecture Australia, May 2008

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