Sand Helsel’s article “Future Shack”, featured in your September/October 2001 issue, is without doubt one of the most overt written examples of architectural self-deceit in recent memory.
Here is an example of built work purported by its architect to be an attempt “to satisfy a social need”, a humanitarian project born out of a sense of altruistic responsibility. It is immediately clear, however, that the artefact we are presented with will never be home to refugees, disaster victims or political asylum seekers. This much is made quite clear in the first four words of the review which sum up the true nature of the project: “Future Shack.
I’m sold.” And so we very well might be, given the seductiveness of the images, inviting us to go on first impressions, to buy on impulse, to become what the marketing people would surely love to label as an “urban refugee”. Free from political or religious persecution, the real end users of Future Shack will be those fleeing the aesthetic oppression of their bleak urban context.
There is no doubt that the container is, as Helsel states, “packed full of architecture”, and of course this alone would put it far beyond the financial reach of any aid organisation. More importantly to its real market, though, its diminutive size keeps it well within the budget (and the backyard?) of most. Every detail of this structure is clearly considered, starting with the colour and condition of the modified container and continuing right through to the tapware, and at no point does it make any allowances for the logistics or infrastructure requirements of emergency relief housing. Are we, for instance, to accept that only two people are to inhabit each of these structures (as evidenced by the provision of beds and chairs) and that they are all to have the luxury of an ensuite and kitchenette?
Serious emergency relief housing has been carried out successfully by architects elsewhere, with the cardboard tube structures of Shigeru Ban being an example. For Future Shack to be put forward in a context where concerns such as cost, availability of technology and use of skilled labour are to be rigorously minimised is simple delusion. There can be no doubt that this project is worthy of our attention in its own right, but it is rather embarrassing to the architectural profession that the folly of its apparent driving principles has thus far escaped the notice of all.
Stephen Cameron, Qld
• The credits for the winner of the Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design, Line of Lode by the University of South Australia, should have included David Manfredi as one of the design architects for the Visitors Centre. Our apologies.