JIm Gall Responds
At the risk of being tedious I’d like to comment on the published response to my earlier letter (Architecture Australia, vol 98 no 4, July/August 2009).
I’d note that although the published letter’s signature had my practice’s name in it, the views are mine and the letter I sent was signed only by me – admittedly the email to which the letter was attached was from the practice. My business partner has suffered some prodding he doesn’t deserve.
Anyway, the main point of my letter was to say that the images and words used to describe architecture are usually … well, they leave architecture open to irrational responses because they lead the debate in that direction. This could be a problem of rhetorical style or a real problem of content. Either way, it’s not a good way to pursue a high quality, public debate about places and, closer to my heart (and brain), sustainability. It is not a way to communicate with and reach people, nor to have them appreciate the concerns of architecture, sustainability and place making. I’m concerned that style and form making are being translated into a basis for architecture when there are so many more opportunities for thought; for catalysing form, pattern and texture; for stimulating people’s senses, intellect and emotions; for providing both shelter and poetry.
I’ve been cast into a set of much-maligned stereotypes. This doesn’t seem to relate to the content of my letter and supports my point about the irrational (rhetorical) tendencies of architectural debate. I feel like I’ve been called a “commie” by Robert Menzies. Without labouring the point, all I can say is that simplicity and JIm Gall Responds some humility is not a bad thing: certainly not earnest or humourless. Try some Henry David Thoreau (Walden) as a good starting point.
And the future is a really good thing to think and talk about. A lot of smart people are writing about it (Ian Lowe, Tim Flannery et al.). People are concerned about it and sustainability is important to it. A sustainable (and sustaining) future is where large opportunities for design professions lie: hardly pessimism. The Jetsons and a bunch of hippies in the 1970s did the futuristic future. It may well be, probably will be, that the future of architecture looks more Thoreau’s shack and bean plot.
“What about concepts?” As with design there is much more to concepts than space and form. Concepts are not just the domain of artists, much less just the domain of architectural form making.
The brief but notable mention of the wonders of postmodernism is interesting: this could be like attempting to argue with a creationist about evolution. I attempted to spark some debate but it could be that there are just believers or non-believers like me. The realization that architectural postmodernists (as opposed to actual ones) have simply changed the shapes they use is startling. And then there is the connection of postmodernism, and the “fun” or freedom of expression it encourages, with perceived release from ecological constraints (see Tim Flannery).
Everything is an expression of the culture that thought of it and made it. So yes, you can express energy efficiency by, say, not having a lot of lights on at night (wild idea). Perhaps a lot of architectural “expression” is trying to hide what is inherent in architecture and place, by dressing it up. My view, which is not a mean or onerous one, is that sustainability requires the honest connection of space, form, experience, expression, etc., to the environment, based on an open mind and broad knowledge and understanding. Under true sustainability you don’t have to “create” form because all sorts of complex beauty is handed to you on a plate and the place sits there, publicly, for all to experience, to appreciate and to identify with. To put it another way, there is an honest and economical relationship between inside and outside at both material and metaphysical levels.
I thank Carey Lyon for pointing out in his letter that there is some basis and content to the design of the Melbourne HQ (and for his company’s credentials). But, I’d suggest that there is much more to the design of architecture and places than technical, instruction-manual sustainability added on to normal process of planning and form making, albeit with interesting and perhaps beautiful forms. The core of the “old paradigm” I mentioned in my letter is an attempt to sustain the inherently unsustainable, putting a lot of time and money into solving a problem which should have been avoided in the first place. No matter how radical the shapes/forms it is still essentially the same old stuff and no number of star ratings will fix it. “World’s Best Practice” is a start but it’s just a way of keeping a dying horse going for a while until our thinking moves on.
Sustainability requires first seeing and then questioning some assumptions and it requires a substantial rethink of just about everything. This is simple but radical: more radical than the most outrageous and clever computer-generated cladding pattern or roof form. And it’s the kind of “radical” we need. Michael Leunig’s “Picnic Dreaming” always reminds me of how radical it is to look for and see beauty in the everyday.
The foundation concept of sustainability is to make places that are working parts of the broader environment/ecology: biophysically, socially, economically, culturally, experientially, aesthetically, emotionally and so on. Carey Lyon hints at this but the picture is fuller and the perspective that is needed is deeper and broader. This is a complex and a joyful challenge.
Which leads to an important point. Design is, and should increasingly be, how the complexity of the environment is dealt with. Design probably needs recasting as a valuable social, economic and cultural process: just as culture is far more than art, opera and literature, design goes far beyond sculptural and technical products.
The common ground is in joy, comfort, security and survival. Architecture can no longer be free to happily conceptualize form and space in the context of an economy where the environment and resources are joyfully infinite. Sustainability will greatly impact on what architecture gives to the world: believe it or not.
What is a sustainable house?
Tone Wheeler’s article “Sustainable Affordable Housing?” (Architecture Australia, vol 98 no 6, November/December 2009) raises some fundamental questions. What is a sustainable house in Australia? In Europe, the target set by the European Parliament for 2016 is a net energy consumption for heating and cooling of a verified 15 kWh/m2 per annum. In Australia, a 6-star rating on a house in Melbourne equates to an unverified energy consumption rate of 65 kWh/m2 per annum.
The German Passivhaus method allows the 15 kWh target to be achieved with a highly disciplined approach to insulation, air tightness, high-performance windows, elimination of thermal bridges and use of heat recovery ventilation. In Australia the rating tools do not allow for variations in air tightness, even though infiltration can account for up to 30 percent of energy losses, and thermal bridging isn’t even on the agenda.
What is affordable? Promoters of the Passivhaus method claim a 12–15 percent cost premium on a standard European house. The Global Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve prepared by consultants McKinsey and Company shows that, of a basket of measures that will allow the world to achieve a 480 ppm CO2 target, the majority of measures that can be taken in building design are cost-negative. That is, the long-term savings outweigh the up-front costs. So is making a truly sustainable house affordable more a matter of structuring of finance to allow downstream savings to be offset against upstream costs, and developing a disciplined and cost-effective design methodology?
We can’t afford not to have sustainable housing. Improving What is a sustainable house?
building efficiency can contribute up to 12 percent of the global CO2 savings we need to make to achieve the 480 ppm target. But we need to know what a sustainable building actually is, set standards that are at least close to international benchmarks, and use more sophisticated methods of design and analysis to ensure that we reach them in a cost-effective manner.
If there is one Australian place name that is known worldwide, it is Botany Bay. And I am sure that many people – architects and landscapers among them – are dismayed at what has been done there in the past sixty years. Engineers and developers have had a free hand with its northern, eastern and southern reaches and have left them a wasteland – natural beauty and man-made landmarks effaced.
The western foreshore has suffered less: the beachfront strip of Crown land that looks out at the birthplace of Australia, the green hinterland that runs between the two rivers, the suburbs around them. But the last well-known piece of good architecture built there went up in the 1880s and came down in the 1980s: Thomas Saywell’s hotel at Brighton-le-Sands, designed by Kenwood & Kerle. Today, the local authority – Rockdale Council – has a plan for part of this area that smacks of vested interests and says little in terms of architecture and landscape design for the twenty-first century.
It is clear, though, that this piece of land offers a rare opportunity to do something great for progressive design: a scheme to retrieve and heal landscape that might open up a string of sites for significant works of architecture at appropriate scale. A mixed project of pulling together monumental and residential issues besides those of tourism and small business, and even interventions concerning transport infrastructure, industry and agriculture.
It would be heartening to see creative people in Australia today take a keen interest in a place as significant as this, and I hope your magazine does something towards seeing that they do.
Ronald Corlette Theuil, Paris
“Archi-speak” has reached new, ridiculous heights. A case in point: the jury citation for the Robin Boyd Award for Residential Architecture – Houses: Freshwater House by Chenchow Little Architects (Architecture Australia, vol 98 no 6, November/December 2009).
With the main photograph of a huge, streetscape-alienating wall, the jury citation archi-speaks “A neatly detailed palisade of weathered … gum fronts the street”. Why suggest a “palisade” merely “fronts” when the solid wall so clearly provides unprecedented streetscape domination? The archi-speak goes further to suggest square-section timber balusters are “a gentle allusion to suburban picketing”. Has anyone seen a picket fence? A picket is pointy! – scale? – proportion?
Residential architecture, by definition, must have boundaries between the public realm and adjoining private space. The complete rejection of the neighbouring properties in sunny Harbord is apparently justified and valued, as the archi-speak states, “planning, allied with clever boundary fencing and planting screens, plays down the immediate neighbours … screened from the neighbours”. A fence with shrubs? Anyway, who are these evil neighbours/criminals/perverts? Conversely, how do they feel about being observed from this glass watchtower? What about the young surfers in the main picture? How do they feel about being confined to a thin strip of concrete on their journey to the beach?
One final note on the archi-speak. To refer to a building that now has a level of prosperity, due to the bestowing of the Robin Boyd Award, as “a somewhat Miesian pavilion” is banal. To suggest a link between this building and an example of world-class architecture does require an explanation, and it better be a good one.
Robin Boyd was an architect who made a substantial contribution within and beyond the profession. “[Robin Boyd] was the link by which architects began to speak to the community and the community spoke back to architects” – J. M. Freeland, Robin Boyd Foundation, National Trust of Australia – Victoria website, www.nattrust.com.au.
Heaven forbid that Robin Boyd, grand communicator and facilitator, be reduced by archi-speak to representing hostile streetscapes, alienated neighbours, boundary fencing and a good view.
Freshwater House may be deserving of the Robin Boyd Award. However, the jury citation archi-speak confounds the reader as to its true merit. When a building receives an award from the Institute, archi-speak must be eliminated from the text and replaced with a true description of the challenges, the solutions, the spaces, the forms, the textures, the light, the joy – the architecture.
The farce of the name change of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects has gone on for long enough. The name change to Australian Institute of Architects was imposed on members as a fait accompli, but is it? As one of probably only a few members who have read the Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association which form the Constitution of the Institute, I find that there are certain facts which all members of the Institute should be aware of:
Clause (1) of the Memorandum of Association clearly states that the name of the Institute is the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. Clause (1) of the Articles of Association states “Institute or R.A.I.A. means the Royal Australian Institute of Architects CAN 000 0223 012” (not anything else). Clause 13 of the Articles of Association sets out the use of suffix letters/past nominals LFRAIA, FRAIA, RAIA, etc. All of these contain the letter “R” meaning “Royal”.
I have it in writing from a member of the Institute’s Executive that the Institute’s legal name remains the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and the past nominals FRAIA, RAIA, etc. remain in use (all as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association). However, he omitted to say that the legal name would no longer be used, in effect trying to pretend that it no longer exists.
It therefore follows that Institute members remain members of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and should be addressed and referred to as such. The imposition of a trading name for the company managing the Institute’s affairs is irrelevant.
Professional Institutes do not trade. Trading is the manufacture and supply of goods and services to the public in exchange for money. There is nothing in the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the company which manages the affairs of the Institute which will allow it to trade. There are a number of clauses 3 (j), (k) and (m) in the Memorandum of Association regarding the acquisition and rental of property for the use of the Institute and the investment in various forms of securities for the generation of income and management of the Institute’s finances. But nothing that allows trading. Therefore, it cannot have a trading name or be “trading as”. To impose one is both incorrect and misleading. I am well aware that some companies which do trade do have separate trading names such as small builders, architects, firms, etc. These may have an official registered name reflecting the financial set-up of the company and a trading name reflecting what they do or a previous business partnership. All reasonable and logical for companies which trade.
Clause 3(e) of the Memorandum of Association states that one of the objects of the Institute (i.e. the Executive) is “To promote good feeling and friendly intercourse amongst members”. To impose a name change which a large number of members do not want and object to is inconsistent with this requirement.
The Executive and governing council of the Institute have a duty to respect the Constitution (Memorandum and Articles of Association) and to manage the affairs of the Institute in accordance with its provisions even though they and their supporters may disagree with or dislike some of its provisions.
I hope that this letter will be published. Architecture Australia should be able to provide a very necessary forum for Institute members to communicate with each other and to present ideas free from restrictions being imposed by the Executive.
Frederic C. Warren APTC (Arch), FRAIA, RIBA
The Institute advises that any corporation may register a “trading name” under which it wishes to be known.