One hundred years of discourse

Architecture australia begins this year’s centenary celebrations with an overview of the magazine’s history. Philip goad reflects on the challenges and realities of recording australian architecture.

This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting

A PROFESSIONAL JOURNAL charts a bedevilled course: cursed for what it is, and cursed for what it is not. However, what such a journal does – always – is mirror the shifting tastes, passions and practical issues facing a group of professionals committed to maintaining a necessary dialogue about their own discipline. When collected together, such publications become critical historical documents that depict the development and shaping of a profession.

This month, Architecture Australia celebrates its one-hundredth year. In doing so it also marks one hundred years of twentieth-century Australian architecture, as well as a century of professional activity. Since its inception, the journal has undergone a series of name changes and institutional affiliations, and a cavalcade of editors. It has had competitors (and outlived them all), controversy and countless graphic design layouts as institutional opinions and individual personalities have sought to promote the art or the business of architecture to their peers. Already scholars have documented particular aspects of the journal’s history. Desley Luscombe and Stanislaus Fung catalogued the journal when it was called The Salon, and have written persuasively on its conceptual structure and its relation to national identity.1 Paul Hogben’s doctoral thesis is based within a study of the journal after 1950, and in several papers, he has carefully placed the journal within contemporary theoretical frameworks.2 Yet Ronnie Fookes, in her study of Architecture Australia from 1960 to 1980, best sums up the journal’s constant flux with her essay title borrowed from the theme of the 1976 RAIA Convention: “Where on Earth are We Going? What Will it Be Like When We Get There?”3 ›› Foundation. In January 1904, volume 1 number 1 of The Journal of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales was published by William Brooks & Co. of 17 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. As J. M. Freeland notes, its beginnings were essentially a private affair, with the editor, John B. Barlow, nominated by the Institute with the requirement that six issues a year be produced.4 The new journal’s cover was an earthy brown. Its design showed two tree trunks intertwining to form a natural wreath with floral decoration above, and framing a four-columned Ionic temple below. It was an image that reinforced the natural basis of architecture, and echoed not just the fin-de-siècle ideals of William Lethaby but also Gottfried Semper’s ideas on the origins of ornament. A prefatory note outlined succinctly the new journal’s practical and public aims: “The primary purpose of this Journal is that it shall record the proceedings of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales, but it is hoped that it may appeal to all who care for Architecture, and not merely to those who follow it as a profession.” ›› This deliberate and altruistic mixture of the prosaic and the poetic became and has remained (to varying degrees) the typical structure of the journal. Indeed, the content of the journal’s first issue reflected this aim with articles on the City Beautiful, construction progress on Sydney’s new Central Railway Station, an historical article on the catacombs and basilicas of Rome, competition designs for the new Melbourne premises of the Australian Mutual Provident Society in Collins Street, book reviews (ranging from T. A.

Cook’s Spirals in Nature and Art to Frank W. Macey’s Conditions of Contract Relating to Building Works), lists of recently published books relating to architecture and the allied arts, reports of the Institute’s Council and the Students’ Society, and a theoretical article by George Taylor entitled “A Plea for National Character in Architectural Decoration”.

At its inception, the journal, which by 1905 was being published under the banner of Art and Architecture, was state-based with its focus clearly in New South Wales. In July 1912, it was renamed The Salon: A Review of Architecture and the Allied Arts (the subtitle varied), and in the next year, the Institute of Architects of Queensland became associated as joint patrons of the journal, and by 1914 all other states except Victoria did the same. The name was changed again in January 1917 to Architecture: An Australasian Review of Architecture and the Allied Arts and Sciences. This name remained through the establishment of the RAIA as a national body in 1929 and in 1935 Architecture was adopted as the organization’s official journal. Until that time, the journal’s main rival in quality, especially during the 1920s and 1930s, had been the Journal of Proceedings of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects. That journal, however, lacked the broad aesthetic agenda of its Sydney-based counterpart and was narrowly architectural in focus. The two journals would, for years, reflect the deep divisions that lay behind the eventual formation of a fully cohesive national body. In July 1955 the magazine became Architecture in Australia and in February 1976 the current title Architecture Australia was born.

Excellence in Architecture. A key aspect of the journal has been the promotion of outstanding works of local architecture, featuring buildings through texts, drawings and photographs from Australia’s leading architectural photographers – Harold Cazneaux, Max Dupain,Wolfgang Sievers, David Moore, Fritz Kos, John Gollings and Patrick Bingham-Hall, among a host of others. In volume 1, number 2 (1904),Walter Liberty Vernon’s recently completed Art Gallery of New South Wales was given extensive pictorial coverage. In the next issue, editor John Barlow began a series of articles focusing on Sydney’s prime examples of Arts and Crafts residential architecture, which would be followed by similar articles on houses in Victoria and Queensland. Experiment was also encouraged with George Sydney Jones’s designs and arguments for flat-roofed houses appearing frequently between 1904 and 1913.

Such were the catholic tastes of the journal that no especial type of architecture seemed to be favoured, though for many years, indeed until 1945, the architecture of industry was largely absent from its pages. The Institute’s awards programmes have articulated professionally sanctioned forms of design excellence. For example, the first Sulman Award, in 1932, to Peddle Thorp & Walker’s demure palazzo forms of Science House in Gloucester Street, indicated the dominance in Sydney of British notions of architectural propriety (Architecture, February 1933). The Sulman Award, then later the expanded NSW awards programme and the subsequent national awards programmes from 1981, have all been channelled through the pages of Architecture Australia.

The awarding of the RAIA Gold Medal since 1960 and the special features devoted to its winner have also contributed to the journal’s long tradition of celebrating excellence. Likewise, articles marking Arthur Stephenson’s RIBA Gold Medal in 1954 (Architecture, July/September 1954) and Glenn Murcutt’s Pritzker Architecture Prize ( Architecture Australia, May/June 2002) are exemplars of this form of celebration. These comprehensive features are matched only by the seminal retrospective issue on Robin Boyd (Architecture in Australia, February 1972, April 1973).

These features are what one might expect from a profession intent on celebrating its success; however, the journal has also played a significant role in promoting new forms of architecture. During the 1930s, Architecture was one of the major conduits for relaying information about European Modernism through the dozens of reports sent back by travelling scholars like the ever-loquacious Morton Herman, Sydney G. Hirst, Dudley Ward, Sydney Ancher, F. G. Costello and Walter Bunning, to name just a few. An extraordinary focus on Scandinavian Modernism is evident in the reports of the late 1930s and early 1940s (especially Architecture 1941 and 1942) and in such articles, one can read the shaping of a specific architectural sensibility among a new generation of Sydney architects.

Art and Architecture. J. M. Freeland describes Art and Architecture’s bias towards art as a reaction to the Institute-focus of its Victorian rival, describing the journal as an “art-paper publication full of dilettante articles”. Sidney Long, for example, wrote on trends in Australian art (Art and Architecture, January/February 1905). There were articles on Maori art (Art and Architecture, March/April 1905), on the work of artists like Julian Ashton and Arthur Streeton, as well as on furniture such as “Some Chinese Curios Gathered in Peking” (Art and Architecture, September/October 1905) and Hardy Wilson’s ideas on collecting antiques (Art and Architecture, March/April 1911). These articles implied a worldly and cultured architect-reader, emphasizing the journal’s lofty aspirations and ignoring the grubby realities of commerce. The journal’s high-art position gradually lessened as the decades proceeded. In the postwar years, there were occasional articles like Harry Seidler’s “Painting towards Architecture” (Architecture, October 1949), but increasingly the only connection made to art was through the journal’s front covers: for example, the cropped image of Douglas Annand’s mosaic mural for Anzac House, Sydney (Architecture in Australia, April/June 1957), and the abstract cover designs produced under Colin Brewer’s editorship between 1962 and 1973, such as artist David Rankin’s cover of brightly coloured dots for December 1972.

As late as 1975, a photo-portrait of Lloyd Rees appeared on a cover (Architecture in Australia, December 1975), a tribute to the landscape artist much loved by the NSW profession, signifying a brief resurgence of interest in the arts with feature articles on art by Elwyn Lynn and Tom Heath.

By the 1980s, the close connections between artists and the architecture profession, as demonstrated through the pages of the journal, had been largely severed.

Traditional disciplinary boundaries tended to re-emphasize the formalist autonomy of the discipline but there was also the growing mood from the late 1960s that social, political and environmental issues – such as the aged, conservation and heritage, playgrounds and schools, and designing for disability – were of greater import than the arguably elite realms of fine art.

Practice, a Profession and its Members. Throughout its history, Architecture Australia has been faithful to its original mission of bringing new developments in the field to its readers’ attention and of making the journal a vehicle of dialogue between members. Letters to the editor have been the venue for tetchy spats between impassioned rivals, corrections to incorrect citations, and the lambasting of prior criticism. There are the necessary obituaries to mark the passing of revered colleagues. There are occasional news items about developments in the drawing office.

In August 1904, for example, notes could be found, via Scientific American, on “The Perspectartigraph”, an apparatus invented by a Mr Otto Eichenberger of Geneva to assist in the mechanical drawing of perspective, involving a folding box and telescope.

The Institute also used the journal at times to record its social events like golf days (Architecture, January/March 1952) or convention receptions, events that reinforced the club-like atmosphere of many of its gatherings.

More seriously, the national journal has acted as a critical document for architectural competitions like “Tomorrow’s Timber Frame House” (Architecture, January/March 1945) which signalled many architects’ visions of what the postwar house might be, the Melbourne Olympic Swimming Stadium (Architecture, July/September 1953), the Sydney Opera House (Architecture in Australia, January/March 1957), and the important, and unbuilt, Australian Archives building in Canberra (Architecture in Australia, August 1968). The journal has also recorded the visits of distinguished overseas guests like Sir Patrick Abercrombie (Architecture, October 1948, January 1949), John Ely Burchard (Architecture, October/December 1951),Walter Gropius (Architecture, July/September 1954), Pietro Belluschi (Architecture, July/September 1956), Reyner Banham (Architecture in Australia, September 1962) and Charles Jencks, who in 1975 graced the cover of Architecture in Australia holding a dinosaur (aka architecture) in his hand (Architecture in Australia, February 1975). There have also been reports of Institute members attending overseas events, like Ian McKay and Philip Jackson’s record of the seminal 10th CIAM conference in Dubrovnik (Architecture in Australia, July/September 1957).

Such documentary evidence, however simple, records the significant and diverse activities of the profession, and in many respects the profession’s readiness to engage with a culture both internal and external to itself. Architecture Australia has therefore been and continues to be an ideal medium for disseminating and constructing not just architecture, but also views and patterns of discourse that in many ways can be just as powerful as the buildings produced by the profession’s members.

Humour. The inclusion of humour in the pages of the journal, invariably in the form of satirical articles and cartoons, has also been a long-held tradition that carries parallels not just with professional magazines in Britain and the United States but also with magazines like London’s Punch or the more literary New Yorker, or locally with politically attuned weeklies like The Bulletin. In the early years, ironic pieces like D. H.

Souter’s “Architectural Sydney from a non-architectural point of view” accompanied by his cartoons with captions like “Look here, Mr. Architect, never mind the design; put on two more stories” (vol.1, no.1, January 1904) and satirical articles like “A Jerry Builds” by A. Tenant (Art and Architecture, May/June 1905) were typical of the form of criticism that used humour as its safety shield against libel or unbecoming conduct. Such an approach indicated that potentially controversial issues might best be handled by comic relief, a familiar tactic adopted by English caricaturists like Osbert Lancaster in the 1940s. In Architecture in Australia, cartoonists like émigré George Molnar in the 1950s and 1960s and then Geoffrey Atherton in the 1980s, lent barbed and incisive criticism with their caricatures of architects and their easily stereotyped behaviour. Yet even humour had its risks. In 1974, a student-edited issue of Architecture in Australia earned labels of “puerile porn” while one incensed reader wrote: “I have just received the February 1974 edition of A in A. I am disgusted. Please accept this as tendering my resignation from the Institute.” (Architecture in Australia, June 1974).

History, Theory and Criticism. As with humour, serious theoretical discourse has also permeated the pages of the journal since its inception. The earliest were the writings of George Taylor and one-time editor George Sydney Jones, both calling for principled design, though with the latter writer tending to republish (word for word in some cases) the same ideas over and over again! In the 1930s, Sidney Ancher echoed this call for a philosophical stance by Australian architects (Architecture, June 1936). Two years later, the editorial choice to publish Architectural Association instructor Hope Bagenal’s piece “On the Philosophies of Modernism” (Architecture, February 1938) reinforced such an impassioned plea. In the late 1950s, Peter Kollar’s theoretical writings are unique in the journal’s history for their exploration of approaches to design thinking (Architecture in Australia, October/December 1958, April/June 1959, June 1960, December 1960).

The journal also published some of Robin Boyd’s most important pieces of writing: his arguments for a regional approach to Modernism, “St. Lucia – A Housing Revolution is Taking Place in Brisbane” (Architecture, July 1950, with Peter Newell) and “Mornington Peninsula” (Architecture, October/December 1950), and others like “The New International” (Architecture, April/June 1951), “The Future of Design Practice” (Architecture in Australia, July/September 1957) and one of his best summaries of contemporary design, “The State of Australian Architecture” (Architecture in Australia, June 1967). Throughout its history, the journal also records seminal articles on Australian architectural history, like David Saunders’s exploration of the Federation house (Architecture in Australia, August 1969) and Conrad Hamann’s writing on Frederick Romberg (Architecture Australia, April/May 1977). These were further complemented by editor Tom Heath’s inclusion in the mid-1980s of fully refereed articles in the annual “Discourse” issue of Architecture Australia.

Other articles have defined special moments in the nation’s history of design. Peter Corrigan’s article on the Venturis represented a catalytic moment in the journal’s sanctioning of American-based Postmodernism (Architecture in Australia, February 1972). Architecture Australia’s May 1980 issue, with Peter Crone’s design for Engehurst on its cover and recording “The Pleasures of Architecture” convention of that year in Sydney, represents another defining moment in architectural taste, again later reinforced by the polarizing articles of Norman Day and Andrew Metcalf (Architecture Australia, January 1982), which compared Sydney and Melbourne forays into new architectural ideas.

The Place of the City. The journal has also had a responsible preoccupation with the Australian city. Canberra was under discussion from 1906 (Art and Architecture, September/October 1906) and special issues on the nation’s capital and its most important public buildings have featured ever since. The December 1959 issue, for example, was devoted entirely to the city’s architecture and planning, and significantly it indicated a complete shift in the profession’s attitude towards landscape design. Other cities and urban areas have also drawn attention. The Gold Coast and its innovative canal estates were the subject of a special feature in January/March 1959 and in the lead-up to the Olympic Games 2000, Sydney became the dominant focus of the journal’s attention in the late 1990s. Such studies now reveal important research being done at the time. They also point to the need for more intensive reviews of Australian urban centres.

Issues, Gender and Difference. The pages of the journal in its hundred years have also not been shy of addressing issues of broader import. For example, immediately after World War II, when Australia was facing a national shortage of housing, the special issue of Architecture devoted to prefabrication presented a comprehensive national overview of the situation (Architecture, October/December 1950).Women in the architecture profession have been a subject of ongoing if peripatetic discussion. In 1907, Robert Haddon coolly reviewed “The First Australian Exhibition of Woman’s Work, Melbourne” (Art and Architecture, November/December 1907) and illustrated his article with a kitchen design by Florence Parsons (later Florence Taylor and co-editor of Building). In October 1915, The Salon ran a semi-ironic piece entitled “Woman” with an image captioned “ ‘The Ideal Home’ – His Capital and HER Idea” and suggested that “She has displaced man in journalism, politics, architecture and design, in church, school and office. Indeed, woman has usurped all of man’s cherished privileges except trousers and a sense of humour…” By the 1990s, however, Architecture Australia could devote a special feature to the works of prominent women architects and not use satire to conceal the profession’s wariness of gender difference (Architecture Australia, March/April 1994). By contrast, issues of Aboriginality and architecture have appeared less frequently in the journal. A notable exception was the October 1967 issue that featured important articles by Balwant Saini, Gough Whitlam and Charles Perkins among others, and Bill Nankivell’s design for a recreation centre for the Aborigines’ Advancement League in Northcote, Melbourne. With the publication of works by architects like Paul Pholeros, Tangentyere Design, Greg Burgess, among a host of others in the past ten years, as well as articles by Paul Memmott, issues of Aboriginality have gradually increased their visibility in the pages of Architecture Australia, and hence one could argue in the minds of the profession.

Marketing the Profession. While the journal has had its share of the heady discussions on art and the finer points of architecture, it has also had to survive financially, and advertising has played a crucial role in setting the tone of the journal, in many ways indicating the true separation of the journal from its fine-art counterparts.

From advertisements for Moule’s Patent Earth Closet in 1904, to Wunderlich Durabestos sheet cladding, to extremely suggestive advertisements for Caneite in the late 1960s, these advertisements have come largely from building and trades suppliers. But within the journal, there is a different sort of marketing also at work, especially through the form of projecting the personalities of Institute members. The use of photographic portraits of architects, office-bearing members of the profession, was the most common way of bringing personality to many of the journal’s pages of day-to-day proceedings. In some ways, editor Davina Jackson’s introduction of the “Radar” section in the mid- 1990s brought spontaneous snapshots of the profession nationally in the same way that the tiny newsletter Cross-Section had done from 1952 until 1971. It was, and continues to be, one of the most often-read sections of the journal where news of colleagues and developments locally and abroad can be instantly viewed. Another innovation in the mid- 1990s was Jackson’s clever use of a series of Kate Gollings’s portraits of well-known Australian architects to market the magazine. Each architect was pictured holding a copy of Architecture Australia with the overall banner reading: “Two Legends of Australian Architecture”.

A Centenary of Discourse. After one hundred years, Architecture Australia still remains the focus of the Australian architecture profession’s dialogue with its members and its public. In many ways, its content has paralleled that of The Architectural Review rather than its frumpy UK counterpart, the RIBA Journal or the technocratic fetishism of The Architect’s Journal. Despite perceptions to the opposite, and accusations of complacency and conservatism, Architecture Australia has continued to champion a form of discourse that is constructive rather than uncritical, and one that is national rather than parochial. Content is couched always within those boundaries that mark it as a journal of a profession: a gentlemanly style of criticism, always treading the fine line between the safety of sanction and the thrill of dangerous (though oft justified) critique, oscillating between the newsworthy and the noteworthy, between the documentary and the speculative, but always in the service of those who “care for Architecture”.




Published online: 1 Jan 2004


Architecture Australia, January 2004

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