This years RAIA Awards program is generating more controversy than usual, with irregular processes and debated decisions in several States. Theres also been an increased tendency by juries to overlook or commend projects which onlookers have thought worthy of merit awards and the chance for national judgement.
Ungenerosity by juries (not a good look in the public realm) is intriguing at the peak of the most vigorous building boom in Australias history, when our architecture is generating unprecedented international admiration. As indications, the websites for Architecture Media and the 40UP: Next Generationexhibition are recording barrages of hits and weve been infested by emails over the past two years from foreign writers and photographers wanting to publish our stars. More than a dozen new books on Australian architecture will be published in the next 12 months. Lets look at this years matters of gossip around the States:
In Queensland, Donovan Hill withdrew its C House after the jury visit because the very private owners surname was about to be published in The Courier Mail(a sponsor) despite the entry form request for confidentiality. Also, awards director John Mainwaring flew up Ken Maher from Sydney to advise the jury on its divided views about two projects in the Public category: the Neville Bonner Building by Davenport Campbell, Donovan Hill and Powell Dods Thorpe (which was not well treated at the regional level but ultimately won the top FDG Stanley Award); and the Sunshine Coast University Arts Faculty by Bligh Voller Nield with Thompsett.
In Sydney, jury chairman James Grose announced that he lives in the Harry Seidler Horizon apartment block which his panel, including his vote, honoured with the Wilkinson Award for housing. The RAIA states that theres no rule against jurors holding a financial share of the buildings they honour, and that it is acceptable to act on a conflict of interest so long as it is declared. However the ABCs managing director, Brian Johns, instructed Radio National to inform listeners of the jury chairmans pecuniary involvement. In his speech, Grose thoroughly disparaged the professions current culture; ranging freely across Sydneys low standard of architectural quality, unacceptable teaching by the NSW schools, the RAIAs Royal name and National Council (hes just joined it but wonders why), and the publicity of architecture (although he recently joined Architecture Medias board of directors, was AAs graphic designer in the early 1980s and is widely published and broadcast). Grose praised the Horizon as a model for future cities of density and sustainability: seeming to reprise Corbs Ville Radieuse as the way to go. His desire to see more high-rise was supported by Harry Seidler.
Among the Awards night audience, there was unanimous support for the Sulman Award to Murcutt-Lewin-Larks Boyd Education Centre (pipping Stutchbury & Papes Archery Centre). In general, though, the NSW jury was amazingly unkind. No gongs went to Buzacott Caros King Street Footbridge, the Customs House refit by Tonkin Zulaikha/Jackson Teece/City of Sydney Projects, Garner Davis Wagga Wagga Civic Centre, Cracknell Lonergans Tranby College or Alex Popovs Neutral Bay houseamong other imaginative projects resolved to higher-than-usual standards for their types.
|In response to the jury, The Daily Telegraph headlined its Awards report: Sydney: Youre Just So Ugly: Award Judges Decry City Architecture, and quoted an unnamed Institute spokeswoman claiming that there was nothing up to scratch.|
In Melbourne, there was wide approval of three major awards (the Victorian Architecture Medal, Melbourne Prize and William Wardell Award) going to Nation Fender Katsalidis Ian Potter Museum of Art (which now is up against the Boyd Centre and Neville Bonner Building). Kerstin Thompsons West Coast House, in this issue of AA, also was a popular choice for the Harold Desbrowe-Annear Awardwhich takes it into a national tussle where the jobs to beat are, theoretically, Seidlers Horizon and Troppos Thiel House in Darwin.
However, Carey Lyons jury for the Joseph Reed Award (urban design) caused debate in The Ageby favouring a Williams and Boag churchyard housing project ahead of seemingly reluctant commendations to Denton Corker Marshalls City Link Gateway and Peter Elliotts Spencer Street Bridge. Were told that the jury accepted the architectural quality of these projects but did not think them examples of excellent urban design.
In Western Australia, no awards or a named award were given in the Public Buildings category, thus allowing a pair of townhouses by Donaldson & Warn to take the George Temple Poole Award for best building. This caused comparisons with the three commended public buildings.
AAs radar hasnt detected any remarkable dramas in Canberra, the Northern Territory or Tasmania.
In South Australia, despite a bumper crop of good works, no named awards were given and some smart buildings were dismissed with commendations. Awards convenor Lu Balsamo hastened to reassure architects that the standard of entries is excellent and advised that the bar has been raised but we must be realistic not to raise it too high. Next, the SA RAIA is recommending to the Institutes national awards review panel that the program needs to have better guidelines for judging architectural excellence and better systems for choosing juries.
Were left wondering whether the profession is more immersed than it realises in the commodification of architecture that some practitioners deny. Perhaps the explosion of design publications and colour photography over the past 20 years has saturated architects with hero shots to a point where local works are being inescapably judged against national and global images, rather than State precedents for their relevant types. Air travel also has made Australian architects more sophisticated than most of their predecessors before the mid-seventies. Perhaps its worth revisiting Ken Framptons classic essays on critical regionalism in the light of this years critical vagaries by juries