What is community? This is, of course, a moot point. A community is never a singular thing; it cannot be entirely known or understood at a particular moment, by any one person or organization. But this does not mean that we should stop thinking in terms of community, or that we should not try to build and improve the communities we find ourselves within and working with.
This complexity has real consequences for what architects do. Indeed, the provisional nature of “community” may be why many architects value the opportunity to work on community projects (regardless of frequent budget constraints or complex consultation processes). It is also why architects have the potential to make a difference through good community buildings. One of the architect’s particular skills is the ability to synthesize diverse, and often conflicting, information and modes of knowledge. All projects bring these skills into play, but they are particularly important in projects that serve the community. Any community is a work in progress.
It is, therefore, something to which the architect might actively contribute by making spaces in which the community conducts part of its life – design finds ways of putting members of communities into various relationships with each other, as such it can be very productive. Of course, no architectural gesture can finalize a community, fixing it in time or space, but this does not preclude making – indeed, it opens up possibilities.
This issue reviews a number of projects in which the idea of community is at stake in some way. In each project the architect has sought to make a building that offers new opportunities for the community in question. Some of these opportunities are intended in the design, others will be unexpected, found by the community as the buildings take on lives of their own, and begin to exceed the intentions of their designers. Of course, architects are not necessary to this process – as Hamish Lyon writes in this issue, communities also find and make the spaces in which they develop and proceed – but we do hope that architects can be useful.
All of this seems full of possibility, but, as I write, two events demonstrate just how fraught the relationship between community, space and architecture is. Melbourne newspapers are full of the scandal surrounding a leaked media plan proposal for the state government’s Minister for Planning Justin Madden. Among other things, this suggested using a sham community consultation process to halt the development of the Windsor Hotel (designed by Denton Corker Marshall). It reads alarmingly like a script from The Hollowmen (tv show, not poem), rather than the way we would hope elected members would discharge the responsibility that we, the community, invest in them. Meanwhile, in Sydney, a former elected representative is at the centre of the controversy around the city’s most significant urban development. I have yet to successfully work my way through the mire that is Barangaroo, but thus far it seems that Paul Keating’s desire to realize his own romantic version of appropriate landscape and public space for Sydney shows some disregard for process, the community, the media and the architectural profession. “Well, I can’t teach you taste,” he commented to one interviewer.
The next issue of Architecture Australia will explore the complexities of Barangaroo in some detail, presenting multiple voices and viewpoints from our own community.
Justine Clark, editor Architecture Australia.