Ho Really wrote:Car showrooms, get rid of them. There's better things to build in the city, even on West Terrace.
Howie wrote:hehe.. no bias there hey beemer boy?
bmw boy wrote:lol... well it is easily the best showroom in the CBD .... does any1 have a problem with that one itself?
cant imagine it at port rd welland lol....
How we stack up
Great public buildings define a society. So why - with a few notable exceptions - are there so few in Australia? Story by Robert Bevan.
| June 23, 2007
A civilisation can be measured by its ruins. It's how we think of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, or Cambodia's Khmers. In anticipation of this, writer H.G. Wells said admiringly of New York: "What a ruin it would make!" Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, was instructed to build with monumental ruins thousands of years hence in mind.
Imagine, then, an abandoned Australia, reclaimed by nature a thousand years from now. What would be left behind to indicate past glories? In our once major cities, the broken shell of an opera house on a wooded promontory, lengths of sandstone wall or stone cenotaphs amid the gums, and, stretching out in vast drifts, the detritus of the vanished civilisation: granulated brick, fibro dust and a mosaic of shattered glass.
Australia does not have a legacy of epic public or commercial buildings, of mighty edifices â€“ certainly little from the postwar period. A few great galleries, such as the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, but few great libraries, pleasure domes devoted to film or music, or cathedral-like railway stations. There are few office towers with ambitions beyond immediate commercial imperatives. Set-piece public spaces, the urban square or piazza, are rare; our gathering place is the beach. Australia seems reluctant to direct its resources to creating a civic environment to match the beauty of its natural assets.
At a recent national architecture conference in Melbourne, Mark Dytham, an architect working among Tokyoâ€™s futuristic cityscapes, talked of cities or nations having a â€œtipping pointâ€: a threshold at which there is sufficient awareness of architecture and design so that its government and citizens are interested in ideas and debates about architecture. Itâ€™s the point where â€œarchitecture has an effect on culture at largeâ€, he explained. Dythamâ€™s opinion was that Australia was still two decades from this point.
ARCHITECTURE IS A big, global business. International stars such as Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind create signature public and commercial buildings all over the world, and hundreds of US, European and Japanese architecture practices work from far-flung office outposts chasing the largesse of global capital.
Australia has been curiously immune to this trend. The large Melbourne architecture practice Denton Corker Marshall was in Britain last month to open its $384 million Manchester court complex, and has been working on a visitorsâ€™ centre for Stonehenge, but otherwise, outside the construction vortex of China, Australian architects are relatively absent from the international scene.
Likewise, few overseas architects have built in Australia since Utzon. Among the exceptions are Italian Renzo Pianoâ€™s Aurora Place tower and Sir Norman Fosterâ€™s Deutsche Bank Place in Sydney, and Grimshaw Architectsâ€™ undulating canopy for Southern Cross Station in Melbourne.
John Denton of Denton Corker Marshall says only five to 10 per cent of Australian architects are interested in the international scene. â€œEighty per cent of all architecture practices (here) are of one to five people working in the suburbs,â€ he says. â€œThey donâ€™t have an international perspective.â€ On the rarity of foreign architects here, he jokes: â€œEach country tries to shirtfront visitors as best they can to stop them getting work.â€
For many overseas practices, though, building in Australia is just not worthwhile. Fees are low and Australia directs significantly less of its GDP towards architecture than comparable countries, so the generous building budgets that attract the â€œstarchitectsâ€ are rare.
The resulting parochialism would not matter if what was being built here was of a comparable standard. It might even be an advantage to think local rather than global on our increasingly homogenised planet. But international perceptions of a country are informed, in part, by how that country represents itself. The consequences go way beyond design and architecture. You donâ€™t have to buy in wholesale to Richard Floridaâ€™s â€œcreative classâ€ theory (which says, essentially, that modern businesses are attracted to creative places) to understand the importance of whether Australia is seen as a producer rather than just a consumer of ideas.
DESPITE ITS MANY badlyplanned suburbs and a lack of adventurous public buildings, Australia does very well in some aspects of its architecture â€“ especially houses.
â€œIf you went back 30 years, we were not very significant on the world stage,â€ says Alec Tzannes, national president of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. Now Australiaâ€™s architectural image is very different. â€œPeople see us in a more complex, sophisticated way,â€ he says, â€œnot just as an idealised landscape with a fine home on it.â€
Recognition has come in the way of prizes: Engelen Mooreâ€™s Altair apartments in Sydney won the worldâ€™s best multi-family housing scheme in 2001 and Glenn Murcutt received the Pritzker Prize â€“ architectureâ€™s global gong â€“ in 2002. In Melbourne, RMITâ€™s architecture school has an international reputation.
Tzannes says that in many ways, Australia is looked on as a leader â€œor exemplaryâ€. Thatâ€™s a big claim, but certainly the countryâ€™s architect-designed private houses are its greatest contribution to contemporary world architecture. Architects such as Durbach Block, John Wardle, Kirsten Thompson, Stutchbury & Pape and countless others are producing homes that are a staple of style magazines worldwide. Australia also has, for the moment, the worldâ€™s two tallest residential towers: Melbourneâ€™s Eureka Tower and Q1 on the Gold Coast.
The countryâ€™s excellence in domestic architecture (leaving aside tract homes for the moment) is due to many factors: the confluence of 20th century influences from Europe, North America and Asia; the sublime setting in which to build; and, perhaps crucially, a climate that lends itself to aesthetic drivers such as open-plan living and the blurring of the indoor-outdoor threshold.
Problems arise, however, when you move beyond the private to the public realm â€“ to civic and commercial buildings, to the planning and urban design of the nationâ€™s towns and cities. Australiaâ€™s architects arenâ€™t happy.
Timothy Hill is a partner in Donovan Hill, a Brisbane-based practice that has built a reputation for the quality of its houses and has recently completed the remodelling of Queenslandâ€™s State Library. He complains that the drive by the construction industry to reduce risk and fix costs means that architects are marginalised and innovation doesnâ€™t happen. He says â€œthe age of the architect hero is deadâ€, crowded out of the construction process by project management consultants, sclerotic, under-resourced planning departments and pile-â€™em-high, sell-â€™em-cheap developers.
Referring to ways of procuring buildings such as â€œdesign and constructâ€ and â€œpublic-private partnershipâ€ arrangements â€“ where the architect draws up a concept that is then carried out by others, and all too often diluted along the way â€“ Hill suggests: â€œI donâ€™t think the majority of Australians know that (in these projects) the architect is directed by the builder and not the client; and because no one is actually the client, there is no one to love the outcome.â€ The result? Unsustainable McMansions, identikit shopping malls and endless, bland apartment blocks.
â€œComparatively, Australians care very little about buildings â€“ the GDP spend is very low,â€ says Hill. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of bravado about it but Australiaâ€™s building skills arenâ€™t high.â€ Things are cobbled together, he says. â€œâ€˜Iâ€™ll just put up something out the back, mateâ€™ â€“ itâ€™s just the Australian way.â€
Hill might be a polemicist, but heâ€™s not alone. Says Glenn Murcutt: â€œThe quality of the built environment is a true measure of the value-system of the period. I donâ€™t think we are that skilled in our public places any longer. If we are dissatisfied, weâ€™ve got to ask ourselves why.â€ Great architecture happens, Murcutt argues, because of great clients who want more than buildings as â€œmerchandiseâ€. Some developers produce quality work, he says, singling out Lend Lease for praise, â€œbut a hell of a lot of merchandise is constructed; nobody is prepared to pay the fees an architect needs to do it properly; to demand quality.â€
Tzannes points to an â€œimmaturityâ€ in Australia in failing to recognise the design dividend â€“ the returns that good architecture can give back to a society financially, culturally and to its quality of life.
But Peter Verwer, CEO of the peak developer body, the Property Council of Australia, has had a gutful of the bleating of architects. He says, â€œWe are living in a world where the design of objects is one of the key features of the brand â€“ from iPods to cars. It is the same for buildings. It is up to designers to start making that case. Good architects donâ€™t complain about being left out of the process because they are able to persuade the client that there is an investment dividend in good design that has been proved time and time again.â€
Itâ€™s not always as easy as that, though. Tristram Carfrae, in the Sydney office of the worldâ€™s leading structural engineers, Arup (the company that engineered the Sydney Opera House), once said that an Australian developerâ€™s typical response to an idea is: â€œHave we done it before? How much will it cost? Can we build it cheaper?â€ He calls it â€œlean and mean Australian pragmatismâ€.
Renzo Pianoâ€™s Aurora Place may command some of the highest commercial rents in the southern hemisphere, but there are still those who question its cost.
Carfrae is more optimistic these days, despite feeling that Australian construction is still over-managed. â€œThe design and construct (companies) and the private project managers are essentially conservative and risk averse and have a divide-and-conquer mentality,â€ he says.
â€œThe architecture-savvy private project manager doesnâ€™t really exist,â€ Carfrae says. â€œMy perception is that, worldwide, more value is being placed on design and a bit of that is rubbing off on Australia. The process is acting against us but despite (this) the players are lifting the game.â€
Carfrae had just come back from presenting a scheme to the big developer Mirvac when he spoke to The Weekend Australian Magazine. â€œIt is a complex, sophisticated design. They didnâ€™t say, â€˜This isnâ€™t suitable for Australiaâ€™ â€“ and they would have done a few years ago.â€ He mentions a similar conversation with â€œlean and meanâ€ Multiplex.
Peter Cotton, architect and group manager at Mirvac (which, as well as having 300 of its own architects, increasingly works with big-name designers), agrees, particularly when it comes to mass housing. He says there are definite signs of improvement, â€œbut it had a long way to come from. Housing on a mass-scale is still very mediocre. TV programs and magazines mean that more and more people are becoming design-aware, but cost-driven design is an issue when the design is dumbed-down and the architect has not got control over the end project.â€
Certainly, the complex forms, the digital blobs, the folded and fractured faÃ§ades that increasingly characterise avant-garde public buildings overseas are rare here. Australian architects PTW (with the help of Carfraeâ€™s team) may have designed the extraordinary bubble-wrapped National Swimming Centre for the Beijing Olympics, but such an adventurous, publicly funded project would be unthinkable in their own country. Federation Square in Melbourne is an exception, but its architects are designing projects for China and Dubai (where adventurous architecture is encouraged) rather than on home soil.
All parties agree that government at state and federal level must do more to promote good architecture. This begins with the architecture that government itself purchases. Alec Tzannes says government is â€œthe worst client in Australia, with the greatest responsibilityâ€. He describes their architectural procurement methods as â€œnaÃ¯veâ€ and â€œdiabolicalâ€ and sees â€œthe demise of appropriate stewardship of public buildings. Government has to lift its game and reinvest in a public domain thatâ€™s designed to last,â€ he says.
Says Timothy Hill: â€œWeâ€™ve had plenty of opportunities to make marvellous buildings but there is no interest at federal or state level. Architecture has never been part of the political program.â€
Peter Cotton says he â€œcanâ€™t think of anything positive to sayâ€ about federal governmentsâ€™ record in this area, while John Denton complains that â€œthe federal Government is appalling, by and large. It is not structured to value what is produced. It doesnâ€™t take design seriously.â€
Mark Dythamâ€™s opinion that architecture in this country will have to wait 20 years for a tipping point is not one that Australiaâ€™s architecture community would generally endorse. Alec Tzannes thinks that threshold has been reached â€“ in parts of Australia at least â€“ but points out that in countries such as Denmark, Finland and Italy, design and architecture are a â€œfundamental part of the economic equation and a central cultural exportâ€.
Hill, who is less sanguine about Australiaâ€™s achievements, also holds up the Danes as an example. â€œDenmark has a confident, well-educated society regarding anything to do with design,â€ he says. â€œIf you took all Australiaâ€™s local councils, real estate agents, politicians and bankers, only about seven of them would know about the built environment; in Denmark, thousands would know.â€ Our idea of architecture, he maintains, â€œis associated with builders and real estate agents. In other democracies it is associated with culture â€“ poets and, a word never used in Australia, the intelligentsia.â€
The Australia Councilâ€™s remit does not include architecture but executive director Karilyn Brown acknowledges â€œthere has been a significant concern about the international profile of Australian architectureâ€.
Architectureâ€™s global shopfront is the Venice Architecture Biennale. It is here that developed nations show off their excellence in national pavilions. But Australia has only had an official presence on three occasions since the event began in 1980. After prolonged lobbying, the Australia Council gave support in kind for an exhibition in 2006 and is committed to supporting the next two Biennales. Without a remit from government, however, its funding for architecture can only be limited.
Brown thinks architecture should come under the councilâ€™s umbrella: â€œIt is part of Australian art and culture and who we are as a nation. This will only be emphasised with global issues like climate change.â€
At least one Australian city â€“ Melbourne â€“ has made a conscious effort to encourage contemporary architecture and design. Timothy Hill says the city has achieved its good looks thanks to constant, gradual â€œcustodianshipâ€.
Among those custodians is Rob Adams, the cityâ€™s design director. He says Melbourneâ€™s architectural appeal is the result of two decades of careful interventions in the physical grain of the city. Poor planning and architectural decisions in the â€™60s and â€™70s eroded the city but interventions such as revitalising laneways and investing in big cultural set-pieces have reversed the trend.
In the early â€™80s there was an outpouring of community emotion, recalls Adams. â€œThis led to politicians rising on a platform of â€˜Weâ€™ve got to save Melbourneâ€™.â€ Architectural policies demanding that new buildings sat firmly on street frontages and had â€œactiveâ€ ground floors â€“ shops and cafÃ©s rather than blank walls â€“ were part of it. Architectural icons werenâ€™t a priority. Buildings such as Federation Square or Southern Cross Station, he maintains, are not icons but â€œhighlights within the overall fabric. Not like the Bilbao Guggenheim (museum) saying, â€˜Look at me!â€™â€ Adams says heâ€™s had to fight off lots of â€œridiculousâ€ icon suggestions.
â€œThere is not one golden bullet,â€ he says. â€œPeople understand it is more complex than that. If you design a good street, you design a good city.â€
Fellow Melburnian John Denton (who is also Victoriaâ€™s Government Architect) says: â€œMelbourne sees itself as a city that values design. Youâ€™ve got to excite, youâ€™ve got to offend. You need that useful irritant, that ratbag element in the process.â€ He cites Howard Raggatt of architecture firm Ashton Raggatt McDougall as a â€œleading ratbagâ€. That firm, with projects such as the Melbourne Recital Centre (due to open in 2009) with its honeycomb faÃ§ade â€œgoes out of its way to stimulate people and make them think about the way they liveâ€, according to Denton.
He argues there is a more edgy scene in Melbourne than the other capitals: the city â€œfeeds on itself and keeps challenging the rest of Australiaâ€. Sydney seems still in the thrall of the fast-built buck and, like Brisbane, is hamstrung by conflict between city and state. Adelaide is dozing.
Perthâ€™s boom has yet to produce gold-rush-scale architectural ambitions, but Geoffrey London, the Western Australian Government Architect, says it is only a matter of time. â€œThere is a growing recognition in Perth of the need to invest (in) architectural quality with, for example, design-based procedures used for selecting architects on major government projects,â€ he says. â€œThe quality has lifted. Unfortunately the built evidence is still some time away.â€
Rob Adams believes Melbourne has reached Dythamâ€™s crucial tipping point so that â€œarchitecture is very much part of the debateâ€. But he is anxious about the fragility of the cityâ€™s achievements. â€œThere is always the threat that you start to take it for granted. The memory of where it all started becomes dim. It has been a 20-year battle â€“ nothing just happens; youâ€™ve got to keep supporting it and plan for it.â€
The rest of Australia needs to follow Melbourneâ€™s example if our cities are going to stand up to international competition from places as diverse as Milwaukee, Manchester or Valencia â€“ places that are reinventing themselves using forward-looking architecture as evidence of forward thinking.
Australia needs to decide if it is willing to invest in quality architecture that will last, or make do with the quick and cheap for short-term convenience. A sustainable approach to architecture is to build with eternity rather than disposability in mind. In millennia to come, will Australiaâ€™s cities, in ruins or not, be marvelled over, or will it be left to the bleached bones of splendid cliff-top villas to ignite the imagination of future civilisations?
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