Category | Architecture

In memory of Gerald Melling

 

 

 

DSC03895

 

It was with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of Gerald Melling, a great architect but also a friend and mentor to many students and to Free Range Press.

Collected here are four informal pieces written in memory of Gerry; two letters, a short essay and a short mostly non-fictional story. Barnaby Bennett and Byron Kinnaird are directors of Free Range, and Mathew Lee and Nick Sargent are former employees of Alan Morse and Gerry’s wonderful architecture office Melling:Morse.

 

Byron Kinnaird:

We’re still Howling – “Moloch!”

“Tsunami is the metaphor for the rogue in any tide.”

-from Tsunami Box by Gerald Melling

 

For Gerald,

I get the feeling I was a curious bleep on your weary radar until the Architectural Centre published a poem of mine: a succinctly depressing lament to architectural doldrums. It was a genuinely flattering moment halfway through my green curry on Cuba Street that you tapped me on the shoulder and said: “well done son, a pity about the typography,” which came as a bloody delight.

The second important but inadequate exchange I have with you was your brief response to a letter I wrote you (a half finished response to your last book). I rewrote some bits, added some strikingly irrelevant pictures of Icarus, and put it in the mail. You emailed back in a month, being all generous and cheeky. I’m sorry I never got around to my First Book that you were looking forward to – for a while there it was going to be on you, but I never told you that.

Come to think of it, I wonder whether we had very many conversations at all, real chats I mean, I reckon maybe a dozen. We were at our best trading one-liners about our fertile distaste for architecture institutions, I’m pretty sure you appreciated my questionably informed recalcitrance to a profession I refused to enter.

I learnt a lot about writing, and a lot about you in your last book, Tsunami Box, written like a poet – three word paragraphs you clever man! At all the human and noble moments you were quick to your feet, slamming chairs back against walls for dramatic effect; and quick with your hands, through set-square and Gold Ingot Brick Machine (which, much like your Astar drafting machine is a straight edge in the wrong hands), but you discovered the half-brick like a Split Box, long ago. When we write poetry, these are the things that twist my bricks.

I’ve only been inside a handful of your buildings you know, the most memorable being the Skybox when you weren’t there, at 6 or 7am after a huge night out, we woofed down dirty street burgers in your kitchen and felt the house creak.

No, I know you through words. When I started my education in architecture, my father gifted me his two most valued books, they were yours, on Ath and Walker, tributes to the excitement of arriving in Wellington I think, gulping down that stiff gale that gets your heart thumping.

I’ve read most of your poems, your articles, your books and interviews, and that’s how you’ll change me: waxing lyrical from the edge, you were the Captain of our ramshackle pirateship, and the Tsunami in our tide.

 

Mathew Lee:

For my part I knew Gerry for but a few years. Through my studies at Architecture School I had learned of the work that he and Allan Morse had being doing together under the practice name of Melling:Morse Architects.

It wasn’t till some years later that I met Gerry through friends who were working at the Melling:Morse office, where I would venture on most Friday nights after work to play an intense brand of ‘friendly’ competitive table tennis.

A little time later as those friends looked to move on to their own projects (thus leaving job openings in the office) I put forward the idea of myself coming to work for Gerry and Allan. The job interview consisted of Gerry outlining the practice agenda (“I never audit a design”) whilst chuffing on a cigarette next to the fire place in the office.

The first day of work was simple enough, I was tossed a job to work up a new house design on a tricky plot of land in Evans Bay and largely left alone to find my feet. I appreciated the confidence from Gerry and Allan that I would eventually produce something useful.

A few things became clear relatively quickly on how the office operated:

-Gerry loved to chat idly and seriously during work hours.
-Allan enjoyed classical music, Gerry generally abhorred this in favour of 60/70/80/90s rock music, Portishead, Massive Attack, and a little known band from Dunedin called ‘Brown’.
-Whilst Gerry was trained in traditional methods of drafting on a drawing board, he was interested in the way computer technologies could influence the perception of design. He would happily sit and watch you model something he had drawn in plan/section/elevation for hours. The discussions I had with him while going through this process on how these designs might develop will be always vivid in my memory.
-While the office had some fairly rigid design rules, such as using a 900mm grid as the setout for all designs (the “module law”), or the go to materials of macrocapa, steel corrugate, concrete block and hardie flex, as well as the not quite patented Melling:Morse timber facing system for all external detailing, these rules were allowed to be subject to friendly amount of ribbing by the office employees.
-The skills of the Liverpool Football team were not up for discussion.

Much has already been written about the design output of Gerry. The work he and Allan produced has been widely published and lauded (or decried from some corners), and I’m sure that as time passes more will be written and the value of his work will grow.

The one thing that I would want to make clear is that it was always fun and funny to work with Gerry. He was always able to bring the sometimes dry and ordinary profession of architecture back into the realm of artistry and comedy.

A man of nearly 70 years of age, he easily connected to people far younger than himself, and would happily give time to offer his point of view or advice. Such an attitude has made him a friend and mentor to multiple generations of architects, poets, writers, and inner city flaneurs.

It was a pleasure to know him.

 

Barnaby Bennett:

Dear Gerald

I feel like I should tell a story about your life, something entertaining and insightful, but I don’t have your skill with words or jokes, few do. If I am to tell the truth – and since we are talking about you Gerry I think that is the only option – I am less sad about your dying that I thought I would be. I will definitely deeply miss our chats over coffee, your cutting comments and full hearted smiling eyes, the support you gave our young publishing adventures, and your incredible ability to make the things we do feel important.

I think the reason that your passing – your death too soon – is manageable is because you made death seem so natural, as it is. We are born, live for a while, and die. The way you faced your imminent demise with such honesty and calm made it seem so staggeringly normal and mundane. Like this is the way it was always going to be, and it was. There are many lessons to learn from the way you lived your life: memories that I will now hold close, the way you wrote with perfection so near, the way you designed beautiful things while embracing our human failings. But for me this final lesson is your greatest poetry: to live honestly, work hard, laugh harder, and to die with grace. It takes someone very special to illuminate the thing so close to all of us, and to do it gently and with love.

He kotuku rerenga tahi.

Goodbye Gerry.

 

Nick Sargent:

The Wellington wind snapped its icy whip up narrow Egmont St, castigating my Auckland tan. I was standing below the Sky Box, bags in hand, returning almost apologetically, to spend a midsummer week with Gerald Melling in Wellington where I’d once lived, studied and worked. My ties to the place had been undone: a relationship had ended, friends had moved overseas, my internship with Melling:Morse was becoming distant and I’d been enticed by warmer climates. I was returning near apologetically because, to Gerald’s amused frustration, after the internship I’d decided to teach and, eventually, to move up to Auckland to follow a deviant course of study. Gerald, who espoused quality and friendship over business (actually he hardly ever considered business worthy of thought or discussion), would wryly joke that if he was turning youngsters off architecture then the profession had little hope.

Gerald buzzed me into his house, a thin three-story apartment known as The Sky Box perched indelicately on slender legs above an old brick warehouse. I was looking forward to seeing him, but I still dragged my suitcase a little sheepishly over the orthogonal timbers and up the steep, winding staircase. He waited excitedly at the top in his usual uniform of jeans and t-shirt.

‘Nicholas, my boy. Well, well. Welcome to my humble boudoir.’

He insisted on carrying my luggage up to ‘my room,’ it was all a part of the service. Tea and coffee would be provided at 8am sharp. Despite working downstairs for a year and a half in the Melling:Morse office I’d seldom been into the Sky Box, it being Geralds sanctum from the mundane. The apartment is mostly a brightly lit corridor that spirals tightly upwards, efficiently revealing and concealing the banalities of domestic life. The desk and the library assert their presence, washed by grey-white light from the continuous runs of windows that tether the house like an airship to the sky. This is a house of the air, a place for ideas. The guest bedroom sits lonely atop this small tower, surrounded by neighbours blank windows, breezy and a little desolate. The windows rattled and venetian blinds swung and crashed gently. Gerald dropped the bags hurriedly and we scuttled outside to find a coffee shop.

‘This is bloody cold’ I’d complained.

‘Move to the tropics while you still can.’

Gerald’s immense affection for Wellington was hung from this simple sacrifice.

The weeks purpose was to design and collate Tsunami Box, a book Gerald had written about his emergency housing project in Sri Lanka, which had also been the project through which I’d met him. In Sri Lanka he’d sensitively played the polite English architect which, as the scale of poor design, shoddy construction and political corruption became evident, gave way to an earnest, torrid desperation. He was repeatedly on site showing construction workers how to lay bricks and attempting to motivate malevolently disinterested contractors or project managers. His willingness to head into battle won him many young followers, it was so rare for us to see a ‘professional’ using architecture as a weapon.

We discussed the project. Gerald saw Tsunami Box as a serif affair, aligning its digressions and critiques with the taciturn aesthetics of a novel. He ranted about the shameless self promotion and photographic artifice in most architectural books, the conspicuous exclusion of dissenting voices, and the lack of any serious effort in constructing meaning. He laughed generously at several of my more ostentatious graphic ideas: ‘How long were you in Auckland exactly?’

At night I’d tossed and turned. The guest bedroom, like all the rooms in the house, is encircled by glass slatted louvre windows whose inadequate fixings have been relaxed by UV and now shiver and chatter over the winds moan as hundreds of rectangular glass teeth; if only I could close my ears. The floor rolled back and forth filling the dark with images of twisting timber, wincing nails and bending steel, the material creaks adding to the pulsing din, the gusts of winds like angry waves crashing across our hull. Eventually, very late, I’d drifted into a fitful sleep from which I was reluctantly drawn by Gerald appearing with a steaming hot cup of early morning coffee.

‘We survived, she’s still afloat!’

The next day the storm was worse. Rain had driven thickly, sharply and in all directions as the city succumbed to a bitter onslaught. The high temperature was obscene, and I’d hidden myself deep inside the office with a heater, working diligently on the book, keeping my worries about the nights sleep to myself. Gerald was in high spirits.

‘Nicholas, you’re in for a test of your nerve tonight, oh, are you ever.’

After dinner, we watched Geralds oft struggling local football team play on TV with the sound turned off because the storm was too loud to hear anyway. The venetian blinds were crashing violently against the windows, leaving Gerald cursing the penetrable model of window he’d installed. We shouted our conversation while his football team succumbed meekly. It was a bit grim and Gerald headed downstairs to bed, leaving me alone in the murderously howling room. I slid the crashing blinds up and turned the lights off. Explosions coming from the street light below, where water was being driven up into the electrics, would light the room ablaze. If the rain started an electrical fire then the Sky Box seemed ready to offer itself as kindling. I gulped my tea as though dousing my fear, and went up to my room.

The guest room was the loudest in the house. The windows here were so penetrable (they also kept flicking themselves open) that it was also the windiest and the wettest. The floor was mostly wet, and the horizontal water was reaching the bed. I slipped in and attempted to submerge under the blanket.

‘Nicholas my boy!’ Gerald called up the stairs. ‘I’m off to Christine’s, I need to get some sleep tonight. You’re in charge until morning, don’t let my lovely house sink! I’ve written Christine’s number down by the phone, in case theres an emergency. Good luck.”

He skipped out the door looking much happier.

I lay there with my eyes open feeling the room bend, watching its tightly snapped orthogonals attempt in vain to fix a coordinate in all this movement. I recalled Gerald flamboyantly claiming that the Sky Box was simply bolted to its legs and an inspection had once revealed the bolts to be so loose they could be undone by bare hands. True or not, I put my arm out to grip the blanket, but it was now sopping wet, the water creeping in right next to me, the winds baleful spittle starting to lick at my face. The streetlight exploded again and I was on my feet running down the stairs. I raided Geralds own noisy room for dry blankets, and scurried down to the quiet entry corridor, embedded as it was in the old warehouse. I curled up right behind the front door and slept as though I’d found dry land.

The storm passed and Gerald returned in the morning in a festive spirit. He broke into hysterics when he found me huddled behind the door like a refugee.

‘The Sky Box defeats another!’

As I worked at a computer, Gerald was telling everybody “Nick abandoned my lovely house last night – I found him curled up like a little orphan on the street.”

The next day I finished the book and relaxed in his kitchen while he cooked me an india-hot thank-you curry, the Sky Box resting calmly and quietly in a bright red sunset. I don’t remember what we talked about, and it didn’t occur to me this would be our final face-to-face conversation. I expect we spoke about very little. Cooking and occasionally chatting in this tidy, adventurous room he seemed unusually peaceful, his gaze falling across the city and the sky. I imagined his mechanical eye, wooden arm and graphite finger tracing this fragile cage resolutely on the becalmed drawing table, mischievously goading life’s tricky winds.

 

 

 

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Architecture Depends: A book review

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending the Live Projects symposium held at Oxford Brookes university with friend and fellow Freeranger, Mr Barnaby Bennett who spoke about crisis, both architecturally and politically as well as being involved with fantastic projects in Christchurch.
One of the keynote speakers was Jeremy Till. His talk was named ‘Architecture Depends: Resuscitating architectural education’. There was a lot he had said in his lecture that would speak volumes and have deep resonance with the symposium attendees for the rest of the weekend, hovering like an intellectual spectre.

He spoke about one book of his in particular: Architecture Depends, which I had the pleasure of reading recently. Thought-provoking in content, it attempts to map out the somewhat rocky path taken by architects to essentially retreat from the contingent realities of the actual world, something that architects should inherently consider but yet go out of their way to avoid; albeit similar to an ‘inconvenient truth’.

I would like to spend a little time ruminating on this very intriguing book, as small vignettes into a few of the thoughts laid out, just to give a taste.

Mess is the Law

From the very beginning, mess lies at the very heart of the book. Till elucidates the deeply ridden obsession of architects with perfection, order and control as a disturbing set of arcane rituals and the result is a deluded sense that ‘aesthetic / formal order equates to social order’.
However, mess in this sense does not mean that architects should suddenly ransack their studios and live days without bathing, or start designing messy homes as a new paradigm, but rather take into account the ‘mess’ of everyday realities within our contingently driven world.
This aforementioned delusion (and the values behind it), as Till maintains, has been built up over hundreds of years of architectural education and it is formidably defended by various institutions (he discusses the RIBA in particular).
Architecture cannot be separated from the political realities of the world and so they must work together. Mess in this sense can be seen as fertile grounds for the creative imagination to work within the given, instead of pursuing the deluded ideal of absolute perfection as the ‘detached dreamer’.

Time and Waste

‘All architecture is but waste in transit’.

This statement of Till’s is one of the more provocative and intriguing, as it intentionally confronts architects and their values / concerns head on. Out of context, this statement could be misconstrued easily, however when one reads into it there is definitely more than meets the eye.
As he identifies for us, waste and dirt have always been marginalised within western architectural discourse, as ‘contaminants’ to the pursuit of Modern architecture.
He also explains – etymologically, construction and demolition are much closer than architects would generally like to admit. By marginalising waste when discussing architecture one essentially removes time – the very thing that architecture is dependent on. Ultimately I think this has the implication that all buildings and cities are inherently transitional by nature, i.e. never in stasis, which essentially disrupts the traditional Modernist preoccupation and obsession with order, aesthetics and tectonics.
Again, it goes back to the distinction he makes when illustrating the tenuous Modernist presupposition of equating aesthetic order with social order (with reference to sociologists Zygmunt Bauman and Bruno Latour).

Towards the end of the book, Till remains thoroughly conscious of inferring towards concrete conclusions, leaving the argument open-ended, which of course is more aligned to the spirit of the book rather than (as he mentions) adopting the stance of certainty and universality, which the book has resisted.
However, I shall leave you with one paragraph just to give a glimpse of form and perhaps a renewed sense of optimism (at least that’s my reading of it), in this case the role of the architect:

‘ The action of the architect here is not about the implementation of generic solutions to particular problems. It is not about the architect as the detached polisher of form and technique, but as the person who gathers the conflicting voices of a given situation and makes the best possible social and spatial sense of them. Hope is not discovered in the clouds of ideals that are blown away by the slightest breeze; hope is founded in the interstices of the given, and since it has a tough start in life, this hope is a survivor.’

Cover image from book: Mark Wallinger, Sleeper 2004

Book cover art: Mark Wallinger, Sleeper 2004, performance, Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin.

If you’re interested in learning more about Live Projects here are a couple of useful links you might want to check out:

http://liveprojectsnetwork.org/
http://www.ssoa.group.shef.ac.uk/

This article is dedicated to the memory and spirit of Wellington architect Gerald Melling, who passed away just recently. Rest in peace fellow Freeranger.
I would like to leave you with one of Gerald’s poems from his book ‘b. 1943’, which I think is in keeping with the spirit of Till’s book:

skytower

The building draws itself up
to its full height,

pose in the air.
A lofty inflexion

of stunted men
with perfect deportment,

in search of that extra
dimension.

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Grow Shelter Dos

In Freerange Vol.2: Gardening and Violence we featured a lovely project by New York based design firm XLXS. They are now embarking on a bold and exciting project with a Navajo Community.  The text below is a message from them. Please have a read and spread this message. It’s a great project.

 

CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW & UNIQUE NAVAJO HOGAN RAISES HOPE FOR CONSERVATION OF ARTISAN DWELLINGS

Native-Americans  and Visitors Aim to Celebrate the Arts While Exchanging Cultures and Ideas

Looking for a way to pay homage to his Navajo roots, Thomas Isaac, an artist, in collaboration with Brooklyn-based design collaborative, XLXS, has decided to build a shelter that responds to the traditional Navajo architecture of the Hogan .  He intends to make a domicile for local artists to share and collaborate and visitors to appreciate.  Having grown up on the Navajo Nation, Isaac believes that this type of unique dwelling for the community is exactly what they need to conserve and celebrate the local artists and cultural beauty the people have to offer.  Currently,  accommodations for visitors in the Shonto area are austere.  With the construction of the artist center, a focal point will be made whereby visiting artists may stay and collaborate with the local community.The idea for this artist shelter goes beyond the appreciation of the arts.  Isaac plans to make this shelter sustainable to add value to the nearby Navajo National Monument and in keeping with the cultural beliefs associated with the hogan.  Julia Molloy, co-founder of XLXS says,” We are excited to work on a project that lends itself to the people and their authentic way of life.”  In addition to the sustainability, collaboration between the visiting artists and local community is paramount.  Isaac believes that the cultural exchange and collaborative art projects enhanced by the artist center’s unique design will build bridges between the Navajo people and the outside world.Completion of this all-volunteer project is dependent on funding.  XLXS generously has devoted their time and expertise to translate and create Isaac’s vision, and your help can make it a reality.  Get involved in this mission to transform the way artists and visitors collaborate to appreciate the history and richness of the Navajo Nation.To learn more about this project and how to donate please visit….

Contact: Julia Molloy
Cell Phone: 917.613.7113
Email: juliaannmolloy@gmail.com
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Licensed to build (building in the times of the regulated individual)

“Infrastructures are flexible and anticipatory. They work with time and are open to change. By specifying what must be fixed and what is subject to change, they can be precise and indeterminate at the same time. They work through management and cultivation, changing slowly to adjust to shifting conditions. They do not progress toward a predetermined state (as with master planning strategies), but are always evolving within a loose envelope of constraints.”
Allen, Stan. Points + Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City. pg. 55. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1999.

“Infrastructural work recognizes the collective nature of the city and allows for the participation of multiple authors. Infrastructures give direction to future work in the city not by the establishment of rules or codes (top-down), but by fixing points of service, access, and structure (bottom-up). Infrastructure creates a directed field where different architects and designers can contribute, but it sets technical and instrumental limits to their work. Infrastructure itself works strategically, but it encourages tactical improvisation. Infrastructural work moves away from self referentiality and individual expression toward collective enunciation.”
Allen, Stan. Points + Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City. pg. 55. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1999.

You may be aware of recent changes in regulations regarding the design and construction of houses over this last year. Namely the standardisation of the Licensed Building Practitioner (or LBP) system.
For those of you not familiar here is a quick breakdown:
In order to design or build a residential dwelling you have to be a licensed building practitioner. You must have relevant and proven experience in your chosen trade (i.e. building, plastering, block laying, architecture and so forth) in order to obtain a license to practice. On top of proving your experience you must also pay a fee. What this ensures is that any building work that is carried out from this year forth will legally have to be done by experienced and qualified practitioners, thus theoretically this work will be carried out to the minimum standard required by the building code.
The LBP system also takes liability for building defects in houses (leaky buildings would be one such defect) further away from local councils and closer to tradesmen and designers.

Indirectly, such a law change says:
“when a individual builds or alters a dwelling they are adding to the nation’s building stock, which future generations will inherit, thus it must be constructed by publically sanctioned methods (and people) to ensure its quality and robustness for future dwellers”.
Individual peoples may pay for the assembly of new dwellings, yet the greater collective has a stake in the structure also.
I kind of like the idea that we legally weigh quality dwellings in the same way we might public infrastructure. By giving single dwellings infrastructural status we recognise their contribution to positive urban development (as opposed to aggressive suburban sprawl). Yet, there is a difficult middle ground where collective interest for quality building stock meets the individuals desire for defining the environment of their own dwelling.
The introduction of the LBP system could be seen as one more step to curtail individual freedom to build, yet there is a legal clause that allows owners of land to build their own structures on that land (a owner-builder exemption). From a very basic conceptual view, the ability to construct your own home is a kind of primal right, just like growing your own food (another activity which in recent times has had regulations reviewed). To over regulate primal rights stumbles into dangerous territory, it stunts the ground up initiatives which can empower entire communities.
Having a discussion about regulations such as the LBP system is important right now, as we look to Christchurch and the painfully slow progress being made to get parts of the population adequately sheltered. The wait for qualified tradesmen will be a long one amid such a huge rebuilding effort, and with high demand comes an increased cost even if tradesmen from outside of Canterbury are brought in. (As a side note, bringing in workers and housing them in quasi-prison camps as described in this article (http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/rebuilding-christchurch/7613470/Worker-camps-planned-for-Christchurch) is not a pleasant idea). Disaster relief situations can be greatly aided by community driven efforts to recuperate and rebuild, to make such activity harder to do legally is disappointing.
One hopes that a more delicate balance can be struck between the public need for healthier building stock in housing and the ability for individuals to author their own homes (to see a good example of owner builders crafting an excellent house see here: http://patchworkarchitecture.tumblr.com/).
In its current state the LBP system hints at an infrastructural agenda, yet one gets a slightly cynical undercurrent with this. To build healthy, vibrant, and responsive housing communities we can’t approach such a task from a cynical angle. Especially now, as the largest rebuild in New Zealand’s history is about to take place in Canterbury.
Individuals and sub communities must be allowed the manoeuvrability to author their own dwellings if they should choose to do so.
Of course undertaking the building of your own house isn’t a task taken on lightly. My partner’s uncle went and worked for a builder for some time before he felt he had the necessary skills to construct his own family’s house (which he drew inspiration for from the Whole Earth Catalog). One should prepare themselves adequately to build your own abode, which is one of the great reasons why doing it as a group or community is such a great notion (I remember the community I grew up in building the local school hall). The owner-builder is a important individual in our society, the product of their work can provide the necessary reflection on our regulations and conventions to which we adhere.
Bottom up initiatives can produce ideas not often perceived in conventional environments of design and build as well as providing the opportunity for people to exercise their primal rights.
I hope that room is made for such expressions in the Christchurch rebuild, and that the undercurrent of cynicism in building regulation doesn’t manifest in the city’s new urban geography.

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Ten Rules on Being an Architecture Student

In 2007, Dr Peter Wood (aka P-Dubs), Senior Lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Architecture, gave a cutting and hilarious assessment of student culture to open the first formal day of Ctrl Shift 07, the Biennial Pacific Student Congress of Architecture.  A few of the Freerangers who put the Congress on recently revisited his lecture, and had to share his Ten Rules on Being an Architecture Student, transcribed here to capture Peter’s deliciously acerbic critique.

1. Dress right.  Cheap clothes should look expensive, and expensive clothes should look cheap. Under no circumstances should cheap clothes look cheap, or expensive clothes look expensive, except at crits.

2. Always work at least one all-nighter for every studio. Two is better as it suggests that you’re not doing the first one to follow the rules. Never do more then three in a row as this suggests genuine psychological problems, or it will lead to genuine psychological problems.

3. Meet the right people. This is a tough one because architecture students, architectural academics, academics, and in fact anyone from your immediate cultural grouping, is not the right people. The right people should meet three criteria: they should have money, they should want to give you their money, and they should not be interested in telling you how you should spend their money. Your parents are a good place to start.

4. Show dismissive scorn toward successful architects. After all, they are just cynical old fuddy-duddies who sold their creative integrity to developers because their bums like leather car seats, and anyway, you’ll never be like them.

5. Attend all openings. Art exhibitions, public lectures, new buildings, roof shouts, car doors, the only thing that matters is how disdainful you look, and the amount of free food and drinks.

6. Be I.T. savvy. It’s a digital world, and the more digital you look, the easier it will be to pass architecture off as a modern activity. Fortunately this has never been easier, it doesn’t matter what you listen to, whether its Burt Bacherach or anything else on your MP3 player, or that your laptop contains pictures of dairy cows, or that you only pretend to text-message due to the inability of bovine hooves to operate cellphones. The only real point is how shiny, expensive and visible your gadgets are.

7. Become moderately proficient at espousing the views of a continental philosopher.  Avoid the big names as its most likely that someone will know more about them than you. Choose instead a minor player from some Marxist circle and pick out the bits of their writing that might possibly have something to do with architecture. Liberally sprinkle these through your comments at openings.

8. Learn the lingo. Every attempt must be made to speak in architectural jargon. People might live in houses, but architects design responsive environments that challenge domestic paradoxes which combine atavistic references with new post-post-modern epistemologies.

9. Avoid student counseling. Conventional wisdom has it that student counseling is the quickest way to arrange a medical certificate for an assignment deadline extension. But once they have you on the couch describing your childhood, who knows what might happen. Instead, go to Student Health, tell them it hurts to tinkle, and save the antibiotic prescription for the bronchial condition your all-nighters will give you.

10. Organise an international congress. If only because it makes achieving the other criteria much easier.

 

Peter Wood, on Ctrl Shift 07: Biennial Pacific Student Congress of Architecture. [DVD] is available in most architecture Libraries across Australia & New Zealand.

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Everyone should go to church once in a while.

Tadao Ando’s Church of Light in Ibaraki, Japan.

I have had this experience twice before, when you walk into a place and have an overwhelming feeling of enlightenment. Once at the small temple located within Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia and once when I walked into the completely empty, decaying Athens Olympic stadium.

These are the moments in life you don’t expect to be great, however there are many you walk into with great expectations and these are the places, people, experiences which we are often disappointed by. I walked into Tadao Ando’s Church of Light in Ibaraki Japan with 9 years of architectural educational and practice worth of expectation and it did not disappoint.

Even my arrival was some sort of achievement; the church is located in a typical Japanese suburb, a cram of tradition and modernism on the outskirts of Osaka, that I had navigated the local train and bus to the point of suburban obscurity was the achievement. Then I had to hunt for the church. The siting and surrounds of the church is not a secret, it is described often in writings however I had chosen to ignore this and found myself surprised that the church wasn’t sitting alone on top a hill surrounded by beautifully manicured Japanese gardens.

The building is unassuming, it is not trying to be a great piece of modern architecture, it is just being a small church for a local congregation. That Ando was able to create the sense of escape this building has in its setting is testament to how Ando has resolved and refined the idea. The contrast between the haphazard suburban setting and the beautiful simplicity of the interior only heightens the experience of visiting this church.


I recently heard a talk by Kjetil Thorsen of Norwegian architectural firm Snohettta in which he discussed a principle of materiality where by you do not let more than three materials come into contact at one time, this building is an exemplar of this idea; Ando uses only concrete, glass and black painted timber. There is no symbolism or iconography so common to traditional churches, save the voided cross, this allows your own understanding of spirituality of the place to be the focus of attention.

As I sat and drew the light changed its position and intensity, there was no denying the outer world feeling this place has, regardless of religion, as the light streams in through the cross and onto the beautiful, yes beautiful, concrete.

When I am there it is late on a Saturday afternoon and predominantly the church is filled with architecture students taking photos and mucking around, as they leave I am left in this place on my own and I am struck by how quiet and sanctuary like the place is.


I visit the Sunday school built years later and imagine what it would be like filled with children- I can’t, it fells like these buildings were meant to be experienced in solitude, so that each of us can have whatever type of experience suits us, it doesn’t have to be spiritual- I can imagine it would be a great place to read a book or spend a day trying to capture sunlight on the concrete in a photograph. I can only guess as to how someone else would react, but I hope it does get added to the list of place to visit.

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Architects and their childhoods

The constructive influence of childhood on an architect’s design philosophy.

Is it possible to understand the relevance of childhood experience in relation to the development of an architect’s design and professional philosophy? The creation of Architecture is often attributed to a set of skills learnt during a formal program of education and the philosophy of an architect is often attributed to their schooling or apprenticeship; whether it is with another architect or within a particular architectural environment.  However, the development of an architect’s professional philosophy potentially begins much earlier with an image, an emotion or an experience from childhood. The accumulation of these experiences, be they architectural, social or environmental, forms the basis of what Malcolm Quantrill calls a person’s “environmental memory”.

The experiences of architecture that occur during childhood are often associated with the way in which a person senses a place and, as a result of this, much has been written about phenomenology and memory in relation to the formation of design theory. It is phenomenological experience that first starts to educate, shape and inform a designer while they are a child. Scholars argue that these childhood memories and images heavily influence the architectural direction taken in later life and will often inform the basis of a person’s professional philosophy: an architect may recall them to try to recreate a place that evoked an emotion or sense of place.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger writes that phenomenology reveals our experience in a context and our more basic way of relating to some things is in a practical manner.   The experience of architecture as a child is phenomenological as our knowledge of the world is limited and so we experience a building or an environment in isolation. The experiences of childhood are stored as images, memories and atmospheres. Steven Holl, American architect and theorist, states that the experiences of childhood are the beginning point of the development of a pre-theoretical ground for architectural knowledge, inferring that the images and experiences the architect is exposed to as a child become the basis for an architect’s professional philosophy.

British architect and theorist Malcolm Quantrill, in his 1987 text The Environmental Memory, discusses the significance of these images a person stores and suggests that childhood is the starting point for the development of what he terms an “environmental memory”.  The significance of childhood manifests itself in the formation of an architect’s “environmental memory”; memory begins in our first room, we climb into it on our first stair, we nourish it with views from our first window. Images of these beginnings of consciousness are the basis for our dreams and aspirations…environmental memory begins in our first house, our first field, our first street and library. [i]

Individual architects have been discussed with regard to the way in which their childhood experiences have shaped their architecture in a way which recalls Quantrill’s ‘environmental memory’. Australian architectural critic and author Philip Drew records that for architect Glenn Murcutt, it was the similarities between the landscape of the Upper Watut and the Maria River at Crescent Head which awakened slumbering memories from his childhood and thereby contributed a powerful tropical character to the Marie Short house.

Glenn Murcutt is an Australian architect who is internationally renowned for his environmentally sensitive designs which have a distinctively Australian character. Immediately after his birth to the age of five, Murcutt lived in the coastal area of the Morobe district of Papua New Guinea, which in the 1930’s was both primitive and somewhat dangerous. Murcutt talks of the environment of his childhood:

[I] grew up in the highlands of New Guinea on the Upper Watut River. The lower end of the highlands, a very wild place with huge grasslands of Kuni grass, huge rainforests. […] We lived amongst the Kuka Kuka people, now known as the Manyamia people. […] at that time, fearsome people. And they actually attacked – now, at the time, we thought this was just terrible – and they killed”[ii]

This environment of his childhood is depicted in Arthur Murcutt’s photograph of Murcutt’s childhood home in Papua New Guinea, Figure 1.

Figure 1: Arthur Murcutt’s house on the Upper Watut, N.G., January 1936

Murcutt attributes his approach to architecture and his association with nature to his childhood in Papua New Guinea and Australia.[iii] Murcutt often refers to ideas similar to Quantrill’s concept of the “environmental memory” throughout his design processes, attributing his sensitivity towards the site and environment to his childhood education of place. Murcutt talks about the experiences, observations and lessons taken from the environment during his childhood as being with him for the rest of his life, and how this understanding of place has guided him in the design of his architecture.[iv]

The significance of Papua New Guinea is explained by American architect and academic Steven Holl as he explores the idea that sense perception is the basis for knowledge.[v] The degree of influence Papua New Guinea has had on Murcutt can not be measured in numerical terms, however it must be thought of as part of his basic understanding of space and architecture.

When looking at Murcutt’s varying projects it is not uncommon to wonder about the similarities between a Murcutt house and the Australian vernacular, however Murcutt rejects that this “provides any sort of formal model for his homes” which opens the discussion of the inspiration and design of many of his buildings.[vi] It is Philip Drew who draws the parallel between the Papua New Guinean long houses and Murcutt’s designs.[vii] He suggests that Murcutt has inherited the “striking combination of primitive and cultivated or refined qualities in the same building” from the buildings of his childhood. These similarities are obvious in the depiction of the long houses in Figure 2 and the Marie Short house, Figure 3.[viii]

Figure 2: PNG Long Houses

This project, the Marie Short House in Crescent Head, NSW clearly articulates Murcutt’s design philosophy and high regard for the Australian environment. The Marie Short  is considered a turning point of Murcutt’s architecture and the beginning of an identity for Australian architecture.[ix] Drew suggests that the Marie Short House “initiated a primitive treatment of form, a Miesian hut” of Australian architecture, this is echoed by Francoise Fromonot who describes the Marie Short House as “cross fertilization between an essentially modernist architecture […] borrowing from vernacular building”.[x]

Figure 3: Marie Short House

The influence of Murcutt’s childhood “environmental memory” can be traced through the site and climate specific building solutions of the Marie Short House. This building responds to the site through the simple use of limited and practical materials in a way that accommodates the natural environment. This attitude towards practicality and minimal decoration is similar to the vernacular long houses of Papua New Guinea, Drew discusses the “new conception of the house, […] a lightweight pavilion lifted off the ground and open along the sides [being …] closely related to a Pacific Island hut or tent”.[xi] These long houses are elevated simple long rectangular huts with steeply pitched saddle back roofs. The roofing and walls are traditionally made from thatched Kunai grasses and more recently corrugated iron. (see Figure 2)

One of the most interesting aspects of the building is its location on the crest of the land far away from the protection of any trees or other natural elements. The building sits exposed and visible to all aspects of the site. It can be argued that Murcutt’s fear of the dark and residual fear of attack lead him to place the building in the location of the site which had the best vantage point. Murcutt describes the Kuka Kuka people of Papua New Guinea snaking through the Kunai grasses, signaling trouble for his family, “it gave me a sense of fear, all my childhood, the evening, the darkness was when it would strike. And that fear lasted a long time”.[xii] Murcutt says it was only recently, when he returned to Papua New Guinea, that his fear was overcome.

Murcutt’s fear is explained by Heidegger who writes about the phenomenology of place and environment being attributed to the experience of a ‘thing’, in this case the feeling of insecurity and fear, exposing itself to a person.[xiii] He suggests that the phenomenological experience of childhood is powerful enough to carry itself throughout life despite the length of time exposure. Pallasmaa writes that there is a central theme in architecture, “the unconscious fear of death, or the fear of the insignificance of life”; this fear is evident in Murcutt’s design as he deliberately places the Marie Short house on the part of the site with the best vantage point.[xiv] These two views rationalize the significance of Murcutt’s childhood fear on his design philosophy.

Murcutt’s childhood is a significant influence on his design Pallasmaa and Heidegger make clear how the events of one’s childhood can have an unconscious impact on a person. One thing to note about Murcutt, the Marie Short house and his design philosophy, is that he does not consciously look to his childhood for inspiration; it is embedded in his being.

The influence of his life in Papua New Guinea, although short in duration, has clearly had a significant impact on Murcutt, partially rejecting Quantrill’s proposition that “[a]n environmental framework is not only one of space and form, it is also one of time: […] the environmental memory depends upon a “time exposure”.[xv] The siting of the Marie Short house is an emotional response to an experience from childhood which has manifested itself in his design philosophy. Murcutt’s use of “environmental memory” does support Quantrill’s theory in respect of the idea that a single “environmental memory” holds something that appeals to emotion, the fear of being attacked; and something that appeals to reason, the siting of the Marie Short house in the position where the chance for survival is highest.[xvi]

For Murcutt there is a strong and direct connection with his childhood, it is an unconscious knowledge of place and architecture which comes through in his design. For Murcutt there is some conscious knowledge of the influence his childhood is having on a specific design project, Pallasmaa concurs with this idea stating that “our actions are neither accidental nor arbitrary; they contain both conscious and subconscious motives”.[xvii]


[i][xv][xvi] Quantrill, 1987. The Environmental Memory

[ii] Murcutt, Glenn 2008. Transcript: Talking Heads, (Australian Broadcasting Company, Aired June 2nd)

[iii][viii][xi] Drew, 1985. Leaves of Iron

[iv][xii] Murcutt, 2008. Transcript: Talking Heads

[v] Holl, 1996. “Pre-theoretical Ground”

[vi] Farrelly, E. M. 1993. Three Houses: Glenn Murcutt

[vii] Of interest is the fact that Murcutt threatened to sue Drew over the misrepresentation of facts in Drew’s Leaves of Iron publication, however as Murcutt had approved the copy nothing eventuated.

[ix][x] Fromonot, 2003. Glenn Murcutt: Buildings and Projects

[xiii] Heidegger, 1993. Building, Dwelling, Thinking

[xiv][xvi] Pallasmaa, 2001. “The Mind of the Environment”

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Authors Changing Authority -Part II

“Once a social context has become destabilized, writing will help to introduce emergent and competing alternatives (representations) and thereby introduce and stabilize the emerging system.  In such a context, written communication can become highly strategic, controversial, and negotiated at various levels as agents pursue competing and diverse representations.”
Brenton Faber, “Writing and Social Change” 2008.

I began the last article at the first ‘transition’ of communication systems: from oral to written, which happened about 5000 years ago; and I ended up somewhere around the second recognised transition, toward the printing press and the expansion of literacy from its monastic custodians, to scholars, and then the professions.

This post will be about the third transition -which we find ourselves amidst- from print to “computer-mediated” communication, and like the last post, I’ll specifically address how this might be played out in professional and organisation structures.  To cap it off, I’ll explain the empowering usefulness of “critical discourse analysis”, which essentially deals with the analysis and scrutiny of ‘discourses’ (conversations, texts, documents) in order to understand that ‘discursive context’ (ie, when you ‘talk shop’), making it possible to enact change using language, and texts –written by authors.

The reason I’m personally interested in this, as I alluded to in the first part, is that I am undertaking research in the methods of change in the institutions which are responsible for architectural education.

I’ll pick things up again around 1980, when commercial and professional environments undergo massive change because of the implementation of computer processing.  New workplace patterns emerge such as multi-authored documents, non-sequential writing, and multi-modal writing (hand-written and digital working documents), each with particular effects on authors.

Multi-authored documents (such as complicated proposals for funding) could be written non-sequentially (writing in independant segments, rather than start-to-finish) and collaboratively (often having very little contact with collaborators).  Importantly, these authors begin to perceive of their audience (readers) differently, and they begin losing their sense of possessive authorship (ownership).  They realise they are writing for their editor, rather than the targeted audience, which gives rise to an increase in ‘nominalisations’ (vague, generic, ‘normal’ terms) which flood commercial and institutional texts.  They became the mission statements, company bi-lines and corporate banners that make you feel like you’ve read something important.

“What We Stand For: Our Core Beliefs and Values
• Objectivity is the substance of intelligence, a deep commitment to the customer in its forms and timing.”

That’s from the CIA, a gem plucked out by Don Watson in his book ‘Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language’.  He lays out the best nominalisations: accountability, teamwork, commitment, continuous improvement, adapting to our customer needs… blah blah blah.

What is important though –and is an incredible achievement of the corporate world– is that this device became remarkably powerful.  A survey of ‘average’ writers in a corporate environment were found to actually increase the frequency and use of nominalisations when they were addressing or writing for a more senior member of management, or important clients.  When they wrote for an audience ‘below’ their level, they used less.  Ambiguity meant power.

This is reflected in professional rhetoric when a survey of 200 medical articles (across 10 years, by J.Z. Segal, 1993) reveals that authority is obtained through the high use of citation and nominalisations.  This is probably very familiar to anybody who attempts to read formal academic writing in any discipline. You’ll recognise it as ‘wank’, or in the corporate world, as ‘bullshit’.

“Over the coming twelve months we will be enhancing our product offering to bring you new features and access to innovative funds. You can be confident that our commitment is resolute, to make changes that investor’s (sic) value. -Insurance company newsletter.”
This is how Don Watson kicks off his book. Brilliant.

Authors Writing for Change

Authors are empowered by writing, making it possible to enact social change.  This is a position that ‘critical discourse analysis’ makes possible, arguing that by writing we not only reflect social systems, but continually reconstitute them.

“Legally, but also socially and culturally, modern organiszations and professions are the products of written communication.” Faber, 270.

If authors understand the type of writing they’re doing, and ‘where’ they are doing it, they can subversively effect change, by constructing a type of authority.  I think the type of authorship (and authority) I’m talking about now relates to the older term auctor (discussed in the previous article) because it is more about ‘allowing something to grow’, ‘enlarging’, which is also connected to augere (‘to augment’).  Authors plant subversive seeds of change within existing texts or organisations when they are destabilized, to augment change from within -even if they are originally external to them.

“Once a social context has become destabilized, writing will help to introduce emergent and competing alternatives (representations) and thereby introduce and stabilize the emerging system.  In such a context, written communication can become highly strategic, controversial, and negotiated at various levels as agents pursue competing and diverse representations.” -Faber, 271.

Conveniently, Brenton Faber explains this process using the recent commodification of higher education as a case study.  Through the 1990s, Universities were struggling with their image, they could not clearly say (or write) what it was that they did, and so the ‘system’ became destabilised from a discursive point of view, as well as a very practical one.  What happened was a ‘transitional change’ from a sophistic and rhetoric based structure, to a corporate and capitalistic one.  It is succinctly captured by the phrase “education market.”

So how does ‘discursive change’ actually work at a practical level?  Essentially the agent or new author subversively engages in the discourse by hybridising a new genre of language with the old one.  The new language (which is actually in conflict with the old one) is carefully choreographed to be palatable to the existing members of the organisation (otherwise it will be rejected outright), and is then steadily grown or augmented.  The process is so powerful because the instability of the structure is precisely the rationale for the implementation of a new structure, which is administered through discourse.

“…this concept of transitional change occurs in increments or linked steps as prior existent knowledge is disrupted and eventually displaced by small additions that ultimately build into new formations.” Faber, 270.

Faber points out the remarkable clarity of the current Higher Education “co-hyponyms”, which cleverly make new words interchangeable with old ones, even though their meanings and implications are completely different:

knowledge becomes skills, and competencies
students become retailers
facilities become resources
administration become management
education becomes training.

The rationale for this change is hard to argue against, as it coincided with massive governmental pressure on University funding.  The resulting corporate commodification of Higher Education becomes a stronger discourse to defend, ironically, by implementing a discourse based on strategic ambiguity and the absence of precision (Faber, 275 from Connell and Galasinksi, 1998)
The exemplar nominalisation becomes “excellence”.

This is not a pessimistic article.  Critical discourse analysis offers an empowering strategy of discursive wariness, because it recognises (and argues) that these contested structures (which is sometimes calls genre’s or orders of discourse) are formal, everyday, and most importantly improvisational.  As I began, and as discourse theory upholds, writing reflects and constitutes social systems.  It is a fluid structure, which is continually contested, and is subject to community regulation, making it a powerfully democratic system, so long as its members are not subversively suppressed.

Authors Changing

The current transition to, and maturing of ‘computer-mediated’ communication is obviously significant for the author, and for my subject of interest, architecture education.  Systems and practices which attempt to stabilise discourses (whether they are rules, policy, curricula, accreditation criteria) seem to be under a cultural pressure (maybe what Faber calls community regulation) to adapt to practices which undermine their perceived stability, such as versioning, hypertext, blogging, crowd-funding, print-on-demand, and unprecedented degrees of collaborative writing (Wikipedia).

Institutions are slow-moving beasts though, with a stubborn vocabulary, and even the pups are complicit. Architects for example, somehow remain solitary authors, despite ridiculous odds, even despite themselves.

In a Studio session held at a well known architects office yesterday, two students referred to one of the office’s projects as being by the office’s Director (after whom the office is named), the name was even used in the possessive sense of ‘his building’, luckily the namesake wasn’t in the room, unluckily two other –completely unacknowledged– senior architects in the office were. Cringe.  I also heard an architect (at University) describe buildings with no more information than the office who designed them, “His Building”.  Authorship (dubious in the case of a building anyway) in this case was more important than programme, scale, or any description. Cringe.  The audience was not only expected to know what office they were talking about (acronyms and abbreviations are commonplace), but to know exactly what buildings they had designed.  I suspect we were also supposed to be impressed by the speakers knowledge (and our relative stupidity), which is another great strategy for protecting a body of knowledge.
Ironically, my silence so far in both of these situations is complicit to the discourse I pretend to be resisting, because “it is important to acknowledge that disciplinarity per se does not rest on a commonly accepted body of rules, but rather is definied by shifting frontiers between negotiable terms, appropriations, misunderstandings and misalignments that nevertheless allow certain identities to emerge.
-Architecture and Authorship. 2007

It seems important then, for myself at least, to understand a discourse like ‘architecture education’ and ‘the architecture profession’ more thoroughly, and become both adept and acrobatic in its everyday negotiation and improvisation.  If only to be more wary, strategically wanky, and honest about my bullshit, because everybody’s shit stinks.

I have essentially summarised ideas from the following articles, most of which are in Bazerman’s fantastic reader.  My referencing above does not do them justice at all, in fact I am more of an ‘editor’ than an author here, but I suspect you would rarely picked up a book with so many vague and possibly boring words in the title, so I felt obliged to share what I think are quite relevant ideas, particularly as a Freeranger.
Reading Material:

“History of the Book, Authorship, Book Design, and Publishing” by David Finkelstein, in:
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text.
Edited by Charles Bazerman.  Taylor & Francis, 2008.

Anne Beaufort, “Writing in the Professions” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Dorothy E. Smith, Catherine F. Schryer, “On Documentary Society” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Brenton Faber, “Writing and Social Change” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Architecture and Authorship
Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner, Rolf Hughes. Black Dog Publishing, 2007

Death Sentence: The decay of public language
Don Watson. Knopf, 2003.

 

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Authors Constructing Authority

Books have always been directly associated with authority and power.  The history of the ‘book’, their authors, and their authority is a small thread of a larger project about professional institutions and the ways they instrumentalise authorship and authority to obtain certain goals, in the case of my research: changing architecture education.  Over the next two blogs (the follow-up will come tomorrow), I’ll discuss some reading I’ve been doing on the history of the book, and then apply this to some contemporary contexts in the hope of understanding a little bit more about institutional authority, and the practice of writing for change.

My recent reading (I wont get into footnoting with any rigour, rather I have a few books listed at the end which I’ve been looking at) started out pretty predictably, looking historically at the rise of the book and any association it might have with authority and professions.

Things kicked off between 3000BC and 3500 in Egypt and Sumeria, when the first ‘shift’ occurs from an oral to a written system of communication.  This signals a shift to a specific type of mark-making (recording of certain information), which these researchers (Bazerman et al -see below) link primarily to economic trade, ownership, and eventually politics rather than a narrative or literary need.  So for example, if you were going to swap some goats with Osiris, you could record the trade, and claim new ownership.  This was useful as things were getting more complicated in ‘urban’ (more populous) areas with sophisticated agricultural development and trade.  Recorded ‘writing’ becomes an encoded way to make a power play, and uphold it.

So quite predictably, I also delve into some etymological research in an attempt to understand the seemingly obvious connection between the words author and authority.
It seems that the Latin-to-French auctor is the fork in the road of the two, happening around the 12C.  The older Latin root auctoritas connects to the idea of an ‘authority figure’, with terms like ‘invention’, ‘advice’ and ‘influence’ being significant.  It wouldn’t be until the 14C that the meaning ‘power to enforce obedience’ would be used, such as auctorite (prestige, dignity, gravity, right), and autorite (the ‘c’ dropped to imitate the French usage) referring to a book or quotation that would settle an argument – which fits in with the uptake of literacy and reading by acadmia/scholarship in the 12C, and the ‘professions’ in the 13C.

On the author side of auctor, the Latin root auctorem, and with it, auctus and augere refer to ‘one who causes to grow (eventually ‘augment’) or increase, an ‘enlarger’ or ‘founder’.  By the 14C it is used in the common sense as ‘one who sets forth a written document’ (coming after the two mentioned expansions of literacy in liberated (secular) scholarship and commercial professions).

Until the advent of the printing press in the 15C, the written word is sacred.  Protected by monasteries during the Dark Ages (a mighty innings from the 5C to the 11th) the practice of writing and publishing is carefully and skillfully upheld for centuries.  The practice becomes increasingly specialised, with spaces (scriptoria) and specialists dedicated to calligraphy, others to script, others to binding, and so on.  If there was ‘authorship’ (as we know it now), it would be described as collective, with little status accorded to any individual.

To reproduce – to replicate a text – was an exacting and esteemed task, reserved for the most significant words.  Clearly inherited from the status of oratory performance, the word itself held almost mystical power. The recording of the written word therefore is understandably volatile and daring, laying down such weight was an immensely powerful tool.

In 1448, the Gutenberg press rips it apart, to their disgust and imaginable disapproval.  Like Victor Hugo, they cried that this shall kill that.  Within 50 years the printing press has spread across Europe.  The Crown and Tudors got amongst it in the UK where they suppressed “seditious and heretical literature” by essentially controlling the publishing market for a couple of hundred years until the 1700s: an early (or the first?) attempt to monopolise the printed media for political gain.

From here print essentially internationalises.  News, events, (Bibles and newspapers for the colonies -New Zealand for example was printing by 1814, with an expanded programme of newspapers by the 1840s) spread the world much faster and in greater volume, and literary culture becomes increasingly central in the development of societies and nation-states around the world.

“Printing engaged writers in a manner that was different from previous scribal activity. It also undermined previous social beliefs in authorship as part of an established, collective authority – no longer were they merely cogs in an ecclesiastical wheel.”


This “preoccupation with the individualised authorial agency” signals a crucial shift in the practice of authors in the construction of authority.


“Printing shifted communication structures by being able to duplicate exact copies of texts very quickly, so allowing knowledge to be transferred more efficiently and more reliably across time and space. In the second place, this “fixing” of print would become a key factor in establishing authority and trust in the figures (authors) who produced these works.” -Finkelstein.

Tomorrow’s bit will drag this through the last hundred years of authorship and authority.

Some reading:

“History of the Book, Authorship, Book Design, and Publishing” by David Finkelstein, in:
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text.
Edited by Charles Bazerman.  Taylor & Francis, 2008.

The Book History Reader, 2nd Edition

Edited by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery.

New York: Routledge, 2006 (2002)

Architecture and Authorship
Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner, Rolf Hughes. Black Dog Publishing, 2007

And for a bit of theory, you can’t go passed Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” (1967), and Michel Foucault’s reply “What is an Author?” (1968 I think), who both contribute significantly to the theoretical and socio-cultural analysis of the idea.

 

 

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Congress Book

This is the first attempt to document the amazing history of student architecture congress that has run from 1963 (ish) till today.  The event has moved around New Zealand, Australia, and PNG and amazing survived without any overarching parent organization while attracting some of the worlds most interesting speakers and architects.

This book is the hurried result of research gathered over the last few weeks (and in a way the last few years, and decades), which sets out to remind stu-dents who are attending Flux, in Adelaide in 2011, that student-led Congress has a long and marvel-lously incohesive (and sometimes incoherent) history in Australasia. It dates back – at least we think – to 1963, when some New Zealand students invited Aldo van Eyck to Auck-land to talk about the Social Aspects of New Housing. An organised mass gathering of architecture students has happened somewhere around New Zealand or Australia at least thirty times since.This modest & messy booklet is the start of a larger project to more coherently collect and productively re-flect on the residue of Congress in Australasia. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

Click here for free download

 

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