Tag Archives: Architecture

Save the Hundertwasser Gallery in Whangarei

I am seeking people to support a letter to the Whangarei District Councillors that are attempting to kill of the Hundertwasser Art Gallery Project in a council meeting tomorrow.  Please read this description and details are below.

A long planned (and debated) gallery designed by the late international Artist Hundertwasser is in danger of being dumped by the Whangarei District Council after some Councillors have put forward a proposal to remove it from the annual plan.  Their logic in doing this is that people have not been consulted about the project, yet they are trying to remove it from a document that will go for public consultation.

This is a project that offers huge financial and cultural opportunity for Whangarei, it has been supported by the last two mayoral candidates, the two sitting northland MPs Phil Heatley and Shane Jones (from both sides of the house) support the project.  Financial analysis of the project by Deloitte supports the councils position. A recent poll run by the local newspaper shows significant popular support for the project. And yet at a council meeting tomorrow a number of Councillors will attempt to vote this project out of the plan.

The total cost of the project is $13 million, of this the council has agreed to fund $8 million and a further $5 million will be raised seperately. $2 million of this amount has already being raised for the project.

One Councillor has stated that this money would be better spent on roads. To give a comparison the Wellsford to Puhoi road project is estimated to cost $760 million dollars, and the recently finished Te Matau a Pohe bridge cost $32 million dollars.

Another Councillor is worried this project will leave the WDC in a similar state to the Kaipara Council after that council misinvested in a sewerage project. The original budget for that project was $35 million and the total cost became $60 million. This is a small project compared to this and the construction of an art gallery is very predictable compared to a major sewerage system.

Spending $8 million on an Cultural project that will make Whangarei an international destination is a prudent decision and the current motion to cancel the project is unwise.

More about the project can be read here: http://www.wdc.govt.nz/FacilitiesandRecreation/Town-Basin/Pages/Hundertwasser-Art-Centre.aspx

If you would like your name attached to a letter that I am sending to the council to reject the motion being put forward by the Councillors: “That the Hundertwasser project not be included in this year’s annual plan and that staff be instructed to remove all reference to the Hundertwasser project in forthcoming workshops and annual plan drafts.” as being undemocratic and unwise can you please email me barnaby@projectfreerange.com tonight.

I will send the email first thing in the morning.  Can you please include your name and any fancy sounds positions you might hold. Also be great if you could say whether you grew up or had a connection to Whangarei.

 

 

 

FESTA Free Rangers

Remarkable things will happen during Labour weekend at FESTA whether you’re a solo festival butterfly or more of a pack animal. There’s bound to be something to get your juices flowing (literally, don’t miss getting your sweat on in the Nomadic Sauna).

The annual Festival of Transitional Architecture is a free, public event that engages with the city of Christchurch (New Zealand) by exploring urban regeneration through large scale collaborative projects and urban interventions. It is the first and only festival of its kind in the world.

Over the course of Labour Weekend events, performances and projects happen across empty sites and in vacant buildings within the city’s four avenues, reintroducing life and urban activity to the centre. This rediscovery of the inner city invites a variety of collective investigations into the nature of civic life and opens it up to the community’s desire to participate in the remaking of their city.  www.festa.org.nz

After the huge success of the inaugural FESTA last year, when 30,000 people swarmed to Luxcity, it’s great to know that Jessica Halliday returns as Director Extraordinaire, and with their stellar crew, FESTA is looking conspicuously like THE Festival to be at this year.

Chief Egg of the Freerange Pirate ship, Barnaby Bennett, is currently the Chair of the FESTA Board, and he’s been a relentless captain of advocacy and awesomeness for Christchurch. It’s not surprising then, that a fair few Freerange Captains couldn’t resist charting a course for the City Within A City.

 

Here’s a quick rundown of a few places to catch up with a Free Ranger at FESTA.

On Friday I’ll be hanging out in the Pallet Pavilion at Anissa Victoria’s Twilight Vintage Market from 4pm, from there you can pick up some of my new drawings if that kind of thing tickles your fancy. The Twilight Market will be stocked with interesting finds, good food, a bar, and live music, the perfect reason to wander through the blue fortress at dusk before things go crazy on Saturday.

 

Dusting off after Casual Friday, Barnaby Bennett will be hosting Urban T(act)ics, an open discussion with Chris Morley-Hall (founder of the Cuba Street Carnival), Federico Monsalve (Freerange director and design writer), James Coyle (architect/musician, Newtown Festival, Wellington),  Lucinda Hartley (director and co-founder of Co-design, Melbourne), and myself. Urban T(act)ics will be a chance for “groups and individuals doing similar work in Christchurch to learn lessons from other cities and to meet people curious about what is happening here. All presenters work in organisations that have influence in their city but not as part of government, and will reflect on how their work can be considered an action, activity or tactic within the city.

From there, Big Saturday gets huge, with the itchy anticipation of the main event, Canterbury Tales, building to a crescendo of surreal satisfaction.  Clink your glasses, see you in the morning!

 

The Sunday Sesh warms up with an all ages drawing workshop I’ll be running called Supernova City. Inspired by dream cartographers of the city, the workshop will work collectively to make drawings and traces of the city as we experience it, blurring past memories and future dreams on the same massive canvas. We’ll be at the Pallet Pavilion from 10-2pm, I’ll be posting our progress up on Facebook and Twitter (@byronkinnaird and @FreerangePress), hashtag drawing, hashtag cant wait!

The first ever gathering in the flesh of the Freerange Directors seems almost too good to be true (and it might not be true), but we’ll be getting together to launch Freerange Vol.7: The Commons at 6pm at 88 Worcester Street, one of the Canterbury Tales sites.  This issue is hugely relevant to Christchurch, so drop by to celebrate in Commons style with us.

 

There are seriously so many things to get involved in over the long weekend, check out the full programme, there’s bound to be something to do whether its learning about the Arches or the Pallet Pavillion, building a house, or meeting the puppets.

 

Full programme here.

www.festa.org.nz

Voices for Equity in the Profession.

It is the last week to provide feedback to a set of important gender equity guidelines being developed in Australia for the architecture profession.

The commentary and resources published by Parlour and their researchers are formidable, and their conference Transform earlier this year was the most engaging I had been to in a long time. Parlour is probably the most important and articulate voice in the profession right now, and they want to talk to you.

It’s immediately clear that a great deal of care, experience, and intelligence has gone into these guidelines. I believe Neph Wake and Naomi Stead are to thank for the hard yards in producing these documents (please correct me if I’m wrong), which is yet another significant outcome of the parent project ‘Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work and Leadership’ funded by the Australian Research Council through the Linkage Projects scheme, made so much more accessible thanks to Parlour, edited by the “effective” Justine Clark. (This wonderfully cryptic and completely deserved title was recently used to introduce Justine).

They explain:

The Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice are being developed to help architectural workplaces facilitate change towards a more equitable profession. Aimed both at employers and employees, the guidelines will address the specificities of small, medium, large and regional practice. They will provide hints and tips, and guides to thinking on a range of issues relevant to the architecture profession in Australia today.

As tailored as these are for the culture of the architecture profession, these really have relevance to all workplaces, so if these issues ring true, regardless of your professional penchant, I’d recommend a good sit down with these.

The ten Draft Guidelines address:

1. Pay equity: Moving towards equal pay between women and men in architecture.

2. Leadership: How to promote and support women to senior roles in architecture.

3. Recruitment: Equitable recruitment and hiring diverse talent in architecture.

4. Mentorship: Mentors, sponsors and career champions in architecture.

5. Negotiation: Negotiating flexible working conditions in architecture.

6. Long hours: Challenging the long-hours culture in architecture.

7. Part-time: Meaningful part-time work in architecture.

8. Flexibility: Making flexible patterns work in architecture.

9. Career break: Returning from parental leave and other career breaks in architecture.

10. Registration: Supporting women who choose to register in as architects.

11… Parlour also offers suggestions for other areas they haven’t already addressed.

 

If you can, these drafted guidelines should be devoured at length, they are highly addictive and very readable. Even if you take a crack at two or three of the issues close to you heart, it’s worth offering your contribution this way as the online form below allows specific feedback to each individual theme, so every bit counts.

You can download the Draft Guidelines here, and link to the feedback form on that page. Following consultation, the finalised Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice will be published later this year.

www.archiparlour.org

Why a completely new Arts Precinct in Christchurch is a stupid idea.

The local newspaper the Press has recently published several articles (here, here, and here) arguing why it is in the best interests of the city to demolish the Town Hall and put the insurance money into a new arts precinct.  I think this is a very misinformed view that seems to be based almost entirely on information from press releases from the office of Gerry Brownlee.   I’d ask that if The Press is going to weigh in with a strong editorial position on the city, they should, at the least, do their homework.  This article argues the case against a new large arts precinct.

[I would like to compare the editorialising of the Press to a recent article in the NZ Herald  about the St. James building in Auckland. It consists of actual research, interviews, and factual information.]

In my view any decision to demolish the Christchurch Town Hall is more than likely to lead to a new development that will: A. take longer to build than it will to repair the current Town Hall, B. be more expensive, and C. be of a lower quality.

Before explaining these a little bit of background:

In the middle of 2012 the government launched its blueprint for the city, and one of the anchor projects in this blueprint was a new arts precinct.  This precinct was based on an assumption that the Town Hall was unrepairable, and that the $70 million dollars of insurance money from this should go to the new arts precinct.

In November last year the Christchurch City Council was asked to vote on whether they would pay for the full repair of the building which was estimated to be around $127 million dollars.   After some public discussion and lobbying by groups (including one I am part of) who argued for the unique heritage, arts, and civic values of the building, the council voted unanimously (!) to pay for the full repair.  The decision was based on overwhelming support for the retention of the building in the public submission for council city plan.

The Minister in charge of Earthquake Reconstruction, Gerry Brownlee, was obviously unhappy with the decision and said all sorts of half-truths to undermine the decision (which I have previously commented on here and here). In the large cost-sharing agreement between the council and CERA that was announced in July, the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct have been passed from CERA to the Council to develop (with ultimate approval from the Minister).

A short time after this cost sharing agreement the Council ran a full public meeting about the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct outlining the work they have been doing and their recommendations.   On Tuesday the 14th of August the plans and costings for the new recommendations were made public and presented to the elected councillors.  The recommendation is that the Christchurch Town Hall is fully repaired at a cost of around $127.5 million which includes large contingencies, and around $40 million to be spent on a new arts precinct to house space for the CSO, new Court Theatre, and the Christchurch Centre for Music.

Contrary to some commentary there has been very clear decision-making about this from the Councils position.  In November last year they voted, based on popular support and expert opinion, to keep the building. This year staff members and consultants have been working on: A. what needs repairing, B. what needs upgrading. C. how long it will take, and D. How much this will cost.

A ‘final’ vote will be made by council on the 29th of this August to pick which option to proceed with.

All this information can be downloaded here from the council. [full status of Christchurch Town Hall and Arts Precinct Projects]

I would like to make a note comparing the clarity and rigour of this process with the complete opacity of the other CERA led projects.  We don’t even know the brief for the other projects like the public river park, the convention centre, or the stadium.

To explain my claim that demolishing the Town Hall and replacing it with anew precinct will lead to a slower, more expensive, and lower quality outcome here is a better explanation:

Note: The following points are made on some assumption that if we are going to knock down a world-class building we need to replace it with something of equivalent quality.   I have based my comparison on recent world-class concert halls.  We currently have an internationally recognized venue (with full repair plan and money set aside to pay for it) so it’s fair to compare to the equivalent contemporary projects.  (I’d be interested to see any examples that provide counter arguments.)

A. The executive director of the CSO Richard Ballantyne was in the paper this week stating that the 4-year repair is too long and will affect the running of the CSO.   Does he really think a new arts precinct, for which the land is not even purchased and the brief isn’t even written yet will be ready in less than four years?   History doesn’t support him.

  • The Christchurch Town Hall itself was built on time and under budget and took 6 years from Warren and Mahoney winning the competition till opening.  It opened in 1972.
  • The Copenhagen Concert Hall is smaller than the Town Hall and took 6 years to construct.  (From start of construction, so doesn’t include the long design and pre-construction processes).  This building opened in 2009.
  • The Disney Concert Hall in L.A took 15 years to construct.   (The car-park alone cost $110 million and took 9 years!) The building was constructed between 1999 and 2003.
  • The Casa Da Musica in Lisbon by OMA took 6 years from the announcement of the winner of the design competition, and was opened in 2005.

These examples illustrate that it is naïve to think we can have a new world-class facility within four years. Especially when this is going to be happening in the middle the biggest building boom in NZ history.

B. $160 million dollars sounds like a lot of money.  It is a lot of money.  It really is a lot of money. $127.5 million to fix a building is a lot of money.  But the critical point that needs to be stressed here is that $160 million isn’t much for a world-class facility to be constructed (esp. in the middle of a construction boom). The costs for the buildings mentioned above are: Copenhagen Concert Hall (which is smaller than the Town Hall) was US$300 million dollars, the Disney Concert Hall was US$274 million, and the Casa Da Mucisa cost 500 milllion euros (the amount it went over budget was the total amount we would have to build a new building).   The idea that we can get a facility anywhere near the class of what we have already for this money is deeply questionable.  Demolishing a great building and then trying to quickly and cheaply get a new facility up and running is recipe for cultural ruin.

The CERA led campaign to demolish the Town Hall frequently states that the ground quality below the Town Hall is ‘the worst in the city’.  It did suffer from lateral spread and this has damaged the building.  However the proposed site of the new arts precinct is in worse condition and will be an expensive exercise to build there.  The engineers have come up with an injection method which will stabilise the ground and bring the building up to 100% of contemporary code.

C.   There is a commonly used project management rule of thumb that a project can be delivered quickly, cheaply, and to a high quality, but that you can only get one or two of these aspects, not all three.  The task of managing a project is to pick the most appropriate factors (after the quakes, speed was obviously the most important factor). Given the obvious need to get good quality venues into the city, speed is important, and given that we have only $160 million to spend on a building, budget is a problem.  This leaves the obvious conclusion that quality will be the first victim of this process.  Given that we have a quality building already in the city it seems obvious that demolishing an existing project is not wise.  (And that’s not even accounting for the important heritage and civic value of the building).

The Town Hall was innovative when it was built in 1972.  It is an exemplary building of a global architectural movement. The acoustics were the first of its kind and have been copied around the world.  It is an award winning, internationally recognized, and important building.  You might think it is ugly. That’s fine.  It has more international status than any other building in the country.   The new plans developed by the firm Warren and Mahoney, in conjunction with the original architects, upgrades the building to all new fire, services, and earthquake codes.  Problems such as the back stage entry and accessibility will be fixed with new extensions and interventions.  This is not just a repair but a major upgrade of the building. Buildings age and the demands on them change with time, so the opportunity to spend substantial sums adapting this building for another 50 or 100 years of use is a great one.  In my mind the question should not be whether we demolish and start again, but how to best adapt the Town Hall for future use.

It is easy to put up a nice argument and say we can have our old tired Town Hall or a new shiny arts precinct.   But its more accurate to say we can have a repaired, refurbished, modernized Town Hall that we know is a world class facility, or we can take a huge risk of hoping for some design and construction miracle to deliver something quickly with little money of the same quality.

The whole mantra of this reconstruction is that we are building for future generations, and this means we have to be prudent and wise with our decisions and not make big risky gambles.

Note: My last comment would be that we should now turn our attention to making sure the smaller $40 million dollar arts precinct fulfills its potential.   We need to make sure that it is a public facility that supports the arts across the whole city. I worry that it is becoming home to a few large organisations and won’t support a wider accessibility to arts. The brief for this new centre is based off an audit done by CCDU in secret that is not publically available.  So we are making $40 million dollar decisions on information citizens can’t access. It’s crazy.

The CCDU have actually done a bit of a dirty job with the arts precinct, and given them a bit of land south of the river between Gloucester and Armagh to use for this project.  The land north of Armagh would have been much better in my opinion. It would have had north facing river frontage, be next to Victoria Square, which will be something of a cultural centre, and would be next to the Town Hall.  Again, this is the type of strange decision-making happening in this city. Major urban planning decisions being made by an organisation with no public accountability.

Perhaps the Press should be concentrating on the radical lack of public input into urban planning in this city rather than lobbying for the demolition of our cultural heritage?

Recommendations:

  1. We need a proper audit of the arts needs of the city to see what the city needs and how the council can best assist that with facilities.
  2. The function of James Hay theatre should be reviewed and perhaps requires a radically different design that offers more variety and easy reconfiguration.
  3. The CCC should be lobbying CERA to get the piece of land next to the river so the arts precinct can be close to the Town Hall and designed around the river.

Grow Shelter Dos

[information_box]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.[/information_box]

 

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

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.

How do we harness trust?

TRUST:

1. To let someone in your lives.

2. To give information

3. To be vulnerable.

Without trust where will we be?

Living in Christchurch I have observed many businesses operating from home.

I love this!

PhotoMan, Tadakki Kusaka formerly photographing tourists outside the Cathedral in Cathedral Square, Christchurch – Now on 233 Waimairi Road, Ilam, Christchurch Ph: +64274374113 OPEN 7 DAYS

BUSINESS

These people having their flag, their business card hang high. The many signs on the streets of Christchurch: – Haircuts – Architectural Design – Fashion Design – Passport Photos A complete range of signs, some hand painted; really connecting the sign to that person, that business. I’m thinking small business not big business, thinking local business in my neighbourhood and not 30 minutes away in the city centre. I’m also thinking I’ll support thy neighbour and perhaps they will support me – Community!

1) Plants for sale in my neighbourhood Beckenham, Christchurch 2) Architects Stuart Manning’s Studio above a garage beside his house in Somerfield, Christchurch

INTERVIEW

I interviewed a range of businesses earlier in the year; Stuart Manning Architects, the PhotoMan, and Briar Cook from Rethreads Clothing Label. I presented the information at the recent SHAC Conference in May 2012 – www.shac.org.nz . Asking the audience whether we should have a network of skills in our neighbourhood? The overwhelming answer was yes.

I ask Briar Cook from Rethreads, What is it like working from home? Briar Responds, “People are beginning to know I’m here. It’s just easier as time goes on.” facebook.com/rethreadsnz

OVERWHELMED

Since the earthquake I have been overwhelmed by trust. Attending an art exhibition from a home two houses down from me. I went inside.

A displaced Gallery now selling artwork from their home, open to the public. Let’s support art from innovative spaces, let’s support emerging artists. Another link: facebook.com/artexplore I was wowed by the fact ‘High St Galleries’ were in my backyard – a gallery two doors down. And the trust this family had to let strangers through their house to view art. Viewing art amongst the kitchen and lounge – in its true state of place perhaps. This innovative space, people drinking wine and eating cheese like a fine art gallery, though in a home -these elements trans-placed to the home.

How do we harness this trust?

Heart Your Institution

Earlier in August, the Australian Institute of Architects (‘the Institute’) deployed, analysed, and published the “Graduate Survey 2012” so that they could “develop programs and initiatives to suit the specific needs of this demographic.” It is an important initiative for the Institute because any representative group should regularly take stock of the experiences and expectations of its members, as this should inform quite explicitly what an institution should be focusing its resources and energy on while also maintaining momentum in their core trajectory, which in the case of architects, usually reads something like ‘promoting the value of architects’ and ‘promoting the value of architecture and design in improving the quality of the our lives’.

It’s worth analysing that the Institute, and similar national representative organisations, like the New Zealand Institute of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects, are a membership-driven representative group of practicing (or aspiring) architects, meaning their advocacy is prioritized to the experiences, needs, quality of life, and professional sustainability of architects.

This differs slightly, but importantly, from other institutions and groups such as the Danish Architecture Centre, Netherlands Architecture Institute, and the Wellington Architectural Centre, whose advocacy prioritizes the promotion, dissemination and education of architecture as a social and cultural aspiration benefitting the general population’s experiences, needs and quality of life.

Of course both types of groups work substantially and passionately for the advocacy of architects and architecture because they are naturally interwoven, but their differences exist, and are played out more forcefully when resources are scarce.

When the body gets cold, blood leaves the extremities to keep the center warm.

An important canary down the mine-shaft of institutionalisation is membership convergence. In my experience, these two types of groups differ wonderfully if you characterize their membership. The New Zealand Institute of Architects for example is a large and increasingly coherent group, but are expensive to join, and you’re probably indifferent about why you’re joining anyway. The Wellington Architectural Centre has a small, and colourful membership, are cheap to join, and because you doubted joining in the first place, are a much more motivated member of the Centre.

What I want you to consider then, is when it does get cold out, and the air is getting rank (to recklessly mix metaphors), are you at the heart of your institution, or will you find yourself out on a limb, freezing your tits off.

Ducks (and Architecture) in Christchurch

[medium_button_center type=”red” link=”http://www.nzia.co.nz/competitions.aspx” text=”The Christchurch branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects is running a competition to design a temporary relocatable pavilion in Christchurch with $30,000 that the Auckland branch generously fundraised. Click here for details. “]

It closes soon but I encourage anyone with interesting ideas and the time to enter.

It is a peculiar brief that demands some radical creativity to transcend it.    Three of the five goals of the brief are about the promotion of: architecture, architects, the local branch, and the New Zealand Institutes of Architects.  One is for it to be relocatable, and the last for it to be usable by other groups.  Incongruously, the brief asks that the project provide weatherproof and secure space for exhibitions, and that the exhibitions be able to be viewed by the public after hours and without anyone resident.  This is a great design challenge.

In light of the enormously generous projects that have popped up around Christchurch that provide physical and cultural amenity for the city such as neighbourhood water fountains, dance spaces, free cinemas, petanque courts and a new cross-city mini golf course, it seems extraordinary that the primary goal of this building is to promote architecture and NZIA.   We might as well install a giant sign saying THIS IS ARCHITECTURE.

Although, perhaps this is an enlightened challenge to the architects and designers of our times. What is architecture about architecture? Is this possible? Is it is an oxymoron?  What is the function of a building that primary purpose is to promote architecture?

We all know that this city is in desperate need of good architecture, and to develop a culture that promotes and understands the role that design can play in making this an even more beautiful and liveable city.    But I’m not sure if we need architecture that is about architecture.   It reaks of the eighties.    One of the great post-modern texts on architecture called Learning From Las Vegas says there are two types of building.  The first, Decorated Sheds are generic buildings with expensive and expressive signage that communicate its function; think service stations, the warehouse, and even the new gallery in Christchurch. The later is The Duck, which raises the symbolism of what it is to the architecture, at its most literal a duck is building that sells ducks, a giant hot dog that sells hot dogs, a building with a steeple that reaches to the sky is obviously a church, you get the idea.

Should the pavilion be a duck or a decorated shed?  Well to answer that we need to understand its function. What is this building for?  To promote architecture with exhibitions about architecture by architects.  Its all spirals into self-referentiality;  I can’t help but think the first exhibition will just have pictures of the building inside it, will those pictures have little pictures of the pictures that are in the building in the pictures?

Perhaps we should just build a giant duck that acts as a building, and it can sell little bath-sized-duck-buildings.  This surely is what the brief is asking for, this giant duck will once and for all convince the public on the need for good quality architecture.

Has the NZIA  demonstrated an extraordinary inability to connect with reality. Look at all the suffering, people living in garages, extraordinary high flu rates, destroyed heritage buildings, angry red zoned people, a council that has lost its democratic powers, a broke and broken university, a bully with dictatorship powers ruling the city, inefficient and non-communicating layers of government control; eqc, sera, council, and the strange sense that its the Insurance Companies with their $20 billion mountain of cash that is making the calls in this process.  All this and the architects of the country think the most important way to spend $30,000 is to design architecture about architecture.  Its like the organisation that represents architects like to think that architecture isn’t political.

Now, I would enter this competition. You think I’d be the sort of person they’d want to enter this competition.  I’ve been involved in the design and fabrication of complex contemporary pavilions in both Melbourne and Sydney, won design awards in NZ, Australia, and Europe,  worked on the design of temporary builds for the Rio Olympics, and now I’m doing a PHD looking at the emergence of temporary architecture in post-earthquake Christchurch.  But the rules of this competition state you either need to be a member of the local branch of the NZIA or team up with one.  So not only is it an architecture about architecture by the institute of architecture; only people associated with the institute of architecture can enter the competition.  Which is funny given how few of the amazing projects that have arisen since the earthquakes have any architects involved with them.

This is either a remarkably self-serving display by the NZIA, or a move of critical genius designed to facilitate much needed discussion about the role of architecture in the rebuild.  The latter seems unlikely, but then the former is too depressing to contemplate. I don’t know what to believe.

The only thing I have any confidence is that we can, on occasions, do brilliant design, and that there will be some people much less cynical than me who will push their way through this peculiar brief and propose a building that contributes meaningfully to what is happening to Christchurch at the moment.

I also have confidence that the judges will know what this is when they see it.

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”