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Melbourne Shopping Centre

Australian Architecture
To be good or to be different?

Australia is a very creative place. Ironically, this is one of the main reasons why Australia doesn’t have a reputation for a strong culture. Specifically, culture is typically recognised as a commonality between people. In Europe and Asia, the commonality is obvious in buildings that look similar, cuisine that tastes alike and people who dress in similar ways. In Australia; however, individuals have broken free of this commonality to find some expression of their own. Sometimes they have broken free as an adaption to local environmental circumstances that have made imported traditional styles seem inappropriate.  Sometimes they have broken free to express certain values that revise what they have been traditionally taught. Sometimes the have broken free to find some kind of individuality that helps them feel like a human, not a clone. No where is this more obvious than in Australian architecture. Sometimes the creativity produces an ugly dogs breakfast that makes onlookers wish that architects were inclined to follow a cultural recipe. At other times; however, the creativity truly shows the benefits of creativity recipies of their own.

 

Venice Melbourne

Italian design versus Australian design (Venice and Melbourne). In Italy, as in much of Europe, architectural styles were established hundreds of years ago and there has been little revision since. Australia has been in a constant state of change.

Australian architecture responding to the environment

In 2002, Glen Murcutt won the Pritzker Prize (like Noble prize for architecture) for his ability to engage with the local environment. Murcutt's design is guided by a philosophy to touch the world lightly. To do this, he takes takes the understatement of the bush shacks and infuses into them the refined concepts of modern architecture. Murcutt pays close attention to the movement of the sun, moon, and seasons in order to harmonise his buildings with the movement of light and wind. This interior of modernity and refinement makes a strange juxtaposition with the exterior of heritage and toughness.

Kempsey shorthouse
Glen Murcutt - Kempsey shorthouse

Greg Burgess’ Uluru Cultural Centre also demonstrated a response to the local environment with the use of materials and design, but it also weaved in a cultural response formed by engaging with the locals of the area.

Greg Burgess - Uluru Cultural Centre

Jan Utzon’s Sydney Opera House was interesting in that it was a completely unique design for an activity (attending Operas) that was completely alien to most of the local population, but a design that seem to resonate so widely with the people that it became an icon. To some people, the Opera House reminded them of shells that they might find when walking along Sydney's beaches. To others, the Opera House reminded them of the boats that sail in Sydney harbour. Although there was disagreement about what the Opera House was meant to symbolise, everyone was in agreement that the design was in harmony with the Sydney landscape.

Sydney Opera House

Very few Sydney residents like the Opera. Nevertheless, the Sydney Opera House has become symbolic of the city.

Australian architecture expressing values

Design often expresses values in response to the social conditions of the day. For example, when Governor Macquarie arrived in Australia, he found a society divided between free settlers and Emancipists. To reduce conflict, Macquarie asked Convict architect Francis Greenway to design buildings that would encourage pride in the colony. Greenway implemented Macquarie's vision with solid brick constructions that conveyed an underlying theme of strength and permanency. Notable works included the Macquarie Lighthouse, Hyde Park Barracks, the Female Factory in Parramatta, the District Courts, St James Church, Queen's Square, and St Matthews Church.

Francis Greenway - Hyde Park Barracks, part of a building program that aimed to make the penal colony seem like a home, not an ephemeral prison.

In more recent times, Parliament House provides an interesting expressing of values. In most countries, the design of the house of parliament aims to express power of the people who reside inside. Instead of expressing domineering symbolism, Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp architects wanted to reflect the Australian national spirit by expressing that the community was more powerful than the government. To do this, they designed wide lawn arches rose over the building to allow the people to climb on top of their government, thus symbolising their power over it.

Parliamenthousecanberra

Parliament House aims to find a harmony with local landscape and Australian culture. The public can climb over lawn arches to be on top of the politicians below.

The High Court of Australia, by architect Chris Kringas, is another building that aims to communicate egalitarian values but it does so in a very different wayto Parliament House. It is in the Brutalist style, which was associated with socialist utopian ideology because it emphasised unpretentious, low cost, functional structures. From the 1950s to 1980s, Brutalism gained wide support in Communist Countries and in the ranks of Canberra’s urban planners but usually ended up alienating the end users.

Just as the egalitarianism of Communist countries mutated into an idea that all are equal but some are more equal than others, so did the symbolism of the High Court. The strong, firm lines convey power and the Brutalist style symbolises equality before the law however, the elevation of the justices above the public symbolised their superiority over them. If the High Court had followed similar principles to Parliament House, it may have elevated the public viewing above the justices so that they looked down upon them, signalling that justices served the people, not ruled over them.

The High Court of Australia; designed in the Brutalism style. Whereas once Brutalism used to have an association with socialist utopianism, it is now associated with totalitarianism.

Australian architecture responding to history

In Australia, land use patterns in the cities have greatly changed over the last 200 years. As the patterns have changed, old buildings have been redesigned to suit contemporary needs. Examples include Melbourne Shopping Centre where a glass dome has been built over a 19th century brick shot tower, the old VB brewery in Melbourne being converted to apartments, the Waverly Park Football Ground being converted to a housing estate, and warehouses in Hobart built for the whaling industry being redeveloped to house galleries, restaurants, nightspots and shops.

The feeling that previous generations have left traces of the past is arguably one of the most attractive features of Australian architectures because the traces provide a sense of continuity and attachment. Furthermore, they provide a feeling of evolving heritage. Not only is the evolving heritage intriguing in itself, it also fosters an appreciation for the creativity that was able to link multiple generations in architecture. Ironically, the diversity of heritage has a way of giving many Australian cities a greater sense of history than some European cities that had their external architecture designed centuries ago, and haven't seen much change ever since. In a sense, Australian cities show multiple chapters of a book, whereas many European cities only show one.

Melbourne Shopping Centre, a glass dome built over a 19th century brick shot tower has become a city icon.

Victoria Brewery

Brewery conversion

How does it happen? The old Victoria Brewery has been converted into apartments. Included in the apartments is a beer museum.

Church Apartments

Converted Church in Melbourne.

Salamanca Place. Built for the whaling industry of the 1830s, they have been redeveloped to house galleries, restaurants, nightspots and shops.

Being different for the sake of being different

In Australia, architects have a great deal of freedom to be different. Unfortunately, some architects have not always used this freedom wisely. One such architect is Howard Raggatt, the architect of the National Museum of Australia. Officially, the museum was meant to be resemble ropes with lots of knots as a metaphor of the different stories that make up Australia. While the spiel was very nice, the physical manifestation was not consistent with the linguistic explanation. The museum is a collection of colours and lines that make it look like a dog's breakfast. The design process involved making a few sketches, putting them on a photocopier and then moving the page as the photocopier scaned in order to get non-conformists lines. In other words, the photocopier was used incorrectly to gain individuality.

Unfortunately, the creativity of an incorrectly used photocopier isn’t a form of creativity that can incorporate views of the local environment, pedestrian desire lines, and visually interpret history.  Basically, the National Museum is a building that could be have placed on any site around the world and suit any agenda trying to be “different.” Ironically, by trying to be different, it is a building that looks highly generic.

The creation of the National Museum can be likened to providing a chef with the finest fresh tuna and asking him to create a meal that wows diners. To be different, the chef closes his eyes so he can randomly take ingredients out of the fridge, which are then blended up with the tuna and served to the diners. Rather than feel wowed, the diners feel, ‘what a waste.’ The National Museum is truly an example of where an architect would have been better off following someone else's style rather than creating their own.

National Museum

In the Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jr., wrote, "A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts." When designing the National Museum, unnessary lines were seen as necessary to be different.

 

Views for Cars

Car parks with view - The site of the National Museum of Australia was built on arguably the most scenic spot in Canberra. Set on Acton Peninsula, it had almost 300 degree views of the lake; including view of the parliamentary triangle and the city skyline. The views; however, ended up being saved for parked cars. It seems that architect Howard Raggatt failed to consider the site he was working from. As the views are not being utilised, the museum could quite easily have been designed for any site in the world where the end user wanted to be different.

 

The National Gallery of Australia, designed by Colin Madigan, is another building in the Brutalist style that showed that being different for the sake of it often produces crap. For some, there was something magical about a building that looked like it had been designed by the KBG in the cold war. For others, it was a hideous block of concrete.

While there was debate about the artistic value of the National Gallery, there was no debate in regards to the fact that, as a building, it was a failure. Firstly, the high ceilings made it difficult for curators to adjust light to optimally illuminate artworks. Secondly, the layout of the building left visitors feeling as if they were lost in a maze. Finally, the entrance was disconnected from the carpark and in a way that left visitors feeling as if they were coming through a service door.

In defence of the architect, the problems with the entry and facade can be attributed to the transient views of planners. Originally, the car park was going to be located on the lake shore, and art patrons would meander through a sculpture garden to enter the building. At the 11th hour, the access roads were changed to locate the car park behind the gallery, leaving an unattractive wall as the gallery's entry point. In 2010, a new façade on the rear of the building was built to correct the flaws in sighting, much to the offence of the architect Colin Madigan.

 

Federation Square

Federation Square and Flinders Street Station. One tries to be different, one tries to work within a style.

 

 

 

 

 

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Australian Innovation and Creation

Innovation and Creativity

Economic Reforms
From socialism to liberalism

Inventions
Thinking different

Social Innovations
Solving problems

Architecture
To be different or to be good?

Poetry
Defying stoicism

Painting
Landscape and Identity

Cuisine
Creativity in the kitchen

Movies
Once were popular

Music
Pushing the boundaries