The search for a new model of architectural practice.

Architecture in Australia is currently caught in a vortex of low fees, poor management and business practices as well as traditional hierarchies. Of course, all of this was hinted at in last week’s blog. And a few people wrote to me and said things like:

I have been burned twice by small practice. I have recently moved to a large company where I am paid above award and overtime is minimum (so far). The treatment of my friends and peers in architecture has me livid….

and on to the haphazard way so much of architecture as business is run: even with only two years working in architecture following the years of study, my own experience rings true…

Crawling up the pyramid 

As result, the widespread horrors of practices that are barely numerate and naïve about management and business means that clients and public users are not being served well by architects. I would argue that current and traditional models of practice are no longer viable. It’s time to abandon the old-timey hierarchical model of student, graduate, graduate, architect, associate, senior associate, principal, associate directors and directors. I mean what is that ladder about? It is like a kind of pyramid sales scheme where you pay, with labour and time at the bottom of the pyramid, in the hope that you might eventually move up. It’s a pyramid riven by egos, pedigrees, insecurities, and fiefdoms. Tough luck if you’re in anyway different. Hey, who wants to work with Pinochet’s. 

 

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Design studios work better when the hierarchies are flat. I would argue that instead of focusing on gaining back territory from Project Managers, or questioning Novated Contracts, or pinning hopes on the “collaborative” possibilities of BIM architects need to look at the way they organise and manage themselves.

Assemble as a model 

Assemble, the London based group of collaborators who were awarded the Turner prize in 2016 indicates how legitimacy and authority in a collective logic is made manifest. Assemble is an organisation that is more project network orientated rather than project-centric orientated. Based in London Assemble consists of 18 members working together since 2010. As a Collective, the practice is, of course, interdisciplinary, and the focus of Assemble is to “democratise” architecture and to “activate overlooked spaces” through “community focused” programs. Too many practices acclaim these values and yet their internal cultures are riven by petty rivalries fiefdoms and hierarchies that do not foster the creation of design knowledge.

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Assemble at Venice 2018 
The collective as an alternative model

As a collective Assemble confirms to the logic of having a focus on process and community; the group sees the process as being “interdependent and collaborative”, and its members actively seek to expand their community networks, blurring the line between who has agency,  by “ involving the public both as participant and collaborator.”  The first project by the group in 2010 exemplifies this approach and network focus. This project was the Cineroleum. In this project, employing volunteers, Assemble created a cinema from a disused gas station.

Unlike those practices stuck in the treadmill of client-architect patronage and the crippling hierarchies that go with it. Assemble have not been averse to a kind of entrepreneurship, this is evident for example in the 2014 Yardhouse project in Stratford. This project was an affordable and creative workspace building created by the group. In 2016 Yardhouse was then sold through the in 2016 through the Modern House Estate agency for a reputed cost of 150,000 pounds. Yardhouse was the result of a research process that was described as “strategic design and research project” that analysed the Bow Interchange and Stratford High street in East London. This project resulted in identifying the need for an affordable workspace in the area. The project was funded by London Legacy Development Corporation, Kingspan a construction product manufacturer and Assemble themselves. In 2017 Assemble began working with the Art Academy an independent art school in London which included not only an analysis of physical infrastructure but also a unique collaborative process. Assemble involved itself with the Academy through initial “dinner discussions” that were employed to “inform initial conversations about the redevelopment” as well as a series of “Professional Practice seminars” and a “public programme of talks and debates.”

So what ? 

Assemble’s reach, into community networks, and range, across different project types, is sustained by a governance system within Assemble itself that appears to enhance the group’s ability to quickly form and reform itself to connect into and expand its own networks.  This fluidity and agility allows Assemble to reconfigure itself to conform to project network flows of local capital and micro-finance. The collective nature of Assemble is underscored by the fact that even the exact number of people in the group is in and to some extent ambiguous. The group’s knowledge base is established across different disciplines including architecture, art, design and construction as well as members with educational backgrounds in architecture, philosophy, As Joe Halligan, an Assemble member has noted the group “enjoys working across different fields” and the “title of our role is really flexible.”  Capital flows through Assemble via a model where any money that comes in 50% goes to the collective then 50% goes to the project team.

A better model of practice

Assemble’s a model that is unique and obviously specific to its context. Nonetheless, I would suggest that a collective is nowadays a better model for architectural practice. In contrast to models based on the old outdated hierarchies of management and a client -architect patronage culture. Central to new models of practice is the following:

  • Consensual decision making and governance systems.
  • A recognition that difference and diversity within the collective is important.
  • Non-exploitative work practices.
  • Self-initiated advocacy projects
  • Funding on a project by project basis.
  • Engaged with architectural research.
  • Pro-active in taking up particular projects and advocacy issues.
  • Engaged with various communities and publics.

Email me or contact me here, at Instagram or Twitter, if you are interested in talking about exploring the idea of and then forming an architectural collective in Australia. So far half a dozen people have expressed an interest. I am committed to doing this and it is an endeavour that could, quickly, and easily develop a portfolio of projects. The older models of practice are too slow, not agile enough, and have not served the profession well. We really need to develop new models of architecture in Australia that recognises the need for equity, difference and new ways of thinking about architectural advocacy and public engagement. The old way is no longer working and is killing the profession. I am up for it so send me an email if you are interested. 

 

Strategic vs. Project Thinking: Sticking your head up the dead bear’s bum of Projects

Here at this low class, sex, drugs and rock and roll, architect focused, in-the-gutter blog it helps the blog stats to write popular tags like “Sticking your head up a dead bear’s bum.” Sticking your head up bear’s bum” is one of those lost, and now inappropriate, Australian sayings that thankfully is no longer in use. It can be used in a derogatory sense as a direct call to action—best not to overthink that—or it can suggest a kind of head in the sand attitude. The original line comes from the Australian film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, and I have adapted the line here for my own purposes.

In my lovely mannered, patrician and bland-boosterish world of academia, it is not a saying that I am loathe to bandy about that much.

So, enough of the self-indulgence, the point is that for far too long architects have stuck their head up the dead bear’s bum of projects.

What Architects are good at 

Architects are great at spatial thinking, great at design thinking great and great at integrating knowledge across the construction, engineering and most consulting disciplines. Architects are good at looking at details (for those of you who can still actually detail) and then look at the larger urban scale all in the same breath. They are trained to shift their view to focus at different scales. As a result, architects are great at managing ambiguity and tackling the wicked problems.

The is what architects are supposed to do and what architects are good at. However, all of these skills and unique ways of thinking are hampered by the fact that architects are too often are stuck and blinkered by the project mindset. Everything is about the project. In practices large and small it’s all about the projects: big projects, little projects, built projects, or unbuilt projects, school projects, retail projects, domestic projects, commercial projects and urban design projects. Bathroom and toilet projects. Architects compare themselves to other architects through the lens of projects; their awards systems are based around projects, and the internal management systems of firms are founded, not around strategic management, producing design knowledge or the talent but the holy than holy projects. It’s always about the project.

The curse of the Project Centric

This project-centric focus keeps architects chained and enslaved in their own small pond. This pond is becoming increasingly smaller because of this very focus. Broader, market trends, macroeconomic changes, and the impact of future technologies on the profession often go unnoticed. Architects are clueless because of this lack of strategic thought. The profession is still only just grappling with the idea of advocacy; let alone producing any industry research about the impact of future technologies on it. Many strategic decision makers in practices medium, small and large are so project focused that they cannot see the forest for the trees.

As a result of this overbearing project centricity, the competitive advantage and value of architects is slowly being eroded. We have already lost construction administration, and Design Development is hard to argue the value of, design thinking has been taken, and repackaged by the graphic and industrial designers. A raft of new technologies, such as Big Data and AI, is slowly eating away at our design thinking skills. Some architects still think a digital strategy is about getting onto Instagram.

Architects are going to lose 

So if my argument is correct, that architects can’t think strategically outside of the project mentality, it follows that this lack of strategy, will in time, diminish the domain and agency of architects. We have already lost project management, and the banks are screwing us over our contracts. So where might the next pinch points be?

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Maybe it’s time we stopped letting the special technical nerdy types from running the IT department in practices. Maybe uni administrators should stop thinking that just teaching software skills or techniques is all we need to do in Architecture schools. Alternatively, we should stop thinking that being “strategic” when it comes to new technologies, is about curating the images in an Instagram profile. Wooo Hooo. Half the Instagram profiles of practices in my city say the words: Award Winning Architects. So what? However, it’s all about those projects, isn’t it? The elusive award-winning project. The one we would all die for.

Drinking the kool-aid 

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Architects have really drunk the Parametric and BIM kool-aid but at the cutting edge of practice as well as in the teensy weensy practices, and in the so-called professional associations. However, did anyone ever stop to think how architects might manage these new technologies in a strategic sense? All too often, architects have a kind of buy it and plug it in and play mentality when it comes to new technology. The new technologies are the kinds of things that make the project go faster, or cheaper or maybe sometimes better.

Architects have not been able to manage IT within their practices strategically. Yes, they have jumped onto BIM and the people I hate it when the students say: “why don’t we learn BIM at architecture school.” For the universities administrators BIM, and all other such widget technologies, is precisely the kind of curricula that they would love the architecture students to learn: easy to teach, the students think they are learning a skill (even if they are not learning to think) and a great way to make money. I mean WTF?

Architects might still have an opportunity to shape digital strategy. However, if they are not careful the digital strategies in the property and construction arena will be taken up either by new specialists, marketing, and asset managers who can run the data analytics. In workplace design, Big Data and associated analytics and AI are going to sweep the floor. Architects need to figure out how the Internet-of-Things is going to change things. Moreover, How will BIM data be connected to other broader IT data systems and analytics?

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Big Data, BIM and AI and will get together with the property and construction types, and before you know it, we will lose Feasibility Studies as a source of income. God help us when the nerdy nerds start thinking about data analytics in construction. As BIM and AI conjoin, the result may be a new take on generative designing, and then as AI begins to develop options to make design decisions where we will end up then? Just following the pack I guess.

General and strategic management skills

One more thought I would be rich, if I got a buck for every time, someone said we don’t teach business skills in architecture, or when people say architects lack in business skills. Teaching ourselves a few numerate business skills is not going to help and I am beginning to weary of this mantra. It’s the general, and strategic management skills architects don’t have I tried to find those in the Australian AACA competencies, but hey who wrote these new competencies? These are skills are critical to understanding all the activities that architectural practice encompasses. They are critical to understanding the universe outside of the architect’s bubble. Sticking your head up the dead bear’s bum of Projects is not doing us any favours.

Yep, maybe I have been hanging out with the copywriters too much. However, seriously, for those who know me well, I guess I am wondering how much truth-to-power stuff I can actually get away with these days now that I have some kind of immunity in my own version of Survivor. So stay tuned and we can see how outrageous I can be in the face of mediocrity.

Surviving the Design Studio: This is the end; the last things before the design crit.

Last week I had the opportunity to see some student crits in my Archi-schools undergraduate program. I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing projects from undergrad students and in my dotage there seems to be nothing more appealing than the prospect of prancing around a crit with the tantalising possibility of letting loose with a few well-chosen design criticism barbs. Thankfully, for all concerned including myself, the projects I saw were pretty good all things considered. It was indeed a pity because I still yearn to employ the darker arts of studio criticism and you can read about a few of them here. But it did remind me that in the last weeks of a studio—or even a design competition–there are lots of things architecture students should be doing.

1. Don’t turn back on your concept. Avoid concept-diarrhea

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Developing a concept beyond the pragmatic is an excellent idea. One of the problems many students have in studio is that by the time they do the research, understand the site, procrastinate, do a few half-hearted sketches, have a look at what Remksy, Herzog and de Neuron, MVRDV or Bjarke spark-a-larkles are doing on Insta, then do some more reading, fool around on the internet, procrastinate some more and its like 3 weeks to go and then the panic sets in. Perhaps it might have been better to do some design sketches in week one?

If at that point you don’t have a concept get one. If you do have a concept, don’t lose faith with it. Don’t replace it with another different concept. Concept replacement is usually seen as being desperate, and a reasonable jury will always sniff out projects based on the last-minute rush to finish. You have to run with it and make it connect to all the different aspects of your building that you need to design.

If you have burnt up all your time, the first thing you need to do is remember the concept and try to fashion and explain it in a way that is not merely about a knee-jerk functional reaction to the clients, the brief the studio outline or the site.

At the end of the day critics, everyone will want to see how you have used your concept or conceptual apparatus to fashion your design. Maybe, summarise your concept in one diagram or image and put this on your final print out.

2. Work on your plan. Avoid DLD (dimension-loss-disease)

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As everyone knows I hate plans, and they sued to bore me senseless when I fancied myself as an archi-school student designer. I was more interested in the developing dynamic volumes and three-dimensional architectural language.

And FFS get your scales and your spatial dimensions correct. There is nothing worse than looking at a plan that is full of empty space or the kitchen benches or door openings that are too big or too small. Another aspect of DLD is that some areas are either much bigger or much smaller than what they are supposed to be.

Print, yes actually print out your plans, and get a friend to check them. I am sorry to tell some people this, but plans are about measurement. One old trick is to actually design into your plans cool bathrooms, laundries, kitchens or storage areas. Yes, get those toilets right. If you can do that the whole plan will have more detail and look more convincing to a jury. Get some level of detail into your plan even if it is only visual.

3. Work on and present your sections. Avoid alt-right-angle-sectioning.

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I cannot stress this enough. Yes, I am a section guy. I love those Siza sections which communicate so much about volumes, light, spatial sequences, and the relationship between spaces. After all, a section is in some ways a plan that has been turned on its side. Good sections are of lines that are articulated, a section is a line that has a profile: steps, nibs, thickenings and thinnings, bumps, protrusions and the whole affair is a contoured and shaped image.

There is not building on the planet that has a right-angle where the exterior walls meet the roof. Just spitting out from a digital model, plans, sections and renders without thinking what they are like in reality is not architecture.

4. How is it to walk around your building and what will you see? Avoid unreal-viewpointing.

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Avoid the impossible angles, screwy scaled views, hot air balloon basket views that no user of your design will actually see. Avoid viewpoint unreality.

The worse thing you can do is front up to the crit and have no idea yourself what your building might be like to walk around. Looking at things in the computer is not the same thing. So, you need to walk through it in your mind and not in your computer. What will you see and what will you encounter? If you can produce and present a series of vignettes and views of what it might be like for someone, perhaps as an actual user of your building,

5. Show the context. Avoid render-plopping

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Please, I beg you, I ask you with all my heart, to show the context. Nothing shows archi-school and computer ignorance more than just plopping on a sheet—and I mean plopping in a scatological sense— render as if it is completely isolated from any surrounding urban, material or physical context.

6. Show the design process. Avoid process-voidance

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Bring along all your sketches, preliminary models, have them ready to show the critics. Stick them into some kind of consistent format. I mean how long does to take to do this?

Physical models are excellent. Even if you are running out of time, it’s still good to do a small, simple scaled physical model even if it is tiny. It’s probably worth at least 5 more marks if not more.

7. Get your project timing right. Avoid timing-desperation.

Of course, all the above things might seem like they are going to slow you down or take up too much time. Better to just stay in the model and keep on doing stuff as that will be quicker. But in fact attending to the above issues either partially and or fully will, in the long run, make for a better design and a set of images at the jury end of the process; it will communicate more about your design to a jury.

If you get too desperate about timing, you will screw everything up and end up at a broken printer. Timing is everything, and you need to plan ahead as to how long things will take to do.

I suppose the above is a kind of plea for the importance of design thinking and its associated crafts. Working on a computer model and then just spitting it out into a presentation—extruded plans, oversaturated renders, no sections, Insta-people collaged into all the views, a completely missing context, isn’t really architecture. It is just crap.

Previous blogs along these lines include the following:

Surviving the Design Studio: How to start making architecture with an actual drawing.

Surviving the Design Studio: How to avoid plan reading blindness

Surviving the Design Studio: 7 things to do to hit the ground running.

Surviving the Design Studio: 6 hacks to develop your crap design quickly.

Surviving the Design Studio: Symptoms and cures of design jury anxiety.

Surviving the Design Studio: Getting through the last days before the submission deadline.

 

 

 

Design Activism: Architects need to be a-holes and it’s time to stop being nice.

Architects need to be a-holes, and it’s time to stop being nice. We need to be more like sea urchins: prickly.

A few things this week have made me think that the lack of advocacy skills amongst architects is really putting our domain of knowledge, agency and economic sustainability at risk. But there are more ominous and insidious signs about the state of architecture in a way these signs may seem subtle, but they point to a continuing malaise that architects should try and reverse.

Firstly, there is the drama over the departure of the CEO of the AIA; and it seems to me that the AIA is caught between wanting to advocate for architecture and wanting to provide its members with actual services. Does the AIA actually effectively lobby government?

Secondly, and seemingly unrelated, is the move by the banks and the Housing Industry Association to cut architects out of the mix when it comes to building contracts. Warwick Mihaly of Architeam writing at the ACA about this here.

Thirdly, of course, there was the win for the anti-Apple people, many of whom are architects, regarding Federation Square and its Heritage protection. Of course, Heritage “protection” in my neo-liberal city can often mean very little, and I wondered if wins like this actually mean anything. Perhaps not if the 19thC as well as the mid 20th C city has been, and continues to be lost. Architects do not have the organisational and industry infrastructure in place to effectively advocate on a range of issues.

Meanwhile, the chosen few, those architects who manage to win the golden casket lottery of fame, tell us that all we have to do is say to our clients how well-meaning we are and that we are dedicated to “Authenticity, Generosity, Civicness and Beauty”, and everything will be ok. Niceness is too often a mask for the social systems that imprison architects. For me, this is a bit like taking a Bex or a Panadol, or smoking a bong-pipe when your house is burning down.

Sure, I am yet to go down to this year’s pavilion and check it out. But, I am sure it will be better than last year’s Pavilion (strange that REM had such a real disconnect with theory when he spoke about it). But again, I think we are smoking the crack-pipe of Read more

Howard Roarkness: Identifying the 6 stages of the alpha male egocentric architect.

In architectural practice one of the variants of the alpha male egocentric architect is the holy monster. Howard Roark in Ayn/Anne Rand’s novel Fountainhead seems to epitomise many of the characteristics of this type. Some of these figures exist in both smaller and larger organisational and practice contexts. The antics of a few of these alpha male variants have been on my radar of late. Within the practices and organisations that serve architecture these “types” sometimes serve useful functions, and while not all of them are complete narcissists, they mostly cause more trouble than they are worth.

My point here is not to single out particular identities, known to us all, but to point to the fact that architects need to be better at leadership. We need better leaders, we need better systems for learning about strategic and organisational leadership—it is indeed not one of the AACA competencies. We need different leadership, and that’s not the same as a guise of diversity with the same old leadership model’s underneath. We also need better systems, within both our schools of architecture and practices, of mentoring and encouraging authentic leadership. Diversity and intersectionality must be a part of the mix especially if we are only recruiting in our image or only listen to the voices of sameness. Architecture needs more leaders like Leigh Bowery.

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Last week I actually saw a leader own up to and take responsibility for a mistake. It was great to see some plain speaking. I wonder as a professional collective if architects are too used to dissembling and explaining things away for the clients.

Again, there is a kind of semblance of a lifecycle for these types. To some people, usually, those who give them credence and authority, the types look like, act and are accepted, as leaders. Often without question. I have mapped the stages of evolution for these holy monsters, and many readers will appreciate that these figures inhabit the different ecosystems and tribes discussed in last weeks blog. I am sure you will all recognise someone you know.

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The 6 Leadership Stages of the Howard Roark.

Stage 1: The Golden Boy.

Relaxed and lazy, went to the right design studio (and or school), boyishly charming, well-bred and slightly precocious. Doesn’t seem to do a lot of work but seems to get the breaks. Never really has any of their own ideas but always seems to be onto the “latest” thing. In some variants, the boyish charms sets in and solidifies for life.

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Stage 2: The Up and Coming

They have usually had a promotion of some kind to project architect, associate, associate director. Catapulted from, they are dashing and fashionable and opinionated. They are good at managing upwards and ticking the boxes for the promotion criteria. Sometimes they never stay in the same place to be really tested as they are always moving onto the next gig before the mess of their own making hits the fan ( I have been stuck in this one for about ten millenia).

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Stage 3: The Charming and Cunning Crook

These are the figures that have usually got somewhere, with some kind of title or advanced position, they have succeeded through the previous two stages. Secretly, they worry about their own worth and contribution to the discourse. But, basically, they employ their charm to do as little work as possible and to advance their own career. They are crooked in the sense if you are not careful you will do the work they were meant to do.

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Stage 4: The Affable Bully

As the Howard Roarkian figure moves up the food chain, they need to get things done. If they are not trying to trick people they usually just bully people. This usually exhibits itself as passive aggressiveness. Charming, on the one hand, regarded as a “a good bloke” but as soon as they need something done, they will bully you. Rarely do they give you compliments which is the first sign you should be aware of.

In stage 5 there are two variants:

Stage 5A: The Pompous Sage

These are the people who have gone through all the stages made some achievements and then pontificate. They might be directors or business owners who are good at getting jobs. Their wisdom is rarely real insight about architecture but usually insights that are fundamentally about themselves. Don’t get caught in a corner with these ones at the practice Christmas party. They will bore you senseless.

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Stage 5B: Holy Monster

This one is the most dangerous, full of self-regard, fickle, narcissistic. Trump-like in many ways. Sometimes they get things done because everyone is scared of them. But getting things done is extremely rare. But I have seen this type all too often once or maybe twice or actually maybe a lot in my 40-year ethnography of the local profession. They usually have the most amazing fights with builders. Sometimes they will use their holy monster status to sleep with whoever they like. Once they are spent, or age catches up with them they revert to Type 5B.

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I find this kind of thing fascinating because I am sure we have all worked with these types and we all recognise some of these traits.

More importantly, I think architects really need to reflect on leadership theory and practice and be more critical of the monoculture that spawns, encourages and tolerates these types. We need better mentoring programs, we need to teach leadership in architecture schools, we need professional development around these issues, and for the sake of our profession, we need to put a higher value on authentic and diverse leadership.

Surviving the Design Studio: Why are architects so fucking serious?

I went to an advertising function a few days ago, the Moet was flowing amongst the producers, copywriters and account service people I ran into an ex-architect now working in advertising and he looked me in the eye and exclaimed: why are architects in Melbourne so fucking serious? Good point I thought, and I had to agree as the verbal case was laid out over the champagne. And my agreeance, was not merely politeness because this claim struck me as the truth. So, I thought given the amount of auto-ethnography I had done concerning architects in Melbourne, in one way or another, I thought I would accept the claim and then try and develop a theoretical model around it.

Melbourne Architecture is probably the epi-centre of architectural seriousness. I guess I can’t talk about Sydney but maybe the model developed below can also be generalised to encompass other places.

Serious Architectural Insects 

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The first lot of serious architectural insects I met were at the tail end of the early seventies mud-brick, alternative living, roll your own spliff movement. This time was a kind of cross between the post 68 countercultures, Alastair Knox’s mud-brick houses and the Sunbury rock festival. It was a kind of blues and roots and Whitlam thang. Everyone hated Malcolm Fraser. My shared house flatmates got busted for growing marijuana. At Archi school we had self-assessment, my first project was a long essay on alternative energy sources, my second I learnt how to design in the style of MLTW’s sea-ranch (think, planimetric chamfers). At archi-school our orientation camp was at a monastery where a guy played the bongos and as I listened my head span around and around and mesmerised by the sound I vomited. It was a serious vomit and set the tone for the rest of my architectural education.

 

No need to shed tears of nostalgia for this long lost era. Funnily enough, I think a lot of it is now back in fashion, and the common denominator is and has always been, the seriousness. For the earnest or humanistic architect, the architect without irony wanting to do good in the world, the seriousness is a natural state of being. However, this too often masks a desire for economic gain or a proclamation of egocentric vanity. For seriousness, the parametric architects are the worst and take the cake. Since when was coding a computer to make Bucky Fuller like domes, and their squishy variants, ever considered to be in any way fantastic.

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The cult of the seriousness tars even those Australian architects who appear, on the surface at least, to pursue irony and absurdity. Just have a look at the northern end of Swanston Street in Melbourne. An entire block of very very serious architecture and perhaps it would have been better if WB looked happier. Nowadays all the universities are getting into their very own Archi-serious capital works programs. The serious architectural sensibility too often about branding of one kind or another; the branded pomposity of neoliberal and market-driven clients.

And surely the absurd gymnastics of super serious architecture without whimsy is a terrible and empty thing to behold. Paradoxically, architectural seriousness has always had its darker hues. All this seriousness is serious. But what would I know as I am really really serious too?

But hey these days you would be fooled into thinking seriousness never really exists. This situation is the case if you looked at architects and social media, it all seems light and fluffy, and oh so we don’t need theory we are just doing what we do. Little arches, trellises and meshes. However, even this frivolity seems too serious especially when it is aligned with the torrent of nostalgia around the history of Melbourne architecture. This is too often a history all about the cute little 1950s housing boxes; Boyd in all his Brahmin caste politeness; the sanitised and domestic machines of the Small Homes Service; the little follies and gems of architecture recycled as serious doodoos. In Melbourne, there were lots of serious insect architects in the 1950s: Neil Clerehan, John Mockridge, James Earle, David McGlashan, Peter Jorgenson, Ken Hardcastle, Geoffrey Woodfall, Peter Burns and David Godsell. In posh Toorak, there was Guilford Bell, Rosenthal and Holgar and Holgar. Hit me up with a bit of Mid-Century Modern nostalgia insulin.

So what is the unhappy dynamic driving this seriousness and what is its pathology? Below are a few thoughts towards developing an all too slight model that might explain all of this architectural seriousness.

Insularity

Insularity the idea that nothing exists outside of the autonomous culture of architecture is the first factor. The realm and boundaries of this culture are strictly reinforced. A larger scale of geography often determines the insularity. For example, a Melbourne School or a Sydney school. However, other factors may define the boundaries of each of the clubs, clans tribes and influence networks that each city has; different ideological and theoretical ideas formed at architecture school, and even at secondary schools, may also determine these different clubs and clans and sets within the larger geographic realm.

Jargon

A peculiar language often emerges in the different architectural tribes. The utterances, aphorisms and codes often emanating from these groups often constitutes a private language. As someone remarked to me if you met these people at the dinner table, it’s difficult for an outsider to understand the lingo. Within each group, this language might evolve a little over time. Rarely is there any thought that this way of speaking might be a real bore at dinner.

The group’s jargonistic expressions will ensure that its central tenets will remain stable over time. To the initiated, some of these words and sayings seem to have magical and talismanic powers. To the outsider, this private language is instead of explicit communication and plain English. As many architectural websites attest to plain English is not often pursued. To the outsider. Let alone the client, and this results in an impenetrable language that can only be deciphered if you are in the favoured circle.

Abstract Language 

A key feature of seriousness is a verbal language of abstraction based on logic. As if to say, either reasoning and abstraction confer authority (I prefer the ravings of Artaud any day). Eisenman was good at this as was Colin Rowe and perhaps this way of speaking has its sources in the late 1980s and early days of the American architectural journal Assemblage. In any case, any of the Architectural engagement with continental philosophy since the 1970s has not helped this. Anyone reading this who may have heard Brian Massumi, Deleuze and Guattari’s translator, speak about architecture should know this.

Pecking Order

Within the circle of seriousness, the pecking usually determines who has the most power over language. Many architects will be familiar with the traits of these orders. Pecking orders are primarily determined by pedigree. Class, school of origin, architecture school, or whom you did studios with and the office you may have worked for. Alpha males win out most of the time in these orders. Having independent wealth may also help. Combine both of these attributes and will do better than most. Architects are fascinated by genealogies: Who worked for whom, who can trace their family tree back to a master or a heroic figure. Even I have claims to tracing myself back to Robin Boyd. Ridiculous, I know.

Deification

Within this system, some are architects, or deities, are bestowed with power. This endowment may or may not translate into commissions or a legacy in the canon. Usually, only men are deified, and they can then determine who the enemies are. There are always perceived enemies in the cult of seriousness, and the idolised gods have a number of tactics to relegate you to the enemy camp. We have all be written off by those helicoptered in well-pedigreed leaders who only recognise their own kind. That’s how architecture works I guess.

Maybe the above is because the notion of the enemy has a long history in the creation of modernist architectural history. From CIAM onwards there was always an enemy for modern architects to fight against. Across the globe, in the provincial market-towns of architectural culture making and remaking enemies is a constant sport.

Lack of Fluidity

In this ecosystem of seriousness, architectural experiment and the fluidity that goes with it is often abandoned. This move is in order to maintain power. Creating design knowledge is secondary and expanding the stock of architectural knowledge is secondary to maintaining a status quo. In other words, all of the above, all this seriousness, is not there to enhance the discipline or to create new knowledge and promote an engaged discourse or think about architecture as an evolving and dynamic field of expertise. No, architectural design is posed as something to defend, an inviolable territory of privilege. This defensiveness is, for the most part, a ruse to maintain and enforce power in whatever local architectural culture that power is claimed and employed.

Masculinity

All of these processes emphasise norms of masculinity within the profession. The single architectural voice with all of its mystifications, contrariness, rationalisations and self-importance has no interest in more fluid notions of identity.

This gendered voice seeks influence, authority, power and sometimes a pathetic kind of social notoriety and deification. This voice continually seeks to prescribe and fix its own identity. Perhaps, we have all wanted to be there and have saught this. In contrast, collective notions of design, or architectural theory, that questions fixed identities is belittled or relegated. Consequently, the design process itself is ring-fenced and quarantined in a way that always links it to fixed architectural identities. As a result intersectionality and its attendant approaches are never something that comes into play. Any suggestion by anyone that points out the jargon, mystifications, influence, and deification that result in this seriousness is overlooked and at worse silenced.

The paradox is that architectural whimsy, a lightness of being, has a more significant potential for emotional and political nuance than the strictures of seriousness. And I don’t mean a whimsy devoid of politics. Perhaps all we can hope for an architectural culture that embraces a collective lightness and openness, as much as any other sentiment. But hey, who am I to talk when I am also so serious. But anything is better than vainglorious seriousness and insane pomposity that characterises much of the profession. Architecture as a genuinely collective endeavour and a contested field of knowledge deserves more.

Due to work commitments, I have not been able to get the blog out as much as I would like. I did manage to get to ARCOM in Belfast, and my co-author Loren Adams and we won a prize for the most innovative paper! Read it here if you dare. However, more about that in later blogs. For those of you in my own special identity cult don’t worry too much: I am alive, but only just.

Surviving the Design Studio: Baristas $20.22 per hour vs Architects $29.76 per hour.

Thank you to everyone who supported the RAsP initiative. This applied architectural research would not have got any funding through any existing channels of research funding. I am hoping that it is the first foundation for creating a transparent and well-governed research fund serving the needs of architects. 

With the recent ructions in the Institute of Architects, one can only be reminded of the way the design focused discourse in architecture, has both corrupted and arguably destroyed, the way that architects both govern themselves and practice. The mantra that its all about design has led to an unbalanced design-centric discourse. This discourse has paradoxically diminished design and has done much to damage the profession in Australia, its institutions and the way it practices.

Is the Design focus a good thing? 

The focus on Design has meant that Architects are coming off a low base when it comes to a consideration of general business practice and protocols. As a result, an evident naivety abounds across the Australian profession when it comes to business. This naivety exhibits itself in a few extreme ways. Firstly, either in a direct antagonism towards considering business and management issues. Or secondly, bypassing antagonism, a complete lack of knowledge and a fundamental ignorance of money; alongside the idea that you can just fly in someone with business knowledge and they will fix everything.

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The naivety of architects regarding strategic management, business strategy and financial management often leads to poor decision-making. Often architects, get into a bit of a panic and say hey let’s get a business plan together or let’s get someone in with a bit of corporate knowledge to do our marketing. They then make the mistake of employing people who, while they might have business credentials, or appear to be “corporate” have no understanding of the profession its nuances and certainly no understanding of design. I have seen this happen quite a few times. Sometimes architects employ people who are from allied industries, but they still have no idea about design. These examples are all too familiar: The general manager of the large firm that was appointed because she had a background in construction (or worse still law), but no idea about general management in an architectural setting. Or the growing small firm who got in a marketing person they went to school with who also had no understanding of professional service marketing.

Only get in the experts with architectural knowledge

It is naive to think a firm can get ‘corporate’ by getting in people from the corporate world with little or no experience in professional services or architecture. It’s always best to get in consultants with direct knowledge and experience of architecture. Preferably people who have worked in practice previously in some capacity.

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The full story has yet to reach my ears about the demise of the CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects. But I suspect that this particular train wreck is a confluence of the above factors. A mismatch of expectations and naivety on the part of all concerned. A naivety about architectural profession on the one hand and perhaps a naivety by architects about policy, advocacy and strategic management on the other. Maybe, if architects knew more about money, they wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. We really need to mentor people in our own profession with both design skills and financial and strategic management skills.

Its all about design 

This discourse that has led to these train wrecks and its associated mantras and aphorisms goes something like “it’s all about design” and any other consideration is secondary or the be disregarded entirely. This disregard leads to the most visible and remarkable naivety.

Within practices, both small and large the so-called design architects more often than not need to be saved from themselves. But often these design architects resent this, and the strictures and limitations placed crying out that money or even common sense management practices are crushing their sensitive souls and egos. I was the same when I was younger. Mostly such lamentations by these designers are an excuse for poor design outcomes. When will the architects who subscribe to this cultish view recognise that a consideration of other discourses outside of architectural design is essential if architects are to survive and prosper?

Selling out 

Of course, in writing this, I will be accused of somehow “selling out” design; which is by and large the general accusation levelled at those of us who hope for a better, smarter, meritocratic and inclusive profession.

Central to any rejuvenation of architectural discourse is a consideration of the organisational sciences including management and finance. The discourse focused on “design”, and its cult-like nature, as an autonomous, and singular practice, within architecture, has damaged the disciplines ability to support itself. To prove the point if there is one area where the design cult– and its insidious culture of business phobic managing up, discrimination and pedigreed favouritism — have destroyed the architectural profession it is in the area of employee wages.

2018 ACA salary survey 

The latest salary survey put out by the ACA and ably put together by the fantastic Gill Matthewson has just come out. As it summarises there is still a gender pay gap and some practices persist in paying under Award minimums. Perhaps the best thing that could happen to the profession is if a few architects were prosecuted for paying less than the award wage.

Paygaps

A Barista or a person with some training (Level 2 – food and beverage attendant grade 2 full time) gets an adult minimum hourly wage: $20.22. But also some get more on average if you look here. Architects get $29.76 an hour if you are registered and a full-time employee. This is not to suggest that the work of a Barista is in any way less worthy than architectural work. But it is to suggest that architectural training could be better served by a profession that took its responsibility for its own well-being.

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Woohoo! That’s $9 bucks an hour more than a Barista or a waiting person.  That’s like more than an extra dollar an hour for the combined 7 years (5 years of tertiary study and 2 years of experience) that most architects need to do to register and call themselves architects.

Thank you to everyone who supported the RAsP initiative. This applied architectural research would not have got any funding through any existing channels of research funding. I am hoping that it is the first foundation for creating a transparent and well-governed research fund serving the needs of architects. 

Support RASP: Six Myths about Architectural research and practice.

The June July issue of Architecture Australia dossier section on research in large practice is a must read for any Architect. Research-In-Practice is now a hot topic. About time I reckon.

AA Dossier on Research in Large Practice

The issue is ably edited by Naomi Stead and Sandra Kaji-Ogrady the Architecture Australia dossier raises some serious questions about architectural research in both large and small practices. Sandra Kaji-Ogrady and Naomi Stead point out pursuing the divide between architects in academic and industry will only be detrimental to our profession at large. Its great to see two esteemed academics reaching out to practice in this fashion and credit to Cameron Bruhn of AA for instigating the issue. Of course, I am biased because I have also written something in it.

As a part of the dossier I was invited to the roundtable discussions with the large practices, and these really blew my tiny mind away. Ten large practices were involved in the discussions and I, despite my reputation as a cynic, I was really impressed by the range of different research models that each of these practices has developed and then implemented into their businesses. It was great to see how research and knowledge are actually managed in these practices. Yes, that’s the correct word: managed. In other word’s, the systems and processes in place needed to both create and capture new knowledge. It was perhaps even more interesting to see how the research in these practices then informed firm strategy and competitive advantage.

Heres our RASP pitch

As a result of this experience, I am beginning to wonder if the best research in architecture is now currently be done in the larger practices both here and abroad. Traditionally research, in architecture, has seemingly been the domain of the architectural schools and smaller niche firms dabbling in computers; yet now I wonder if the big practices are being more effective at architectural research than some of our nation’s 18 architecture schools.

The smarter big practices have the grunt and the systems to do effective research. You might ask so what about the rest of the world’s architectural practices (the smaller ones) and what about the architecture schools? Well, that question is best answered by addressing the various myths that seem to be associated with Research-in-Practice.

Myth 1: Architectural design studios teach architects how to do research

Only to a limited extent.

Don’t you hate those studios where all the so-called research is front-loaded at the beginning of the studio? That’s not researching, and its probably not design either, and as a result, quite a few architects are fishing around and talking about the need for architectural research without really understanding what it is. While our architectural education gives us a great way of thinking it does not give us much regarding research methodologies, methods or the rigour to think through the methodological dilemmas proposed by design as research.

Myth 2: Research is only for architecture schools

Not true.

Research orientated to architecture is increasingly difficult to get funding for. I think that the current climate of pandering to research metrics and the labyrinthine ARC funding system across all disciplines in universities is killing architectural research in Architecture schools. These measurement and funding regimes might work well in the biosciences but not in architecture.

Why not?

The metrics favour specialists and not transdisciplinary generalists. Nowadays, it’s all about your citation counts and your h-index. One of my colleagues in a related field has a really great h-index but as far as I can tell the research knowledge produced is pretty mediocre. But hey, who am I to judge this. His work might be seen as being great in future years. On the other hand, I have another colleague who doesn’t receive much credence as their research is considered to be beyond the pale by the successful lovers of research metrics. Again, who am I to judge?

At the moment, the hot topics in the university research sector are arguably transport, health and education. The weird thing these topics are driven by various government funding priorities are the big ticket items, and they reflect various government spending priorities. I think the name of the game for some unis is about picking winners; most innovation economists and start-up types will quickly tell you where that approach leads: to losers and not winners; mediocrity and the squandering of public resources.

Heres our RASP pitch

A play in one act 

But picking winners has a trickle-down effect and to illustrate my point allow me the luxury of being cynical: The other week I was grabbing a quick coffee with a research Biz development person from another faculty and this is what happened.

PR: Architects are great and architectural research is really significant.

BD person: Oh look Professor Super-Research-Metrics-Producer is getting a coffee (joyful tone).

PR: Here is your chai latte.

BD person: See you later! (BD person exits).

They were gone from my space in two seconds. Apparently, my citation count, h-index and funding bucks weren’t up to scratch. I felt deep shame. So much for building a bottom-up research practice, dare I say research business, centred on architecture.

Universities like to pick big winners and get the big teams together. Fair enough. That’s where the money is. Maybe big research teams will be doomed to fail in our discipline.

The hot ticket items these days are AI, Data Analytics and Neuroscience, just mix and match those fields with the big ticket social issues like Population Health, Education, Housing and of course CITIES. The words sustainability, modular and that old favourite density are good words to throw in as well for a bit of detail.

Here are a few mix and match titles for research projects. Population Health Data and Sustainable Cities. Here’s another one, Artificial Intelligence and Modular Housing for Health.

Here it is again

Myth 3: Design is Research

Not always.

Design research is too often vanity research. Architects just need to do design research and it that’s fantastic. Hey, where architects and we are so good! We don’t even need to communicate how good we are! Whip out a few design competitions, do a bit of coding stuff with the fabrication machines, come up with a few new conceptual public space concepts. Everyone knows we are a shit-hot profession. Hey, we earn a bit more money than baristas (or do we?).

No, that is not correct, architects need to do more than just doing it. We need to constantly capture, verify and communicate our research knowledge.

But doing a competition or running a studio, or doing an exhibition at an Architecture School is not quite the same as doing effective research. Hey, many architects don’t even measure or quantify what they do in research. As a result, architects are continually giving away their design knowledge for less than what it’s worth.

Myth 4: Architects are valued for their research knowledge

Nup.

This follows a bit from the above myth. Developers, property planners, contractors, middle brow council bureaucrats, love to get architects to help them brand their apartments, schools, police stations or those train stations on the bogan periphery. They will tell us that they value our design input. These assorted characters love to make us think we have designed something great (after they have value managed the life out the project). But maybe all we have really done is branded something. Without research, we will never know if this is true or not.

But hey, ask the developers, contractors, or the gatekeepers at the other funding channels for some architectural research money, and they will run a mile.

Myth 5: Practices don’t have enough money to spend on research

No excuse.

Apart from small practices this shouldn’t be an excuse. Research should be an ancillary expense item in practice. It should be budgeted for the same way that marketing or rent or cars are or software licences. Imagine what would happen if every architect did that in some measure.

At the moment many large practices are doing and involved in different types of research. But those large practices that do not build or implement organisational structures, processes or systems concerning research knowledge models will lose competitiveness.

If medium practices are to grow or to compete with large practice’s they need to build some internal research infrastructure. Adhocism or vague project by project notions about what constitutes a research process (for example; just talking to potential clients, or doing a competition) is not quite enough. For medium practices, the danger is that large firms with specialised researchers and field-specific experts who can efficiently use research knowledge–especially if it has been developed in-house–to move downstream to mop up work from medium-sized practices.

Just in case you missed it; Heres our RASP pitch

Myth 6: Research is not practical

When I get a whiff of this kind of sentiment, I think: stab me in the eye with a biro. Research has a direct relationship to policy and advocacy. Targeted and applied research can really help architects get the message out. Research can help position No wonder the Australian Institute of Architects is in such a mess. We are now reaping the benefit of years of research, policy and advocacy neglect.

As pointed out to me recently every other professional group is much better at industry research policy and advocacy. The developers, property types, the contractors, the housing industry, and the engineers are much better at it. Australian architects never seem to get together to have a seat at the research lobby tables.

One more time 

So Here’s the sales pitch.

So put in a few bucks into our RASP crowdfunding campaign. It’s research that will make an impact. Yes, Tom and I are on Vimeo. Superstars in the making. We should each have had a makeover before we filmed. It’s a team effort of course. You can watch it here.

If we can raise the funds, it will be shouting out that research in and around architects and architecture is of real consequence. If we don’t it’s just more struggling to keep ahead of the Barista wages.

Writing the Unspeakable: Sean Godsell’s Chapel at the Holy See in Venice

In keeping with the theme of #Freespace, the Holy See has commissioned a number of small chapels on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore for the Architecture Biennale. There are 10 chapels in all. The commissioner was His Eminence Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. For whatever it is worth Cardinal Ravasi is the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore is the site of the chapels and the place where the Benedictines first inhabited Venice in the 10th century.

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The curators were Francesco Dal Co and Micol Forti. The curators asked the invited architects to consider the chapel as a place of:

“orientation, encounter; meditation, inside a vast forest seen as the physical suggestion of the labyrinthine progress of life and the wandering of humankind in the world.”

Magnani and Traudy Pelzel were the architects of the introductory pavilion, where the exhibition starts with a kind of small chapel dedicated to Asplund’s Woodland Chapel of 1920 located in the cemetery of Stockholm. A suitable introduction to the architectural explorations of the 10 chapels.

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The invited architects were Andrew Berman, Francesco Cellini, Javier Corvalàn, Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores, Norman Foster, Teronobu Fujimori, Carla Juacaba, Smiljan Radic, Eduardo Souto de Moura, and the Australian architect Sean Godsell.

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I never thought I would say it, but Sean Godsell’s chapel is an exceptional contribution to this endeavour. Let me repeat that. Indeed, I never thought I would write these word’s, but the small chapel designed by Sean Godsell is tremendous and certainly better in many respects than the chapels by the other architects.

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Catholic liturgy

The Godsell chapel does not seem to just recreate what one might expect of some of the auteur architects represented here. What’s more, it seems to speak to an understanding of the Catholic liturgy that is not merely superficial, thematic or the usual riffs about sunlight, the sky and the meditative life.

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The Godsell project’s strength is that it is a discernible celebration of the Catholic liturgy itself. A celebration of its gestures, and a celebration that intimates that once its panels are closed, they could then be re-opened. The laity seating is distant from the altar, and the altar itself is all hot-blooded galvanised steel; above which is a gold metallic light shaft, even the hydraulic canisters, which support the verandah like panels, seem to suggest that this is not a static place but a working and operating chapel. The hex screws look like they have been drilled in so hard they are stigmata. The small primitive half-log benches for the laity are outside of the main area but these face the altar. The message is clear: the priest-architect is at the centre of this chapel.

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The galvanised steel work reinforces a sense of temporality in the way that appears to imply the chapel can be opened and closed. It would be interesting to see how the light on this chapel changes with the season of the Venetian lagoon. One could certainly imagine rituals, Catholic or otherwise, taking place here. It is orientated to both the sky and the lagoon, as well as a focus that directs worship towards the central liturgy of Catholicism.

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The BBQ and the Design Hub 

I have heard a few of the other blokes sniggering to say that altar looks like a BBQ, in the summer heat of Venice its natural to think you could easily fry a few strips of kanga on it. I am not sure how our collective critical faculties came to such blithe readings. Its always easy to scoff at the architect-priest driven by intuition, who readily conforms to the trope of the holy monster or outsider architect. But hey whats wrong with the barbie. Isn’t that what the Catholic liturgy is all about in a way: red meat, eggs and poking forks into flesh. Every Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie, Oi, Oi, Oi, BBQ is a kind of transubstantiation in its own way.

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Now I am being blithe, but more seriously, this project in Venice suggests that a reading of Godsell’s largest project to date, the Design Hub, could be seen differently; a jewel box or casket, a kind of crematoria and chapel situated in a profane world. Arguably, the pragmatic controversies surrounding the Design Hub have distorted a critical reading of it and the architect’s intentions. No matter how much that intention might be the result of an intuitive and primal sensibility adrift from theory.

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Christ Almighty 

Can we just write off such architectural contributions as ecclesiastical outliers for the faithful? Or can we scoff at them in with all the instruments of secular rhetoric? Does religiosity, whatever form it might take, really matter and is its representation in architecture anything we need consider? Interestingly, the Melbourne School of architecture (let’s call it that for the sake of simplicity) has been driven by a big swathe of Christological narratives. By focusing and drawing attention to the actions of the ritual itself Sean Godsell’s approach is different to the embedded symbolic narratives of Howard Raggat’s designs for our city and probably more straightforward than Peter Corrigan’s work and the complexities of his theatrical catholicism. What is interesting is a big swathe of our city, and the tribal life of its architects, has its origins and legacies in the work of these very Christian architects.

Catalan Pavilion

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A useful comparison to the Holy See’s contribution at Venice is the Catalan Pavilion. This pavilion is suitably distant from the main centres of biennale action. Of course, given the politics of Catalonia, it appears telling that the Catalan architects RCR, recent winners of the Pritzker prize, would be on the margins of the Venetian lagoon. Approaching the Catalonian exhibition you find a tin shed; another temporary fragment built on all the other fragments and accretions that have made Venice. But unlike many of the other National Pavilions of this year’s Biennale, including the Australian pavilion, this exhibit presents a dream sequence of images rather than some polemical rhetoric about architectural nationhood. As the architects themselves say:

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“Architecture shouldn’t be about doing difficult projects and iconic buildings but about creating spaces in which people can have their own experiences and develop their own creativity,”

The Catalan pavilion “Dream and Nature,” evokes the landscapes of Catalonia and the relationship of the architects to this place.

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Filled with glittering plastic lenses, grainy media projections and whimsical images of nature the Catalan pavilion presents a series of unstable images that seem to exist between waking and dreaming. If one of the primary tasks of modern architecture is estrangement, to make us perceive things differently, then this pavilion achieves this. (Shklovsky’s literary notion of defamiliarisation and estrangement and its relation to the forms of a tradition have always seemed fitting theory in this regard).

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RCR’s Catalan pavilion, called “Dream and Nature,” takes the visitor far away from Venice’s canals by evoking the woodlands, fields and volcanic hills of Catalonia. The pavilion presents images of 120 hectares of land in Catalonia that the three architects bought and have started to turn into what Mr Aranda called “our legacy” — a farming property that they aim to make a place of study and reflection about architecture and how it interacts with nature and with other disciplines.

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There was a moment in the Catalan pavilion, projected onto one of the lenses, where the architects are walking through a forest. It is like they had abandoned architecture and had become children at play, positioning architecture between nature, folklore and the spirit creatures of their own land. That’s the kind of kool-aid I want to drink.

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The Burbs 

As for the spirit creatures in our suburbs. They have all been killed. Killed by the big roofed Christian churches, Ronchamp look-a-likes and basic brick sheds next to the suburban freeways. Yet, both Corbusier’s Ronchamp and Asplund’s chapel advance an architectural language based on a ancient animism celebrating a primitivist and folkloric nature. A natural and organic world separated from the strictures of organised religion. For modernists and those who succeed them religious buildings have perhaps always presented a dilemma. What are the appropriate modes of representation and architectural language for such buildings? How do Architects build programs that represent different faith communities? The efforts in Australia to build mosques that counter Muslim racism indicate other examples of this genre. Moreover, how do we build on country?

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Nowadays every city has its own little-bejewelled icons. Little nuggets and follies designed to travel through our social media feeds with dreamless iconicity. Image canoes determined not to dissolve or get swamped or sunk or lost on Insta or Twitter. Canoes attached to confected outrage or bland boosterism.

What is the point of follies, or exhibitions if they do not estrange our minds, or take us to past rituals and lost dreams. So what can we say about sacred liturgies, pagan rituals, dreams and wanderings at a time where every city has its follies and pavilions. Have we become slaves to a political economy of iconicity that is really not making our settlements any more living or sustainable or resilient or smart?

ArchiTeam Funding Research for Architects in Small Practice.

Small architectural practice is one of the hardest things you do in life. Sometimes it feels like the rewards are few and far between. Even the most modest house or house renovation can take years to design and see built. Small practices contribute much to Australian cities, small practices believe in design, the elegance of details and, more often than not, the hopes of local communities. The influence and impact of small practice is everywhere in our cities and suburbs. In our cities, small practice architects are an integral part of heritage and planning debates, the business of architectural education as well as the construction and property industry. However, small architects have not been served well by existing avenues of research funding in the field.

RAsP invite

The RASP launch is just before the MSDx exhibition which will give you a great idea of the range and depth of the many fabulous design studios at MSD.

The voice of the architect

In small projects, no matter what they are it is often the voice of the architect who stands up for planning and regulatory approval, common sense and sustainability. It is the architect who pushes back against the excesses of those only concerned with crude measures of time and cost. A generosity of spirit has always been an attribute of small practice. As a result, most architects at the end of their careers have accumulated those lines and wrinkles that only the careworn seem to gather.

The voices of architects both individually and collectively are often unheard or dismissed. Mostly these perceptions come from a distracted public unversed in design and more powerful lobby groups. Architects themselves worry and wring their hands about this and wonder how it could be better. We need research to combat all of this.

In conjunction with ArchiTeam and MSD, we are hoping to crowdfund a research project that examines the value that architects add to the property. It is unlikely that this project would gain funding in any other way. We are hoping to get around $25,000 for the project.

This initiative is a unique approach to research funding for small practices, and ArchiTeam is hoping to create an ongoing research fund for small practice. ArchiTeam have branded this initiative as RASP an acronym for Research for Architects in Small Practice. Building a research fund of this kind will send a strong message that small practice based architects need to be acknowledged and counted for in the design of our future cities.

The proposal

The research project aims to measure if architect-designed houses and house renovations improve capital gains in the Melbourne inner city housing market. The precise wording of the research question is “Do architect designed renovations improve capital gains in the Melbourne residential property market?”

In concise terms, the research will involve a descriptive, comparative quantitative analysis of two data pools. One pool will be based on sale data from architect-designed houses, and the other will contain sale data from non-architect designed houses. The data from each of these pools will be aggregated, analysed and compared. Descriptive statistics, as well as correlation and regression analysis, will be employed to compare the two pools. Email me if you have any questions about how we will do it. A research contract is in place the crowdfunding amount will go into a fund administered by MSD and ArchiTeam cooperative. The money will principally fund research associate time and data costs.

ArchiTeam 

For regular blog readers who do not know ArchiTeam was founded in 1991. ArchiTeam Cooperative is a membership association for Australian architects working in small, medium and emerging practices. ArchiTeam is democratically run by members, for members. Every member is encouraged to play an active part in shaping the organisation. With over 800+ members, it is the leading dedicated voice of Australia’s small architectural practices. This research proposal is unique and specific to the profession of architecture and small practices. It positions ArchiTeam as both a sponsor and a leader in applied architectural research in Australia.

You are welcome to come along to our celebratory launch night and the details are below. Justin Madden of Arup, Rosemary Ross of ArchiTeam and myself will be speaking. The RASP crowdfunding button will then go live !

RAsP invite

The RASP launch is just before the MSDx exhibition which will give you a great idea of the range and depth of the many fabulous design studios at MSD. Hundreds of projects will be displayed throughout the building during the exhibition, from 22 June to 6 July. If read this blog and see me there come and say hello.