Advocacy not Awards: The awards categories you won’t see.

My local branch of the AIA had its awards jury presentations last weekend. I wanted to go and have a look at few categories. Sadly, an impending conference paper deadline prevented me from attending. I might go to the awards ceremony I am hoping they will get out the red carpet this year and then there might be a few protests like the one above at the Baftas.

But like all good awards punters I had a look at the form guide. It was ok as far as lists of architecture go. As someone reminded me during the week the culture of architectural practice in my city is vibrant and well developed with its own legacies, tribal distinctions and pecking orders. The stability of this pecking order never fails to amaze/annoy me. I remember when I went to the awards presentations one year after a significant absence and felt like I was returning to my old high school. I wondered, what has really changed in 20 years since I left architecture school. Same principal, same deputy principal, same prefects and house captain’s same acolytes and lackeys. Same old, same old, so called “rebels” and other people on the outer. Which was actually just about everyone else who wasn’t in the principals group. Everyone in their place, certainly not a lot of difference and inclusion, as Roy Grounds was reputed to say: “Melbourne is a rich smug city.” There is a downside to existing in a city with a strong practice culture.

I love this chart by Deb Verhoven mapping the awards in the Australian film industry. I am sure this the same in the architecture awards networks.

Even so despite my misgivings and raw cynicism, even though I couldn’t go to the presentations this year I had a look through the categories there is really a lot of very impressive architecture in each category. The small category for small and micro projects was a stand out.

Anyway the categories for the Australian National and Victorian awards go like this and both have pretty much the same structure: Public Architecture, Educational Architecture Residential Architecture – Houses (New), Residential Architecture – Houses (Alterations & Additions), Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing, Commercial Architecture, Heritage, Urban Design, Small Project Architecture, Sustainable Architecture, Enduring Architecture (What is this exactly?), International Architecture And of course that great anti Trump Tariff award: Category A1: Colorbond® Award for Steel Architecture.

Yada, Yada, Yada.

Raisbeck’s Form Guide

So after checking out the categories I set up my Ladbrokes account app on my phone, where you can bet on the wards, and decided to put my money on the following in the Victorian Architects for the Awards. So here is my quick guide to the firm.

In Small I like Brickface Austin Maynard Residential its kooky and small should be kooky. I am sucker for the cute brickwork.

In Residential Alts and Additions I like Templeton Architecture’s Merriwee. Those bricks are fantastic. So Yassss !! maybe I am a real sucker for the brickwork If architects cant do great brickwork who can? I wouldnt give any of my awards to Rob Mills because everytime I open the internet I am delivered a targeted ad for this firm. Mills should check his advertising algorithms.

In New Housing: Compound House, (although I like the Panopticon but maybe it’s just the name and the Foucault reference). In Public Architecture: I like the cop shop for Melbourne’s most disadvantaged outer suburb.

In education I was worried this category was going to be full of middle brow aluminium external panelled with sanitised teaching spaces. But I was relieved to see 18 Innovation Walk Revitalisation Project by Kosloff Architecture, Callum Morton and MAP (Monash Art Projects). Maybe these guys don’t deserve it because they have been such baddasses with form, but hey why not. In multi residential my pick is: Nightingale 1 by Breathe Architecture It would be criminal if this did not get the award. There rest of the category is train wreck that deserves a dissertation on it own about the corrupting influence of developers on architects.

So after placing a few bets, I am thinking all of these award categories don’t really do architects justice. There awards system in this country is too object focused. It’s remarkable that for the professional bodies to devote so much of their marketing efforts on the awards for architect design buildings.

Even Architeam has an award for unbuilt projects and an award entitled contribution. I think that is great idea.  I was judge for them in 2013 and they never asked me back. They have a slightly different system to the other professional body.  One jury to judge all the categories. That can be ok. The year I did it here were 3 or 4 of us. Last year there were seven on the jury and of course, it is said that, the egos came out and the project I was involved with as a client, I think, was shafted. I think the let’s be precious and not give out too many award’s brigade held sway. Architects need to give out more awards rather than less.

More is More and not Less

So it goes without saying architects need broader categories of awards if we are to successfully market the profession in the new millennia. So it would be great to give out awards each year for contributions to research, architectural education, public advocacy (the anti-Apple crew), or one for sustainable advocacy, or design leadership and of course business leadership, or maybe just leadership in the profession. How about an award for Parlour ? Or an award for architectural media? Or an award to someone who has done a lot to promote Melbourne Architecture to the world ( I am thinking of you know who)? By this strategy you might even get some people from outside of the profession of architecture to participate in the judging.

Or maybe, you could also do critical negative awards. I am thinking best hot-shot firm from overseas who gets the commission, fees, publicity and then leaves town. Leaving the town looking, and living with a dog of a public building (will this be Apple?). In parochial parlance this award could be called the Wombat award. Or maybe, a Weinstein like award for the best octopus like local star architect or director and then you can have awards for the most exploited student, or recent graduate, or most underpaid mid-career female architect. I won’t go on.

Is the profession so moribund and stuck in its parochial awards culture that it can’t get out of the rut of only thinking about buildings? There are a lot of architect’s out there who aren’t architect’s in the narrow and traditional sense and their contributions should be recognised. Plus, we need to recognise both architects and firms at all stages of their careers.

Maybe if we had more categories and more vision, I would stop thinking, in my more cynical moments, that the awards systems is just replicating a favoured circle and narrow canon of bourgeois, liveable and sustainable slop and that only the chosen few will ever get the prizes for.

The featured image above was taken by Hannah Mckay of Reuters.

 

Surviving the Design Studio: A quick form guide for the Shepparton Art Museum competition.

I think architectural competitions are awesome. A well run architectural competition generates debate, promotes architects and architecture and ensures that cronyism, fee cutting and so-called value management doesn’t diminish the public realm. When it comes to procurement it is usually the Project Management types who get it all wrong and not the architects. Yup, it is often the in-charge Project Managers who have little concern for, or knowledge of, architectural design. The killer thing is the Project Managers love to blame the architects for the problems they have created in the first place.

Greater Shepparton City Council. should be applauded for having the courage to run an architectural competition for the new Shepparton Art Museum. Architectural competitions are a excellent way to get the best outcomes, both in terms of time and cost and meeting the requirements of a complex program. Its great to see architecture supported in this fashion. In this case it is a complex cultural program and interestingly the business case for it is readily accessible if you are interested. It’s great to see and contrasts with the the usual behind closed doors machinations of Project Managers and bureaucrats enmeshed in established networks of patronage (and dare I say privilege).

 The problems of criticism 

Since starting this blog I have been hesitant to allow my harsher critical intelligence to run riot. Architectural criticism is fraught with hazards and pitfalls. The central problem is that some architects are notoriously thin-skinned and any vaguely or faintly critical discussion of their work can lead to bad voodoo. A lot of what passes as published criticism, and architectural discourse, on the web is really just about saying nice things about a particular architectural project. Or worse still stating the obvious with little interpretation. A lot of it is middle brow sop avoiding the hard questions and failing to pursue the contradictions and complexities of architecture in a wealthy nation like Australia.

I also fear that critical theory in relation to architecture is a little dangerous. Too much critical theory and you can get into trouble. I think this is because I witnessed the “Theory Wars” at my architecture school in the early 90s when the practicing architects took on the theory mavens. Theory is certainly dangerous of course, and unlike Italian, Dutch, or French Architecture, not valued particularly highly in Australian architectural culture. I can just hear those voices now saying: “cut the bullshit and who needs theory when we get stuff built.” I remember once when I was a chair of on a AIA awards jury I was told by an older and respected architect: “if you don’t give so and so the award you might as well pack your bags and leave town.”  The privilege of practice doesn’t necessarily mandate the particular theoretical view of the practitioner. Why should it and why shouldn’t such views be contested and debated? I think we need critical theory more than ever now. In recent times I fear that the practice and development of theory in architecture schools has been, with a few exceptions, almost completely erased. Much easier to grab and robot and dance with a 3D printer. Who needs theory when you have technology. Who needs architecture for that matter?

As a much younger person I was also involved in a radio program on community radio. Every week we reviewed a building and gave it a score out of 10. A few buildings were so bad I used to call them dogs and I may even have made barking noises a few times on air. It is little wonder I always struggled to find work and why I never ended up crawling up the ladder to being an associate somewhere. Of course I was useless as well, as I was always spilling Rotring ink, or dropping things, or crashing the directors cars, or trying to gatecrash lunches at the Kelvin club with the AIA President or barfing up at the AIA awards. No wonder I was relegated to the back of the office under the dyeline machine.

These days I wonder if anyone cares whenever I write about anything about buildings at all. When I write stuff about Bjarke’s hair, or Alien Project Managers, or the problems with planners, the blog stats go through the roof. But nonetheless, despite these impediments, I still feel the need to try and here is my quick form guide to the Shepparton Art Gallery entries. In no particular order here is my, oh so gentle, take on the Shepparton shortlisted schemes.

DCM

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This scheme has a pretty cool roof deck. The planning and circulation looks like it would easily cater to a range of different exhibition configurations. The volumes of the central galleria would be cool. Maybe its a bit too much like a gallery; but that is probably the point. But,  the thing I like the most about this one is the northern “plate” façade and the hill or mound leading up to that. Working together these would be a pretty good articulation and expression of public space. I could just see myself lying on the hill drunk on Rose watching a few projections. If it is detailed and constructed well (and it think it would need to be to carry it off) the northern façade or plate could be fantastic.

Lyons

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A lot of fun with some inverted wedge shapes (wedgies?), deftly playing up on contours of these volumes; in conjunction with the diamond shaped façade, this would give the Wyndham street view a great visual dynamic as you approach the gallery. Lyons really are great exponents of dynamic façade design and detailing. The volumetric shapes allow for the building to have a series of well articulated and diverse gallery spaces opening out to the lake. I like the ceiling of the Kaiela gallery. The galleries are generously and the central square would be great place for the kids of Shepparton to play up in.

KTA architects

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To be honest I actually like this one the best (is it ok if I say that?). I think this one pays more respect to the idea of country. I think it is because of the way that it attempts to drag the adjacent wetland and landscape into the building, and like the DCM scheme, I am a sucker for rooftops you can get onto. The space planning of the galleries look a bit constrained but I think the idea of a flowing circulation space and the sheltering canopy would be great backdrops for art. Being able to walk through it after hours is exactly what the punters need in Shepparton.

JWA

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I work in a JWA building so maybe I am positively biased. In contrast to the materials in the Lyons scheme what distinguishes this design is the use of timber both inside and outside. The vertical circulation through the building and the arrangement of different rooms and spaces is functional and extremely well considered. There are some pretty cool bits that would work well: The circular aperture over the entrance gallery. The large outward facing window to the amenities area. As well as the surreal red canopy over the roof terrace (which presumably can be changed and is intended to change over time). There is a lot of architecture and architectural detail in this proposal.

MVS

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Of all the schemes I think this one is probably the most subtle in terms of its concept.This is a more conceptually ambiguous proposal, than the other proposals, and perhaps that is a good thing. However, this ambiguity makes it harder to describe in a few words. At first glance it looks deceptively simple. A separate block and a courtyard block. There is no bluster or obvious kick in the head big idea.  A distortion and break up of a traditional art gallery or museum typology. In the renders and the conceptual diagram it looks like the concept is structured around disruption and play between a forested landscape (country), a manicured landscape and the wetlands. A slightly different take on the themes in the KTA scheme. The kinda lumpy ceiling of the entry gallery looks like fun.The facade is also apparently ambiguous with hues of orange, yellow, pink and violet against a mesh-like pattern and material.

State of Play? 

It’s a pretty good snapshot of the current state of play of Australian architecture. In light of the above I have tried to keep my remarks generous and resist the urge to let my critical faculties run wild. You can make up your own minds. My comments are based on the renders and plans to be found here. I would encourage all of you, especially students of architecture, to study and think about these submissions as these projects represent some of our best.

As with all good competitions you can vote on which one you like best. You can also do that here.