Archive 2004

ARA writes about AAA

The April 2004 edition of Architecture Review Australia includes a well written summary of the AAA, its hopes and potential.

Here is the text:

By now every registered architect in Australia will have received an invitation to join the newly formed Australian Architecture Association (AAA). According to its mission statement, the AAA aims to promote architecture and inculcate its importance to a larger slice of the Australian public. Since worse practice in the built environment is often the result of economic and political processes (of which the public is largely uninformed), locking architecture out of an effective role, the AAA’s ambition to directly target the public and galvanise a constituency beyond the profession, must clearly be seen as a laudable ambition.

At this preliminary stage of formation, concrete details remain inevitably scarce and it is as yet unclear how such an profound change in the relationship between architecture and the public and indeed the urban decision-makers might be achieved. However, in general terms it might be useful to understand the AAA by first defining what it is not. It is not attempting to be another RAIA and will not be offering any of the RAIA services to architects, nor is its membership restricted to the profession of architects. In fact the AAA will deliberately canvas support from anyone with an interest in architecture. In seeking to discriminate between the welfare of architecture and the welfare of architects (a duty more apposite to the Institute), the AAA aspires to the status of like-minded cultural organisations such as The Architecture Foundation in London , the Chicago Architecture Foundation and Centre Canadien d’Architecture in Quebe .

One can usefully divide the AAA’s nascent program into three distinct fields: mediating, lobbying and event organising, of which the last is the most tangible. The cornerstone of the AAA’s program will be a revitalisation of the International Series of public lectures. This much is self-evidently of value in the promotion of architecture’s popularity, as nothing excites interest in any field as much as the visit of an overseas celebrity Though not in itself a new idea, there is little doubt that the combined reputations of the founding committee will secure a program of significant architectural dignitaries. Already names such as Alvaro Siza and Jacques Herzog are in the mix. Typically there will be four a year once the program develops. The recent confirmation of the Sydney Opera House as venue will help lure overseas architects and augment the Association’s public cultural status. If such an initiative can drag architecture out of the property pages and into the weekend culture supplements, it is to be applauded, Another key feature of the planned public events will be the establishment of an organised program of architectural tours around key sites of architectural merit. Amongst other long-term plans there are architecture exhibitions, film seasons and children- focused events in the pipe-line, with a singular goal to advance architecture as a part of public life and discourse.

Less tangible is the AAA’s mediating role. That is, to be a resource for architectural critics, journalists and the media, and indeed to be itself a media campaigner. There is no doubt that these are the skills which founding director Stella de Vulder will bring to her new role. However, clearly a pluralist ability to mediate diverse, if not occasionally antagonistic practice, requires a diversity in leadership, currently an issue for the founding committee. The architectural sympathies that bond the AAA’s founding committee are palpable – a strength that may prove a weakness unless the need for a greater heterogeneity in the Association’s composition is addressed as a matter of priority Regional spread will doubtless be achieved soon, with Kerstin Thompson and John Wardle already taking up the mantle in Victoria and others in the remaining states to be announced over forthcoming months. In the name of architecture’s mediation and promotion, inclusively of practice must be the corollary of accessibility.

The third and perhaps strongest card in the AAA’s pack, though as yet untested, is its ability to lobby government and law makers, while simultaneously creating closer ties with industry. As Stella de Vulder states: “Since taking up the Major Corporate Membership of the AAA, Bluescope Steel executives have joined the founding committee and their contribution to marketing and reaching target audiences is already taking an effective form.” With the reality that D&C will continue to dominate the construction industry, the urgent need to create alliances between architecture and corporations and further, the market, hardly needs arguing. Similarly the evidence that architecture needs greater leverage and robust advocacy in the courts piles up in the planning offices of every state in the country. If Russell Ward’s provocative Mayoral campaign in Brisbane signals anything (see letters p14), it is the concern that without challenging the web of bureaucracy encircling the profession, architecture will be reduced to a checklist of banal formulas.

Although the AAA is at pains to distance itself from a single-issue identity the ongoing bureaucratic constraint of architecture through ever-increasing planning regulation, is inevitably read as precipitous, given the vocal opinions of Harry Seidler and Glenn Murcutt. Their sustained criticism of planners and developers has been splashed all over the press for many years (albeit not always directed at the right target). As stated unequivocally by founding president Glenn Murcutt:

”... our current feeling of the health of residential architecture is that it’s a disaster. Government structures and regulations allow this disastrous planning and, combined with the requirement of developers to sell at the cheapest possible level, produces entirely unsustainable developments. The worst thing of all is the long-term economics for the occupants, with rising costs of ongoing heating, cooling, maintenances and transport. The whole thing’s a challenge, environmentally and spatially we must find ways of introducing more ideas and debate for government, the development industry and the potential house purchaser, if we want to assist change in this critical area.”

Words that will render whole-hearted support from many, but also concerned caveats from some. There is genuine reason to support any initiative with such worthy purpose, but there also remains a residual regret that the aims and agenda of the AAA has not been possible to accommodate within the RAIA. The logic for this division of energies, which has been characterised by some influential commentators as a split in the opposition, must of course acknowledge the Institute as something other than a passive spectator.

In Quebec , Chicago , Rotterdam or London , the establishment of comparative organisations defined a moment of maturity in that region’s culture of architecture. An aspiration for the same to happen in Australia , registers a will to substantially strengthen architecture’s vital role in a growing country. It is imperative that an organisation so charged captures the breadth and scope of what architecture is and might be in Australia . Such would be an Association of unquestionable benefit to the profession.

Architects back culture

Yet more media coverage for the emerging organisation, this time in the April 04 edition of Building Product News with an article by Dael Climo. Glenn Murcutt and Harry Seidler are among top-name architects that have established a new group to promote the culture of contemporary architecture in Australia . Called the Australian Architecture Association (AAA), the organisation’s mission statement says it “will support the discourse and promotion of architecture in the Australian cultural milieu – architecture which is of its place and time, which is simultaneously modern and timeless.

Apart from Murcutt and Seidler, founding members of the AA include Richard Johnson, Wendy Lewin, Alex Popov, James Grose and Ian Moore, supported by founding directors Stella de Vulder and Annette Dearing.

According to founding president Glenn Murcutt, the time is right to establish an organisation with the aim of broadly promoting contemporary architecture: “We want to build an organisation that is complimentary to the RAIA,” he notes. “Everyone concerned with architecture will benefit from our efforts to bring people more information about architecture and its value to society.

“The founders of the AAA have a deep love of architecture and believe if we put in a sustained effort we will realise our vision ‘to enable the public to understand, enjoy and discuss architecture’.”

Unlike the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) which is a professional body open only to architects and which concentrates on the legal and political aspects of architecture, the AAA will be an inclusive organisation – open to the general community. “We want to build a new audience for architecture,” says de Vulder. That includes the developers and large construction companies who can have such an impact on visual impact of the built environment—“this will get more conversations going between different sectors of the building community,” de Vulder points out.

The AAA has been based on similar organisations overseas such as the Architecture Foundation in the UK , the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The latter has been part of the city’s fabric for around forty years, says de Vulder, running 65,000 architecture tours annually. Similar events will be held here, and overseas architects will be brought out for speaking tours.

At the time of writing, the announcement of a celebrated international architect to kick off the AAA’s guest speaking tours was imminent. The Opera House has already offered its services as the venue for the Sydney leg.

The group’s website – www.architecture.org.au – contains information on upcoming events, the AAA’s credo and an application form.

Elections nobble good design, say architects

The Australian newspaper carries comment by AAA founding president Glenn Murcutt on the Sydney Council elections. Article by Benard Lane.

Text:

RENOWNED architect Glenn Murcutt says the not-in-my-backyard mentality has been a winner in Sydney ’s council elections.

“The results of the weekend’s local government elections reflect the NIMBY syndrome,” Mr Murcutt, founding president of the Architecture Association of Australia, said yesterday of the strong showing by the Greens and Labor defeats in inner Sydney .

“Most people are frightened of today and tomorrow, they don’t understand good contemporary design and prefer buildings designed to look like Federation,” Mr Murcutt said. “If you went back 200 years and showed today’s buildings to people, they would be horrified and would reject the 21st- century building.”

Mr Murcutt, Australia ’s only winner of the international Pritzker prize, argues that good design is being frustrated by a local planning system that enshrines mediocrity and a misplaced nostalgia.

On Thursday, two senior figures from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, NSW chapter president Caroline Pidcock and past national president Graham Jahn , are due to meet NSW Planning Minister Craig Knowles to lobby for a radical streamlining of the planning system. Under the plan the scope for local council micro-management and neighbourhood conflict over small-scale residential projects would be reduced sharply. Planning rules would be simplified to concentrate on privacy, overshadowing and site coverage. Subjective issues such as the look and colour of a house would no longer be grounds for opposition.

“Some of the councils have got down to exact dimensioning of windows,” Ms Pidcock said. “Local government needs to be hands-on in the right places.” She said the idea was to free up councils and residents so they could devote time and expertise to coming up with sound planning documents and to assessing the effect of major development.

“For people who are concerned about the environment, there is appropriate development—and some of it is not going to look like any- thing we’ve seen before,” Ms Pidcock said.

Good cross-ventilation and passive solar design, for example, might produce a roof shape unlike that of the neighbouring building.

She said the issue underlying the anti-development unease was the need to man- age the strong population growth of Sydney .

The solution lay in good design, a reform of local planning and strong policy at the regional and state levels, she said.

“It is not solved by saying not in my backyard,” she said.

First members meeting

Held on Tuesday 23/3/2004 in Sydney, the meeting attracted over 200 people and heard from Stella de Vulder, Annette Dearing, Manu Siitonen, Glenn Murcutt, James Grose and more discuss the future of the organisation.

Here’s a run-down of what happened:

Unbelievably the venue for our very first members meeting on Tuesday 23 March was changed at the last minute. Luckily the new venue was only across the road and even more luckily it could hold more people than the original theatre that seated 120. Lucky because over 200 people turned up to find out how the AAA was going and to offer their help in turning an ‘idea whose time had come’ into reality.

Members had travelled from Queensland, Western Australia and outside Canberra to participate in this inaugural event.

A page outlining current and proposed activities was handed out (available for download as a PDF or Flash document 55k).

The founding committee and directors led by Glenn Murcutt faced the audience and kept the talking heads part of the evening to about forty five minutes. Stella de Vulder thanked a few people including Glenn and Wendy for giving so much of their time to the formation of the AAA. All the founding committee were thanked for their contribution with James Grose being given a particular thanks for supplying a base from which to launch the AAA operation. Bluescope Steel the AAA’s first major corporate member was recognised and acknowledged for the wonderful assistance their people, particularly Manu Siitonen, have provided with business and marketing strategies.

Glenn spoke to the ‘idea whose time had come’ topic and covered:

  • For nearly twenty years there have been discussions about forming an organisation that was focussed on promoting architecture to the broader community
  • The comments about the level of ignorance about architecture in the general community and in places such as local government planning departments were continual and we never seemed to actually do anything about it
  • The interest in architecture and design has increased in recent years
  • Looking around the world Australia seems to be the last western economy to establish an organisation focussed on taking architecture to the broader community
  • Similar organisations around the world include:
    • The Architectural League in New York formed in 1881
    • The Canadian Centre for Architecture formed in 1979
    • The Architecture Foundation in London formed in 1991
    • The Chicago Architecture Foundation formed in 1966. I had the opportunity to visit with the President and CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Lynn Osmond, a couple of weeks ago, they conduct the most marvellous programme of activities that includes:
      • 350,000 people attend lectures, exhibits, youth and adult classes and architecture tours annually
      • a range of tours including boat, bike, bus, CTA train and walking tours which cover downtown districts, individual buildings, bungalows, parks, neighbourhoods, churches etc.
      • CAF has over 400 volunteer docents
      • exhibitions and lectures
      • youth and adult education programmes
      • The Newhouse ArchitectureCompetition produced in partnership with the Chicago public schools has served 12,000 students and awarded 450 internships
      • We are arranging for Lynn Osmond to visit here later this year in order to develop a working affiliation between our two organisations and too further promote the type of programmes we are going to be offering the Australian community.
  • This and the fact that we have received such a positive response to my letter of the 30 January shows that indeed this was ‘an idea whose time had come.’

Annette Dearing spoke about the earliest days of the AAA and showed how quickly a determined group of seven founding members, a major corporate member, and two directors can turn two empty computers and three empty arch lever folders on the 6 January into a fledgling organisation that less than three months later by the 19 March had:

  • an image and brand
  • a live website with registered domain name
  • nearly 300 members
  • 37 founding members
  • 16 lever arch folders (some already full)
  • a member database
  • several media stories
  • active email system
  • two computers with 50 folders and hundreds of documents

Questions from the audience were answered by all members of the founding committee ranging from when will the programme of activities begin to what is the relationship with the RAIA.

The final forty five minutes of the event was spent drinking and talking with members meeting founding committee and directors and sharing a wonderful spirit of adventure and new beginnings.

The positive energy created by bringing the members together was palpable and discussions have started on organising similar meetings including as many members of the founding committee as possible in interstate locations.

AAA makes it to Chicago

Founding President, Glenn Murcutt has been in Chicago for a couple of weeks teaching at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Last Friday (12/03/2004) he met with Lynn Osmond, President and CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation to commence talks on forming an affiliation between AAA and the CAF.

Lynn Osmond and Glenn Murcutt
Lynn Osmond, President and CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation welcomes Glenn Murcutt to their Michigan Avenue headquarters.

The great programme of activities conducted by the CAF is a model for the development of AAA, visit their website www.architecture.org – its one of life’s strange coincidences that we registered the Australian version of that address. At the moment we are planning a visit to Australia by Ms Osmond that we can use to further publicise the formation of AAA.