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The main influences on Australian architecture have been external, with a direction towards sculptural or so-called iconic projects that have little regard for the urban environment, function or the previous edict that form should follow function from the last century. Architecture of this genre has little regard for purpose, materials or environment and is reflective of a fetish for being noticed. This approach has demonstrated a self will of artistic indulgence that cries for attention, rather than the desire to complement and add to the quality of the environment. However, it is the approach of many young designers who hanker for attention. There are many examples of this in Melbourne and the fashion has reached Sydney. Hopefully, it will be as short-lived as postmodernism was in the 1970s.
The most notable change in Australian architecture in the past 10 years has been, at least superficially, the incorporation of sustainable principles, with a more intelligent approach to the incorporation of both passive and active energy systems within a building. These have yet to find an aesthetic other than being secondary elements, rather than primary.
CH2, Melbourne – Mick Pearce and DesignInc
The CH2 building in Melbourne is a demonstration of a pot-pourri of environmental issues, patter-caked together into a building. It is a noble effort and has had the desired effect of marketing to the architectural community that if there is money and determination, environmental initiatives can be achieved. In urban or aesthetic terms, it equally tells a story that there is much to do to humanise this approach. Social and other aspirations are deserving of equal consideration.
The engineer and the architect: a new relationship
Goodwill Bridge Brisbane, Kurilpa Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge Brisbane, Helix Bridge Marina Bay Singapore and Yarra Park Pedestrian Bridge Melbourne have shown the change in engineer and architect relationships. Architects are now used more extensively in design within a domain previously considered exclusive to engineers. The reason is mostly twofold: the education of engineering students in design, and a new attitude towards architects, given their ability to ‘place make’, taking structures into consideration.
Barangaroo in Sydney has had a positive outcome in mustering architectural opinion against a project that does not contribute to the city or recognise the issues of city grain, texture, waterfront amenity, public versus private space, scale, bulk, connectivity and a litany of other architectural and urban considerations. To question the role of government in bringing in named overseas architects to assure the public of solutions, despite rigorous assessment by Australian architectural opinion pointing to the contrary, brings to the Australian architectural and planning environment a new self-confidence, considering the disastrous solutions being offered by overseas architects.
Philip Cox is the founding partner of Cox Architecture.