Alternate Reality: Godsell and Corrigan

May 25, 2012
  • Article by Simon Harrison
  • Designer
  • Architect Godsell and Corrigan

According to Frank Godsell and Patricia Corrigan, the day will come when rising sea levels will enable Australia-bound asylum seekers to sail right into the nightmarish maw of Melbourne’s Luna Park. There, within the fortified bounds of the famed Scenic Railway, they propose that refugees should acclimatise to urban life before being processed for integration into the Australian suburbs. Of course, unless you’re seeking asylum from New Zealand or Tasmania, Melbourne may seem an impractical entry point. Nevertheless, under a new refugee management proposal, there may be no other way in.

Be it indigenous land rights, water catchment areas or refugee status, issues concerning territory often arise in the national debate. However, it isn’t often we find architecture playing such a central role. In the wake of the recent High Court decision ruling the Labor Government’s Malaysian Solution unconstitutional, Godsell and Corrigan were called upon to develop an alternative solution to the nation’s refugee containment strategies.

According to their blueprints, Australia’s suburban backyards will be dotted with Refugee Family Units (RFUs), each containing a single refugee. RFUs are to be fitted to the back fence of ordinary Australian backyards and networked via existing back-lane infrastructure. According to Frank Godsell, Godsell and Corrigan won the commission on the strength of earlier speculative work developing mobile and ’non-territorial’ capsule structures, similar in purpose if not scale to Archigram’s ‘walking cities’. Sadly, in its current incarnation, the RFU lacks the limbs and recursive manipulating devices of its predecessor, an unfortunate development that strips its occupant of any agency or mobility.

The RFUs, intended to turn NIMBYism on its head


Indeed, the RFU has suffered severe budget cuts, rendering the once well-appointed design as something more akin to a metabolist doghouse than a futuristic vision of idyllic nomadism. Fortunately, in the capable hands of Godsell and Corrigan, the units retain a sense of utility and aesthetic integrity. While tight, each RFU contains a single mattress, toilet and basin – the building envelope deftly contoured to its function. It could well be described as an oversized prosthesis, a shield or artificial skin, allowing the human body to assume the function of a national border. Indeed, Patricia Corrigan informs me much time was spent scrutinising the space-saving strategies employed by developers working in the international student apartment market.

While never stated explicitly, it is apparent from speaking with Godsell and Corrigan that this particular commission is a source of great personal anguish. Besides their clear attempts to make the most of a severely restricted brief, it would appear their own interests are in bringing the grim face of refugee incarceration to the attention of the voting public. According to Godsell, “the prevalence of political NIMBYism in this country has, until now, ensured that Australians need never come to personal terms with the fate of refugees seeking asylum in their country. Onshore or offshore, the ugly reality of detention policies can be ignored”. The RFU is attempting to correct this, as Godsell and Corrigan turn NIMBYism on its head – while also turning backyards into ideological battlefields.

Participating families would receive a 'Refugee Bonus' and carbon offset generated by the under-floor biomass converter


At first, it would seem the proposal has political support, although a cynic might consider the government, having exhausted every alternative, simply has nowhere else to turn. Indeed, significant efforts have been made to gain public support: there’s the Refugee Bonus for participating families, the removal of any windows contravening ‘overlooking’ regulations and, of course, a household carbon offset generated by the inbuilt refugee biomass converter. Another key feature has been the appropriation of back-lane infrastructure to serve infrequent visits from corrections officers and immigration caseworkers. These access ways also serve as the only open space accessible to the detainees. Clearly, the placatory message is skewed toward the householder. It would seem humanity isn’t a draw card.

As with each of Australia’s refugee ‘solutions’, the current proposal has significant shortcomings. Reading through the strategic fine print, RFUs are to be classified as zones of extra-territoriality, indefinitely excluding their occupants from Australia’s migration zone and associated rights of asylum. What we’re seeing is effectively a mirror of Christmas Island, transplanted into suburban backyards. This does not bode well. If the scheme fails, it will only galvanise support for the Minister’s preferred Malaysian Solution.

Luna Park reimagined as the nation's new refugee processing centre


There is also concern about the potential for abuse. How will we treat our backyard guests: as fellow human beings or as captive animals? The disturbing social parable of Lars von Trier’s Dogville springs to mind. Or perhaps worse: are our asylum seekers doomed to be the victims of a dispassionate and indifferent Australian populace? Characteristically treading a political tightrope, Godsell and Corrigan have done little to conceal their concern. From their RFU dogbox aesthetic to the haunting refurbishment of the Luna Park processing centre, no attempt has been made to airbrush the ugly reality of refugee detention.

Of course, this may well be a watershed moment in our collective treatment of asylum seekers. As Corrigan reflects: “Perhaps with refugee communities occupying our laneways, Australians will seek to help their new neighbours free themselves from the shackles of a second class existence. By drawing this issue into the domestic sphere, perhaps we can summon the death knell for indefinite and arbitrary mandatory detention.”

One can only hope.

Conversation • 17 comments

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25 May 12 at 5:43 PM • Michelle

Wow, this is truly appalling.

What a waste of architectural skills – if you can call it that – not to mention time, resources, energy, etc.

Where is the humanity? Compassion? Culture? Understanding of how to build community?

25 May 12 at 6:10 PM • robert venturi

if Godsell and Venturi did the building on corner of swanston and Victoria sts the fascism is alive and well.

25 May 12 at 7:59 PM • geoffrey fulton

Just how stupid is this proposal. Reminds me of the Sean Godsell Future Shack and “bench seat accommodation” for the homeless.
Or have I got it wrong…. that the refugees are in fact 5 year olds who would like a play house.Or is it supposed to be a solitary confinement cell. Can’t understand architects who produce ridiculous non-functional odd shaped structures that are uneconomical and totally impractical just to get publicity.
Are all these backyards where these cells are to be located only 3 meters wide? Ids the airspace above the ground not available so that it has to be part submerged and of course made absolutely watertight. And how is it going to be delivered to sites? Tipped over on their sides? Obviously haven’t thought about the toilet roll holder …. not difficult to place in a practical location or are these supposed to retain the toilet habits that many have been used to in their original homelands? Been there done that!
Instead, be practical, use shipping containers as we do for student accommodation where we can put at least 8 separate units in the backyard of a suburban lot. Plenty of space for 2 people in each, a kitchen and bathroom…. toilet with T.R. holders.AND a garden outlook and outdoor living space. AND each module easily transportable, no holes for concrete footings, tornado safe, and removable within an hour to a new location without leaving a hole in the ground to be filled in.
Most of all, they are stylish comfortable living at a fraction of the price of this doghouse. Is it any wonder that architects have gained a reputation for often producing impractical overpriced buildings! By the way, what is the price of one of these “things” and has anyone put their hand up to buy one. Or is this aimed at the government and its astronomically priced infrastructure projects like the new jail where accommodation for each inmate will cost in excess of $1,000,000, or the Melbourne accommodation for homeless kids costing $500,000 for each person’s accommodation. Are we all living in a world of corruption with things happening under the table or are we becoming stupid?

26 May 12 at 10:14 PM • Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle

There has been some recent confusion as to Godsell and Corrigan’s association with other Melbourne-based architectural practices. For the purposes of absolute clarity, Godsell and Corrigan may be affiliated with the following practices:
Jackson Architecture
Shelly Penn Architects
Baldasso Cortesse Architects
Barrocco + Wright
Max May Pty Ltd Architects.
Peter Crone Pty Ltd Architects
Richard Stampton Architects
McIntyre Partnership
Workshop Architecture
Smith + Tracey Architects
Lovell Chen Architects
Billard Leece
Fender Katsalidis
Norman Day Architects
Zen Architects
Harmer Archtitecture
Sally Draper Architects
Peter Elliot Architecture and Design
John Wardle Architects
Gray Pucksand
Idle Architecture Studio
Nott Architecture
Inarc Architects
Demaine Partnership
Opat Architects
Maddison Architects
Whitfield McQueen Irwin Alsop
SJB Architects
Woods Bagot
Allen Powell Architects
Cocks and Carmichael Architects
McGlashan Everist
Nettleton Tribe
Williams Boag Architects
MGS Architects
March Studio

28 May 12 at 9:53 AM • Appalled

Who the F#@* is “Frank” Godsell & “Patricia” Corrigan? I am appalled, Australian Design Review, that you would publish a phony story about a bogus project and refer to two well known surnames in the Australian Architecture scene. Just goes to show your credibility.

28 May 12 at 11:00 AM • Lynne Pepper

My first thought was how small and contained it was but then i moved on – i considered letting a room in my house – it doesn’t really allow a sense of control over ones space nor the ability to practice religious pursuits so different to mine. It certaianly is better than a tent and would fit into the smallest space.

it isn’t ideal but it is a space that currently doesn’t exist and needs to be defined further

28 May 12 at 12:57 PM • Steve

Gee get a sense of humour people. It’s supposed to be satirical – but then if the Luna Park refugee processing centre didn’t tip you off I guess nothing would…

28 May 12 at 2:26 PM • Jan van Schaik

Its encouraging to finally see someone taking the piss out of architects advacning their carreers by proposing hypotheical design solutions to assist with seekers of asylum in Australia. Australia’s treatment of refugees is based on an unethical policy of detention of legitimate asylum seekers in order to send a message to other potential asylum seekers that Australia is an unhosptiable place. This is not a problem that design can solve. A well designed gun, is still a gun.

28 May 12 at 2:28 PM • Steve

RE: ^^^^

Um, “irony”, guys?


28 May 12 at 3:38 PM • Aristot_LOL

Dear ADR,

Thank you for appreciating that your readers can comprehend more than a Top 5 on bathroom fittings.
And the visualisations are brilliant.
Please keep the comments coming.

29 May 12 at 9:47 AM • Sondra T

This is a truly demeaning and repulsive article.

If the publishers had any decency they would withdraw it. This is not journalism, and it is certainly NOT socially-engaged architecture. It is sinisterly sarcastic and offensive.

And it smacks of the lowest form of opportunism.

If ADR had any real interest in the ACTUAL subject it would propose an investigation into the real problems of spatial repression asylum seekers face (indeed they face so many more acts of repression than just spatial).

29 May 12 at 10:15 AM • bka

As the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says, “In Australia the refugee debate is fuelled by fear and misinformation, leading to heightened community concerns about boat arrivals.” Australia accepts fewer refugees and humanitarian entrants under the Gillard Government than we did under Howard – 6.6% – the lowest percentage since 1975. In 2010, Australia accepted just 0.03% of the world’s refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people. The boats are hardly bringing the hungry hoards to our shores.

If an article like this one can get more people talking about the issues facing asylum seekers in Australia and their treatment by our government, then it has done a good job. Designers and architects, as human beings and problem solvers, should hold our government accountable for its treatment of our fellow human beings.

For anyone who wants more facts, check out

29 May 12 at 10:49 AM • Donald

I have been making pretty photoshopped proposals of magazine editors in day-glo coffin-like structures ca. 650mm x 825mm x 1800mm. I believe they “get more people talking” about very meaningful architectural issues. They are tastefully produced like the images in your article. I have also found a Doberman who is able to write, therefore I believe my proposals and my assigned reviewer would be very suitable for your magazine.

29 May 12 at 12:46 PM • Jan van Schaik

Sadly, the strengths of this spoof, and of some of the comments posted, are diminished by the anonymity behind which the “architects” featured and the anonymous commenters cower.

29 May 12 at 3:45 PM • Andrew Maynard

Satire is the best idiot magnet you can get. I’m enjoying the comments even more than the “article”. Congratulations AR for enabling critical and diverse input. I salute you for bravely engaging with broader political concerns than are typically addressed in architectural media. More please.

30 May 12 at 3:10 PM • tom rivard

fiction, as we all know, can get us much closer to the truth than might otherwise be possible
if we were to address complex and uncomfortable issues in direct (and no doubt earnest) ways.
how else to credit the indignation released in the comments towards the project authors and their
Potemkin shacks.
would that righteous offense be directed towards the real issue (extra-legal incarceration of select
refugees) and the political parties that toy along the margins, we might come closer to addressing
this embarrassing stain on the country of the putative “fair go.”

07 Jun 12 at 4:34 PM • Thad Mungold

This is probably not as clever as it thinks it is, but neither is it particularly incendiary. Appears relatively tame, given the subject material.


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