Features

Alternate Reality: Godsell and Corrigan

May 25, 2012

After an extended hiatus, Melbourne-based practice Godsell and Corrigan re-emerged in 2011 with a number of proposals, most notably The Melbourne Wall, for containing civic unrest, and now the Refugee Family Units: rudimentary shelters for the nation’s burgeoning refugee population.

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.

www.godsellandcorrigan.com

  • Michelle May 25th, 2012 5:43 pm

    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?


  • robert venturi May 25th, 2012 6:10 pm

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


  • geoffrey fulton May 25th, 2012 7:59 pm

    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?


  • Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle May 26th, 2012 10:14 pm

    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:
    OVGA
    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
    BVN
    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
    NOWarchitecture
    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


  • Appalled May 28th, 2012 9:53 am

    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.


  • Lynne Pepper May 28th, 2012 11:00 am

    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


  • Steve May 28th, 2012 12:57 pm

    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…


  • Jan van Schaik May 28th, 2012 2:26 pm

    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.


  • Steve May 28th, 2012 2:28 pm

    RE: ^^^^

    Um, “irony”, guys?

    Rgds


  • Aristot_LOL May 28th, 2012 3:38 pm

    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.


  • Sondra T May 29th, 2012 9:47 am

    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).


  • bka May 29th, 2012 10:15 am

    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 http://www.asrc.org.au


  • Donald May 29th, 2012 10:49 am

    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.


  • Jan van Schaik May 29th, 2012 12:46 pm

    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.


  • Andrew Maynard May 29th, 2012 3:45 pm

    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.


  • tom rivard May 30th, 2012 3:10 pm

    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.”


  • Thad Mungold June 7th, 2012 4:34 pm

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


Leave a Reply

x
Keep up-to-date with our bi-weekly newsletter

You’ll get

  • News, insights and features from the interior design and architecture community
  • Coverage on the latest projects, products and people
  • Events and job updates

Join now!
X

Sign up to the newsletter