Community Building

Aug 3, 2011
  • Article by Online Editor

A sports club, three school buildings, two community centres and a university dormitory – the seven projects in the current issue of _Architectural Review Australia_ in some sense confront the challenge of constructing community through the construction of architecture. Of those seven, five received some form of either local, state or federal government funding. Not an unusual characteristic for a community building, you might say – but for the fact that over the last few decades, reigning political wisdom has dictated a position of extreme wariness, if not outright hostility, towards publically funding anything – let alone something as ‘squishy’ as a community development project. In the era of the Public Private Partnership, even railway stations and freeways, the kind of ‘hard’ infrastructure normally deemed essential to the smooth functioning of our cities, seem to come with their own projected profit and loss statements.

Political sentiment, however, appears to be shifting. In the face of a slew of crises and disasters – the Global Financial Crisis, the Black Saturday bushfires, the Queensland floods – government has found itself back in the business of community building. The fact that it took trauma of such magnitude to elicit government engagement will be considered by some as damning evidence of the short sightedness contemporary political culture encourages. As Hannah Lewi, Philip Goad and others point out in their essay ‘Catalysing Communities’, however, this behaviour is hardly unique to our times – Australia has a long history of responding to crisis through construction. And while it might be reactive, it is a tendency that has left a largely positive legacy for our built environments.

Two of the projects featured in this issue, McBride Charles Ryan’s Penleigh and Essendon Grammar – Junior School for boys, and Arkhefield’s Parkhurst Primary School, are the product of an explicit desire on the part of the federal government to re-engage with notions of ‘nation building’ – in these instances, through the mechanism of the Building the Education Revolution (BER) scheme. While most of the other works we feature are reflective of what are perhaps the more traditional civic agendas of local government, they are all worthy projects. Whether the product of the BER or local government funding, it would be disingenuous to claim a group of this scale as representative of the work being produced in the recent flurry of public building activity around the country. For the small communities these projects serve, however, I don’t think it’s too presumptuous to say they, too, will leave a positive legacy.

*Architectural Review Australia #121: ‘Community Building’ is out now.*
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