Opinion

A decade in review: Sandra Kaji-O’Grady

January 11, 2011

Professor Sandra Kaji-O’Grady reviews a decade of Australian architecture, including the controversy of Fed Square, the triumph of digital architecture and the role of women in the industry.

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Federation Square, Melbourne – Lab Architecture Studio

From winning an international competition in 1997 to completion in 2002, Federation Square aroused in the locals a contradictory mix of jealousy, disdain, enthusiasm, censorship and admiration. From its obvious debt to Daniel Libeskind to its alleged interference with the view of a historic building, Federation Square was a source of controversy. Everyone was talking about architecture! Look past its of-the-moment facade and it is apparent that its composition is deeply informed by historic examples of successful urban spaces – indeed, it’s a textbook example of Kevin Lynch’s five elements of good urban form, and its plaza has supported, indeed, generated urban life. Several leading architects and academics said it would never work and still owe the architects an apology.

Beijing National Aquatic Centre, Beijing – PTW and ARUP

It should really be nicknamed the watershed, as this building marks the turning point in what had become a tedious conversation among architects about the value of so-called digital architecture. In Sydney, especially, that discussion saw those holding on to a regionally inflected modernism concerned with place and materiality pitched against younger architects dreaming of geometrically complex and digitally produced architectures. The Watercube confused this stand off and muddied its terms – witness Chris Bosse and Peter Stutchbury, sharing the stage in 2007, each espousing the beauty of ‘nature’ and ‘structure’. All the criticisms that had, until then, been levelled at the digital fell away. For a start, it was built. It didn’t look like a blob. Moreover, the Watercube is materially innovative, structurally expressive, programmatically driven, symbolically appropriate, place-specific, environmentally attuned and multi-authored.

Women in Architecture

Kerstin Thompson, Cassandra Fahey, Clare Cousins, Hannah Tribe, Polly Bastow, Alice Hampson, Catherine Lassen, Annabel Lahz, Rachel Neeson, Camilla Block, Marika Neustupny, Zahava Elenberg, Rachel Nolan, Jill Garner, Kate Hislop, Danielle Pinet, Stephanie Smith, Annick Houle, Willea Ferris, Sally Draper, Fiona Winzar, Debbie Ryan, Caroline Casey, Penny Collins, Ingrid Richards, Jennifer Hocking, Emma Williamson, Abbie Galvin, Georgia Singleton, Emili Fox, Meaghan Dwyer, Eloise Atkinson, Rowena Marsh, Laura Harding, Rosemary Burne, Lucinda McLean, Rowena Hockin, Janet McGaw, Shelley Penn, Jennifer Calzini, etc…

My last nomination is a group whose fate it has been to work in a context where their gender is remarkable – a generation of female architects now in their thirties and forties, who in the past 10 years have won awards and critical acclaim for practices they have led, co-directed or within which they have had a senior design role. These are architects who, in addition to the development of a significant body of work, have been regularly called on to speak for women, to give gender balance to juries, committees and talk fests, and generally make our profession appear more diverse than statistics tell us it is. Rather than be curmudgeonly about this attention and additional burden, these women have modestly turned the conversation back to the urban and architectural ambitions in their work. Their contribution to architecture has been invaluable for the next generation and their combined presence has dramatically changed the culture of our profession for the better.

Dr Sandra Kaji-O’Grady is Professor of Architecture and Head of Discipline in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning at The University of Sydney.

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