Opinion

A decade in review: Leon van Schaik

February 9, 2011

Leon van Schaik examines the role of architecture in literature, and the changing relationship between design research and architectural practice over the last ten years.

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Architecture and popular culture

Raymond Chandler made the architectural reality of 1940s Los Angeles a persona in his popular books. Shane Maloney (1994) began to make Melbourne a player in his fiction, mood and action, defined by the industrial estates of Broadmeadows or by the city – reached through ‘the tunnel of shade’ of Royal Parade. In 2007, the method was firmly in place: ‘On the southern bank of the Yarra squatted the long, low lump of the casino.’ In 2005, Peter Temple wrote: ‘Cashin looked away, at the water running down the huge plate-glass window. Two blurred figures outside were running fingertips across the stream, making wavy transient lines.’ His Truth (2009) describes the housing in the city in a crisp critique. Christos Tsiolkas uses architecture to define character in The Slap (2008), from Beach Road, Brighton to ‘a bar across from Federation Square’. Here in Melbourne, architecture is now part of the popular culture.

The retreat of ideology

This decade saw the first glimmerings of an empirical (as opposed to an ideological) understanding of what drives intellectual change in our architectural culture. In Melbourne Masters Architecture – an exhibition at TarraWarra Museum of Art (November 2004 – February 2005) – I trialled a tri-polar analysis of local architectures. The poles were ‘civic narrative expression’, ‘technics’ and ‘poetics’. Edmond and Corrigan’s Newman College Study Centre defined one pole, Sean Godsell’s Peninsula House the second, and Allan Powell’s TarraWarra Museum of Art the third. Between these were arrayed, beginning with the first pole, Ian McDougall (ARM), McBride Charles Ryan, Lyons Architects, Denton Corker Marshall, McGauran Giannini Soon, Shane Murray, Kerstin Thompson and Tom Kovac. Heading towards the last pole were Ivan Rijavec, Wood/Marsh and John Wardle. Fascinatingly, the continuum kept flipping, with a new ‘surface’ architecture pole becoming evident through the work of three firms. This reinforced the spiral action that characterises ‘intellectual change’ – a breakthrough of sorts.

Practice as research

Design practice has emerged as a key research mode, embraced in the research evaluation in the UK and Australia, and by their respective professional bodies. Having pioneered the approach here in Melbourne with the practices of ARM, Allan Powell, Nonda Katsalidis, Norman Day, Peter Elliott and Michael Trudgeon, in 1987–88, it was gratifying to have new ground broken. Terroir, using electronic journals, captured every moment of interaction (sketches, chats, models, computer renders) between the directors and staff as they designed their entry for the Prague Archives competition. M3 analysed their ways of designing – a complex matter given their deliberately flat organisational structure – and then designed icons of these modes that revealed the power of visual communication of design practice. Robert Simeoni tracked his influences through the vernaculars of North Melbourne and North Italy, tracing their artefactual implications into his own architecture of delayed consummation. Three new poles!

Leon van Schaik is Professor of Architecture (Innovation Chair) at RMIT.

  • info February 12th, 2011 10:59 pm

    Predictable sophism from the emperor.


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