So that’s it for Architecture Week for another year. What did we think? Did you go to many events? The ones I attended were great, but as always left me with those twin feelings of excitement and disappointment – excitement that I heard from some really great speakers, disappointment that I wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life…. Sometimes it does make you wonder if you will ever get to do the type of amazing work that some of the speakers do. And when listening to them I realise that they all achieve these amazing things through their dedication and extremely hard work. But no matter how hard I work, I don’t seem to be hitting those highs. You know how sometimes you’re pretty proud of you work, and then you see what other people do and you’re like ‘hmmm, perhaps your work is really boring and derivative.’ Or is that just me?? Anyway…
John Wardle was great. He gave a good overview of his work in the time available, without feeling like he was rushing through. I liked his investigations of the different effects of scale, from his very small work to his very big. He had a nice sense of looking through his work, as the architecture forms a complement to the outside views, and is not just ‘object in landscape’. Linkages with external spaces were quite strong. And of course the shearers quarters. Quite beautiful, but when he started explaining the diagonal flat ridge and the perfectly lined up 750mm grid, all I could think is ‘how did the builder not kill him?’ Must be a testament to his passion as an architect – if you can take the builders and tradies on the ride with you I guess the battle is half won. And he did talk about pushing people to create beautiful work and that sense of stretching everybody’s skill set. Which is how we all learn I guess…
Did everyone enjoy 3 Over 4 Under? After a bit of an iffy few years, I thought this year’s was one of the best line-ups we’ve had in a while. A really great mix of speakers. It was great to have John Wardle there to start off proceedings, and good on him preparing something different for both nights. I liked the casual nature of his 3O4U talk, and the way he talked about detailing not just the building but also furniture elements, and taking inspiration from car design. Great.
As usual, the architects/designers spoke on the topic in their own ways. I actually thought the term ‘Forgotten’ was a strange one, as most people were actually talking about ‘Remembered’ spaces, that were never really forgotten, more ‘ignored’. Buildings like the Fort Knox Building in Freo or the former School for Deaf Education are not really forgotten, as they are so visual, but more sitting there waiting patiently for their chance to be restructured, renewed and reborn.
It’s hard to pick a favourite of this year’s speakers, as they all spoke so passionately. In the end it made me very proud to be a Perth architect of this time, as the work we are doing on reimagining spaces and reflecting on past uses seems to be heralding a new era of architectural appreciation for our built fabric. It all looks very exciting.
The three Overs this year were well chosen. Peter Keleman discussed some of CCN’s recent work in revitalising major public buildings, such as the Fort Knox building and Church House. This was on quite a grand ‘developer-style’ scale, which is obviously the profitable solution, but with architectural merit through retaining existing features within current requirements.
Geoff Warn of Donaldson+Warn gave a good overview of their site works around Bathers Beach in Fremantle. A lot of heritage interpretative work was undertaken and the public built works relate to a lot of the history of the area. It was interesting to hear of things like the intersecting grids, which I hadn’t realised before. It seems now I need to go and revisit this whole zone. It was interesting to see the impact the place changing had had on the occupation levels, revitalising a whole public area and leading to enhanced opportunities for community activity.
Catherine Watts of Sandover Pinder concluded the night with some examples of their refurbishment works. In particular, the WA Ballet Centre’s insertion into the former School for Deaf Education in Maylands was masterful. The retention of heritage features was really well done, but more than that the programmatic functionality of the building seemed to be really well thought out. Opportunities were taken to utilise the large spaces for the particular requirements of rehearsal and performance. It is a testament to the designers that the school feels like it belongs to the space, not that it has been crammed into an old abandoned building. I believe this building is going to be open for Open House Perth this weekend which is great, definitely a must-see.
But it was the Unders who really shone this year. Patrick Miller of Finespun calmly eschewed his practical philosophy of unveiling past experiences and a beautiful sense of materiality in their small works, including the Mechanics Institute and some small apartment projects. I really liked the idea of looking to the elements of an existing building that could be appreciated and should be enhanced (eg an expressed concrete structural grid) and using this in the design of a retrofit, rather than trying to just cover everything up. Great work.
Hannah and Fiona of CoDesign and UDLA gave a good presentation on their work with the Karawara community to create better public urban space. The idea behind these workshops was really powerful and shows how many boundaries architects can bridge across. And also the great outcomes that can come from proper community involvement, as separate to consultation after the fact. This project would also be a great example for residents of how architecture / design can enhance their everyday experience. I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the future.
Byron Last of Barbeque Studios was the wacky addition for the year. Although with a very important message on sustainability, living within the world’s current needs and what community and family can mean. Not only did he not really talk to the topic at all, he also didn’t show any work, built or concept. I actually found this really fascinating, more interesting than the same-old slide show of ‘then I did this project, then this project, then this project etc…’ An interesting way to present yourself and your firm.
The last Under was Nic Brunsdon of Spacemarket and Post Architecture. If you ever want to feel like you haven’t achieved anything in your young career, have a listen to this guy. The presentation was brilliant. So much energy and enthusiasm for architecture as a cultural mechanism, and for the concept of community. Very much an ‘I’m pretty good at everything’ but in a way that sold it, not felt arrogant. I just loved the concept of Spacemarket of, again, creating linkages between place and people. And that it was architects who decided to start this initiative. Architects thinking outside the box and showing our commitment to all parts of the built environment, and community. I also liked his reflection on the differences between Spacemarket, concerned with people and community, and Post Architecture which seems to be very much about architectural rigour. Really interesting appreciation of the different ‘hats’ architects wear, and I think, the changing nature of architectural practice.
A really interesting event all round. Well done Merge, looking forward to next year!