Australian Architecture


We can readily excuse Wright for presenting his Broadacre City project of 1935 as a dispersed Utopia of private houses on oversized plots fed by automobiles running along almost empty roads - long before anyone knew about the limited supply of fossil fuels or the effects of their use on global warming. But what can we say about those architects and critics, who, directly or indirectly, propogate the same idea in this day and age, when the devastating consequences of relying upon private means of transportation and gobbling up limited supplies of land and fuel, not to mention water, are all too clear?

It is as though those concerned have imposed their own strict boundaries upon their mental as well as visual fields of vision, with the crippling result that they only see, much like their photographers, what they want to see: no neighbours, just the house and its immediate setting; no drastic loss of biodiversity, which inevitably accompanies urban expansion of this kind, even with the lowest densities; no thirsty automobiles parked on driveways or inside garages; no lengthy roads connected to freeways; no costly infrastructure of electricity, water and sewage services.

...What makes committed designers feel good about themselves and their work in the short term, therefore, may only divert them - and their followers - from paying attention to other, more pressing and difficult problems. We should be careful, therefore, to distinguish what may be no more than an illusion of sustainable design - comforting images to make us feel safe and secure and close to nature - from the more complex and demanding requirements of the real thing. This necessarily means treating housing plus infrastructure as two sides of the same coin, though the built result may not necessarily look at all 'natural'. With almost everyday now bringing yet another dire forecast of the catastrophic consequences of global warming, it may be time to look for other, less dubious symbols of Australianness.

From: 'Too little, too late? The fatal distractions of 'feel good' architecture'. Architectural Review Australia, Vol. 092, 2005, pp. 079-080.

Sadly, the maturation of Australian residential architecture coincides with what looks increasingly like the end game in the long struggle to come to terms with the Australian landscape. The problem lies neither in individual projects nor in their designers, but in the detached dwelling type itself, and in the energy intensive infrastructure required to support the low-density settlement patterns it generates. After over two centuries of mostly reckless development, the habitable land and resources of Australia, which were always far more limited than the size of the country suggests, have been stretched to the point of exhaustion, with worse to come as the effects of global warming take hold. Most planners and environmentalists in Australia now agree that a sustainable strategy for development must include substantial increases in density of the urban population, supported by a major shift from private to public transportation - strategies which directly challenge the Great Australian Dream so eloquently expressed in these houses. How the same architects will respond to the new challenge remains to be seen, but it will doubtless be worth watching.

From: 'A fragile habitation: coming to terms with the Australian landscape'. Architecture and Urbanism, No. 443, August 2007, p. 73.

As I write this, the shock waves from the recent bush fires in Victoria are still reverberating around the country and beyond, and the leaders of our profession - who doubtless will eventually find themselves having to deal with the implications - have yet to make any significant public statement or response. Yet it is already clear that, both in their terrifying speed and ferocity and in the scale and horror of the human cost, these were no ordinary bush fires, the catastrophic effects of which call into question Australians' most cherished values and myths regarding the location and shape of their homes...It was always a risky proposition, but the full dangers of living in a tinderbox have only now begun to sink in, driven by a growing awareness that, unless drastic remedial action is taken, climate change can only make things, much, much worse in the future. 'Life or lifestyle, warns fire chief', proclaimed one headline, sweeping away any lingering pretensions that fringe dwellers might have had, that they could safely live amongst the trees in the increasingly hotter and drier Australian climate.

From: 'Death of the Great Australian Dream'. Architectural Review Australia, No. 109, April/May 2009, p. 137.

EMBASSIES are among the most significant of modern building types, particularly for relatively new and former colonial nations like Australia, that are still seeking to assert their place and influence in the wider world. The prominent embassies designed by Australia's architects since independence provide insights into its leaders' changing perception of the country's identity and purpose, from that of a former British colony to a Pacific nation with a multicultural population. Notably, most architects also consciously avoided designs of an overtly nationalistic character, in favour of inflecting their approach towards local cultures and building forms.

From: 'Embassies.' In P. Goad and J. Willis (eds.).
The Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture.
Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 232.