2016: A fork in the road

It is hard to remain positive reflecting upon the year that is now rapidly drawing to a close. 2016 has been a difficult and particularly disliked year. To the despair of many, the world lost some of its cultural giants, David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Mohamed Ali, to name a few. At times it seemed like a week could not pass without another icon leaving our midst.

Australian architecture also lost giants. Paul Pholeros AM the founder and driving force behind Health Habitat, Romaldo Giurgola the architect responsible for Australia’s New Parliament House, Stephen Ashton from ARM in his AIA Gold Medal year, and another Gold Medallist Peter Corrigan AM, from Edmond and Corrigan all left us in 2016. They will all be greatly missed for what they gave the architecture profession.

Many will look back on 2016 as the year of Brexit and Trump. The year great democracies chose building walls over building bridges. Australia, despite our geographic isolation, has not been left out of this reactionary, fear driven club. Our Federal politicians are building their own fence, around our Parliament House. The house Romaldo Giurgola designed as an expression of our democratic freedoms, is to be undermined by wire and steel, excising the building from the founding ideals of our democracy.

“Romaldo Giurgola designed this building so that you had very good access to the people – so it expressed freedom, it didn’t in any way express exclusivity. Putting a fence around it is putting a noose around it.” Glenn Murcutt

The popular thinking for the moment is that if we continue to build walls, fences, detention camps and surveillance we will eventually be able to isolate the good from the evil. We will be able to prevent unwanted people, unwanted ideas and unwanted change. Those within the sanctuary will prosper and those outside it, well who cares about them anyway.

New Parliament House by Romaldo Giurgola

New Parliament House by Romaldo Giurgola

This ideology of divisiveness will not deliver harmony nor prosperity. It will instead harbour inequality and resentment, which are at the very cause of the anger levelled against our democracies and the fear within them.

“The real work of an architect today is to have a vision of the future of life”
Jean Nouvel

As we approach a new-year we as Australians find ourselves at a fork in the road. Should we follow the United Kingdom and the United States down this dangerous path, or should we take the opportunity to boldly set our own direction? There is opportunity here if we want to seize the day. As the US and the UK move to reject their migrants, Australia should forge its own identity as a destination for the world’s talent. Melbourne is already a living breathing example of the benefits of a truly multicultural society, reaping the economic, cultural and social rewards.

Perhaps it is not up to architecture to change the world, however it can certainly aspire to reflect the very best of our society, rather than merely react to the climate of fear. As architects who wish to pursue this better vision, who better to turn to for inspiration, than our dearly departed giants.

In 2017 architecture should strive for compassion. The type of compassion that Paul Pholeros showed by working to achieve basic amenities for disadvantaged communities. As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow, so too does our need to provide environments where everyone can prosper. From well-designed housing solutions through to schools and community centres, our built environment is critical to providing a level playing field for all.

In 2017 architects need to grow bolder and more confident. The type of boldness and confidence that Peter Corrigan and Stephen Ashton showed was possible. We need to prove again to the community that it is ok to leave the tired tropes of the 19th and 20th century behind and push ahead into a future of our choosing.

Finally in 2017 our architecture should embody the ideals of our diverse society and of the democracy we live in. Romaldo Giurgola, a migrant from Italy, embedded this within our Parliament House, and in doing so, wrote a design constitution for our nation. We need to defend this constitution with future architecture that allows us to walk as equals, whilst tearing down the fences and barriers that divide us.


Architecture is for everyone



If you would like to support the Australian Institute of Architects campaign against the Parliament House fence you can sign their petition here


Thanks for reading

The Red+Black Architect will be back in 2017


About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
This entry was posted in all posts, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 2016: A fork in the road

  1. Sarah says:

    Great summary keep up the good work!

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