Architectural Blatherations

The Snobs at the Australian Architecture Association: Part 1

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The Good Oil

The homepage of the Australian Architecture Association
The original 2004 homepage of the Australian Architecture Association.

A group of Australia's 'most highly skilled and recognized' architects - as they so modestly describe themselves - formed the Australian Architecture Association (AAA) in 2004. Their vision was to 'enable the public to understand, enjoy and discuss architecture, locally and beyond'; their aim to 'promote contemporary architecture to as many people as possible' and to 'broaden the promotion of architecture in Australia'. They believed that 'this will lead to a greater understanding of the value of good contemporary architecture to society and a growth in the culture of architecture'.

Here we present a sociological look at the AAA: who formed it, why they did, why they did it now, and why their halfwit colleagues at the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) are very, very worried.

On this page, part 1, we give a comradely critique of their website. Admirable as their intentions may be in spreading the good word, we are not convinced that this website is the best way to do it. In part 2 we get stuck into the sociology.

Note If the authors of the www.architecture.org.au website read this critique before you do, you might find some major changes from our description and quotes below. We have taken a snapshot of the site as it was when we encountered it in August 2004, just to keep our memory fresh.

A website for the people?

Here we have an admirable venture indeed: the nation's most lauded architects coming together to educate the people about good architecture. We applaud that goal and wish them the best.

But if the AAA really wants to 'promote contemporary architecture to as many people as possible', they should start by redesigning their site.

We ask average Aussies about the AAA

Consider: their original homepage (shown above) gave no clue whatever as to its purpose. The first thing that struck us was the prominent worm with Alzheimer's, underneath of which appears the daunting 'Who We Are'. After a few more pummelings with non sequiturs such as 'Our Future' we finally noticed the Association's name in eensy-weensy writing at the right.

This page is a social filter: we'll get to that in part 2. This page does not invite the average Aussie in: it repels them. When we first opened the AAA's home page we were struck with vertigo. Looking at the floating bilious-blue lettering on a white background we were transported back to our last out-of-body experience. Thank goodness we'd taken our medication beforehand! A flagon of fortifying brandy later, we returned, but then only for the sake of research. Our professional indemnity insurer refused to cover us, but we persevered. Have we got guts or what?

Starlight auditorium at the RSL
The Starlight auditorium at the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL.

As good empiricists we decided to test our beliefs on the audience the AAA wants to attract, the average Aussie bloke. We took a printed copy of their homepage down to our local club, the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL {American Legion}. Here is where you will find middle Australia, and in abundance. As usual, the place was full of punters playing the pokies {slot machines}, working off the kilojoules {calories} from their $10 steak dinners and very reasonably priced beers.

Burping quietly to ourselves we waddled out of the more-than-reasonably-priced carvery {grill} and into the pokies area. Following the best experimental practice we asked each person this:


G'day! Please look at this printout. Does it motivate you to learn about architecture in the Australian cultural milieu - architecture which is manifestly of its place and its time, which is simultaneously modern and timeless?

Funny, you know, but not one single person said "Yes!". Not a one!

We should not have expected them to.

The august members of the AAA would prefer to slash their genitalia with rusty razor-blades than be seen at the Starlight auditorium, unless they were being awarded something; and even then we suspect they would demur. The Best Re-Creation of Graceland award in a Sydney suburb, presented by Elvis to the Max? Don't think so!

AAA statement of purpose: What are they trying to say?

Battling web-induced LSD flashbacks from our youth at each click, we managed to arrive at some text at their statement of purpose page. Thank goodness! Well-intentioned as they are, we do wish they could find better copy writers. Neither literary skills nor logical presentation have ever been the forte of the architectural mind. We find the AAA's statement a little confusing. Let's take its three paragraphs one at a time.

Purpose the first

Here is the first purpose of the AAA:

The Australian Architecture Association supports discourse and the promotion of architecture in the Australian cultural milieu - architecture which [sic] is manifestly of its place and its time, which is simultaneously modern and timeless.

A modern and timeless house
Modern and timeless architecture, from Globalhouseplans.org.

We can only agree wholeheartedly with the first clause. The rest sounds a little like a fragrance advertisement to us, especially that 'simultaneously modern and timeless' bit. We found a nice house described in exactly those terms on the Globalhouseplans.org site. Is this the sort of architecture the AAA wants to promote? Surely the AAA has minds capable of producing a better theoretical formulation - let alone better copy - than this? After all, they are Australia's finest architectural minds.

Purpose the second

And here is the second purpose of the AAA:

The right to practice [sic] with integrity, in an ethical and sustainable manner and with artistic and technical excellence is fundamental to architecture which [sic] is contemporaneous [sic], culturally informed and socially engaged.

Hello? Hello? This second paragraph comes out of nowhere. At first reading this looks like a statement made by gaoled {jailed} dissidents in a Stalinist camp, or Maoist re-education centre; begging for intellectual rights. What on earth does this have to do with promoting architecture in Australia? Nothing, of course, but it is in this statement that the AAA reveals the social forces behind its formation. More in part 2!

One would think this more appropriate for a gaggle of Solzhenitsyns in exile, not a parcel-load of very well-healed Australians, all of whom enjoy incomes and privileges that most Aussies would give a leg and an arm to enjoy. The worthies at the AAA protest at supposed intellectual oppressions. They must weep that the society that so under-appreciates them lets them enjoy status, income and comforts far beyond those of the people they wish to educate.

Purpose the third

A constituency drawn from architects, likeminded professionals, commerce and the broad community will embed contemporary architecture as a primary tenet of our society.

Broad community? The toffs at the AAA have no more idea of the 'broad community' than the Queen of Great Britain has about cleaning the toilets at an Indian restaurant after a stag party. Their idea of 'broad community' is, as they say, a 'likeminded professional'. Likeminded? Professional? If someone from what the rest us think of as the 'broad community' actually turned up at their homes, they would call the police.

Artspeak

If the epilepsy-inducing design of the site does not discourage the very audience that the AAA purports to entice, then the dire artspeak on its Our Future page should complete the job. True, Dr Garry can spout equally dire sociological doubletalk with the best of them, but he's never claimed to be spreading the Good News to the people.

Here the AAA lays out its plan of action:

Black is the name and brand of the AAA Talks 'Black is a series of talks about 21C architecture given in Australia by the world's leading architects and presented by the Australian Architecture Association.

Black has been chosen as the name of the 21C talks series because it suggests a place crammed full of dense, interesting and enjoyable ideas - waiting to be discovered and relished by architects and non-architects who love architecture.

White is the name and brand of the AAA Tours 'White is tours of architecture that will open the world of architecture to everyone in the Australian community.

White has been chosen as the name of the architecture tours because it suggests a space waiting to be filled up with information about architecture and is considered the starting point of understanding for non-architects.

Really now: White is tours of architecture White is tours? Doesn't anyone at the AAA have a grasp of the English language? It sounds it was written by a pizza-faced first year (freshman) art student trying to impress his or her friends who went off to become accountants. My God, if that does not alienate the average Aussie, we don't know what does. What codswallop is this?

What the AAA should do

If anyone was a past master at de-mystifying the high culture, a culture that intimidates and bamboozles many people, it was Pierre Bourdieu. The AAA would do well to study Bourdieu's efforts in France to open up the world of art to the public.


[0] which. Sorry, could not resist it. Call us sesquipedalian sad old farts, but the grammatical, syntactic and stylistic infelicities on this site drive us nuts. The AAA is richly funded by sponsors, members and the general public, but it cannot afford to hire someone who can speak English. The appropriate word here is that.

[1] practice. We'll pick a small nit here and point out that in Aussie English the verb is practise. Oh, sure, you can find plenty of grammatical infelicities on this site, too; but we don't have hordes of writers, editors and designers funded by a bucket of money to make sure these things don't happen.

[2] contemporaneous. Dear oh dear. Contemporaneous does not mean contemporary. It means occurring, or originating during the same time. As in: Well, your Honour, from my contemporaneous notes made when I arrested the suspect.... That sense just does not quite fit in here.