Architectural Blatherations

The Snobs at the Australian Architecture Association: Part 2

top rule

The Good Oil

The Australian Architecture Association was formed in 2004 by six of Australia's architectural patriarchs and a lady to 'enable the public to understand, enjoy and discuss architecture, locally and beyond' in short, to spread the Good Word about the best in Australian architecture.

Well, that is what they think they are doing. A little sociological investigation using the methods of Oncle Pierre turns up some greater social forces at play. We aren't saying that the good people at the AAA are not the best-intentioned in the world, believing wholeheartedly in what they do. But as sociologists we have suspicious and devious minds, given to seeing plots everywhere. We tend to see society as the ultimate conspiracy: where none of the conspirators realise that they are conspirators.

Who are these people?

This is not a Young Turks organisation, full of hot-blooded young architects denouncing their elders for their conservatism and their rigidity - their failure to understand the new times; espousing radical new architectural theories against the dead-weight of oldsters who have out-lived their time but who grimly hang on to power unto death. Many stalwarts of the AAA did exactly that to their own elders a generation ago. Having applied the guillotine to others in their youthful revolutions, they have no desire to feel the blade on their own turkey necks.

No indeedy. The AAA was founded by the ageing symbolic heavyweights of Australian architecture, now keen to cement themselves as the veriest bastion of architectural culture. As Dr Garry showed in The Favored Circle, the symbolic status of such people is forever threatened with devaluation, especially during times of inflationary architecture growth, such as we have now. During such times the elders complain about falling standards, but really all they see is the devaluation of their own formerly rare credentials, now common as muck.

So they mobilize the whole symbolic capital of their class to create a new, higher and rarer class; one utterly unavailable to the 'uneducated and insensitive' they so despise, yet feigning all the while to cultivate this very class.

Enough about architecture: Let's talk about us

Is the AAA agenda more about raising the profile of itself, rather than Australian architecture? It would be difficult to even pose the possibility to the members of the AAA. These are all very busy people - and very expensive ones.

They fervently believe that their whole and entire aim is to raise the status (or symbolic capital) of architecture. That at each step their endeavours also raise the status of the people who make architecture, and most especially the status of members of the AAA, they are quite unaware.

Assuming that you could find the money - and that they would deign the time - for a discussion on the matter, they would no doubt be gobsmacked at the very question; as though you had just trekked a very large dog-poo across their very expensive and ever so tasteful floor coverings. They are Australian architecture. What more is there to be said? To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is very difficult to make a man understand a thing if his income or status depends on him not understanding it.

The RAIA has conniptions

There are many organizations in Australia dedicated to architecture: most notably the architects' union, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) and the Association of Consulting Architects (ACA). Like these two worthies, the AAA is dedicated to spreading the Good Word about architecture. Unlike these two, it seeks to spread the gospel to the common person. Compare the AAA's vision to the RAIA's mission statement:

The RAIA shall unite architects to advance architecture

Until 2004, the RAIA had been the only organisation in Australia with a decent claim to carry any sort of torch for architecture. It had disguised its essentially economic function as a bosses's union for decades, and conflated and claimed to occupy both the symbolic and economic high-ground. With the creation of the AAA and its claim to both the symbolic peaks and the people's love, the RAIA is in very deep trouble, left naked on the capitalist low ground.

One can see the tension between the two in domain name wars. The RAIA's old domain name was www.raia.com.au, and a very reasonable one at that. Now it uses www.architecture.com.au, staking a claim on all architecture in Australia, when it really affects very few. The AAA uses www.architecture.org.au. My oh my!

In December 2004, the AAA restructured itself so that it could be included on the Australian Register of Cultural Organisations. Sounds grand, doesn't it? And another nail in the RAIA's coffin: the AAA represents the deeply sensitive and aware; the RAIA represents but working plods.