Melbourne and architecture: prominent figures voice their opinion

Michael Smith, Director of architecture firm Atelier Red + Black and Urban Melbourne Industry Hub member, has gone to extraordinary lengths to mark the occasion of his 100th article on his personal blog, The Red and Black Architect.

No stranger to regular Urban Melbourne readers, Michael's commentary on all aspects of architecture provides valuable insights and adds another layer of depth to Urban Melbourne's content. So what better way to mark his 100th article on The Red and Black Architect then to glean insight from leading Melbourne figures and fellow industry participants.

Below is an excerpt taken from his recent post. The responses below as to why good architecture is so important could not have been answered in a more telling and comprehensive manner.

What is your favourite building or space in Melbourne? And why?

Peter Hitchener – Chanel Nine News Presenter, Melbourne Icon. @phitchener9

It’s hard to decide on one favourite building or space – there are so many in Melbourne… The Royal Exhibition Building, Flinders Street Station and St Paul’s are obvious choices.. Fed Square continues to be hugely popular as a meeting place, but my favourite Melbourne building is the National Gallery in St Kilda Road designed by Sir Roy Grounds, as well as the Arts Centre theatre and concert hall. I find the art gallery in particular induces feelings of calm, reflection and creativity; and I love the famous stained glass ceiling. It’s always worth a visit and I am never disappointed.

Jeff Kennett – Former Premier of Victoria, (Via Twitter). @jeff_kennett

The Treasury Gardens in Spring Street, outside my old office. The gardens are a restful place for clear thinking and contentment. There are also many other great open spaces in Melbourne and Victoria as well.

Alison Cleary – Chapter Manager, Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects

My favourite place in Melbourne is both a place and a moment in time. Federation Square February 13th, 2008. Standing with 10,000 Melbourneites, black and white, watching the big screen as the Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations. The feeling of connection and togetherness, standing shoulder to shoulder with 1000s of others who had longed for this moment – the opportunity to say we are sorry and this should not have happened. A quintessential Melbourne moment contained within a quintessential Melbourne space.

Sonia Sarangi – Co-Director Atelier Red + Black. @TheSarangi

Heide MOMA II (by McGlashan & Everist) is simply magical and one of Melbourne’s hidden gems. Previously a home for the Museum founders, it is now a gallery. It demonstrates beautifully how art, architecture and landscape are intertwined. I cannot do justice to describing it; you have to go there! But it reaffirms my belief that great architecture doesn’t age – it is robust and continues to enrich lives for decades. Heide III by O’Connor & Houle is a fitting addition to this building and a testament to the thriving architectural scene in Melbourne.

Cr Rohan Leppert – Melbourne City Councillor. @RohanLeppert

I have so many favourite spaces in Melbourne, but up there would have to be the Meat Market on Blackwood Street, North Melbourne. As a performing arts space, it’s got to be one of the most unusual buildings around – which is one of the reasons why so many emerging and contemporary artists love it. Its long history, which is central to the story of Melbourne’s growth as a city and as a community, continues to evolve in ever more interesting ways, without one ever losing the sense of this building’s remarkable working past.

Why is good architecture so important?

Jill Garner – Associate Victorian Government Architect

Utilitas (function? commodity? utility?), firmitas (solidity? materiality?), and venustas (beauty? delight?). Design’s power to make ordinary objects desirable can confuse its (more? equally?) important capacity to make things and places safe, understandable, durable, functional, affordable and energy efficient. The true value of (good) architecture lies in its capacity to integrate a solution to the mundane problems of occupation, with the capacity to change our perception of place, and the very best architecture integrates use with space, material and light in such a way that our senses soar.

Bad architecture – or no architecture – costs so much.

Peter Malatt – Architect, President of the Victorian Chapter of the Australian institute of Architects

Good architecture enriches our lives in ways which make every day a better day

Good Architecture stimulates all the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound.

Good Architecture lasts longer, looks better, smells better, is better for the public and uses less energy.

Good Architecture gets better as it gets older.

Stuart Harrison – Architect, Writer, Broadcaster, Director of Harrison and White Architects. @stuartnharrison

Better designed cities, buildings and public spaces make life more productive, satisfying and enjoyable whilst fostering a sense of community. Architecture is central to this, it is a glue to bring together people, spaces and stories. Good architecture should be promoted, debated, tested and understood to become truly good, in the minds of all who use, see and experience it.

Leone Lorrimer – Architect, CEO DWP Suters. @LeoneLorrimer

I often reflect on the power of good architecture to change behaviour. Historically, churches, town halls and court houses were symbols of civic power. The Sydney Opera House was the first public building to challenge the cultural status quo of an entire city – daring the city to re-evaluate its role on the world stage. The design of the Sydney Opera House was the equivalent of the moon landing; without it the boundaries of technology in design and construction would not have been pushed so hard and so fast. With the Sydney Opera House, innovative architecture took on a new role as the visual identity of a city. Today the Sydney Opera House still creates awe, raises aspirations and changes behaviour. Where else would you stage the Festival of Dangerous Ideas?

How would you like to see the architecture profession change?

Warrick Mihaly – Architect, director of Mihaly Slocombe Architects, Writer of Panfilocastaldi. @MihalySlocombe

The architecture profession has been in a sustained crisis for as long as I can remember. I’d like to see us respond to this by diversifying our contribution to society into new territory. This will mean accessing segments of the building industry currently closed to us (like volume built housing), as well as generalising our skills beyond it. Our education and training bestow upon us a unique and valuable worldview. We need to put this to use wherever there is need for complex thinking and sophisticated creativity. Politics, strategic planning, finance, the media and entrepreneurial start-ups would be a great start.

Tania Davidge – Architect, Writer, Director of OpenHAUS. @taniadavidge

The reality is that the profession is already changing. Globalisation and the ever increasing speed of communication have opened up new contexts for architects to practice in. New technologies and the outsourcing of architectural services are changing how architects go about their business. This change is double-edged – it opens up possibilities for architects and broadens the audience for architecture but at the same time it has the potential to decrease architectural agency and relegate architects to the position of spatial image makers if we don’t pay attention.

If we want the profession to change for the better we need to redefine the practice of architecture for ourselves rather than let external pressures shape architecture. Within this context, I would like to see the practice of architecture expand to encompass greater diversity and to make a shift from object-centric preoccupations to incorporate more strategic ways of thinking about the city and the people who inhabit it.

Kim Irons – Architect, Director of Irons McDuff Architecture, Principal Adviser, Architecture + Transport OVGA and Architectural Adviser to Public Transport Victoria. @IronsMcDuff

I would like to encourage the profession to work more collaboratively in all aspects of research, academia, advisory, advocacy, and practice to demonstrate the value of good design – not just as an outcome but as a process. If we measure and demonstrate the value of design both in economic and social terms, we could be better advocates for our contribution to the built environment. Evidence exists for value of design in schools and hospitals, but we need more evidence across other typologies, and the public realm. The evidence for good design could lever our capacity to advocate the role and worth of architects to drive innovation and reduce ‘design risk.’

Timothy Horton – Architect, Registrar Architects Registration Board, New South Wales. @timhorton_

More than anything I’d like the profession to own its own data. Why? Succeeding in advocacy, engagement and change often means having numbers to hand to either give shape to a problem (look at the movement on gender equity that comes from being confronted by the facts), or to sketch out a model of the opportunities on offer. This might mean collecting the data to validate those early promises on how a project will increase workplace productivity, or to put some quantities around the supply chain implications of decisions on materials or assemblies. Without its own cache of data, architecture risks being viewed as unverifiable overspruik.

How would you like to see Melbourne evolve over the next 20 years?

Clay Lucas – City Editor at The Age newspaper. @ClayLucas

Two planners from NSW I had a meeting with this week remarked how, compared to Melbourne, Sydney’s CBD had too many wind tunnels and dark corridors where you felt over-powered by skyscrapers. Over the next 20 years, I hope Melbourne’s CBD can accommodate high-rise residential development without making the central city an unpleasant place to be. More widely, it would be great if affordable, quality housing was created in the middle-ring suburbs – the lack of it drives some of the city’s more serious planning problems. And major transport projects will hopefully henceforth be built based on facts, not propaganda or a vibe; both the East West Link and the Regional Rail Link were supported without a transparent and honest exploration of the city’s needs.

Monique Woodward – Architect, Director of WOWOWA Architecture. @WOWOWA_Arch

What if Architects fees were tax deductible? What if the polite but inevitable cocktail party conversation regarding real estate and tax breaks merged into contributing higher quality housing stock for wins at tax time? After all, financial planner fees can be taken from a client’s superannuation fund because the perception is their service contributes to overall wealth. For most, the Australian fiscal dream revolves around money made from renovation after renovation but so few use an architect. What is it about architecture that people have a problem with? I wager a fear of cost blowouts coupled with seemly exorbitant fees. Making our service seem more attractive and accessible starts to address at least part of this issue.

Alastair Taylor – Urbanist and an Editor of the Urban Melbourne website. @tayser82

Plain and simple: more urban growth, more walkable, less suburban growth and less auto-centric. We can now safely say the centre of Melbourne fits this bill however the challenge over the next 20 years will to replicate this success to areas further afield, and in an appropriate form. Smaller scale projects like those in the Anstey precinct of Brunswick are the type of development I’d like to see all over Melbourne – medium to high density, 5-7 levels high, right next to existing public transport infrastructure.

And speaking of Anstey, one thing to keep an eye on is how architects will have an impact on the development industry. The Nightingale project might just spawn a whole new direction for the way urban development is undertaken in this city.

Emma Appleton – Director of the Victorian Design Review Panel, Office of the Victorian Government Architect

To retain Melbourne’s cherished live-ability, our transition to a medium density future needs to be supported by sustained and deliberate investment in the green and blue infrastructure of our city.

We must transform the way we think about, design and manage our public realm, and protect and enhance the natural systems which sustain us, to meet the demands of more intensive use, increased consumption and pollution and to support our quality of life.

The streets, boulevards, parks, and public places, and our river corridors and natural landscapes are the lungs and connectors of our city, essential to our well-being and health, and central to the character and identity of Melbourne and who we are as citizens.

Congratulations to Michael and as always architecture is for everyone! See the remainder of Michael Smith's milestone post on the Red and Black Architect blog. You can also follow Michael on Twitter and Facebook.

Lead image courtesy Melbourne Fresh Daily.

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