SIR: I may be a few swallows short of a summer but to me Jenck's new paradigm sounds very much like the old one. If Jencks had reduced his essay to its subtext of 'a new generator of novel form to refresh top-end architectural product' it would have made more intellectually honest reading and perhaps even have deserved your title of 'theory'. It's said that the mantle of architectural fame always rests with the shapemakers, the form-givers and Jencks' eagerness to chart this becomes obvious when he tries to embrace both Foster's apologetic ambiguity and Liebskind's soundbite symbolism. 'But hey, what a wacky, multivalent world we live in!' Tosh.
The Bilbao Guggenheim continues to bewitch Jencks. Squat and lumpen, its form betrays its origins as clay shaped by hand. It could conceivably have been constructed in brick given ten years and a mason with a good eye. In the design studio as in the drafting studio, all computers do is make it possible to build with less time and money -- two very old forces that continue to shape buildings, the prestige and lowly alike. Gothic cathedral builders had to get by with very little compared with the Romans -- who were laughably frugal compared with the Egyptians. Computer resources are building resources just as much as anything else and automatically applauding the results of Pharaonic access to them shows the old paradigm still at work.
As for the cosmos, it can and will organize itself however it likes. But why should buildings have to mimic it? Buildings are not self-replicating. Never will be. Attempting to make them look as if they are will consume vast quantities of architectural resources. As such, fractal geometry is a sufficient (but not, as Jencks believes, a necessary) hook on which to hang a new top-end aesthetic flaunting this. Modernism and High-Tech were no different. Buildings were never, by their nature, weightless or transparent either, but attempts to make them appear so still occupied much of last century's architectural endeavour.
SIR: I am writing in response to your review of Sean Godsell's beach house in AR December.
Godsell's light touch, fine detailing and intuitive understanding of the tracking and behaviour of Australian light has undoubtedly resulted in an exquisitely balanced architectural piece. Furthermore, he has exercised these skills, and a deftness with the distillation and reinterpretation of a regional modern language, through a number of different projects.
So, having registered the above endorsement of both the works and the worker I would like to raise further points. First, it is suggested that the work either manifests, interprets or otherwise represents a fusion of Eastern and Western cultural forces. It is further asserted that this fusion represents a growing maturity in the evolution of Australian cultural expression.
This cultural 'fusion', or evolution, is mythical. Australia is no closer to 'fusing' Asian cultural forces, in any real sense, than in the times of the White Australia Policy. This comparison is based on the most superficial stylistic and linguistic appraisal of the work which identifies undoubted formal similarities between Godsell's piece and a small proportion of Japanese and Southeast-Asian practitioners.
The assertion also renders the work harmonious and discrete, effectively severing the connection between Godsell's house and the current fetish in contemporary Australian Architecture for the creation of exquisite, minimalist industrial objects. Few would dispute the notion that of all the practitioners pursuing this aesthetic conception of architecture, Godsell is perhaps the most deft and most able to transcend the limitations of the genre. Nevertheless, the work is a genre piece.
Third, by relying on such a simplistic conceit to explain the architecture of this house we dismiss much of its complexity and richness. To pick two obvious examples, the house in question also interprets and continues the tradition of Australian beach-house design and the regional evolution of the open plan. Both factors have much to do with postwar Australian economic and cultural forces and little if anything to do with a fictitious and harmonious 'soaking-up' of the influences exerted by our near and far Asian neighbours.
In short, your review relied on a lowest-common-denominator, comfortable and safe interpretation of contemporary Australian architecture and culture. Such a simplistic appraisal may have been acceptable from our British cousins 50 years ago.
Nevertheless, if AR is to grow into relevance as a global architecture periodical it needs to start giving a credible picture of what's happening in the colonies and beyond. I ask no more than the standard of insight you provide when reviewing works in the UK and Europe.
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|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2003|
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