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Peter Cook: Peter Cook explores the buzzing architecture and viticulture of Melbourne and Tel Aviv.

Any flimsy excuse will do--a conference, a project, Christmas with the in-laws. The drizzle of globally-warmed northern Europe can soon be forgotten by hitting a buzzing culture, where a plethora of tasty food inclines one to the idea that even the architecture must be discussable. If such excursions pile in on themselves, your mind can even begin to create a kind of composite world where picture-memory, glimpses, bits of late-night gossip and sniffs of debate all start to mix in one's mind and somewhere along the line add to your reservoir of ideas.

I guess this was the basis of the eighteenth-century Grand Tour, or the sketches and rambles of Schinkel in Scotland or Corbusier around the Aegean. Nowadays, of course, you drop down into Melbourne (after 24 hours of sitting still) and within an hour or two you've abandoned the guidebook and you're sampling Victorian shiraz along with the usual cronies, eavesdropping that special bad-mouthing that marks the chat in any city with pretensions to architectural quality.

In fact, the technique has a special status in that city since the creation, 16 years ago, of the 'half-time club', where up-and-coming young architects are invited to present their work (in a bar, naturally), to a viciously critical audience. After an excruciating session, the victim becomes a member. When really successful, he or she must resign from it--'full time' has come. Out of this has come an extraordinary scene where Ashton, Raggatt and McDougall are still being very formally naughty, Minifie and Dixon try to be even more so, and Bates and Davidson recover from the squeaks that greeted the reality of Federation Square (don't listen to architects--it's really popular), AR May 2003. Leon Van Schaik, who has been both sage and enabler for so many special buildings, adds gravitas to the reasoning while preparing the book that will unashamedly place Melbourne where it should be: as one of the half dozen most creative architectural cities in the world.

Fold in Tel Aviv, with a fairly similar climate, per-capita income and literacy level of its younger architects. Fold in, too, the remarkable expansion of the trendy food scene and explosion of local boutique-winery chat: so for Victorian shiraz now read Carmel merlot. In this city, too, designer stubble and dark-mirrored bars act as a backdrop to the slightly more frequent external gossip from Europe (it's nearer and Israelis have to get out frequently to preserve their sanity). It was British engineers and planners who--some hundred years apart--laid out both cities. They stayed in Melbourne to make suburbia not unlike that of Bournemouth, but in Tel Aviv the infill was carried out by the so-called 'Bauhaus' architects. Its extraordinary carpet of cross-ventilated Modernist villas and apartments is now eschewed by an intellectual set who claim that a crappy old collection of Mediterranean junk in the old city of Jaffa--Turkish, Arab or anyhow, essentially non-European--has a regional authenticity that they are desperate to find in their own work. Combine this with a penchant for insitu concrete and you have buildings that are layered with meaning, but end up being just that bit too chunky and ponderous.


Melbourne adores fusion cooking, and the folding-in of Italian, Greek, Chinese, Lebanese and meat 'n' veg. Traditions, as well as massive helpings of Corten steel, twisted tin, plastics, timber slats, tenting, shiny brick, dull brick or flip-flaps made from almost any material. Tel Aviv is catching up on it with the comestibles, but is too nervous yet to enjoy its architecture. If some of it is beginning to wave about in the air or aim towards Dutch pragmatic clarity, the inherent heaviness of both argument and material hold back both intentions.

A telling article by Zvi Elhyani in the influential Studio magazine exposes the dilemma, drawing attention to real shockers to be found in the Bar-Ilan university campus and elsewhere. So the debate is on; at least (despite money and polities) young Israeli architects are getting plenty of chances, while older architects are still putting up plenty of high-rises.

In Europe, we still rely too much on tradition and the indulgence of over-priced French wine; the boutique office open to tough scrutiny, and more family patronage of young architects, could be a legitimate importation from these newer cities.
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Article Details
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Author:Peter, Cook
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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