|Architecture Australia - September/October 2002 - Books
|Division and Multiplication|
Nigel Bertram and Kim Halik. RMIT University Press, $27.50.
This carefully conceived and exquisitely
designed booklet is offered by its authors “in
the spirit of looking at things which may have
become overly familiar, looking again with
unfamiliar eyes in order to think”. The familiar,
in this case, is a series of fifteen ordinary
buildings from inner Melbourne, buildings
which the authors suggest “reveal certain
things about the process of dividing and
occupying space, and the idea of division”.
These prosaic objects are made available for
architectural consideration through the
processes of drawing and photographing. In
this way, the book proposes documentation
itself as a critical, inventive act.
There is a strong sense that one
should act more like a “user” than a “reader”.
The collection is posited as a kind of tool box,
intended to be “immediately useful”, and the
straightforward, builderly nature of the
material is offered as something that might
become part of an attitude to design. The
work is structured by the tension between
the abstract, ideal world of urban subdivision
and the messy, material world of inhabitation,
use and the accretion of forms. In turn, it is
suggested that looking closely at this robust
built fabric might enable new insight into
other more abstract conceptual issues.
The brief introductory essay is jam-packed
with ideas suggesting a range of ways to
approach the visual material in the following
pages, but there is also a broader unstated
invitation to look differently, and more closely,
as we too wander about our own immediate
everyday built environment.
|Alex Popov: Buildings and Projects|
Paul McGillick. Edition Axel Menges, $128.
In this handsome monograph on the
buildings, mainly Sydney houses, of
Shanghai-born architect Alex Popov, one
sees a practitioner at ease with the
proprieties of decorous living. Paul McGillick
gives an elegant overview of Popov’s
compositional tactics, and places him within
the context of “heroes”: Le Corbusier, Wright,
Kahn, and especially Utzon. Popov’s Can Lin
(1976-82) and Eckert houses (1978-82),
both on Mallorca, are among his earliest
works and also his best.
McGillick observes acutely that Sydney
“exists as a kind of city state – insular, selfabsorbed,
arrogant and oblivious to the rest
of the country”, yet he is at pains to suggest
Popov’s difference from Murcutt, Leplastrier,
Stutchbury & Pape et al. He highlights not
only Popov’s responsiveness to the steep
sights and splendid views of Sydney, but also
the urbanity of Popov’s spatial sequences
and his fondness for mass. Popov’s highly
wrought plans indeed deserve close
attention. His work fits within a strong
Sydney tradition which McGillick does not
elaborate upon – a long history, eloquently
argued by Conrad Hamann, that includes the
site-responsive and intensely urbane work of
architects ranging from Leslie Wilkinson,
John D. Moore, Gerard McDonell through
now to Espie Dods, Alex Tzannes and Alex
Popov. This is a tradition with which Popov
may not consciously align himself but it is
clear that his approach to Sydney’s good life
is a path trodden by others and of which he
is one of its most accomplished exponents.
Kraig Carlstrom’s photographs are
compelling, if on occasion disarmingly blue.
Their consistent skies perpetuate other
Sydney myths: the creation of a classical
modernism in dappled shade, clients
discreetly invisible, and an urbanity that is
essentially private. Without a complete list of
works or bibliography, this book as an object
in itself will become important as a rare
record of the collected works of Alex Popov.
|Canberra Following Griffin: A Design History of Australia's National Capital|
Paul Reid. National Archives of Australia, $90.
I warmed to this book before I started
reading it. The reason? Its impressive
collection of maps, plans, drawings and
photographs and the very high quality of
their reproduction. The illustrations begin
with the Yass-Canberra site, include entries
from the 1911-1912 design competition,
and then detail numerous later proposals for
the city – both built and unbuilt – up to and
including the National Museum of Australia.
That the book was published by the National
Archives of Australia explains the wealth of
images, many of which are from its own
collections. National Archives is to be
commended for its initiative.
The book’s author, the late Professor Paul
Reid, was director of architecture/chief
architect of the National Capital Development
Commission from 1968 to 1983. He makes
no claim to objectivity, noting in the preface,
“I came to see the Griffins’ original 1911
design for Canberra as one of the finest city
plans ever made.” He describes it lovingly
and in great detail. Reid identifies Walter
Burley Griffin as the generator of ideas and
Marion Mahony Griffin as the geometer and
delineator. However, his many references to
“Griffin’s design” rather than “the Griffins’
design” diminish Marion’s contribution.
Further, several Griffin scholars with a
particular interest in Marion’s work, notably
Anna Rubbo, go unreferenced.
Much of this book is concerned with
assessing subsequent proposals and
projects for Canberra against the Griffin plan.
Most perform poorly and Reid mourns the
fact that so little of the original design was
realised, and its density and urbanity
compromised by empty space and distance
Reid establishes a place for himself in the
history of the city. He becomes the person
who resurrected the Griffin plan in the
1970s. This results in a loaded history: one
intended to generate greater awareness of,
interest in, and respect for, the Griffin plan
amongst the architects, urban designers and
planners who will influence the future growth
and development of Canberra.
For the rest of us, this is an enjoyable
read and a useful reference book, to be
consumed as a whole or dipped into for
information on specific aspects of the city’s
history, the key players, particular parts of
the city and/or individual buildings. But it is
the strength of its visual record that cannot
|Twentieth Century Heritage: Marking the Recent Past|
Edited by Fran Stropin and Susan Marsden. Australian Heritage Information Network, $14.95.
How do we determine what to save from
the recent past? This slim volume, aimed at
a general readership, invites the reader to
draw on their own cultural experiences
when reflecting on this question. The book
is a call to action which challenges the
frequent public assumption that heritage is
always “something old and attractive”. Two
main sections divide the twentieth century
into “Our established heritage” (pre-1945)
and “Our potential heritage” (post-1945).
These essays outline historical shifts in the
built environment and in the contexts of its
production. Illustrated case studies – from
high architecture to the everyday to the
industrial – run through the book. This book
is a challenge and an invitation to get
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