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The good, the bad and the built: why architects should put people first Ray Edgar Published: June 17, 2016 - 11:45PM

Architects often talk about "truth to materials" and a building's "integrity". It sounds so virtuous. But does "good architecture" mean good in an ethical sense? And how much does it depend on the ethical approach of the architect? Can a bad person produce good architecture? "We know how to produce good buildings," says Tony Lee, executive director of the Robin Boyd Foundation. "Organisations like CABE (Commission for the Built Environment) in the UK and the Office of the Victorian Government Architect have produced numerous helpful publications that quantify and explain how good design has a tangible impact on the way we live." Hospitals with natural light, aspect and ventilation, help patients recover more quickly and need fewer drugs. Well-designed schools help students retain information and reduce absenteeism. Given such knowledge, should an architect decline jobs when a client wilfully ignores those hard-won principles? What compromises should an architect make in the service of a client and a building designed to have a place in society and a public life of its own? These and other issues will be explored over coming weeks as the Robin Boyd Foundation hosts a series of talks on the nature of ethical architecture. "An ethics of architecture starts by encouraging architects that they need to begin by studying people, not buildings," says ethicist Rufus Black, one of the speakers taking part. "Architects need to begin much more as anthropologists and sociologists and psychologists in the way that they create space." As master at Melbourne University's Ormond College, Black has commissioned several buildings on campus including a cafe by Nest architects and an academic centre and library in collaboration with McGlashan Everist. As a client he, too, studies how students favour certain spaces. People gravitate towards worn timber tables rather than new shiny surfaces and private booths over exposed tables. If we choose a large open table it tends to have a dropped light over it that gives a sense of lowering the ceiling and creating a room within a room. Alongside an understanding of human behaviour, Black believes an ethical architecture embeds "cradle to cradle" sustainability. Architects should also reconsider the power structure implicit in much architecture. "A building is so often built simply to an adult scale," with little regard for children or people with a disability, he says. "An architect has to be a student of the human, a student of aesthetics and an engineer. The best way to attune your moral compass is to ask deeply human questions. It's a complex mix of biology and culture and our psychological make-up that come together. That's what we have to be students of if we're going to make great space." But clients also have a responsibility to "not set architects up to fail". "If we're doing really good architecture we're building a story that we're a part of," Black says. How we build affects others, whether it's direct neighbours or the public that experiences the building that emerges. Perhaps the most obvious place for architects to demonstrate ethical behaviour is altruistically. In Living in Australia, Robin Boyd himself acknowledged that "heartwarming architecture is not the greatest aspiration of building, even though it is so rare that one might suspect it to be. The greatest aspiration is to house the entire human race decently, cleanly, comfortably." This need is nowhere more apparent than in Melbourne, where homelessness in our CBD has increased 74 per cent in two years. What role can architects have? Esther Charlesworth, director of Architects without Frontiers, maintains that "homelessness is not a design issue". "Where we can be relevant is working in transdisciplinary teams [of designers, developers and builders], then we can solve

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the big challenges of our time," she says. "But architects aren't even at the [decision-making] table because of the perception of what we do. "Australian architects have been very successful in developing a vibrant and critical design culture; but most of it hinges on 'bespoke' architecture. We need to reinvisage what architecture means." The Ethics of Architecture talks, at 290 Walsh Street, South Yarra, run until September. Rufus Black speaks on July 19 and Esther Charlesworth on September 20. robinboyd.org.au This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/the-good-the-bad-and-the-built-why-architects-shouldput-people-first-20160614-gpht7a.html

16/10/2016 8:50 AM

The good, the bad and the built why architects should put people first  

Sydney Morning Herald, Ray Edgar, June 17 2016

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