PLATFORM:

Page 1

platform RMIT ARCHITECTURE THESIS PROJECTS 2004-2005

plate-forme diagram, map, literally, flat form 1: PLAN, DESIGN 2: a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands; especially: a declaration of principles and policies adopted by a political party or a candidate 3 a (1): a usually raised horizontal flat surface; especially: a raised flooring (2): a device or structure incorporating or providing a platform; especially: such a structure on legs used for offshore drilling (as for oil) b: a place or opportunity for public discussion Merriam Webster Online Dictionary



platform RMIT ARCHITECTURE THESIS PROJECTS 2004-2005

Edited by Melanie Dodd

RMIT University Press, Melbourne


Published by RMIT University Press, an imprint of RMIT Publishing PO Box 12058, A’Beckett Street Melbourne, Victoria 8006, Australia Telephone 61 3 9925 8100 Fax 61 3 9925 8134 Email: info@rmitpublishing.com.au http://www.rmitpublishing.com.au Publications Editor: Brenda Marshall Production Editor: Noè Harsel Editor Melanie Dodd Co-editors, book design and production Meredith Dufour Karolina Halldin Stephen Herbst Van Nguyen

HEAD OF SCHOOL Harriet Edquist ARCHITECTURE PROGRAM DIRECTOR Graham Crist MAJOR PROJECT COURSE COORDINATOR Mauro Baracco Thanks The School of Architecture + Design wishes to thank Thomas and Eva Butler for their continuing support of the Anne Butler Memorial Medal, an annual award for outstanding Major Projects in design. © School of Architecture + Design, RMIT University, 2006. Copyright of all drawings and photographs is held by the authors and the School of Architecture + Design, RMIT, unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved. Except as permitted by the Copyright Act, no part of this publication may be printed or reproduced or utilised in any form by electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. All opinions expressed in material contained in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Platform : architecture thesis projects 2004-2005. ISBN 9781921166297. ISBN 1 921166 29 0. 1. Architecture - Australia - 21st century - Designs and plans. I. Dodd, Melanie. (Series: Major project book). 720.22294 Printed in China through Publishing Solutions


contents 8 Doing Architecture Graham Crist

9 Editorial

Melanie Dodd

10 Expanded Field Proposition Anna Johnson and Richard Black

14 Not Digital Architecture Mark Burry

18 Projects Aa

Adam Jackson – Victorian Police Headquarters p.64 Ahmad Ridha Abd Razak – The Inhabitable Wall p.124 Annelise Porter – Transient City Dwellers: Melbourne’s Niche Ecology p.118

Bb

Benjamin Statkus – Salt is Bad for the Grass p.120 Bradley Anderson – Just Concrete p.78

Cc

Chaiprasert Kanjanakan – RMIT Building 8 p.60 Charles Inglis – Port Phillip Boat Building School p.94

Ee

Elizabeth Wan Tun Lee – Flexible Mixed Use B Grade Architectures p.70 Evan Atkinson – Air Movement at the QV Market: Tourism and Cooking Schools p.130

Kk

Kerryn Minehan – Bendigo p.36 Kilim Liem – Footscray Central: Identity p.80 Kristian Van Schaik – Rural Subdivision p.62

Ll

Lam Chueng – Housing Clusters and Public Parkland, Hastings p.100 Laura Harper – Studies and Designs for Houses in Jeparit p.108 Li Shan Siong – In the Meantime p.66 Leong Eu Adrian Tan – Urban Graining: Docklands p.26 Lloyd McCathie – Caustic Reorientation: An Information Centre for Melbourne Water p.18 Lucinda Mason – Old Simplot Factory, South Kensington Station p.110

Mm

Felicity Barraclough – Avalon Regional Airport p.54 Feras Raffoul – Megalomania p.22 Fraser Paxton – New Ground p.96

Man Ching Chan – Milking Nature p.104 Mark Raggatt – Shanghai Seminary p.88 Margaret White – The Institution Grows p.42 Matthew Bird – The Exoticus p.46 Melanie Scholl – A Monument: The Holocaust Memorial Library p.50 Meredith Dufour – All the Way Around and Back Again p.44

Gg

Nn

Ff

Giovanni Mercuri – RE-correction p.98

Jj

James Soo – Industrial Renovation p.34 Jerome Frumar – The Sixth Station p.76 Jing Zhi Kee – Urban Incubator p.126 Jonathan Podborsek – Highly Evolved p.30 Joseph Wright – Mind the Gap p.84 Josephine Lettieri – Suburban Fringe: Inhabiting the Buffer p.52 Julian Canterbury and Geoffrey Binder – Relocating the 3Rs p.68 Julianne Nee – Extended Linkages: A Re-interpretation of Five Stations from Hastings to Stony Point p.102

134 Index of Supervisors

Nick Ruljancich – Project: Immigration Support Centre p.82 Nina Dubowitz – The Institution as Foreign Body p.40

Pp

Paul Nicholas – Hotel de Ville p.56 Penelope Webster – URB.AG.FISH.SCI: Masterplan for an Alternative Development p.20

Rr

Rebecca Naughtin – Animalia p.72 Rodney Eggleston – It Ain’t the Old AMP p.132 Roger Schmidt – Hastings Foreshore Park p.32 Rory Hyde – Smith Street Redux p.128

Ss

Sara Karolina Halldin – Niche Space: Framed Urban Encounters p.122 Sarah Smith – Synchronised Rhythms p.92 Sean Van Der Velden – A Note on the Type(ology) p.112 Stephen Herbst – Shoptivity Centre p.74 Sze Wan Winnie Ha – Collective Communal Network p.28

Tt

Teck Chee Chow – Re-connecting the Fragments: Research and Education Facilities in Crib Point p.86 Tetsuo Nishikawa – School of In-between p.90 Tim Schork – Contesting Views p.114 Tjeerd Van Der Vliet – Arts Campus, RMIT University p.38 Tobias Nattrass-Pond – Student Union Building RMIT p.48

Vv

Van-Anh Nguyen – Batman Library p.106

Ww

Wanjiru Karanja – Footscray Modal Interchange p.24

Yy

Yang Haw Teo – Train Stations: Hastings to Stony Point p.116 Yenny Wijaya – Footscray Cultural and Arts Centre p.58



THANKS TO INNOCENT BYSTANDER, eVENT CATERING sponsOr

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Doing Architecture Graham Crist

The projects contained in this book best describe the design work in architecture at RMIT, and they may be viewed in a number of ways. On one hand, they represent the individual achievements of students in their final year of the program – works that are highly skilled and literate, and which will accompany them into a professional life. At the same time, they represent what is being attempted here in terms of design research. There are two important features of these efforts. Firstly, that the architectural project can be seen as a research activity, and secondly that design is seen as a plural, yet contested activity. Most RMIT students carry out a drawn thesis, and in doing so assert the design project as a research activity in itself. The major project as it is called represents two semesters’ work, and culminates in a design project which is presented and exhibited in public. In most cases the projects could become built works. This is not to assert the practical over the theoretical but to say that real questions can be asked and new knowledge discovered, through the act of designing the project. It is not simply a case of researching in order to execute design, or of researching about design, but demanding of design that it engage a question and demonstrate propositions. It demands of the process a reflection which is simultaneous with its resolution. Such things are of course self-evident to the thoughtful architect. To ask `how should we do architecture?’ is not the simple question it might be under an orthodoxy, but rather an open question in diverse environment. From the first year of their program RMIT students are exposed to the notion that there are a number of ways of doing architecture. Students choose design studios that attack architecture from many different angles; that are taught by tutors with radically different positions, and who work in different kinds of practice. Students are exposed to the belief that the debate between these positions is crucial to the health of the culture. Through the process of the major project, students join this debate in earnest and in so doing, the project can accompany them into practice with a line inquiry. And at its best it can leave something for the discipline to consider further. Some noticeable trends and particular debates are evident in this collection of projects. It is the task of the essays in this book and of the reader of the works to elaborate these. As a document of record the book offers evidence of these debates for later, just as the series of these catalogues have done for a number of years. What should be essential and evident now, is the vigorous and rigorous debate. At times it seems there is a distance opening up in architecture between the practitioner and the academic, between its philosophy and experience, between our utopias and our contemporary realities. We might hope that through architectural projects such as these, and through reflection on them, we can close this distance, and hold these various things together.


Editorial MelANIE Dodd

Welcome to Platform, the latest edition of the Major Project book, a continuing series from the Architecture Program of RMIT University. The book includes selected work from graduates across 2004 and 2005, and accompanies the exhibition of the same name. This year, as in previous years, the editing and production has been carried out by a small and dedicated group of graduates – Stephen Herbst, Sara Karolina Halldin, Van Nguyen and Meredith Dufour – and myself. Their willingness, enthusiasm and hard work continue a commendable tradition of Major Project publications which have been generated by students. The book has expanded in size and scope in the last four years to be an ambitious volume representing a broad cross-section of fifty-eight of the school’s best graduates. It is entirely appropriate that the graduate editorial team has represented this diversity of approach. We have seen the publication as an exemplary sample of the rich and diverse approaches to architectural design provoked and nurtured in the architecture program and have chosen the title with this in mind. The book offers a non-hierarchical structure and organisation, and random order, to present the graduate work; a horizontal surface for dissemination. At the same time, it offers an opportunity for public discussion, dialogue and reflection. As such it is a representation of the architecture school community at RMIT; its staff and student body, made available to the wider local and architectural community. It is this wider engagement which can enrich academic discourse especially in the professional discipline of architecture which operates between the realms of academic intelligence and practical application. Many projects published here already represent the way in which the school community makes partnerships with external agencies and the wider community, whether it is with local government, institutions or individuals. Such reciprocal relationships are critical in architectural education in order to situate the teaching of design practice in the wider context of society. So this publication and exhibition also represents the ‘stage’ upon which a new cohort of graduates will launch their design practice careers. As editors, we have maintained the three-part structure of the previous publication Preter- and we are indebted to the functional and well-developed framework developed by the previous team of editors in 2004. The first section contains essays from two of the staff teams responsible for the teaching of the Pre-Major and Major Project studios. These essays complement those contained in Dia- (2002) and Preter- (2004) in documenting the range of approaches currently offered in the Architecture Program at RMIT. The central section gives a double page spread to each of fifty-eight students included, and occupies the bulk of the book. The final section is an index of staff texts which respond to each of the graduate projects, and offers a reflective perspective upon each project. Finally, we must thank our sponsors in the architectural profession in Melbourne who have made the most direct and fruitful of partnerships with us, by giving their support in the production of this publication.


Expanded Field Proposition Anna Johnson + Richard Black

Mikvah study and generative diagram, Holocaust Memorial Library, Melbourne – Melanie Scholl

Self-Destruction, Refabrication, Prediction, Anticipating the Impossible, Chronicle, Synchronisation, Interval, Simultaneous, Uncertainty, The Pleasure of Frustration, Suspending Time, Distorting Time, Gravity, Pacing. MEAN: Fourteen ways to look at time by Cedric Price The bare earth of the sanctuarium is grown over only slowly. Much too slowly for people who want to see the finished product, the end result right away. There is no end result… Herman De Vries It is above all the fourth dimension, as moment and duration, as transitory, stationary, and processual time, as rhythm and interval that is an essential structuring element of the sculpture as a whole. Susan Jacob: ‘Roman Signer – Water: Sculpture between experiment and event’

Expanded Field runs each semester and draws on staff from the Architecture Program, practitioners and occasionally from the Landscape Architecture program. As an emerging research cluster the intention is that it offers a strategic pathway through the undergraduate program into postgraduate research and practice. We will continue to strengthen our collaborations with our colleagues from Landscape Architecture including Sue-Anne Ware and Rosalea Monacella. In alternative semesters the studio has been directed by Sand Helsel and Rosalea Monacella, with Mel Dodd recently joining the team. In previous semesters the teaching team has benefited from the contributions of Kerstin Thompson, Mel Bright, Shahab Kasmai, and Marcus Baumgart. Our projects span the scale of installations for galleries and urban space of the city, to architectural works and large scale interventions that have an infrastructural impact. Diagram by Rosalind Krauss in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1986, 284

10

The title of this pre-major offering Expanded Field, borrows from a similarly titled essay by Rosalind Krauss in which she weaves a critical relationship between a series of works that have architectural, sculptural and


landscape characteristics. Projects including the observatories, mazes and labyrinths by artists including Alice Aycock, Robert Smithson and Robert Morris are cited as examples of this zone between disciplinary boundaries. Their provocation lies within this condition of plurality, their interdisciplinary field. Expanding the spatial and formal experience, these projects shift fluidly between the limits of architecture, landscape architecture and sculpture and in doing so alter the traditional parameters and signifiers of each. Krauss introduces particular terms to account for and unpack the works such as site-constructions, axiomatic structures and marked sites. For us this discussion establishes a series of conditions and aspirations that embrace fundamental architectural experience: of carving the ground, of preparing the site, of working between inside and outside, and of making enclosures that have a sympathetic, a symbiotic relationship with their surrounds. Privileging the adjacency of architecture, landscape architecture and art practice and the role of site, Expanded Field occupies a similar conceptual space described by Krauss. A territory located toward the edge of architectural practice. Architecture as object – as superstructure is not the aim; rather the role of the building is more active – participatory within its wider contextual situation. Juhani Pallasmaa, writing on the relationship between architecture and the senses states, ‘A building is not an end in itself; it frames, articulates, structures, gives significance, relates, separates and unites, facilitates and prohibits. Consequentially, basic architectural experiences have a verb form rather than being nouns.’ Strategies of Intervention Diagram, Urban Incubator, Melbourne – Jing Zhi Khee

For us it is the narratives discovered, established and choreographed between site and object, program and object, event and object that are foregrounded both in the generative phases of pre-major and then in the development of a project. For student Melanie Scholl and her Jewish Memorial Library in Little Collins Street Melbourne, it was both the physical remnants of site, in particular the ruins of a Micvah hidden below a typical two-storey Victorian terrace building, and also the event of the Micvah (a cleansing ritual for women) that informed the architecture and the way in which program was conceived and then resolved. Alternatively, For Jing Zhi Khee, it is the broader fabric of Melbourne city, with its infrastructural, programmatic and spatial networks informing a series of architectural interventions. These insertions vary in scale and degree of ‘enclosure’ ranging from simply marking existing surfaces and facades to the inhabitation of existing but under-utilised buildings. His inner city site is thus reinvigorated, activated and becomes a charged precinct. This idea, of course, has precedent in the writings and projects by Alison and Peter Smithson, practitioners who have also explored our field of inquiry. In The Charged Void, they discuss the small, the modest alterations or interventions that have a significant spatial and programmatic consequence: ‘The minimal intervention to trigger regeneration, the least possible to start the process…this is the essence of urbanism.’ For our research, site is figured as an active territory, a field in which boundaries, histories – both visible and invisible – lay in wait for discovery and being brought to the foreground. Site is not neutral but active – ‘constructed’, as described by Carol Burns in her essay ‘On site’, or by James Corner in his Rediscovery Landscape. It is therefore one of the first tasks of the designer to confront the site, to create the site plan such that it records these embedded complexities. Over a period of time, students draw and redraw site, documenting over a range of scales and mediums. These historical tracings and physical mappings become figured as layers of tracery and networks of lines we come to understand as the site plan. Site analysis becomes instrumental for the architect to act. This site work develops environmental strategies and solutions that are both physical and social in their implications. What becomes ‘normative’ alters in both what is privileged and what results. Procedural Operations, Precedents and the Question of Authorship Students commence pre-major having completed four years of architectural education. We draw on their accumulated experience, using it as a platform from which to structure their final phase of undergraduate study. We see pre-major opportunity as a generous offering to the prospective student, where they are required to take authorship of their design process. Shifting the emphasis of authorship from the design studio leader to the student is a critical moment in the students’ education. This pause for reflection allows students to determine the moments of their undergraduate education they would like to consolidate or develop, perhaps anticipating a future direction or a future practice.

Diagram, Royal Melbourne Hospital Maternity Wing – Sara Smith

The first half of the semester is structured by the one-week tutor-led esquisses. Here we offer our own areas of expertise and through the thematics of site, form, program and representation, develop, strengthen and fill in gaps within a student’s academic trajectory. Deliberately short in duration, the esquisse structure places emphasis upon exploration. They are short and sharp, to promote the possibility of getting it wrong. We demand that ideas are developed quickly and in quantity and hope that the act of doing generates ideas. Making more – not less, production is then followed by reflection. Fast and furious: these are the key words


constantly reiterated during this esquisse phase. Students are exposed to design methods and approaches established by the individual tutor that help to define a set of architectural conversations that can be drawn upon as the semester unfolds.

BRICK SKIRT SHIFTING FROM GROUND PLANE TO DENOTE CONTINUATION OF PUBLIC SPACE

Whilst the choice of program, site and indeed outcome remain entirely dependent on the interests of the individual student our pre-major is tightly structured with these series of esquisses. Following these first four, students are then required to engage in a two further esquisses that are authored by the student alone. A review of the tutor-led equisses at week five begins the process of students becoming accountable for their decisions, ideas and design processes…ultimately this begins an important process of the students developing authorship for the research and the way in which it is developed. All their work is reviewed, the students critically reflecting, shifting hierarchies, discussing the design methods and strategies that worked and did not work, and identifying topics for subsequent study. At this review they present draft proposals for their two student-directed equisses. The only constraint for these is that they engage architectural precedent. In totality, the esquisse series promotes the development of a research question – the framing question – and, importantly, a design methodology. Students situate and frame a territory of their research. The mid-point of the semester students are required to define their research topic with a proposed work plan for the remaining weeks of the semester. The second part of the semester is thus dedicated to sketch design, testing the proposition using a variety of scales and approaches. Perhaps one of the most difficult conceptual hurdles that faces the pre-major student is the requirement to develop and articulate opinions, attitudes to site, precedent and issues surrounding their project. This strategic development of a reflective position is critical to the research. Although the beginning point can emerge from the simple act of re-choreographed past work, or from some almost arbitrary thread that arises from the act of making and working in the first series of esquisses, the development of that idea into an architectural proposition becomes much more strategic and tested through a series of further esquisses and processes of reflection. The student is required to then locate their work relative to other practices. This strategic positioning, relative to existing schools of thought, is critical to developing the project.

Diagrams of Entry and Circulation, Saint Vincents Hospital, Melbourne – Margaret White

Process and authorship are of course highly contested terms within the current architectural climate. Alternative methods of architectural production and representation, and digital technologies have resulted in the shifted role – the altered definition – of the author, the designer. The very concept of architectural design has expanded. The practitioner becomes choreographer, orchestrator, programmer or, simply, has a relationship mediated via technology. And whilst our pursuit is not about this investment in process, the students are required to develop a position regarding their process, and in doing so reflect upon past studios and design methodologies developed. The student looks outward to precedent with particular emphasis on relevant design strategies that can further frame their own research. Esquisses In second semester 2004 the tutor-led esquisses were as follows: Material Presence Richard Black

Richard Serra, Photographs by Richard Black

Inspired by Artist Richard Serra’s verb list, students were required to explore the potential of representing material, material selection and the potential for raw material to become transformed into architectural surfaces. A sample is collected; a series of visual studies undertaken and a simple space is designed. Qualities are assessed and processes investigated. David Leatherbarrow provides the theoretical underpinning. Exemplars are used to define ways of working with material: Prouve’s experiments with folded sheet metal, achieving strength through shape; to Drost van Veens (site) thatched roofs at the Placjwick Park pavilions resonate with nearby thatched-roof nineteenth-century villas; and the blockwork houses of Iwan Iwanoff, where poor materials are transformed into honourable architectural surface; and finally the skin installations of Formalhaut. Drawing Generative Acts: Translations and Representations Anna Johnson Recognition of the drawing’s power as a medium turns out, unexpectedly, to be recognition of the drawing’s distinctness from and unlikeness to the thing that is represented, rather than its likeness to it, which is neither as paradoxical nor as dissociate as it may seem…Drawing in architecture is done prior to construction; it is not so much produced by reflection on the reality outside the drawing, as productive of a reality that will end up outside the drawing. Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays – Robin Evans

12


For the student of architecture, representation takes on special significance. The student, whilst spending half a decade studying architecture, buildings and the particulars of the discipline, does not make buildings. How their projects might finally meet the ground, feel, smell, and look like remain inevitably unknown. For these qualities to be tested and captured the student must rely on representation. Thus the first site for the design will always be uniquely that of the drawing or model. What is made are representations of an architectural potentiality. The dilemma is that it is also within the drawing that the design often first appears and then develops. The drawing acts as both a site of emergence, of becoming and as a document to represent the final design…these two functions are not always so distinct; drawing becomes suggestive or generative through its actions and through its function as representation. The DNA of the major project is this formed through the constant action of drawing and redrawing. Method: Students begin with an architects’ drawing and a series of procedures and operations. Having studied and diagrammed the drawings students then make a new drawing from operating on the precedent and transforming it according to a series of rhetorical operations. They are then given the brief to design a small shelter that translates the drawings series and narrative ideas of progression, sequence and dwelling. The emphasis is on understanding what is being attempted and translated in the precedents drawings and how that is achieved and on the developing a new representation that is retranslated and transformed into architecture. Program Melanie Dodd

Site Plan Diagram, Urban Incubator Melbourne – Jing Zhi Khee

What is program? At its simplest interpretation, the program of a building is what happens there; how people USE and occupy the space and to what purpose. It is the point at which lived form and built life collide. Use can involve MIS-use. Social activity is a much richer sequence of events and situations motivated by emotional, economic, political, psychological complexities and nuances. There is a rich history of twentiethcentury writing about the ‘everyday’ intricacies and rituals of social lives, and their importance to modern culture: Henri Lefebvre, Walter Benjamin and Michel De Certeau were all philosophers who understood how these profound habits and ‘tactics’ underlie and articulate social activity. The esquisse focussed on surfacing and foregrounding the USER and how spaces are used, in the design process, first by measuring and recording existing use and mis-use of space (MAPPING), by people, and second by transforming the space to acknowledge this (PROCESS). Method: taking one of the following chair(s), table(s), desk(s), window(s), front door, wall, stairs; make a physical measured survey; map ten possible diverse and precise uses/mis-uses of the piece(s); adjust the original piece(s); present the adjusted piece as a proposal. Gate House Marcus Baumgart By mechanical, you mean something that works. I am interested in cars because they self-propel themselves for reasons that are reasonable and mechanical. So that is it: How am I going to be selfoperating all by myself? Well, I can do that if I can invent something that keeps me going. Louise Bourgeois, 1996.

Design of a twenty-five-square-metre dwelling for a six acre site in Barry’s Reef, a former mining town in Wombat State Forest. The gatehouse is a type that evolved from fortified medieval structures as a shelter, or room adjacent to a gate. As a type, it might still have had a function – the gatekeeper may still have controlled entry to a property or estate. With the advent of the great pleasure gardens of the eighteenth century the gatehouse could become just another folly, a structure of diminutive scale created for pleasure. Thus the position and views of the gatehouse are important as the design itself. Endnotes 1 Samantha Hardingham, (ed) Cedric Price Opera, London: Wiley-Academy, 2003, 112-113. 2 Herman De Vries in Klaus Bussman, Kasper König, Florian Matzner (eds), Contemporary Sculpture Projects in Münster 1997, Stuttgart: Verlag Gerd Hadje, 1997, 432. 3 Susan Jacob, ‘Roman Signer – Water: Sculpture between experiment and event’ in Klaus Bussman, Kasper König, Florian Matzner (eds), Contemporary Sculpture: Projects in Münster 1997, Stuttgart: Verlag Gerd Hadje, 1997,394. 4 Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Expanded Field’ in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, USA: MIT Press,1991. 5 Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, London: Wiley-Academy, 2005,63. 6 Alison and Peter Smithson, The Charged Void: Urbanism, New York: The Monacelli Press, 2005, 323.

Method (in no particular order): document the site during our visit and later, in at least six drawings, photography and collecting, represent the site to produce a site plan and to influence your other drawings; represent your design in hand drawings; describe in 100 words only and in no visual media, the ‘big house’ that you are theoretically also designing.

Occupying a space close to, or between landscape architecture and architecture encourages conceptual and formal overlaps beneficial for the practitioner and student alike. As practitioner-academics we have developed ways of working within the expanded field. Our bias is toward the role of site, the narratives held within site, both physical and non physical, becoming a generative starting point from which propositions can be developed.


Not Digital Architecture Mark Burry

What is the status of the Major Project students’ research and how should it fit into the academy’s view of research within the practice of architecture? We nurture this debate internally as part of a much wider debate among creative arts researchers, and I begin my commentary for the period 2004-05 with a brief account of my recent attendance at a gathering that brought together international researchers from a wide range of fine art and other creative disciplines. The theme this year was ‘context’. The Research into Practice conference was held in the UK mid-2006, and is a conference ostensibly dealing with the relationship between research into the creative arts and the practice of those arts, and its wider recognition. The sessions that I attended dealt mainly with issues of improving the status of creative practice’s research component, that is, the status among academic colleagues elsewhere among the institutions, principally the scientists, and the all-important funding authorities. Naturally there is defensiveness about all this, paraphrased perhaps as “how do we get them to understand the value of our research endeavours?” The protagonists seemed tempted often to couch their terms of reference in overly convoluted concepts and language, bringing in the big gun philosophers as unwitting accomplices in the quest for legitimacy. Research within creative practice requires particular license, protested at least one plaintiff suing for the academic freedom to define creative practices’ research boundaries. A conference gathering is the ideal forum for uniting as one voice against a common detractor, not necessarily represented in person on such an occasion. ‘Why does our research have to follow their science model? Why shouldn’t I be able to put up my bad art on the walls as evidence of my otherwise valuable research if that is the actual research outcome?’ demanded one delegate. The conventional objectification of art as research was argued as having 14


been far too narrow a focus in the postgraduate experience in this regard. The claim here is for the affordance of equal attention and value for several alternative readings of any outcome in an agreed forum of investigation, the PhD review, for example. But were they confusing failed art, as in the failed experiment, with bad art, as in bad anything? Failure being offered, through a carefully managed and rigorous investigation, as proof that an immaculately argued hypothesis turned-out in the end to be plain wrong is one thing. It is not the same as something being apparently, just bad in all its attributes, other than its existence as evidence that research has indeed taken place. There appear to be many opinions on such dilemmas, but I remain unsure today whether current rhetoric allows a collective position on what is good and what is bad. More on this a little later... If a selection of committed academics can meet at an international conference and struggle to lockdown protocols acceptable to all within both the creative and scientific communities in 2006, what hope to be able to understand the status of their research for students of architecture undertaking their Major Projects at the end of five years of equivalent full time study? Beyond its vital role as interface between the academy and life in practice I believe ‘Major Project’ with its preparatory ‘Pre-major’ semester at RMIT provides an ideal opportunity to test the experience for its research- worthiness in unequivocal terms. My take has been to encourage my students to draw a distinction between the frames of reference that operate in defining creative research and the intellectual framework that informs design research as ‘process’. The frames of reference in the wider academic debate operate as much at a political and pragmatic level, as at one of philosophy and cultural theory. Focussing on the intellectual framework for research associated with a major design proposition running through ideation, conceptual engagement, design development and ultimately its resolution, students can find the stepping stones with which to negotiate the troubled waters that confound the definition of creative arts research. They arrive at a level of confidence about the role of their project in contributing to the collection of evidence that architectural design in itself, is a fundamental research activity. In doing so, we hope that the students will be able to go on to make a significant contribution to the status of architecture through practice or the consolidation of design research self-confidence through postgraduate study. In their piece ‘Viability’ in Preter, the most recent publication on the RMIT Major Project in architecture, Pia Ednie-Brown and Paul Minifie elegantly explain the motivations behind the directions taken by the 2002-03 cohort undertaking their Major Project through the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL), and those motivations have remained dominant for the students whose work is shown here, as well as their colleagues whose work is not. These were summarised in the piece referred to as issues to do with formality, technique, the character of relations, making sense, and delimiting the conditions of emergence. They did not seek to make a case for digital architecture. Predominant among all our research and learning activities at SIAL is our interest in digital design in all its aspects. If from the outside we appear to exist as proselytisers for the use of the computer within creative practice, this would be a major misrepresentation. There is indeed a focus on digital uptake in design at SIAL, but it is not about how to profit from the use of the computer but how to understand the implications of such uptake. As a research group we are as catholic as it comes in terms of a digital community. We support detractors of digital design as much as we support the enthusiasts so long as the research emerging from whatever perspective contributes to the wider digital debate. Whatever our personal predilections for handcraft, the impact of digital technologists on practice increases in scope and becomes evermore conspicuous, and clearly as an institution we have an obligation to ensure that those Major Project students who emerge from the SIAL stream are able to contribute in the wider debate about digital design practice in roles that go beyond digital adeptness in practice production duties. Their contribution must do more than inform the debate: we encourage within our graduates their ambition to prepare themselves to lead the debate. A publication such as this is ideal for moving us on from the granularity of individual engagement to seeing the generic outcomes from an otherwise disparate group of students graduating from Major Projects from four semesters. It provides an opportunity to tease-out the issues made more visible in the constructed compendium than from the deconstructed memory alone. Thus the two go together, and rather than discussing the individual projects which provide their own exposé in any case, I shall focus on the question that has emerged for me as the core issue from my perspective: process versus project. I am therefore sensitive to the demands that I have paraphrased above, that the objectification of creative research may only be telling one chapter of the story – the conclusion. The other story, the process by which the conclusion was reached, sometimes merits being brought to the fore, especially when that investigation is at least as innovative as the designed outcome: the architectural product.


Reflecting on the two years represented here, it is the risk of the dichotomy between the research value of process and product that has been elevated to being my major preoccupation. The students’ various contributions, the work which has not been selected as much as that which has, provide the basis of this preoccupation. Many of the examples contained here hardly bear adequate witness to the pain that goes with architectural investigation at this level. Alarm bells are surely sounding already. What is so special about the nerds with their black boxes? Quiet contemplation in a monastic cell carries its own set of inner torments surely. The reclusive ascetic thinker can appear to have far more to grapple with along the way to their Major Project than the rumbustious studio computer user, noisily reliant on electromechanical computational aids, eager to legitimise the strangeness emerging from the ether, vividly pictorial, and with an adroitness not necessarily all from the claimed author’s hand, but, we suspect, from some other anonymous tool maker. But is this really an unequal struggle? In Major Project we are all looking for an extension of the creative mind; the shrewd and confident definition of a problem, its contextual resolution supported by a scholarly worked-through argument ultimately supported by painterly and finely sculpted rendition. This should not be about tools but about thought processes, the drawing out from the creative subconscious propositions that will resonate in the consciousness of others. Whether from the cell or the computer lab, the inner work has to be outed – personal speculations eventually have to be offered up to an external critical gaze. I have therefore always found it a struggle as a tutor as I am sure it has been for the sub-professional experimenters themselves to reconcile the broader perspective of Major Project investigations with the nitty gritty of some singular experimental inquiry using tools and techniques that are simply not part of the traditional repertoire of the typical architect, even those adept with so-called CAD. How should a student fold into their design process animation software developed for the film industry for their project that might be looking at time-based architectural conditions? What exactly is the best route to bring parametrically flexible 3D+ modelling made for the aeronautical industry into a piece of architectural speculation on the impact of morphogenesis? Here lies the big question for us all as a research-led design community: the foundation of one of architectural education’s worst myths, that there is a subclass to the discipline that we can call ‘digital architecture’, as if there were ‘digital furniture’, ‘digital doctoring’, or ‘digital cuisine’ in our lives. And concomitant with that particular zeitgeist myth is the other one that claims we can adequately separate skill acquisition from design studio: that we learn to paint before we become painters. Students of this series of Major Project have joined a community that embeds skill development invisibly with design process. From Pre-major Project onwards, they ruthlessly push their skill boundaries, inventing new ways to abuse the tools with which they are experimenting, often yielding exciting new techniques along the way, but as designers designing. Coming to SIAL they have already identified themselves as risk-takers. They are pushing their own boundaries – ‘how much of a risk taker am I?’ ‘Do I have the confidence born from competence to push on further – or should I play it safe?’ I am always curious to find out what exactly is it that pushes them to make a tough couple of semesters even tougher by placing demands on their abilities to formulate design processes as part of their design process. Degrees of difficulty that only they can place on themselves: ‘How long will it take for me to write this program?’ ‘Can I get this jewellery software to talk to the laser-cutter’ ‘Can a non-mathematician such as I negotiate with mathematical software since my inquiry is fundamentally mathematical in nature?’ Are we expecting better architecture to come from all this? Not necessarily, for in this age of pluralism, to be sufficiently self-assured to claim to be able to identify ‘goodness’ beyond posture at a more fundamental level would be cause for suspicion. In a project, recognition of good versus bad seems to have relatively few prospects for success, but we should at least be able to argue for a better student experience, and of course that is what Major Project is: it is not some kind of proto-professional facsimile of what the participants will be doing if they fall into conventional professional practice as soon as they finish. It is their most focussed opportunity to date to develop their approach to creative engagement with what might be a problem to be solved, or an opportunity to be profited from, or a conundrum to tussle with no obvious avenues leading outwards. I believe that we risk all when we see the project as object, and then the object becomes elevated to being a subject for critical inquiry. Rather, the work from our cluster of Major Projects, while not necessarily being able to claim signature status as a key quest, can all claim to have emerged from a high degree of risk taking through experimentation as much in the process of design as in the formulation of a highly original designed outcome. These outcomes are microcosms of the ultimate Major Projects: the villages, towns and cities in which we dwell, and the fact that other than the fictions of New Urbanism such as Seaside Florida’ or depictions of urban banality and colourlessness of Pleasantville, all dwelling contexts are designed restlessly to evolve – they are never finished. 16


So what is all this about process then? What are the factors of difficulty and the risks that are being taken by the Major Projects emerging from SIAL? In the main I refer readers back to Pia Ednie-Brown and Paul Minifie’s piece on viability already referred to. In grappling with the digital in architecture, and not with digital architecture, they wrote: Digital computation is too significant to contemporary cultural activities, operations, capabilities and conceptual schemas to be left out of the general foreground of our research equations. Similar digital techniques underlie production across various media, and the operational infrastructures of the world. This commonality between techniques draws together the relations through which we increasingly understand the world and live our lives. By deploying these techniques within a project underlying relations are apprehended. This, however, doesn’t mean that all projects actively research the potential of digital computation as part of design technique. Some students in our stream use computers very minimally, or as little more than a representation/presentation tool for which they are conventionally used. It all depends on each student’s particular tangential entanglements in eddies of SIAL’s non-linear streaming. This remains our position still. The six selected projects in this publication tell only part of our story – they are exemplars, and my notes that accompany them individually may shed further light in this respect. They are not referred to specifically here out of respect for the many that could not be selected. All were highly creditable for their various engagements in original design processes and research, but for the unselected this may have been the lack of sufficient time to produce the final evidence of viability through running out of semester. The selected projects all bear witness to real innovation (as opposed to invention) in the way that they have lifted a technique from one context and applied it to another, such as delving into computer programming and usually with great effort, cudgelled it mercilessly so as to bring it under control within their own studio practice. We argue that they should control their media as designers compared with simply refining their discriminatory skills to a level of being able to identify selectively viable solutions from myriad digital offerings: do we really want to encourage the art of the accident? These days, relying only on the emergence of outcomes from art practice seems weak when compared with the scholarly research-based underpinning represented here, which provides support for the practised hand. This is not digital architecture, it is speculation within contemporary architectural design processes.


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