As we pass the first quarter mark of 2021, here is a timely reminder from Queensland Chapter President, Michael Lavery FRAIA, of the strength of the profession. Michael delivered this address at the Chapter’s annual President’s Honours event in February this year.
For the benefit of our graduates those who have the greatest opportunity to influence the profession in the decades to come, for the benefit of those from outside the profession, for those being recognized for their service and for all our award recipients I want to take this opportunity to share some brief observations about the culture of the architectural community in Queensland.
In the past 15 years, as part of some extended study and through the generosity of others, I have been privileged to have a closeup view of some of the country’s largest education institutions and the practices of some of our very best architects. Along with my business partners we have witnessed and discussed the culture of these organizations as well as the culture built around architectural communities in many of the states of Australia. None of them are perfect. Some however are excellent and I would put the very best elements of Queensland’s culture in that category. With a little trepidation then, I would like to describe what I have observed and flesh out the very best elements of this culture so we might reflect upon them
At our best:
We are Rigorous. We are interested in what can be defined, what can be measured (and what should be measured) and what can be understood. Examples include our interest and active research in our local histories AND the great work being done protecting and cataloguing what is uncovered. I would include Paul Memmott AO. Our newest (Officer of the Order of Australia) here. The authors of Hot Modernism and people like Robert Riddell, Alice Hampson and Don Watson are here. Fiona Gardiner, the Director of Heritage at the Department of Environment and Science, is here. I would also include those who are dedicated to sustainability and climate action and those working towards equity and diversity here.
Secondly, we are Objectively Critical. We are interested in the very best ideas and the very best work and we seek out our colleagues to discuss these issues in the hope that we might learn from this. We are both considered and outspoken when we need to be. Peter Skinner’s work on floods and the Brisbane River and his work on density and better housing including his interviews and articles, especially during his time as State President, stand out here. There are those who have recently passed including Michael Bryce and Gabrielle Poole here, both these men looked at what we had been doing and decided it could be done better. Michael Keniger’s name springs to mind here and I would include Cameron Bruhn and Sheona Thompson here. Finally I would claim Helen Norrie for Queensland here.
Third, we are Generous and Passionate. We are quick to acknowledge and celebrate what is done well and we approach our relationships with client’s acknowledging the good work of others in the city. At its best our criticality comes from an interest in doing things better and building community. We are collegiate and connected. I am reminded of Brian Hooper’s observation that our awards programme is not a competition but a celebration. Ofcourse we cannot talk about passion without mentioning names like Russel Hall or Jim Birrell. Our generosity is exemplified by service. I am thinking particularly of those who give to the next generation and those who give to the profession. Bruce Medek through his work on the Board, Paul Trotter through his work on PAL’s and Bruce Wolfe through his connection back to UQ. Malcolm Middleton and the work of the Office of the Government Architect is essentially about a sense of generosity to the public realm and generosity towards the profession. All of our educators reside under this heading, anyone who has ever served as a Chapter Councillor is here, our past Presidents are here and at this time of year I think of our awards directors and our jury members (Eloise Atkinson, Richard Coulson, Paul Worrell, John Thong, Paul Uhlmann, Liam Proberts and Shy Tay amongst others have their names here). Andrew Lane, our proposed AIA representative on the Board of Architects also has his name here. All of you receiving Fellowship’s and Life Fellowships are listed here.
I am well aware I have missed many people in the examples given. Please forgive me. The intent was not to provide a catalogue of people, but to show that these traits are real and that many of you here, exemplify them. These traits are essentially alive amongst us, as they must be for a community to thrive.
When Leon van Schaik moved to Melbourne, he first engaged with the local community by categorizing architects in one of each of the archetypal groups of, Firmness, Commodity or Delight. His real aim in doing this was not to produce a definitive taxonomy but to provoke a discourse. In this same spirit I do not wish to limit those I have nominated in the various camps only to those categories. In truth many of the names listed display all of these traits. Instead, I would like you to think of this as a challenge. A challenge to ask what you want our culture to be and how you wish to actively contribute to it, preferably the answer is across all three categories.
To those of you just joining the profession I would say look to the generosity of those who have come before you, because even as you emerge your legacy is being formed.
To those of us who are embedded already in this community, this might be a chance to rethink how we engage (and how much we engage) with our community and/or refocus on what we would like to work on.
To those of you who engage with us from outside the profession, I would ask you to hold us to the high standards of those who have contributed before us.
Dr Michael Lavery, FRAIA