Architecture is born of conversation. That can be an idea shared between colleagues, a happenstance chat with a future client or talking through ways of building on site. Whatever the context, there is wisdom and spirit to be garnered from reciprocal exchange, particularly when it occurs between peers. This was the premise for Lost Opportunities, a three-day symposium I had the privilege of curating for the Australian Institute of Architects in collaboration with Angelo Candelepas.
This year, rather than developing a line-up of lectures, we positioned the Institute’s largest annual gathering (now 2 years waylaid) as a symposium – deliberately alluding to the need, at this moment in time, to cultivate a platform for dialogue. Held in Melbourne during the most recent Melbourne Design Week we invited delegates, 6 Pritzker Laureates together with a breadth of established and emerging architects from Australia and abroad, to frame their discussions around the premise of ‘lost opportunities’ – those they had experienced or witnessed in the context of architectural practice.
With this loose provocation as a starting point, we hoped to avoid dictating thematics and instead allow the conversations to point organically to the conditions we practice in today and in turn to our direction as a profession. We’re in a position now, as an industry, where we accept that an ethical built environment is at the core of what we’re working to achieve, so it’s encouraging that over the course of the symposium the discussions, both on stage and among attendees, echoed a shared philosophy of care. Whether it was in the context of urbanism, landscape, planning, procurement, education, technology, sustainability or wellbeing, there was a resonant push for architecture and practice that is patient, empathetic and built on a foundation of listening.
For me, and many at the symposium, the discussion between Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, Richard LePlastrier and Peter Stutchbury captured the overall tone of Lost Opportunities. With a pace that allowed for deep thinking and reflection, their conversation was paired with a reverence and respect for philosophy – on life and on architecture. This sentiment was palpable throughout the symposium as each panel seemed to reiterate and build on the threads woven by previous discussions. Leanne Haidar and Nicole Mesquita-Mendes from SONA for example opened their conversation with Naomi Stead and Helen Lochhead on wellbeing in architectural education and practice by to referring Doshi’s insights, shared the previous day. His philosophy on taking time, relinquishing expectation and practicing compassion resonated across generations, equalising our youngest and most senior attendees and shining a light on the enduring challenges of the profession.
The international nature of the presenters, which included Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (Ireland), Carme Pigem (Spain), Alvaro Siza (Portugal), Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (India), Valerio Olgiati (Switzerland), Teresa Moller (Chile), Francesco Dal Co (Italy) and Tony Fretton (UK), meant that Lost Oppotunities also provided space for truly international discussion in an accessible public forum. This ‘outsider’s’ perspective also shone a light on the particularities of Australian architects and their practice that we, being so close to the process, can leave unnoticed. In Franceso Dal Co’s conversation with Sean Godsell, the Italian theorist reflected on his observations on the way that Godsell, and other Australian architects document and express their design thinking with a level of resolution and use of words to express the how and why of a projects design being a valuable peculiarity of our region.
The program was bolstered by the eloquence, wit and wisdom of our Australian practitioners, who hosted, mediated and guided conversation with our international guests and one another. Among them were gold medal winning architects, award winners and future leaders of our profession. It would be remiss not to name them here. We thank Brit Andresen, Glenn Murcutt, Kerry Clare, Richard Johnson, Rick Leplastrier, Virginia Kerridge, Alice Hampson, Helen Lochhead, Sean Godsell, Polly Harbison, Peter Stutchbury, Jessica Spresser, Timothy Hill, Esther Chew, William Smart, Naomi Stead, Leanne Haidar and Nicole Mesquita- Mendes for their wisdom, transparency, generosity and time spent in conversation. The fact that the discussions were conducted in every instance in collaboration with an Australian architect reflects the standing of our practitioners and the value of Australian architectural thinking within our global architectural community.
Lost Opportunities was a symposium with atmosphere. Being there and being part of the discussions, surrounded by so much wisdom, reflection and the palpable optimism for what we are yet to achieve as a collective was refreshing and energising. Together with members and representatives from the Institute, we already planning Unprecedented, the 2023 annual gathering to be held in Cairns. This will no doubt provide another iteration of the Institute’s National Conference that is timely and particular to its context.