Tag Archive: Architecture

A Grand Tour, Part 3: Some Cool Buildings

Urban planning is a sound and necessary activity, but you can’t eat a menu, right? Buildings, trees, curbstones; it is particularity which makes a city and in the end it takes physical objects to settle arguments about what is good, bad and weird in architecture. In that spirit, here are some buildings good enough to eat.

A Grand Tour, Part 1: The Digital Flâneur

Like cats chasing tails, all that is urgent in contemporary discussions of the city circles around the topic of density. While this makes it easy to define the shape of the boxing ring, it doesn’t set the rules of the fight, and boy oh boy is density ever a fight. Here in Sydney urban planning discourse feels like a nightmare dreamed in a fever, a chase scene in which it is impossible not to run in circles, slowly. As someone who cares deeply about Sydney’s future, it was a sweet relief to leave Smug City for a few weeks to see how they make cities in Europe.

The 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture

To travel in the desirable parts of the world involves waiting in line. Given this, the line to get into the 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture appeared to be mercifully short, short enough to identify those waiting in it as, if not individuals, at least stereotypes. Before the first five minutes of complete stasis had passed it was clear that the blockage at the ticket window was caused by a dapper Italian, almost certainly an architect, wearing a striped shirt and a dark tan, newspaper folded under his arm, with flowing grey hair and a beard he’d probably cultivated his entire adult life. He leaned on the counter as though it were his favorite neighborhood espresso bar. His purchase of a ticket seemed to be inhibited by endless complications. At intervals he turned to the rest of us with a shrug, as though the harried young ticket seller were evidence of how impossible it is to find good help these days. Then his mobile rang and of course he answered it, leaving the ticket seller and the rest of us waiting…

Milan – San Remo

By the end of Luca Guadagnino’s opulent revival of the family melodrama, no member of its fabulously wealthy Milanese family has revealed themselves quite as completely as the deceptively austere palazzo in which they live. It is an unusual house; enormous, urban and clad in a 1930s rationalist facade which conceals a feast of opulent but simply ornamented surfaces. The difference between its interior and exterior tells us most of what we need to know about its inhabitants. To an even greater extent than the Sirk and Visconti melodramas which it evokes, the story of I am Love depends on the details of inanimate objects — clothes, cities, buildings and, above all, food.

Tree to be Removed: Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness Turns 50

Five trees to be removed, Wahroonga Railway Station, April 2010. Photo © 2010 Alan Miller.

Robin Boyd wrote The Australian Ugliness fifty years ago. Our question is obvious: is that ugliness still with us? EXHIBIT A: An Ugly Scene in a Beautiful Place… A leaf blower whines as I write this. Mozart cannot be played loud enough to drown it out. No matter, it reminds me of a limpid Friday evening a few months ago. A ruddy sun sparkled on the leaves of the blue gums, the breeze was a gentle early summer whisper, an evening one could fall into like a calm sea. I could take it no longer. I traced the errant whine to the dead end of my street. After waving for a few seconds to catch my neighbor’s attfention, he turned off his blower and removed his sensible hearing protection so we could have a conversation which went something like this:

Maximum Stupid: Sydney’s Big Barangaroo Blowup

“The Master Plan suggests an architecture that, despite its scale, will not overshadow any of the spaces that are, in and of themselves, naturally beautiful. The exception to this is the library and hotel pier. A reference to tall ships that once docked at the harbour’s edge and the hotel and library are expressions of the magnificent ability for a building to almost walk on water. This architecture will provide necessary markers in their own right.” -from the Barangaroo Public Display, March 2010

Two Little Battlers: Alasdair McGregor, Grand Obsessions: The Life and Work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin

To disparage Canberra is every non-Canberran Australian’s birthright. To many Sydneysiders and Melburnians, the bush capital, seemingly custom built for cars and the public servants they contain, is not a proper city. As with Washington, what goes on there has not helped the city’s image and “Canberra” has become shorthand both for government, and for the kind of self-referential political sausage-making which thwarts true progress. During my visits to ‘our nation’s capital’ I’ve often wondered if the city was the result of a scaling error; there is a weird discrepancy between what your brain envisages when looking at a map of the city and reality. All those circles which one might imagine to be urban boulevards turn out to be dusty suburban streets, their radii too large to be perceived, yet just curved enough to get the visitor well lost.