What are they?
As part of the annual Australian Institute of Architects awards, architects gather in each state and territory for a day to present their projects to category juries. Though only 10 minutes are provided for each architect to woo his or her jury, the sheer number of projects means the entire day is filled with new designs across residential, public, heritage, interior, sustainable, commercial, urban and small project typologies. The quality of the projects varies, as does the size of audiences that cram themselves into the small presentation rooms. While all attract respectable crowds, established architects like John Wardle or Kerstin Thompson and emerging studios like NMBW or Andrew Maynard fill their rooms to capacity and beyond.
We don’t know how successful the presentation days are in other states (please tell us about them if you do), but in Victoria, it is the single most unmissable day on the architectural calendar.
What did we think?
Held up until recently at the University of Melbourne, for the past two years it has been shifted to Monash University‘s Caulfield Campus. We’re not certain why the move was made (political, financial, functional, philanthropic?) but whatever the case, we are disappointed in the shift: Monash is harder to get to, less easy to navigate and has no room to rival the beautiful Yasuko Hiroaka room at Melbourne to accommodate the larger crowds that always flock to the new residential presentations.
Venue aside, this year’s offerings held its fair share of gems and duds. Of those we were able to see (falling into both categories) the most notable follow.
Heller Street Park and Residences by Six Degrees is located on the site of a former pottery kiln, abandoned for many years as too contaminated to use and too difficult to clean. Comprising two thirds public park and one third apartments, a cleverly terraformed landscape manages a natural yet subtle transition between the public and private domains. This interstitial zone echoes the many front verandahs of the Brunswick area, regularly inhabited as front rooms from which to engage in lively social activity with the local community. The apartments themselves are loaded with rich timber and plywood detailing, typical of Six Degrees’ work but uncommon in the more conventional oeuvre of multi-residential design. This project is an excellent demonstration of the successful outcomes possible when a multi-residential project is lead by an architect rather than a developer.
William Buckley Bridge by Peter Elliott is an exercise in contradiction. On the one hand, its timber detailing is intended to reference the adjacent heritage-listed, 1927 road bridge, but on the other, it is in fact mere façadism, the timber used as veneer only, cladding wrapped around a concrete structure. On the one hand, Elliot’s presentation discussed at length the use of timber, but on the other, his photos are mostly long-distance views concentrating on the formal presence of the bridge not the qualities of its detailing. Elliot is an architect whose works we have always admired, but we feel this project falls just short of the mark.
Merricks Residence by SJB shows what happens when a client with too much money goes to an architecture practice with a focus on glitzy, high-rise development and asks them to build a one-off house. Looking uncannily like the penthouse of any of SJB’s projects transplanted onto a rural piece of land, this project is bloated, unwelcoming and indifferent to its environment. Apart from the rammed earth walls, its Alucobond cladding, aluminium windows and enormous, convoluted footprint (the second kitchen is for the maid) are anything but the “simple beach shack” the architect took great pains in calling it.
Finally and positively, McGlashan Everist may have had their heyday in the 1960s, but their renovation of Frederick Romberg’s Ormond College is a beautiful exercise in architectural regeneration. Long smothered by dated joinery within and unkept plants without, McGlashan Everist have not only revived the building but successfully injected a vitality that didn’t even exist in the first place. It is the perfect synergy of revitalisation and modern intervention that respects both the original building and future aspirations. Of particular note is Associate Professor Rufus Black, Master of Ormond College, who shared in the project’s presentation with a highly infectious enthusiasm and obvious passion for the design.
We may not have had the best luck in getting to see the best projects on offer this year, but we nevertheless enjoyed the opportunity to socialise with, and glimpse the fascinating activities of, our peers. We eagerly await the juries’ decisions.
Presentations to Juries was held on Friday the 23rd and Saturday the 24th of March.