Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
At last, something for Sydney’s architects to cheer about
YOU will have noticed how unmistakably a gathering of architects resembles a priestly congregation: fervent, black-clad and concreted into communal faith. It doesn’t stop there. Architectural ideas, too, are like religious visions. The having is easy, the words, the drawings, the promises; it’s the doing that tests, both the dream and the dreamer.
This is why architectural drawings so often make you feel you’re being lied to. Known as pretties, they show a world where plants never need water and humans never need comforting. It’s also why awards for real, on-the-ground buildings are the only ones worth feeding, and why the 25-year award can be the most telling of the lot.
In recent years the Australian Institute of Architects’ NSW Awards (it dropped the embarrassing Royal earlier in the year) have been patchy at best. This year, though, yielded a bountiful crop and a smart, winnowing jury, chaired by Government Architect Peter Mould and including Sydney councillor John McInerney and architects Peter John Cantrill, Stephen Davies and Tony Chenchow. Their pickings show a strong strain of virtue-rewarded. Not in any prissy, holier-than-thou way, but in a way that tries to reward a genuine syncretism of goodness and beauty.
The Special Jury Award went to one of architecture’s unsung heroes, Paul Pholeros. Over 20 years Pholeros has worked with partners Dr Paul Torzillo and Stephen Rainow to restore housing amenity and “health hardware” for more than 5000 Aboriginal families.
More recently, he has designed and nursed to completion a number of intensely low-tech but high-elegance eco-resorts in China and Indonesia. In the process he persuaded ambitious developers to abandon their knee-jerk trajectory of frantic westernisation by using local skills, materials and philosophies – bamboo structures, local timber and handmade demolition tiles – pursuing sustainability without for a moment relinquishing beauty.
The 25-year prize went to Vivian Fraser’s still-muscular renovation of Pier 4 at Walsh Bay for the Sydney Theatre Company; an uncompromising and, at the time, unprecedented move for this country, without which the Walsh Bay we see today – which I like very much – would never have happened.
The President’s Prize, equally well-earned, went to retiring Historic Houses Trust director Peter Watts. This is ironic, in the very year when NSW’s heritage apparatus has been effectively disbanded, but Watts, himself an architect, has repeatedly proved that decent architecture depends on intelligent clients, and that heritage and modernism can make the finest bedfellows.
Andrea Nield’s tireless humanitarian work with Emergency Architects Australia won the Marion Mahony Griffin Award.
And yet, in both of the big awards, the Sulman for public architecture and the Wilkinson for houses – my favourites were the runners-up. The Sulman went to Kennedy Associates’ Bowden Centre at Mount Annan Botanic Gardens; handsome but too heavily dependent, to my mind, on Glenn Murcutt’s Arthur Boyd Centre, and not as good. Meanwhile Harry Seidler’s lyrical and light-filled Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre which, as architecture should, turns a workaday activity into a daily delight, must content itself with an also-ran Architecture Prize. Ditto Tonkin Zulaikha’s enjoyably masculine Eveleigh CarriageWorks conversion.
Same, too, with the houses. The Wilkinson went to James Stockwell’s Leura House, a worthy but familiar re-run of ’50s California, in a strongly horizontal Neutra-meets-Gordon Drake kind of way. Whereas Reg Lark’s more elegant and inventive if somewhat arctic Balgowlah House had to make do with an Architecture Award. This put it on par with Nick Murcutt’s and Rachel Neeson’s North Avoca House, a fussy disappointment after the strong-and-silent Five Dock house that won them the Wilkinson last year.
All of which only confirms, perhaps, what many have suspected all along; architects perform best on a very short leash. Peter Stutchbury’s renovation of Michael Dysart’s wildly romantic 1977 Garden House, for example, seriously out-charms his tinny new-built Avalon House (though both received Architecture Awards).
While some of the most enchanting projects of the lot were the so-called Small Projects: Richard Leplastrier’s four-square, melaleuca-centred Japanesey amenities pavilion at Middle Head; and especially, Casey Brown Architecture’s Ned Kelly-esque Permanent Camping, a lantern-shaped, room-sized cabinet sheathed in flip-up corrugated copper shutters in a harsh, sclerophyll landscape.
Anthropomorphic, yes, but nonetheless lovable for that.
And the winners are
Sulman Award for Public Architecture: The Bowden Centre, Mount Annan Botanic Gardens; Kennedy Associates
Lloyd Rees Award for Urban Design: Rouse Hill Town Centre; Rice Daubney, Allen Jack + Cottier
Milo Dunphy Award for Sustainable Architecture: Stockland Head Office
Greenway Award for Heritage Architecture: CarriageWorks at Eveleigh; Tonkin Zulaikha Greer
Wilkinson Award for Residential Architecture: Leura House; James Stockwell
FOUR PHOTOS: Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre by Harry Seidler Assoc. Photo: Dirk Meinecke Peter Stutchbury’s renovation of Garden House. Photo: Michael Nicholson
Permanent Camping by Casey Brown Architecture. An eco-resort in China by Paul Pholeros.