Skip links

everyones a winner

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 19-Jun-2009

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Insight

Page: 9

Wordcount: 694

Everyone wins as kids divide lollies

Australian Institute of Architects NSW Architecture Awards

Elizabeth Farrelly

THIS year’s crop of architecture awards is a classic example of what happens when a jury, suffering a serious attack of the postmodern pluralisms, simply cannot make up its mind.

No fewer than 44 awards are handed out, of which fully half are residential. Is it possible, you ask yourself, that NSW alone, within a single, notably undistinguished year, could have produced so many buildings of excellence? If so, where are they?

But it’s not just the numbers. There is also a distinct absence of purpose in the choices themselves; an absence, that is, of belief. As if the jury tried so hard to avoid showing bias to judge without being judgmental that they ended up like children dividing lollies; one for me, one for you, one for him, one for me.

This one-of-everything approach has some upsides, including the admission of peripherals to the usually clubby inner sanctum. Angelo Candalepas, for one, whose Greek Orthodox All Saints Primary at Belmore took out this year’s Sulman, may have won awards before but he’s hardly family, possibly because his work, like this school, tends to be almost there but not quite.

This school, like the jury that premiated it, cannot make up its mind. A little bit of Corbusian sunshading here, a folded James Grose roof there, quite a lot of Murcutt (in the screenery, the massing, the eaves) and a dash of Kahnian light. It’s buoyant, but it’s not quite cooked.

Very well cooked, on the other hand, are some of the more minor awards such as Bruce Rickard’s extremely assured Curry House, which won the 25-year award, and James Stockwell’s Snowy Mountains House, winning both the Blacket and an also-ran residential architecture award.

Stockwell won last year’s Wilkinson with his strongly horizontal, California-feel Leura house. This house is quite different, hunkering in its alpine setting with the lightness of a mountaineer’s tent and the limpet-like stolidness of a crofter’s cottage. And it should, in my view, have had the Wilkinson.

But the Wilkinson went instead to one who is absolutely family, Nick Murcutt, of Neeson Murcutt, whose boxy Five Dock house won the 2007 Wilkinson and whose dad, Glenn, won so many Wilkinsons six, actually, which is such a record that he stopped entering. This year’s house has a similar box form, only in timber not brick and skewed slightly; but taking fewer cues, one suspects, from that once-lovely cove at Whale Beach than from an international vogue over the last couple of years for tall wooden boxes, preferably with a slight skew.

Runner-up in the public buildings category is FJMT’s airy and fabulous Law Faculty building, but right beside it, equal second, sits John Wardle’s egregious Jane Foss Russell, with its unshaded offices already covered in taped-up butcher’s paper, its meretricious gestures and its dumb, unusable spaces.

Inconceivably, this building also won an interiors award, while the Law Faculty also took both a well-deserved sustainability award and an urban design award for a landscape treatment of the university entrance that wasn’t part of the project and should never have been condoned in the first place.

Woods Bagot, with (one suspects) quite a lot of help from the lively Melbourne interiors firm Hecker, Phelan & Guthrie, won an urban design award for the enchanting way Hemmes’ Ivy brings Hawaii to George Street. Wilkin and Pini won a well-deserved commendation for their Almost House

(well-deserved for cuteness, but also for having one of only two shots in hundreds to include a human person).

And yet the prize in that same Small Project category, though, went to cuteness-destruction; Michael Dysart’s conversion of a fibro into a white-world pavilion that relies entirely on albinism

to disguise its indecision. Is

it doing Mies? Cape Cod?

Queen Anne? Who can tell? Anyone, anyone?

And almost as an afterthought, a sop perhaps to Tina Perinotto’s presence on the jury, and a nod to her excellent new online eco-paper The Fifth Estate – Tone Wheeler’s Environa took the Special Jury Prize for its eco-prefab house, The Logic. If you want to be convinced that, despite what your mum thinks, eco-living can be both affordable and stylish, it’s out at HomeWorld. Take a look.


Join the Discussion