It’s that time of year again – FORM’s PUBLIC Festival is here, in and around Perth! This year, instead of street-arting all over Perth’s award-winning architecture like Kerry Hill’s State Theatre Centre and even a bit of Harry Seidler’s QV1, they have hooked with the good folk at Curtin University to bring some vibrancy to the Bentley Campus. Goodo! Hashtag VIBRANT.
Bentley Campus is home to some truly beautiful examples of Brutalist Architecture, that most maligned of all architecture movements, and the one most readily referred to as ‘ugly’. Ew, concrete. Ugly. Except for polished concrete floors, which we all know are sexy. The Robertson Library, the Architecture School, the Engineering School, a bunch of others, are all high-qual, exciting buildings, and they’re amazing examples of this kind of architecture – energetic institutional architecture that cries out to be investigated, touched, climbed on, meandered through.
Architect Vin Davies from the Public Department of Works is credited with designing these incredible structures, way back in 1968. Completed for the opening of Curtin Uni in 1971 (or WAIT, as it was then), they’ve stood for 45 years. Nice. That’s practically ancient in Perth.
They are incredible works of architecture, right here in our city. They include beautiful features like old-growth jarrah off-form concrete walls; where entire sections of a building were painstakingly formed up with individual pieces of West Aussie timber by a whole bunch of blokes in shorts – HEAPS of splinters, HEAPS of high quality workmanship. This gives a beautiful texture to the skin of the buildings, at once natural and man-made, a unique skin which can’t be recreated. The beloved Architecture Building, Building 201, has sun-shading devices made from this concrete. Just astounding work, those fins floating across the facade like they weigh nothing at all. They all have ingenious and beautiful ways of dealing with ordinary services like rain water and exhaust systems, and of enticing the inquisitive visitor.
But, as we know, if it doesn’t have a verandah wrapping around it and if it can’t be described as ‘federation’ then it’s all too easy to write it off as ‘ugly’ and of a lesser value. These are buildings that have been written about. These are the buildings which were the paradigm-busting, new-era-heralding, vibrant (#vibrant) educational structures of the bright eyed WAIT. The red brick and concrete material palette marked these buildings as international-standard structures of a new age. Now, however, they aren’t vibrant (#vibrant) enough.
So FORM and Curtin have organised some talented folk again to paint over our architectural heritage. Big colourful images, bright and fun. But like I will always argue, big, colourful, bright and playful veneers do not make a built environment.
And I know the response and the arguments for painting murals on them:
- they are Curtin’s buildings and they can do what they wish
- the students of today want something more instagrammable
- the campus needs to be more vibrant (#vibrant)
- the concrete is ugly
We live in a city and a country that sees the proliferation of unthinking design as the norm for progress and growth. Cookie-cutter, energy-sucking, off-the-plan junk design rolls through our suburbs and our cities, up and down the coast. It wipes out bushland and farm land and no one bats an eye-lid. We give design and the built environment the bum’s rush in Perth, and our lifestyle and environment is worse off because of it. So it isn’t surprising, but still baffles me beyond comprehension, when significant, considered, venerable buildings that promote a higher standard of consideration for our designed and constructed world are ret-conned as canvases for vibrancy. Why is a vibrant building (#vibrant) a better option than a respected building, or a considered building, or an important building? Are the students of Curtin so lacking in attention spans that they can’t pause to consider the inherent beauty of these buildings? Is Curtin so short-sighted, cowering in cultural cringe at its 70s ugliness, that it doesn’t see the benefits in holding these buildings up as examples of outstanding architecture?
It just baffles me.
But what’s done is done, and there isn’t a chance that those murals are coming down any time soon. That 45 year old off-form concrete is porous, baby.
Last year I wrote a blog and I went on the telly to have a whinge, and the supporters of big ol’ colourful pictures on big ol’ blank walls said to me “don’t be a hater and stop ripping on these guys that just want to paint on your architecture”. So this year I’m taking a different tack, live and let live, y’know. I like incredible architecture, you like whimsical pictures that are really, really big.
So, if you, like me, wish to enjoy the cultural heritage of your state’s very own exemplary architecture as it was intended, then all you have to do is scroll down and download your very own PUBLIC Campus 2016 Survival Kit. Just cut out this handy, pocket-sized image of off-form concrete and stick it in front of your eyes any time you want to enjoy the incredible work of local hero architect Vin Davies and the game-changing buildings that he and his team brought to life in your very own city. See below for a downloadable template and a handy instructional gif.
Here’s to Vin, here’s to a higher level of discourse on what makes our city and our buildings great and important, and here’s to PUBLIC2016!
Your Public Campus 2016 Survival Kit:
Your Instructional Video: