The ugliness myth, challenging new ratings schemes and a survey for our readers

2 November 2011 – The image here is beautiful, right? The recession-era throw-up job next to the Gold Rush Victorian era extravaganza is just plain ugly, right?

Not according to Ivan Rijavec.

Rijavec, in typical style, has thrown down the gauntlet on what, exactly, is good taste in Australian urbanism. On Thursday a fascinating exhibition that he has been working on will open at the Pin-up Architecture and Design Project Space,  in Collingwood, Melbourne.

The work will feature four intensely photographed streets that make up an entire block – three kilometres – in inner city Melbourne, with collages directly above and below to show what they could or might have looked like given different economic or planning conditions.

It will be accompanied by a limited edition catalogue of the works and an essay that tracks the way Rijavec came to reassess Australian urbanism and his belief that Robin Boyd is his book The Australian Ugliness was plain wrong.

Boyd, he says, led Australian down a “self-flagellating” path and a sense of inferiority that has contaminated our planning system and with it, views of neighbourhood character, heritage and planning regulation.

“The Australian Ugliness”, Rijavec says, “is a counterfeit”.

Neighbourhood character regulations “misconstrue the nature of Australian urbanism by promoting corrective practices that undermine our urban history and future by promoting compromises that serve neither.”

The streets that Rijavec has focused on – Smith, Gertrude, Brunswick and Johnston  – have over the years developed as a hodge-podge of building styles, sizes and purposes that he says are not ugly, but in fact create a sort of “urban jazz”. Or is it “hip hop”? The allusion is to Johann Wolfgang van Goeth who suggested that  architecture is like “frozen music”.

In fact Rijavec has commissioned a musical score based on the urban music of these streets, which will be played at the exhibition.

Rijavec knows a bit about the controversy that seems embedded in urban planning. He’s had to. Partly this has come from regular work as an architect but also as designer of the higly controversial North Fitzroy building that became known as “The Cheesegrater” for its unusual style which was at first rejected and then embraced, he claims.

Most recently he was also co-director with  photographer John Gollings (who also contributed photographs to the Boyd’s Error exhibition) in another challenging project, the recent Venice Biennale exhbition. The exhibition stirred up some  consternation because it encouraged participants to engage in flights of imagination on what our cities could look like in 2050, a concept that some critics saw as more blueprint than abstract ideas and stimuli.

Rijavec is not the only critic of Boyd. Last year Peter Conrad, writing in The Montly ( similary challenged Boyd’s ideas.

However, a recent article in the The Sydney Morning Herald defends the notion that  our cities are ugly.

Rijavec says he hopes to find some support for his exhibition to be shown in Sydney. The concept, he says, transcends parochial borders and has a universal message.

New tougher sustainability ratings

Jason McLennan has an idea that buildings should mimic nature ­– in particular, a flower, with its aesthetics and its tuning to the local natural environment.

This month McLennan will bring his concepts to Australia in free lectures and workshops from 7 November in a movement that is starting to catch hold.

Lynne Blundell writes that the ideas are more than an appealing concept. They are being used in a new sustainability rating system that pushes all the boundaries, called the Living Building Challenge.

Already a handful of projects have signed up: the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus, the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute building and the Transformational Technical Training facility at TAFE’s Yallah campus.


Sooner or later there is a survey, right?

Well this survey has three small questions on The Fifth Estate at the end but the rest seeks to find out more about how you – businesses big and small – feel and act about energy efficiency.

It’s  a hugely important issue right now. So take a few moments and help us discover more about our industry.

See our article on the survey and the provider Connection Research which is also working with the Facility Management Association on this.

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum

We can’t wait for the future

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