If the thought of an architecture book conjures up ideas of large, glossy photos of fabulous edifices, Uro Media’s AIA Victoria award-winning Mongrel Rapture will, like many of ARM’s designs, give these preconceived notions a thorough shakeup.
For one, it starts with a lengthy piece of free verse by Howard Raggatt that meditates on globalism, localism, culture wars and fringe thinking (among other things), inspired partly by inner-city graffiti stating “F#ck local, buy global”.
For another, while it charts the history and philosophy of the practice, these bits of self-referential text are interspersed with a whole range of contextual elements. Such as the entire big picture of Australian cities, suburbia, architectural aesthetics, business practices, masterplanning, the nature of drawing and interpreting space on paper. Another strong recurring element is the ferment created by rampant cross-discipline creative and cultural discussion.
There’s also some pithy observations around the upsides of public sector clients and why ARM decided early on there are certain other kinds of clients that are simply not worth the rent money.
It’s not a linear progression from “here’s where we started” to “here’s our latest award winning project”. Although at the end there is a timeline of significant projects, images and photos – but the standard high-gloss perfectly framed artistic photography is noticeably absent, giving the whole book a uniquely raw graphic texture.
Along the way there are interviews and discussions with other notable figures in Australian architecture and culture, reprints of thought-leader pieces, posters, snapshots, scribbles, project narratives and stream-of-consciousness contemplation of what the whole business of designing a built environment is really all about.
There are some terrific bon mots that deserve to be turned into memes – like “how about an architecture of ‘believing is seeing’ rather than the tedium of ‘seeing is believing’?” and “Someone said ‘the plan is the generator’ but now it seems the plan is really another CAT scan.”
The various elements of the book were written by the three founding partners – Steve Ashton, Howard Raggatt and Ian McDougall – as well as Mark Raggatt, Simona Castricum, Neil Masterton, Andrew Lilleyman and Jonothan Cowie. But don’t expect to see their names anywhere in large print – each piece is signed only by initials with a decoder hidden on page 1606 next to the list of photographers.
Yes, page 1606 – the book is over 1600 pages long. And still it seems this is only a small taste of the larger thoughtful, witty, provocative and wide-ranging conversation the practice is having with the broader society.