Tone on Tuesday columns often elicit comments, which I’d like to share in an occasional Friday missive.


BG (one of the students in the photo and now director of his own firm) wrote: “It was great to see this article. I think this was a genuinely great course which I think was formative to my understanding of what’s important in architecture and still impacts my design thinking today. I was also very lucky to have Camilla (Block) as my first teacher.” As I was blessed to have Camilla as a tutor.

BA asked: “Did you ever get this course peer reviewed.” Yes and no. I had huge support from my peers, Col James, Anna Rubbo and Adrian Snodgrass (and yes, we were the “gang of four” for the junior degree for 10 years). Only once did I present it for critique: at UTS before Professor Neville Quarry and two tutors (no name - they are still around). Quarry could be witty and insightful, but not this evening. Acerbic, refusing to listen, he missed the point entirely, arguing that the plan wasn’t realistic, and spent most of the time backing in his own very traditional first year. Demoralised, I lost faith. In critiques, not the pedagogy.


I put a call out for suggestions to add to my list of 40 key books for students of architecture to read.

GK suggested “The Universal Traveller – Koberg/Bagnall (creativity … the process of reaching goals).” With which I agree wholeheartedly, especially the one pager on how to give a critique: describe the approach (for simpatico), praise the best bits, critique the worst bits, show how the best can fix the worst. Was a big hit in the late 70’s, but not for Neville Quarry.

SF suggested: “Further to your reading list, I still have a copy of a prescribed text from my first year of Architecture at Melbourne Uni in 1971 – The Honeywood File by H.B. Creswell … a fictionalised account of an architectural commission that goes wrong, along with lessons on how (or how not) to communicate with a client and builder while administering a formal contract.” A shout out to Peter McCallum who taught legions of students in Sydney with this book. “You administer, you don’t supervise”.

I wrote a whole column in praise of Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn. Then realised that I’d left it off my list, despite being one of my favourites. And I wasn’t alone in loving it.


KJ wrote: “‘How Buildings Learn’ is one of my favourite architecture books. ‘Architecture Without Architects’ is another… The great lesson that the vernacular can provide for architects is not to be too precious. John Andrews, a respected mentor, used to say “I firmly believe there is too much bullshit in architecture”…heritage issues at the council level frequently degenerate to issues of mere style, such that the dormer example to which you refer in your article cannot be deployed in a way that solves the simple problem of solar amenity. However, the situation is made worse by the attitude and level of competence displayed by council heritage staff.”

DH wrote: “… your article on how buildings learn and particularly your examination on the Paddington Terraces life cycle, reminded me of a very funny book by an Australian author Gillian Rubinstein ‘Sharon, Keep Your Hair On’. This life inspired, extremely witty book takes readers on a hilarious journey of a perpetually changing home of Jason and Sharon and their … never ending home improvements to suit any new circumstances, no matter how unpredictable they may be… this is just a reminder on a rarely humorous description of our profession or what it should be… it’s a five minute read and it’s worth it.”

More feedback next month.

Tone Wheeler is principal architect at Environa Studio, Adjunct Professor at UNSW and is President of the Australian Architecture Association. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and are not held or endorsed by A+D, the AAA or UNSW. Tone does not read Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Linked In. Sanity is preserved by reading and replying only to comments addressed to [email protected]