Most of us like to ask questions but we are not often allowed to ask Big Questions; ones that disrupt ways of thinking about what we do individually and as a profession. #Architecture #BigQuestions, a Twitter campaign initiated by BVN that seeks to identify the big issues faced by architects, architecture schools, city councils and basically anyone who lives or works in a building, gives us permission to do exactly just that.

Launched at the end of April, its public invitation to pose the questions is Big too; it is up to the world to collaborate and participate in finding the really important questions. For instance, as National Director of BVN James Grose noted, recent news about the catastrophic impact of climate change and rising sea levels means it is imperative to ask “what role architecture has in the sustainability of the planet, specifically cities”.

“The aim is to find the questions that architecture could and should answer,” he said. “Should for example all buildings generate their own power?”

By flushing out and then focusing on the big issues, the campaign will enable architects to apply their skills and knowledge in a useful way – not unlike David Hilbert’s 23 problems, which he posed to the mathematical community in 1900, some of which remain unsolved to this day, but which gave the mathematics world a focus for the last century.

“Architecture doesn’t have a set of key questions,” says Grose.


Screenshot of questions posed by Twitter users

As part of the campaign, using the hashtags #architecture and #bigquestions will allow architects, students, city councillors, and users of and dwellers in all sizes of buildings to ask and then follow the questions, perhaps creating lucid moments for the profession – and beyond.

One entry caught my eye. The tweeter’s daughter asked, “’How big is the universe? What's beyond the edge? How long would it take to reach it?’”

Elsewhere I read a comment from the recent Australian Institute of Architects’ conference that the profession’s greatest risk is “to remain irrelevant and unnecessary in the public sense. Greater exposure required”. Wanting to provoke is Mongrel Rapture from ARM Architecture, a mixture of coffee table design book, opinion, history and “manifesto” showing its 30-year architectural culture in essays, interviews, drawings and images. “Its personality is inspired, generous, curious, irreverent, ranting, probing and more than a little eccentric,” the media release grandly states. 


Furthermore, Mongrel Rapture is thus named because its “crossbreed of content (is) not all (of a) high-culture pedigree: it has moments in the gutter and it doesn’t mind its Ps and Qs. After all, ARM’s most defining work is on public buildings for everyone, not just for the socially or economically privileged”.

In similar vein, the 2016 AIA National Architecture Conference (Adelaide 28-30 April), How soon is now, aims “to explore the agency of architecture to make real changes in the world, empowering architects to participate in the massive transformations that are occurring to cities, to global as well as local societies and to the sustainability of our planet”. The future is right now and we want to present what it looks like:

“The challenge for architecture is to not retreat into itself and be ostracised from the extraordinary moment in history in which it finds itself, but rather to recognise its place in contemporary practice and to stake a claim for its agency within that system.”

The creative team of Cameron Bruhn (Editorial Director of Architecture Media), Ben Hewett (Director of Strategic Services, NSW Government Architect's Office), and Sam Spurr (currently a senior lecturer at University of NSW Art and Design and research fellow at the University of Adelaide), will have a program to “shift the conversation from a self-reflective and internal one to an open, collaborative and discursive one. The focus will be on exemplary buildings and the experiences and knowledge of the people that fund, conceive, create and inhabit them.

Keeping an eye out for possibilities is part of the challenge, such as from a tantalising concept house, the Cliff House, a modular, prefab home by Modscape that hangs off the coast like its inspiration, a “hull-clinging barnacle”. While the house itself is possible its attachment to the cliff via engineered steel pins is yet to be proven.


Image: Modscape

Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community.  @deborahsingerma