Harry Howard’s House

This is a house in Castle Cove designed by Harry Howard (1930–2000), architect and landscape architect, for his family in the 1960s. You may not know the name (he is little published, and he is not in the Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture, he has barely four lines in Wikipedia and AILA have taken down his biography) but you know his work, or at least every architect should. He designed the sculpture garden on the north side of the Australian National Gallery (now NGA), using paths based on Col Madigan’s geometry to create ‘rooms for sculpture and people’, punctuated by a beautiful landscape. No lesser authority than James Weirick, emeritus professor in landscape at UNSW, thinks it the best garden in Australia.

At a different scale when Lane Cove Council wanted to disguise the proliferation of yellow and red brick walk up flats, his advice was to narrow the streets, widen the verges, and plant Sydney Blue Gums. 30 years later the trees reached maturity, completely obscuring the ugly apartments behind, and equally importantly, provided views to a beautiful Australian landscape out of those apartments. Take a drive down Nundah St in Lane Cove to see his work, where there is a public garden and walk named in his honour.

This house speaks of his formal training in architecture in early modernist times, his early work in the so-called Sydney School style, and his informal training in landscape at a time in which Australian planting started to play such a strong part in architecture. In this he excelled. The house has strong horizontal roof over a carport for a low-key streetscape, with several levels behind stepping down the slope for landscape on both sides. A prominent single deck gives views over Middle Harbour from the waterfront property. Next door, an equally adventurous modernist house by Gerry Rippon is screened by trees.

But wait, there’s more. The Harry Howard house could soon be demolished to be replaced with…

An utter monstrosity of an architravesty

This private house, posing as some Disneyfied interpretation of a Neoclassical French Chateau, doesn't belong in SimCity, nor the Loire Valley, much less in Castle Cove. Adding insult to injury for our profession, this grotesquery was designed by an architect with the AIA A+logo, and submitted to Willoughby Council. Surely, they can’t be serious. But they are. And don’t call me Shirley.

This overblown pretentiousness is wrong on every single level (unavoidable pun). It breaks all the planning rules: floor space ratio, height, boundary setbacks, overshadowing, loss of amenity. The drawings have ludicrous notations: a whole floor, with doors opening onto the swimming pool, is labeled ‘storage’. How gullible do they think Council, and neighbours, are?

A wholly immodest house, it seeks to remove 17 trees, in a curated landscape setting by one of our finest, to devastate the total area of the site. No wonder so many residents are up in arms about this absurd proposal so close to the heritage listed ‘Castle’ that gives the suburb its name.

Let me go out on a limb here. The importance of ‘country’ to the indigenous owners was unknown to most invaders for the first 150 years. But I would argue that the long track back to some understanding of, and sympathy for, ‘country’ began with the movement for an Australian identity after WW2, typified by the Sydney School landscapes of Bruce Mackenzie and Harry Howard, and the work of Bruce Rickard and Bill Lucas. Driven by a love of the country, its flora and sensations, if not yet an indigenous approach to it.

I think this proposal is borne of a cultural misunderstanding, or worse ignorance. At a time when we seek a better connection to country, we demand that every building respect its context. So, this design is doubly damned: it would be intolerable anywhere in suburbia, but to replace a house and garden of one of our key designers, one who’s lifelong work was to promote a better understanding of our landscape, is an absolute travesty. An architravesty.

In a sane world that understood and respected design, the house of one of our greatest architects / landscape architects would be valued by its owners, preserved as a historic site, and not desecrated in this manner.

Labor’s Claytons EV Plan

The federal government launched its electric vehicle (EV) manifesto this week to the sound of one hand clapping. At best you could call it tepid. A plan to make a plan. So very Albanesesque, as we are becoming accustomed to.

It has several moving parts. It proposes introducing fuel efficiency standards by creating emissions standards for a car maker’s ‘fleet’. But not by any given amount, and not yet, despite being the only developed country (aside from Russia) without standards. It lauds EVs and wants to encourage their take-up by talking about how good it is, but offers no incentives. It references other plans to develop charging stations, and lower taxes, but not in this one.

It's ambition is huge, in disappointment. It is such a nothing-burger. It projects a saving of 10m tonnes of CO2 by 2035, which sounds big, until you understand that is less than 1% of national emissions. The best you could say for it is that it is a start.

Which is way more than you can say for the nine years of not just antipathy, but aggressive antagonism towards EVs. Remember Scott Morrison’s ruination of your weekend Michaelia Cash's end of tradie’s utes? Which makes it passing strange that the press, both mainstream and supposedly progressive, would choose to seek out the LNP’s opinion. The Guardian had Bridget Mackenzie’s hypocritical whingeing more prominently than the Chris Bowen’s presentation of the report itself.

Why would you even bother to report the opinions of politicians who failed miserably to address any of these issues? I know that “if it bleeds, it leads”, but this irrational right-wing negativity is bordering on Trump-lite.

The saving grace for labor will be in the saying, “The green karma will run over the brown dogma”. Just yesterday it was reported that sales on medium sized EVs out-sold ICE cars for the first time. Once again, the public is ahead of the politicians and their timidity. Oh for the days when the Labor Party acted quickly with bold and ambitious policies, not the threat of death by consultation.

PS to the graphic designer: it helps if the front cover doesn’t look like it’s covered with thought bubbles or a load of zeroes (unless it’s referring to emissions).

Cameron Bruhn

I welcome Cameron Bruhn’s appointment to the position of CEO at the AIA, which he started last week. Cameron is an architectural enthusiast of exceptional talent, someone the despondent and dilapidated AIA desperately needs.

Cameron Bruhn is a writer, editor, curator and advocate for architecture, landscape architecture and interior design, and holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the UQ and a practice-based PhD from RMIT. Most recently he was the Dean and Head of the School of Architecture at UQ. From 2009 – 2018 Cameron was the editorial director of Architecture Media, self-described as “Australia’s leading cross-platform publisher and events organiser for the built environment community”.

Prior to that he was the editorial director of Multitudes, a monograph celebrating multidisciplinary international design practice Hassell, and co-editor of the books, Forever House, Terrace House and Apartment House. He was a co-creative director of This Public Life, the 2015 Australian Festival of Landscape Architecture and How Soon is Now, the 2016 Australian National Architecture conference. In 2016 he initiated the Asia Pacific Architecture Forum in Brisbane, an annual program that delivers citywide events and activities to a public and professional audience.

Now he is going to need every inch of that vast expertise if he is to turn the good ship AIA around. Difficult when many would say it is aground.

Firstly, I’d love some answers from the past. No one has ever explained why the three leading managers of the AIA resigned so abruptly in 2015. And why, following that, key initiatives such as Archicentre and the Architext Bookshop closed. I think the Institute has been on a downward spiral ever since, sacking some experienced people (like a national CPD manager) only to find those activities declined.

I’d ask that one of the first things Cameron could do for transparency would be to explain what happened then, what is going to happen now, and how he intends to overcome the perception that so many of us have that the institute is too enamoured with the big end of town, at the expense of the far more numerous potential members in small practices, and that the awards program, its seeming raison d’etre, favour the glamourous over the gritty.

But if anyone can fix these impressions, and deliver architecture to the general public, I believe it’s Cameron Bruhn.

Full disclosure. I’ve been a member for almost 50 years, on the basis that it is better to be inside tents than outside when urinating. And for all that, they kindly gave me a Life Fellowship last year. Sorry it didn’t shut me up.

Bookends: Spaceship Earth.

This week’s bookends are two books with Spaceship Earth in the title. Many think Richard Buckminster Fuller, aka Bucky, was the first to talk about the earth as a finite integrated system, which he called Spaceship Earth, describing systems to support it in his 1968 book.

But I have argued in A&D that the term was first used by Barbara Ward, an economist and Baroness Jackson in the English House of Lords, for her book with that title in 1966, two years earlier. Ward, who also coined the term sustainability, had come to this conclusion as an economist studying closed systems without ‘externalities’ as they are termed, and she saw earth as being in danger from being an unsustainable system.

Part of my enthusiasm for Ward comes from her later book, Only One Earth, written with Rene Dubois, and which Roger Johnson, head of School at the CCAE, used as a text in early teachings on sustainability. And part comes from my desire to add her reputation to the other great thinkers on sustainability, all women: Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson and Donella Meadows. It’s where we should laud the women who guided that movement, and beat out the more widely recognised old white men.

Speaking of whom, there’s no doubt that Bucky was a master spinner of tales, and I can attest to his prowess as a lecturer having attended a three-hour stream of consciousness diatribe from him in 1970. And his life is well documented in a new biography, Inventor of the Future, the visionary life of Buckminster Fuller, by Alec Nevala-Lee, who addresses, rather elliptically, the issue of who came up with the term.

He acknowledges that Ward used the term earlier than Bucky in writings; indeed telling a story of how Ward’s book was the inspiration for The Whole Earth Catalog by Stewart Brand. Another of my heroes discussed in A&D here. Whilst Nevala-Lee’s book is no hagiography, I take issue with the assumption that Ward’s one meeting with Bucky was where she derived the term.

All a bit nerdsville really, just read either of these books called Spaceship Earth, or Bucky’s biography.

More things next week. Tone Wheeler is an architect / the views expressed are his / contact at [email protected].