If you build it, they will fund it

The re-working of the Australian War Memorial (aka Museum) continues apace. As director, former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson gathered up half a billion dollars from his right-wing mates to demolish the DCM hall, desecrate the front, and extend the sacred into the profane.

At the same time the former LNP government spent a pittance on the National Archives. At the change of government the Archives begged and received an additional $36.5m after years of neglect. My theory is ‘out of sight, out of mind, out of funds’. Or, as the corollary to the old saying goes, ‘don’t build it and it won’t be funded’.

This is the winning scheme by Francis Martin in the limited design competition for a new National Archives building in Canberra in 1980. Intended for Commonwealth Avenue, the site was moved next to the National Library (logical), a new brief was issued (understandable), Martin is forced to join with another firm (irrational), that firm wrangles the project badly (inexplicable), and the project is abandoned (unforgivable).

All this was mis-managed by the National Capital Development Commission (not quite as it says on the tin - they were more like the No Can-Do Club), and the net result is that there is no Archives building, and crucially pitiful funding for Archives. A salutary lesson for the Sydney (Non) Powerhouse.

Titan’s failure going round in circles

The world was gripped by the failure of the Titan submersible - and the five deaths - as it went to visit the Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic. Much speculation as to the cause ensued, centring on the failure of the inner ‘pod’. Two thoughts came to mind.

One was an illustration of a spherical deep-sea submersible for H G Wells short story In the Abyss, published in 1896. The other was a de-bunking in Domebook 3, a chapter in Shelter by Lloyd Kahn, published in 1973. One dome myth was the analogy that our heads were spheres, as our buildings should be. Busted, with the observation that our heads are solid, and our buildings hollow, and that a sphere’s strength was too expensive in traditional building materials. But spheres are strong, huh?These musings were brought into much sharper focus by a very detailed article in the New York Times from a fortnight ago. This is one of the original illustrations contrasting the shape of the Titan to the US Navy vessel Alvin. One of the key principles in combatting water pressure has always been the sphere - see the helmets in the movie poster above. The jury may be out for years on the exact cause, but the principles to be obeyed are already coming to the surface.

Shark bait

The poster above also features a shark, which begs my entry into the Ig Nobel Awards. Swimming every daylight-saving day at Bondi only exacerbates my shark-fear. In 227 years 237 deaths by shark were recorded in Australia, about one per year. In the last 2 years it rose to 5 per year, which might be caused by more people swimming, climate change or perhaps by the rise of sharks feasting on abandoned caches of cocaine.

But fear not, it’s scientifically illogical. About 144 people die in Australia each year from choking whilst eating. Fish forms about a quarter of protein eaten and, by some estimates, ‘flake’ (i.e. shark) is about 25% of all fish consumed (in WA, SA and Victoria in particular). So we can guesstimate that on average 9 people die by choking on shark meat each year. That is, you are twice as likely to die by eating shark as you are to be eaten by a shark. The cocaine is fuelling revenge.

Shameless promotion

This is a piece of shameless cross-promotion. Most will know my more in-depth pieces, called Tone on Tuesday. Questionable title? But at least you get the name and the publication date. I recently wrote a series of articles on strategic planning, council assessments, council approvals, and heritage. They have received by far the greatest response to the 170-odd (some very odd) articles I’ve written over 4 years.

It seems that jobbing architects, who make up a big proportion of our beloved readers, really hate the cards they are dealt by councils. If you feel that way, and you haven’t seen the articles, as Molly says: “do yourself a favour” and drop me a line as I am collecting the most egregious of failings.

Bookends: John Andrews

John Andrews is up there, if up there is the top of the architect’s pantheon, with the most under-rated and over-demolished schemes. He was a brilliant explainer of ideas, only partially captured in his and Jennifer Taylor’s book of 1982. Now there is a volume of detailed third-hand explanations that has been promised for a year. I have my hands on a very early copy, and I love it. It almost does justice to one of my great design heroes.

Signs Off: The last of the ICE fuel

This ad for petrol on the side of a building in Parramatta Rd was uncovered during demolition for a new building designed by environa studio. Sadly, now covered up as we are building wall-to-wall as is the tradition on this river of cars. They once sold gas for ICE (internal combustion engines), now we install car-chargers in the basement.

Tone Wheeler is an architect / the views expressed are his.

A&D Another Thing, 28 July 2023 (week 30)

Long columns are Tone on Tuesday, short shots every Friday in A&D Another Thing.

You can contact TW at [email protected]