Build­ing an uglier city


“WHY you hate con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture” read the head­line of an ar­ti­cle that res­onated with me so pierc­ingly I had to share it with “Boomers”.

It was sent to me by a friend, who works as a gar­den de­signer. She wrote: “As I drive through the con­struc­tion site for aw­ful ar­chi­tec­ture that Ade­laide has be­come, I ask why? Why do we rou­tinely and un­ques­tion­ingly choose shock­ingly ugly build­ings over beau­ti­ful and up­lift­ing ones? Why do we spurn and de­grade our ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory, cul­ture and tra­di­tions? Why do we choose to live in grey boxes?”

I don’t think we do. This ug­li­ness is foisted on us, and as a com­mu­nity we’re too timid and brain­washed to protest. Did you see the images of new build­ings planned for Ade­laide ( The Ad­ver­tiser, Au­gust 30)? They were all bru­tally vile, es­pe­cially the one des­tined for 243 Way­mouth St. Is this mon­stros­ity some kind of joke? Are ar­chi­tects try­ing to see how far they can push us be­fore we rebel, or are they con­fi­dent that we are so cowed by their usual jar­gon that we’ve lost the will to re­sist?

In the ar­ti­cle I men­tioned (by Bri­anna Ren­nix and Nathan J. Robin­son) they cite the usual ways in which we’re brow­beaten.

We have “mis­guided mis­con­cep­tions about ar­chi­tec­tural prin­ci­ples” or we “Don’t ap­pre­ci­ate that th­ese con­struc­tions are great feats of engi­neer­ing”. In­tim­i­dated? Be brave. In some places cit­i­zens are re­belling. The out­cry of Parisians against the loom­ing black glass box that was the “Tour Mont­par­nasse” forced the city to en­act an or­di­nance for­bid­ding fur­ther de­vel­op­ments of that scale. Win for the peo­ple. Bos­to­ni­ans protested vig­or­ously against the new Bos­ton City Hall, call­ing for it to be de­mol­ished as it was be­ing built, but they’re now stuck with it.

Look at Pound­bury in Dorset, planned and laid out along tra­di­tional, low rise ar­chi­tec­tural prin­ci­ples stip­u­lated by Prince Charles.

It fea­tures a “vil­lage” type lay­out with shops and busi­nesses within walk­ing dis­tance of homes, and wind­ing, pedes­trian friendly streets. There are no large shop­ping malls, and some of the en­ter­prises that flour­ish are quite “al­ter­na­tive”, in­clud­ing one which sup­plies herbal and nat­u­ral reme­dies for peo­ple and an­i­mals that Charles has an in­ter­est in.

He caused a stir by let­ting some of the mead­ows at High­grove re­vert to wild­flow­ers and “weeds,” aka nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion.

Pound­bury has been crit­i­cised by ar­chi­tects as “fake, heart­less and grimly cute”. They would say that, but fol­low­ing the ac­knowl­edged fail­ure of cram­ming pub­lic hous­ing ten­ants into high rise blocks, it’s time to think again.

The late ge­nius Douglas Adams said some mod­ern build­ings at­tain a de­gree of ug­li­ness that can only be the re­sult of spe­cial ef­fort. There’s cer­tainly a lot of spe­cial ef­fort hap­pen­ing in Ade­laide now!

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