Monday, 12 February 2018

An Open Letter to the Office of the Victorian Government Architect: "Sack Yourselves"

To whom it may concern,

I write in relation to learning of your role in the assessment process for the proposed Apple Store in Federation Square.

I am not - other than a couple of Fine Art History subjects, a trained architect, but I am about to be able to tell you in fairly clear and rational terms how your Office has so demonstrably totally voided its entire mandate, such that I write today to demand, on behalf of architecture, your resignation.

This is the city's premier public space, and was created by international design competition. Something almost unprecedented in terms of major projects in this city, but widely regarded as architectural best practice. Your recommendations therefore stand foundationally against architectural best practice even before any of their detail is scrutinised.

So on this basis already it appears that you do not understand that your entire role is to apply architectural best practice to the maximal possible extent in this city, and to advocate as much to government. The alternative is you do understand this, but have chosen for whatever reason to bend to the political wind, or you don't care enough to do your job properly. All conclusions suggest you need to be removed from this role for a fundamental failure of purpose.

Moving on to some of the architectural impact. The importance of this space is established and largely not contested. This space is SO important not just because it won a design competition, but more because of its significance in civic affairs, and that it was designed as a coherent space that had its own spatial symbolism, with stone hewn from all the states being sourced.

That you as an architect can suggest a civic SQUARE (the single urban spatial typology most relevant to an at scale planned coherence) could be improved by having one of the complete coherent set of buildings replaced by a building in an entire other style, and with no architectural logic whatsoever.

That you as an architect can give approval to Norman Foster's, copied and pasted (and he CLEARLY hasn't even TRIED put any contextual design into this) design beggars belief.

The building's balanced zen and extended lines seem calculated to be as violent a jar as possible against the existing style's wildly angular and tesselated postmodern patterning. If you can look at those two building styles in tandem and suggest the architectural realm has been improved, you need to return to architecture school. These are not two neighbouring buildings in a streetscape, these are two parts of ONE SQUARE.

This is a HERITAGE BUILDING. Federation Square would eventually have been listed. Your stylistic intervention, by the principles laid down in the Burra Charter, actually JEOPARDISES THE FUTURE HERITAGE LISTING OF ARGUABLY THE CITY'S MOST IMPORTANT CIVIC SPACE.

You have not thought this through, you have not, once again done any of your duty to uphold good architectural principles in relation to preservation. We are continually losing or seeing compromised (qv IM Pei's Collins Place) important modernist and postmodern buildings before they are listed. The appropriate job for your office here was to ensure this known policy trap within the urban arena did not adversely effect the outcome.

So, the bases on which I believe all individuals within the Office of the Victorian Government Architect with any responsibility for this decision are unqualified to continue in the role are these:
  • 1. This is the most important decision you will ever make, as the public interest has never been more imperiled by politicians' and corporations' vanity, and you have chosen to aid its imperilment
  • 2. You fundamentally only had one job to do at 1, and failed at the most important moment
  • 3. You've thrown out the results of an international design competition for a coherent premier public space
  • 4. The thing you've given the thumbs up to is abysmal in any architectural langauage, and by any assessment.
  • 5. Thinking a non-coherent space is better than a coherent one, and for not comprehending a square needs to be coherent
  • 6. The co-option of Don Bates, and your disrespect to the two dead architects who are spinning in their graves today
  • 7. Failure to consider the heritage impact
  • 8. The absolute obvious inappropriate violence of the juxtaposition of styles

Although, in conclusion, there could be ONE possible out for you in all of this.

We need to be clear that you do actually know where Federation Square IS, yes? CITY square is the one with the right angles ....