Monday, April 26, 2010

extra/ordinary architecture conference 2010 - on the subject of project housing

This post is a digression from the normal documentation of the apartment house process, but i thought it pertinent to the very nature of the design and planning of the apartment house to comment on such things.

At the national architecture conference just finished this past weekend, West Australian based landscape architect Richard Weller presented on a topic close to the 'apartment house' project's heart: the suburbanisation of Perth, Western Australia and the country as a whole. He has recently published an enormous tome entitled Boom Town 2050 - Scenarios for a Rapidly Growing City. It is a brilliant and important piece of work and one that I encourage you to seek out and read, or browse, or simply marvel at.

It is a work based on significant and deep research into the goings on and statistics of how we live in this city, and the hypothetical futures that we must consider in order to avoid the unsustainable and destructive future that will certainly arrive if we do not.

Among the discussions on planning policies, ecological scenarios, energy, transportation and population, there is a chapter dedicated to the effects of 'project housing' on our city. In his conference presentation Richard Weller scarily referred to one man as Perth's most important architect; this man is Dale Alcock, project home magnate. Now there's a scary notion.

There is a school of thought that says architecture and planning, the making of homes and towns and cities, the passive or active creation of cultures that spawn from these homes and town and cities, and the welfare of the people who inhabit them and the habitats in which they exist, are important tasks to be undertaken with a great deal of care, consideration, altruism, strong will and moral fortitude. There is another school of thought that says this is primarily a retail industry.

In a direct quote by Dale Alcock in Boom Town he states the following:

"Home builders cop a lot of flak and are accused of producing housing that is unimaginative, lacks innovation and is of poor design. The reality is that home builders are retailers and provide an affordable product to a consumer. The biggest challenge is to get consumers to be more daring and challenge the status quo. Consumers, who demand a well designed, adequate, energy efficient and responsive home will ultimately be served this. Our livelihood depends on meeting our clients' demand."

Dale's quote suggests that the public is asking him for housing that is unimaginative, lacks innovation and is of poor design, and affordable. That's what he provides (or at least he does not present any rebuttal of this claim) and it so follows that this is what his consumers are demanding. This is what happens when a base necessity of life and the higher aspirations of a society are viewed as a retail undertaking. Retail suggests profit and Dale's quote suggests that he will happily make his profit from poor product if that is the market that is presented to him. In this brief quote, and in the volumes of tract housing he produces, he does not suggest that he will push the boundaries and show the world that there are better options; he does not suggest that we can live in a house that does not only tick enough boxes to allow it to be built; he does not suggest that he will strive for something more. He suggests that if no one asks for better and if he doesn't offer it, then he can go on making a 'livelihood' without putting in any more effort than is required. I would be interested to see if Dale has ever put his profits on the line to attempt to create something of importance and innovation in the state that has given him such a fantastic livelihood...and charity homes of the same dubious architectural quality as every other home he produces do not count.

It is a sad situation if this man is 'the most important architect in Perth'. It is a scary situation that no one is taking a massive and loud stand against this. It is no small inspiration for the apartment house that it is an opportunity to present an alternative way of living in this city.
The apartment house is in-fill development and respects its site and its neighbours; it pushes the limits of the planning codes and it has managed to eke out a couple of bonuses by thinking hard and knowing that the project can be approached in a manner outside the status quo. If there was a tree on the block we would've kept it.

I find it immensely worrying that such business people as Dale can view their undertakings only through a lens of profits and 'his livelihood'. In one fell swoop such actions are capable of undermining the future of a society.

1 comment:

  1. Be a voice in the dark & NEVER compromise, from listening to Rob talk about the builders he deals with there are a lot of profiteers & very few dreamers out there. I can't wait to see more of your work David, I find it very inspiring - thanks for dreaming big xx