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29 Nov 2017

Adelaide Architecture

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (15:58): Adelaide was founded with such aspiration. The city was planned by Light and settled by those freely seeking a better life, rather than arriving in chains. These aspirations, and their faiths that underpin them, found expression in their buildings, particularly their churches. This culminated in the building of a cathedral to our north.

With the relatively recent offerings of public architecture I believe we are squandering our architectural inheritance and embracing a mediocre aesthetic. While cities in Europe that face similar economic challenges as do we seek to lead their revival with dramatic public architecture, we do the opposite and embrace banality, served up to us by architects wedded to mediocrity in the form of modernism. The modern architect is unified in their hatred of classicism and the blind love of the modern. Their practice is so dominated by a modernist consensus that all public architecture is virtually indistinguishable. Our society is the poorer for it.

The ugly recent additions to our cityscape were built without meaningful public consent. The only debate was regarding the location and utility. The new hospital shape has no aesthetic merit and together with its cladding it will ensure the building will soon look dated. It is not an inviting design for a place of healing. It is joined nearby by two towers constructed under the patronage of the universities. Both, in my view, are of questionable architectural merit. No attention has been given to the interiors, which replicate soulless office blocks rather than places of learning and aspiration to heal the sick.

This is not surprising from the University of South Australia. While as an institution it has delivered much good to the state, this cannot be said of its contribution to public architecture. Its riverbank tower follows on from the philosophy of its western campus. This campus is designed like a factory, where any green space has been attacked by layers of concrete. I think that the campus looks like a Victorian workhouse.

However, there is little excuse for the University of Adelaide. It does not have the heritage of a technical college. It was founded on the ideal of the European university. Its master plan for the eastern end of North Terrace should give cause for all of us who value beauty to be concerned. That proposed development will, if realised, ensure that the once great boulevard of North Terrace will be diminished by the cult of modernism.

Adelaide’s campus is already architecturally bastardised by vanity projects of every era. Yet every modernist addition to the campus has no relation to its traditions. As a whole, it is a mishmash of styles and demonstrates that over time our leading institution appears to have lacked a credible and enduring vision of societal purpose. You do not see the modernist buildings often in the university’s advertising; rather, it is the classical buildings that are showcased. The new buildings are quietly ignored when seeking new students.

This indicates that those who are responsible for the modernist edifices that now haunt us have done so only to satisfy their own tastes and the tastes of their elite cadres. I suspect that these architects took an unrelenting approach to the utility of the buildings without a moment’s thought to the life of the students or their teachers. These modernist buildings and their collective banality are a constant reminder of why we need public architecture to provide compelling icons for our society and inspire us to achieve our many aspirations.

Our places of learning are joined on the riverbank by new unimaginative additions to the Convention Centre. These are disappointing and pronounce that South Australia does not seek to be a world leader in its chosen endeavours. They are an aesthetic desecration of the riverbank. Perhaps these new buildings that cut into our landscape are a reflection of our political time, modernism that eschews the individual, a turning away from traditionalism and community. These buildings and those like them are not drawn from our society’s past experience and travails. Rather, these public buildings have nothing to say and simply mimic shopping plazas that can be found the world over. Perhaps this is the architectural legacy of 16 years of Labor and its commissars: modern buildings that serve a purpose but over time will not be cherished or inspire.

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