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Foundations lost in new city buildings | The Advertiser

ANDREW MCLACHLAN | COMMENT

PUBLIC architecture reflects the community at the time of its construction. When our children reflect on this era they may view our recent modernist constructions as memorials to the waning
of our community aspirations.

Adelaide was founded with such aspiration. The city was planned by Colonel William 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. With the relatively recent poor offerings of public architecture, I believe we are squandering our architectural inheritance and embracing banality. Our buildings are served up to us by architects who are initiates of the cult of modernism.

The result is public architecture which is virtually indistinguishable and our beautiful city is the poorer for it. The ugly recent additions to our cityscape were built without meaningful public consent. The new hospital has no aesthetic merit and will soon look dated. It is joined nearby by two towers constructed under the patronage of the universities. Both are of questionable architectural merit.

The University of South Australia has delivered much good to the state, but this cannot be said of its contribution to public architecture. Its North Tce tower follows on from the philosophy of its western campus, which is designed like a factory, with any green space attacked by layers of concrete. The campus looks like a Victorian workhouse.

The University of Adelaide’s master plan for North Tce should give cause for concern. It will, if realised, ensure that the once great boulevard will be further diminished by the cult of modernism.

Adelaide’s campus is already architecturally bastardised by vanity projects of every era. The mishmash of styles indicates that, over time, the institution appears to have lacked a credible and enduring vision of societal purpose.

Those who are responsible for the modernist edifices that haunt us have done so only to satisfy the tastes of their elite cadres. These banal modernist buildings remind us of why we need public architecture to provide compelling icons for our society that inspire us to achieve our aspirations.

Our places of learning are joined by new unimaginative additions to the Convention Centre. These too are disappointing and aesthetically question whether South Australia still aspires to be a world leader. These new buildings may be a reflection of our political time, modernism that eschews traditionalism and community. They are not drawn from our society’s past experience and travails.