As life returns to a degree of normality in Adelaide, I’ve never appreciated more the privilege of meeting and conversing with people as I have lately, as friends or extended circles with shared interests. A few months ago I tuned in weekly to the Isolation Talks hosted online by the Architect’s Bookshop for the same reasons. While Melbourne has unfortunately returned to a lockdown, it has meant that these free little online presentations are restarting again this week – with guests ranging from friends and neighbours to international speakers in the architecture world. Check out a few of my favourites from the last few months:
I was introduced to the work of Jo Noero through this talk, but his credentials and the longevity of his career suggest he’s one of the most established architects I’d never heard of. His work explores urban scale interventions with confidence, specifically in the ability of the building to influence cities that I find is a common characteristic of an older generation of architects and inspiring to watch, if simply for the evocative hand drawings that Noero uses to communicate his work.
In its funnest form, this utopian thinking is reflected in a hypothetical scheme of urban sci-fi trees that function as power poles and nodes of community infrastructure. It’s a take on a 1960’s open-ended, technocratic city but applied instead to the informal settlements of Johannesburg. Another project proposes a design for community day clinics inspired by British post-war hospitals – in principle if not in form.
What resonates most is Noero’s insistence on a form of architectural practice that is driven by projects rather than theory. It incorporates an ethical dimension to architecture while elevating the contingency driven realities of architecture practice into a sort of worldview, seeing the creative potential of fragmentary interventions over reductive whole schemes, unlike many other modernist architects.
FALA Atelier is on the opposite end of the scale to Jo Noero – a young practice of millennials that have risen to early prominence due to their uniquely instagrammable, yet experimental interiors, which resulted in issue of 2G journal that exclusively featured their work.
In their own view, FALA plays to their strengths – their commissions are mostly residential so they took the opportunity to create a series of anonymous Portuguese townhouses with almost complete freedom to experiment on the interiors in contrast.
Drawing on their famous collaged style of representation, the details, and even layouts have a very graphical quality that is equally irreverent and composed. Their ‘suspended’ house project is built around the concept of a non-structural column – a square column of material that has no structural purpose but ends up shaping the three levels of the house in different plans before ending midair on the bottom level.
While some critics have celebrated the practice’s ‘naive’ approach to architecture, the directors in contrast seem to be very deliberate in curating their body of work, which is very consistent as a result. They talk about it in terms of tropes and typologies, and seem to be developing a unique architectural style that they direct with a very strong visual intuition.
Studio Bright similarly has a visually driven approach to their residential architecture, though their interpretation is less abstract in favour of referencing the vernacular of the Australian suburb, and is one of the many Australian practices featured in the Isolation Talks.
Ruckers Hill House is the project director Mel Bright opens the presentation with – a project that celebrates and formalises the surrounding elements in its suburban laneway setting. The most memorable detail is arguably being the ‘corrugated’ fence to match the neighbours’ but cast in concrete, complete with rust transferred from the formwork.
Like many small Australian firms that inevitably do a renovation/extension, the work presented tries to not only celebrate suburbia aesthetically, but also reconciles it with the encroaching city and urban life by creating a more welcoming street presence visually and through the sensitive rescaling of fences and other physical thresholds.
Phillip Arnold’s favourite project is Lacaton & Vassal’s housing project bordering Bordeaux Square. As Arnold explains, the architects decided that, when it came to the square itself the architects decided the space was great as it was, and ended up proposing some general maintenance of the landscape elements.
This pretty much summarises the first half of Arnold’s presentation, with the projects shown doing wonders with the most ordinary of sites and materials. They stop short of ‘celebrating’ them in any outward way, and are simply convincing in the way they make inventive interventions seem matter of fact, and find the obscurest architectural references and delight in the cheapest ways.
Arnold’s background as an architecture academic shows in his arcane knowledge of references and the buildings he’s commissioned, eventually reaching in his modest presentation a project where he adds a mirror-clad gym to the grounds of a sprawling heritage manor – get you an architect who can do both.
– Tin Do