October 2012

Arts & Letters

The Best of Australian Architecture 2012

By Shane Murray

At the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, which opened in August, it appeared that financial gloom had precipitated a new era of sobriety and conservatism in European and American architecture. The biennale was nostalgic for an earlier period of modernist connoisseurship and adverse to architectural experimentation. For Australian architects on the cusp of the Asian century, when China will provide the biggest story in urbanism since the industrial revolution, this perspective seemed misdirected. The best ways to ensure our built environments have a sustainable future are unlikely to be found by looking backwards.

Australia’s relative prosperity might lead you to expect a healthier culture here, but it is still hard to find in one building that combination of qualities which characterises the very best architecture: deep disciplinary understanding and innovation, while meeting the needs of both the client and the community. The year’s outstanding exception is the new RMIT Swanston Academic Building by Lyons Architects.

The building doesn’t easily allow for conventional comparisons. Its 11 storeys have been wrapped in an undulating crystalline curtain that alternates between triangular windows and sunshades. The unbroken geometric exterior intriguingly shifts between form and recessive surface, frustrating our expectation to see a building as a series of levels and hierarchies.

Large balcony openings that carefully create views for those looking out from the building’s public spaces counterpoint the facade. These openings are projected into the centre of the building, creating super-sized light corridors that bring the exterior world deep into the interior. For hundreds of years, buildings with large footprints have relied on courtyards to provide light and ventilation. Experiments avoiding this convention have almost invariably failed, but here the crisscrossing corridors have created an open and light interior.

This is a building that looks forwards rather than backwards, where a commitment to innovation both extends the discipline and has created a wonderful learning environment in a comprehensively sustainable project.

Shane Murray
Shane Murray is Dean of the Faculty of Art Design & Architecture at Monash University and an award-winning architect and academic in the field of architectural design.

RMIT Swanston Academic Building, Lyons Architects, 2012. Image supplied.
Cover: October 2012

October 2012

From the front page

ABC sale = politics fail

The Coalition will be fighting this all the way to the election

Image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump

Seriously scary times

What are the implications of the Trump-Kim summit for America’s allies?

Image of ‘Spiegelenvironment’ by Christian Megert

ZERO is the beginning

A new exhibition at Mona brings the light to Dark Mofo

Image of Quarterly Essay 70, ‘Dead Right’, by Richard Denniss

Dead Right

How neoliberalism redefined growth in the ugliest of ways – a Quarterly Essay extract


In This Issue

'Lore' by Cate Shortland (director)

'Silent House', Orhan Pamuk, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

'Silent House' by Orhan Pamuk

'Questions of Travel', Michelle de Kretser,
Allen and Unwin; $39.99

'Questions of Travel' by Michelle de Kretser

'Montebello', Robert Drewe, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

'Montebello' by Robert Drewe


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‘Deep Time Dreaming’ by Billy Griffiths

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More in The Best of Australian Art 2012

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Patrick White at Cambridge in the early 1930s. National Library of Australia

The Best of Australian Literature 2012

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The Best of Australian Film 2012

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The Best of Australian Design 2012


Read on

Image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump

Seriously scary times

What are the implications of the Trump-Kim summit for America’s allies?

Image of ‘Spiegelenvironment’ by Christian Megert

ZERO is the beginning

A new exhibition at Mona brings the light to Dark Mofo

Image of Quarterly Essay 70, ‘Dead Right’, by Richard Denniss

Dead Right

How neoliberalism redefined growth in the ugliest of ways – a Quarterly Essay extract

Image from ‘Killing Eve’

The beguiling ‘Killing Eve’

Phoebe Waller-Bridge short-circuits the espionage thriller


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