October 2012

Arts & Letters

The Best of Australian Architecture 2012

By Shane Murray
RMIT Swanston Academic Building, Lyons Architects, 2012. Image supplied.

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.

From the front page

Image of Anthony Albanese

How to be a prime minister

The task ahead for Anthony Albanese in restoring the idea that governments should seek to make the country better

Image of the Kiama Blowhole, New South Wales

The edge of their seats

Lessons from Gilmore, Australia’s most marginal electorate

Image of Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley

The future of the Liberal Party

Peter Dutton doesn’t just have a talent problem on his hands

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?

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


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Fonofono o le nuanua: Patches of the rainbow (After Gauguin), 2020. Image courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand

The dream machine: The 59th Venice Biennale

Curator Cecilia Alemani’s long overdue Biennale overwhelmingly features female artists and champions indigenous voices and other minorities

Image of Daniel Boyd, ‘Untitled (TBOMB)’, 2020

Mission statement: Daniel Boyd’s ‘Treasure Island’

An AGNSW exhibition traces the development of the Indigenous artist’s idiosyncratic technique, which questions ideas of perception

Image of Bundanon

Shades of grey: Kerstin Thompson Architects

The lauded Melbourne-based architectural firm showcase a rare ability to sensitively mediate between the old and the new

Still from ‘Men’

Fear as folk: ‘Men’

Writer/director Alex Garland’s latest film is an unsubtle but ambitious pastoral horror, mixing the Christian with the classical


More in The Best of Australian Art 2012

The Best of Australian Arts 2012

The Pigram Brothers. © Helen Jedwab

The Best of Australian Popular Music 2012

Composer Brett Dean © Pawel Kopczynski

The Best of Australian Concert Music 2012

The Best of Australian Arts 2012


Online exclusives

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?

Composite image showing John Hughes (image via Giramondo Publishing) and the cover of his novel The Dogs (Upswell Publishing)

A dog’s breakfast

Notes on John Hughes’s plagiarism scandal

Image of Erin Doherty as Becky Green in Chloe. Image supplied

App trap: ‘Chloe’

‘Sex Education’ writer Alice Seabright’s new psychological thriller probing social media leads this month’s streaming highlights

Pablo Picasso, Figures by the sea (Figures au bord de la mer), January 12, 1931, oil on canvas, 130.0 × 195.0 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris. © Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency, 2022. Photo: © RMN - Grand Palais - Mathieu Rabeau

‘The Picasso Century’ at the NGV

The NGV’s exhibition offers a fascinating history of the avant-garde across the Spanish artist’s lifetime