Founded by Richard Munday and Ian McDougall (an emigres from Adelaide) Transition directly tackles writing in architecture as a means of developing, interrogating, and disseminating architectural design and practice.
Their first editorial staked out the territory:
…the development of architecture in this country has been retarded because architects, both practising and teaching, have not sufficiently debated or discussed their work with much candour or profundity, or in a manner that would be of use to others. So partly in consequence, each generation of architects hold many of the same misconceptions and make many of the same mistakes as those of preceding generations…
Editorial Transition Vol. 1 No. 1
Founded in tandem with the HALFTIME club (founded by Grant Marani) it played a crucial role in the practice of architecture in Melbourne. That is that the intellectual life and output of the practising architect was entertained, informed, and held to account by the clan. Angry and involved letters to the editor and heckling from the shadows where common and encouraged. My own memory of HALFTIME is of uncomfortable vivisection and the occasional fist-fight over myth-making in the Australian suburbs.
Transition rejected progress – it was a very self-conscious pamphlet.
But change is a different affair. Frames of reference shift periodically (theoretically they shift continually), ideals and theories internal and external to architecture are introduced or, in most cases, revived. Situations are examined and the results interpreted, matters come to light, interests flare and fade, different figures, guided by their percipient certainties, animate the present and make their pertinent contributions. This is iterative and inevitable and measurable, the ever-present. But it is not progress.”
Editorial Transition Vol. 1 No. 1
Pamphlets represent variation as they adapt to the times – they mongrelise – to survive. Ideas have sex.
Pamphlets beget a mongrel architecture. The pamphlet does not presuppose a fixed nor perfect architecture.
When Pamphlets get old they become books.
By writing about architecture, Transition overtly manifests a concern with architecture at this “enunciative” level – with that level where the visual clues it proffers to our images of self and society, to our relationship with the past and to architecture’s own habits of self-reflection,are inevitably moved to the foreground of discussion.
Transition Vol 2, No 1
The 20thC seems to have deadened and cheapened the Australian character… The Wild Colonial Boy is selling used cars.
Robin Boyd, Australia’s Home, p.278
That’s what Boyd thought.
In 1971 the RAIA conference had been “The Consequences of Today” by 1980 it was “The Pleasures of Architecture”. Transition saw the impetus towards an Australian architecture. An architecture that mined the artifacts of Australian urbanism. In this the Melbourne clan became the bastard children of Aldo Rossi. There was a kind of garbled lineage there – garbled by distance – perhaps, but not ignorance.
Peter Corrigan in Transition Vol 2. No 1:
Australia is about a sort of rough expression of ideas that are true to us. Not about a polished, refined identification of ideas that might well be true overseas.
So as far as Corrigan is concerned “the imagery is ruthlessly suburban, but with a bit. There’s a window there that owes a bit to Mendelsohn and there is a bit of Mies and I suppose there is a bit of Barry Humphries.”
The Transition editors in response get pretty lyrical:
Australia could well be cast as a wilderness out of which reckless and hairy latter-day satyrs are now emerging, into the light of a clearing that is European culture, to revive fey courtiers with their rorty play.
It is comforting to be so located, to find that kind of affirmation of an interpretation of the present in the past, to imagine that if we should pause and turn, then we may see human history smiling indulgently in our direction…Transition attempts to map as accurately as possible, in effect to re-make, the elements and the form of an existing situation, but using the elements and forms of another medium…
It is interesting to consider the effect that this attitude of ‘words actually matter’ on the methods of architectural production. If words, that is, the distinct elements … of any medium do matter then logically an immersion in the medium, in this case architecture – is demanded. It must be known if likenesses are to be constructed
Ian McDougal & Richard Munday
Transition Vol 2. No. 3 & 4
In short, architects should write about architecture. Further, architects should know their medium in order to create cultural likenesses in their buildings.
Howard Raggatt drags Venturi’s Mother’s House across a photocopier, adds a water tank, a blue roof from Modena, and then leaves it unceremoniously in Footscray. Paul Morgan wanted to build a huge tram stop. Neil Masterton felt you couldn’t possibly build a public building in Melbourne without some of those white pipes. And maybe he was right.
The editors of transition, unlike Boyd, were not public intellectuals – they were not trying to shape public opinion – but develop erudition toward a local production. To create an Australian image of architecture.
They pursue the issue with Rem Koohaas in 1980.
“the only regionalism I could conceive of is not the sort of literal development of a regional style, but is derived from…international issues inserted into different contexts. The first time I saw Peter Corrigan’s work it struck me not as an Australian building, but as an Australian image… his work is marooned or transplanted here. And this may be the problem of Australian architecture, but it may also be its excitement, in that it could be an architecture of fresh transplantation… Everything I look at here is so Australian."
In the same issue the editors launch the clan’s next assault on Melbourne architecture.
Practising architects should be given access to architecture schools for the purposes of study and research, and undertaking teaching as a means of reviewing their work and concerns, and extending them under these rigorous but sheltered circumstances
RMIT takes them at their word and to this day RMIT is staffed by practising architects who, whatever you say about the production, are living the dream. I include myself in that category.
Transition ultimately lost its staples.
Richard Munday left for New York.
The debts were bought out by RMIT and the editorship fell to academics more interested in writing writing than in writing architecture. Transition lost its staples, grew up, and became a book.