We longingly await the day when some Great Publication taking public duty to its heart, will offer regular, informed and utterly frank criticisms of all major buildings. Meanwhile we present these humble comments in all sincerity, and expectantly continue to await the Armageddon when the mysteries of design shall be honestly displayed to a waiting world.
Smudges Vol. 1 No. 1
This age of the pamphleteer begins with Ornament and Crime.
We, over here, like degenerates; had fallen for Queen Anne and called it Federation Style.We quite liked all that exuberance, all that featurism, we quite liked the two-tone Holden Special.
Robin Boyd did not. He called it our Ugliness and we loved him for it. In 1956 Ron Clarke burnt his arm lighting the Olympic flame. Peter McIntyre, John and Phyllis Murphy, and Bill Irwin had a red hot go at some pretty exuberant modernism.
Robin Boyd quite liked it.
Click image to pause
In this age the Villa Savoye fell to ruin and was raised again as a cenotaph in the suburbs. We had followed the crow Towards a New Architecture – but in the end it wasn’t so fast or so new.
Robin Boyd went to the dentist in 1971 and died. Architects in Melbourne read his stuff a lot.
Aldo Rossi crashed his car in 1971. He crashed it again in 1997 but not again after that. He wrote and said some things about buildings he’d done and cities he knew.
Architects in Melbourne read his stuff a lot. Richard Munday and Ian McDougall were among them. They wrote about architecture too. Some of us still read what they wrote.
Richard Munday left Melbourne for New York.
Death of The Pamphleteer began as an RMIT elective run by Dean Boothroyd, Nicholas Hubicki, and later, myself.
The pamphlet is a tradition in Melbourne architecture. Desbrowe Annear was a pompous pamphleteer of sorts. Robin Boyd, of course, was the consummate pamphleteer. Later Richard Munday and Ian McDougall took on the mantel, riding close on the heels of Boyd’s legacy.
The publications included in the study were Smudges, Cross-Section, Architectural Papers, Tension, Transition, Pataphysics, Backlogue, The Half-Time Club Minutes, Subplot, and Subaud. It should be said that this study was not exhaustive. The published documents of record dovetail with an aural history – the HALFTIME Club, Process, 3RRR’s Burning Down the House, and The Architects, amongst others. There is a local lineage to be found in this list, something that is in the architectural blood of Melbourne. The pamphlets and pamphleteers gave voice and sustenance to architecture in Melbourne. The pamphlets are not esoterica but are bound directly to the practice and production of architecture. Death of the Pamphleteer attempted to plot the history of writing architecture in Melbourne.
To make sense of information – to understand it – one has to put it into fruitful relationship with other information, and grasp the meaning of that relationship; which implies finding patterns, learning lessons, drawings inferences, and as a result seeing the whole.”
The Mystery of Things A.C. Grayling
The timeline plots key events, articles and buildings published in our pamphlets. Through it we can follow Ariadne’s thread as it unravels, bifurcates, and tangles it’s way through half a century. I’m just going to pull out a couple of these knots.
Smudges was almost Robin Boyd’s first step into writing architecture. He was 19.
Smudges was published by the Victorian Architectural Student’s Society of the RAIA. Smudges was the archetypal Melbourne pamphlet – a single sheet, double sided, it was folded down to fit in a shirt pocket. Each issue had a different folding pattern. Smudges was irreverent, cutting, and insightful. It was also generous.
Famously Boyd awarded a Bouquet and a Blot of the month to the best and worst acts of architecture. When Boyd wrote of the Tudor shopping village called Castle Towers,
“It is as though a giant garbage tin had been shaken over Melbourne for about a decade and then, when it had seemed that the contents had all come out, a particularly fruity, juicy hunk that had been jammed in the bottom suddenly became dislodged and fell into the middle of one the most snobbish retreats in the city. If it lasts six months of the post-war world we may well ask: “what were we fighting for?”
The irate Blotter, Arthur Plaisted, sued Smudges for £3000. Boyd published an apology in a Gothic font. In Smudges we see the genesis of an irreverent clan of architects in Melbourne that evolves into an architectural culture. The Pamphlet like the pamphleteer belongs to the clan. With it’s own patois, the pamphlet is by and for the clan in a particular place and time. Smudges was the training ground for Robin Boyd, the undergraduate rag afforded him the opportunity to hone a gently subversive wit against the smug conservatism of Melbourne architects.
Cross-Section is a different beast, it is regarded as a newsletter for the construction industry – notices of new building products, who’s doing what where and the like, and while it is an exercise in brevity it is also a selective document. It’s Boyd’s How-To for the modern city. He extends this into direct advice as the director of the Small Home Service. A very productive outworking of Boyd’s pamphleteering.
But I’ll leave the real Boyd History to Phillip Goad. Suffice it to say that Cross-Section was an open letter to the whole clan – the construction industry – Boyd is building the clan, sharing the knowledge with which to build a new Australian architecture.
Cross-Section has a long innings: 1952-1971. With a succession of editors Robin Boyd, David Saunders and finally Neville Quarry. We actually logged every entry from that 20 years into a spreadsheet. It makes for some interesting if obsessive compulsive reading. Cross-Section, too, is sued for libel.
David Saunders, went on to edit the Architectural Papers. Those of you who are historians will be aware of the SAHANZ founder’s grant in his name. Architectural Papers published Sydney Architectural Conference papers by Miles Lewis, Conrad Hamann, Jennifer Taylor among others.
The lack of access to and circulation of these papers became part of the impetus for the founding of Transition.