The Third Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2001
Berkeley Prize 2001

John Sharpe

Pure Architecture

Architecture, described by some as 'The Art of Compromise', is not a social art. Solutions are found through pure architecture without the need for concessions.

Architecture is the human creation of form, from the minute component to the complex composition of all we introduce into our universe. As architects, we have a responsibility to complement our environment and to minimize the adverse impacts on all living things. Pure architecture enhances our natural environment and is a social art that enriches the lives of all that encounter it.

I was totally alone, cold, broke and home sick. It was January 1992 and the novelty of backpacking through the United Kingdom had worn thin. I was using my unlimited tube travel pass to keep warm when I decided to stretch my legs at Pimlico, on the Victoria Line. I ducked into a pub for a Guinness while contemplating my return to the sunny shores of Queensland. 'Don't tell me you've never heard of the Tate Gallery. It's just around the corner. You can't miss it. You've traveled half way round the bloody world!' Little did that short, plump barman with his thick cockney accent and bright red nose know his advice was about to change my life forever.

The Tate Gallery was featuring Sir Anthony Caro's 'Sculpture towards Architecture' exhibition. His work was described as having architectectonic aspects and being 'sculpitecture'. Having grown up in a working class family and living most of my life in public housing, my only intimate contact with architect-designed buildings had been the events at an isolated aboriginal mission described in my first essay. It's fair to say architecture by architects had left a pitiful impression on me. However I had not long finished my boilermaking trade and I had a keen eye for excellence in steel workmanship. After experiencing the Octagon Tower - Tower of Discovery with its curved steel construction and the ability to invite the viewer to explore both internally and externally, I was keen to find out more.

A week latter, I attended my first ever lecture, a presentation by Sir Anthony Caro at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, where among other things, he spoke of the close working relationships between architect and sculptor in the Renaissance, where each often practised both disciplines. The path for my career exploration began there. It's strange to think that having traveled half way round the world and being surrounded by well-known architectural icons, it took the work of a British sculptor to expose my unconscious curiosity of architecture.

Before commencing my architectural studies, I sought advice from practicing architects. Their responses varied. However, all agreed 'The pay's miserable, the hours are long and you get pushed around by the clients'. I knew there must be something more to architecture. Why will an architect work for years on bread and butter jobs while romanticizing about the project where artistic licence and complete control is granted? I believe there is a deep-rooted ambition in all architects to improve the current status of architecture.

I have just completed my first year of architectural study and I've yet to spend an hour in an architect's office. However, I'm deeply saddened to see that it is common practice for architects not to be involved in the construction of most domestic buildings. When reality bites, our top architectural graduates often work as draftsman for the building firms to make ends meet. Some of these are the very firms responsible for producing the inadequate developments we students use as examples of what is not architecture, but that's only a cop out. In most cases, what we describe as 'not architecture' unfortunately is architecture where full potential was never realized. Unwin (1997, p.164) states that 'In thinking of Architecture as identification of place one is on firmer ground: both the bicycle shed and the cathedral are architecture.' He continues to explain 'Everyone is to some degree an architect. Setting out furniture in a living room is architecture; so too is laying out a city.'

At present, the architect is his or her own worst enemy, an architect will undercut a fellow architect and fool a client that a house is a house and furthermore only a house is a house. The community loses another opportunity and the current status of modern day architecture declines.

At this stage of my education, I fail to understand why our public school buildings in many cases are uncomfortable and not at all suitable learning environments for our children. Our prisons are often a contributing factor in the total break down of the rehabilitation process. Our public housing provides the perfect environment for family breakdowns and violence while architects continue to design and construct buildings comparable to pressure vessels, and with help from builders and developers, unsuspecting clients deem these time bombs to be examples of fine architecture. The reality of such projects is that inadequate allowances are made for personal space and the inappropriate use of depleting energy sources is costing the community immensely.

Ideally, I liken the calling of an architect to that of an artist with a social obligation while our dictionaries describe an architect as one qualified to design and supervise the construction of buildings. Many building sites never see an architect nor have the benefit of their knowledge. Therefore, communities too frequently lose the opportunity to share or experience appropriate architecture. All architects have the ability to make an enduring difference to the lives of so many. For citizens to consider architecture as a social art, architecture needs to improve and enhance their personal lives and the community environment as a whole. Many people rarely share the rewards of good architecture and some people are unfamiliar with the term architecture in any context.

The Prevailing Architectural Revolution (PAR) has begun. Fresh, innovative architects and designers have noticed how rapidly the world is changing and have decided to use their skills for the benefit of all and in turn reap the rewards. (Through architectural practice, it is possible not only to join the acronym PAR, but also to demonstrate the meaning of the noun, par (equality of value or standing). Through the efforts of contemporary pioneering architects and the PAR, people of the world are realizing that there is no need to live in non-sustainable, miserable environments. Pure Architecture and well designed space specifically suited to environment, culture, lifestyle and purpose is producing benefits in areas previously not realized as being related to architecture. It's now possible for all to share the rewards appropriate architectures recognizes. These include improved air quality, lower noise levels, natural light, suitable temperature zones and provision for adequate personal space. Together all these factors result in a higher quality of lifestyle, better health, improved overall comfort levels and productive relations between those sharing the architectural experience. Local Authorities must in turn be quick to realize their responsibilities and focus their energies not only on public spaces and community buildings but also on ensuring that basic human needs and social obligations are met before development approvals are granted. It would be political suicide in these days of community consultation for local governments to ignore the concerns of their constitutes when it comes to imminent architecture.

Architecture may be simplified and enriched with collaboration from those who eventually become components of the architecture. For pure architecture, choose the artist, sculptor, musician, engineer, scientist or designer who will best complement the talents of the architect. If architecture is to be considered a social art, the people who interact with and live the architecture must not only be part of it but it must be part of them. Australia's indigenous people have such a relationship with their land, their environment and their architecture.

In stage one of my response, I told the story of a dwelling created for a section of our indigenous population. 'A fuck-up' as my Aboriginal mate described it. I admire his honesty and through my architectural education I now understand his disappointment. I am pleased to report that although the practices outlined in my original response still exist today. A number of significant architectural achievements have been made through collaboration between Aboriginal elders, prominent community members and contemporary Australian architects.

One such example is when prominent Australian architect Glenn Murcutt together with a renowned female Aboriginal artist listened, understood and met the challenges of the Aboriginal community and their harsh but sensitive environment in coastal Arnham Land. The resulting modern, low maintenance, low cost structure caters for the unique needs of the people of the region without compromise to their lifestyles or environment. This process and outcome has enriched the lives of all who share in the life of the building. This is an example the pure architecture I search for and is the benchmark I'll endeavor to reach and one-day surpass. Without hesitation, I can truly say this is an example of architecture as social art.

Pure architecture is a social art.


Unwin, S. 1997, Analysing Architecture, London; New York: Routledge.

Research materials and contributing influences in order of importance (No Citations Used)

(John Gollings, George Michell. 2000, New Australia Style, London: Tames and Hudson) I regret my research has been unable to uncover the name of the female Aboriginal artist who worked with architect Glenn Murcutt to successfully meet the challenges of her Aboriginal community. (Final Paragraph) I consider her name a crucial element in my essay, however Glenn Murcutt is working overseas for the next four weeks and can not be contacted. I also consider this fact an oversight in the architectural publication I found the example in 'New Australia Style' and apologise for passing on this error. I shall however continue my research and pass on her details when found.

Paul Moorhouse. 1991 Anthony Caro Sculpture towards Architecture, London: Tate Gallery Publications

Brisbane City Plan 2000 CD-Rom Brisbane: Brisbane City Council

Nick Hollo. 1997, Warm House Cool House, Australia: Griffin Press

U2 Lyrics (Bono &, Bob Dylan). 1988, Rattle and Hum, CD Phonogram Music

Richard Wagner Archive (The Composer) URL

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