Our Houses talk

Arm End House, Stuart Tanner Architects

What was it?

A talk on Wednesday night presented by Architecture Media as part of the Melbourne Architecture Annual festival running all this week. The theme of the talk was architecture and celebrity, featuring two projects – Arm End House by Stuart Tanner Architects for Brian Ritchie, bass guitarist for the Violent Femmes, and East St. Kilda House by De Campo Architects for Callum Morton, installation artist.

The talk was held in the surprisingly-hard-to-find Treasury Theatre and was well attended by, we estimate, 300 or so people. Intended as a conversation between architects and clients, it maintained a casual tone that offered ample opportunity for both Ritchie and Morton to contribute their own valuable observations.

What did we think?

The conversation provided engaging insight into the relationships between the architects and clients, the stories that brought them together and the ideas that informed their projects. Curiously, both Tanner and De Campo appeared reticent to reveal their designs to the audience: Tanner never showed a finished plan and both spent the majority of their presentations discussing the ideas that led to their projects rather than the projects themselves.

Nevertheless, Arm End House is a beautiful project on a stunning piece of land in South Arm, Tasmania. It has been crafted by a considerate and intelligent architect for an involved and generous client. It sits comfortably in its landscape, an immaculately detailed “jewellery box” that recalls the modesty in scale and presence of the traditional Tasmanian beach shack. It engages with both its client and its environment in meaningful ways: its siting behind a line of she-oaks obscures the coastline view but protects it from high winds and the public beach promenade beyond. Its planning and detailing respond intimately to Ritchie and his wife’s history and interests. It employs locally-grown timbers that are applied in specific ways to encourage weathering and the registration of use. A masterful piece of architecture.

Located on a “nondescript street” in suburban Melbourne and constrained by all the usual planning regulations, East St Kilda House was never going to have the same traditional attraction as Arm End House. However, its blank brick facade, mono-palette and small window apertures render it even more unapproachable. We found this project very hard to understand – in part because De Campo’s presentation style involves jumping from topic to topic without a continuous narrative, and in part because the project is so simple it almost appears undesigned. Morton referred to it as brutalist architecture, however we fail to see any of the machismo or raw structural power of that era.

What did we learn?

The practice of architecture has many subjective qualities: style, detail, planning and beauty all offer innumerable, equally valid approaches. Consequently, we do not expect to like every project we see and are not overly fussed that we found East St Kilda House to be disappointing. Despite not liking the finished project, we can still respect De Campo Architects for their technical abilities, their nurturing of the client relationship and their sharp commitment to environmental and social sustainability.

The real value of the Our Houses talk lay elsewhere: in its ability to engage a non-professional audience (Cameron Bruhn, Editorial Director of Architecture Media and MC for the evening estimated that as much as 80% were non-architects) and its exposure of that most secretive thing: the architect / client relationship. We are happy to observe that the former is cropping up in more and more events (Melbourne Open House for instance, discussed here). The latter, however, is both unique and important. It is rare that we are able to hear from client and architect in the same forum, to witness how they interact and understand their reflections post-occupancy.

As the publisher of Houses magazine, a journal already standing with a foot in both architectural and non-professional camps, Architecture Media is perfectly placed to explore this format. We hope they continue to do so, seeking unusual architect / client relationships and exposing a side of architectural practice we rarely get the opportunity to share or see.

Happy 1st birthday

Today, Panfilocastaldi turns 1. We have survived a full year of blogging. We continue to adhere to our manifesto of thrusting ourselves out into the worlds of architecture, art and photography, and we continue to critically discuss our experiences. We remain dedicated to the value of engaging with creative communities.

Thanks in part to this dedication, in part to your support, and in part to the mystical power of Google, we can boast the following modest, but encouraging, statistics:

  • 112 posts, with a maximum of 12 each in May and September of this year.
  • 16 post categories ranging from Food (1 post) to Architecture (51 posts).
  • 672 tags, ranging from Charles Holland (1 post) to Australia (17 posts).
  • 116 comments, with a maximum of 6 for two of our posts (The many disguises of the film trilogy and BPG-Motors’ Uno 3).
  • 408 spam comments, advertising everything from Nigerian banking opportunities to penis enlargement.
  • 18,315 page views, with a freak maximum of 942 on 10th May this year and 2,445 for the most popular post, The Leaning Tower of Pisa.
  • An increase in readership from 9 page views a day in October 2010 to 85 page views a day so far in October 2011.
  • 8,955 referrals from search engines, comprising 499 unique search terms in english, hebrew, vietnamese, swedish, russian, arabic, serbian and italian.
  • 1,578 referrals from other sites, with a maximum of 545 from Facebook.
  • 11 active followers by email and WordPress.com.

Apart from these statistics (which are intensely interesting to us and most likely painfully boring to you, our dear readers), what have we learnt?

We have learnt that Panfilocastaldi is gratifyingly powered by perpetual motion. Being passionate about filling its pages with content encourages us to attend all the events we normally allow to pass us by. In attending those events, we are inspired to write about our experiences on Panfilocastaldi. Writing on Panfilocastaldi re-energises our desire to get out and attend more events. And so it goes…

Looking back at the past year, many of the posts remind us of enjoyable moments both in Melbourne and abroad. It is difficult to narrow down a few favourites from so many, but we’ll do our best:

  • Now and When. The Australian submission to the 2010 Venice Biennale, an exhibition for which we worked as volunteers in one of the most fascinating cities in the world.
  • MAXXI Museum. A flawed building by one of the world’s most famous architects, Zaha Hadid.
  • The Art of Chess. The first article for which we really travelled – from Melbourne to Bendigo and back again to see an exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery.
  • Radiation chart. The world was aglow with talk of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. We didn’t make much comment, just marvelled at the jeopardy in which much of the world voluntarily places itself.
  • Truth, justice and the heroic way. A treatise on a particular passion of ours – the most exciting recent film offerings in the superhero genre.
  • Vue de Monde, take 3. An extraordinary experience at Melbourne’s best restaurant.
  • Do good work then put it where people can see it. Part 6 of an epic 10-part essay on lessons to our younger selves. Words by which to live.
  • Robin Boyd open day. The first article that resulted in a genuine community response – an unexpected phone call from the Robin Boyd Foundation.

Thank you again for your support this past year. If you promise to keep reading and commenting, we’ll promise to keep posting and replying.

Yours sincerely,
Warwick Mihaly, Erica Slocombe and Drew Stewart.

VCA art workshops exhibition

What is it?

A recent exhibition of graduates’ work from three casual workshops held by the Victorian College of the Arts. The three workshops run across a full year, covering drawing, painting and sculpture disciplines.

The casual workshops have no entry prerequisites, trying to appeal to the widest possible audience. This is a commendable philosophy that establishes a great diversity in students, though it also has the inevitable result of a wide range in quality. Most of the works, we have to say, were not memorable. Trevor Liddell’s drawings and Angela Pye’s sculptural installation were exceptions – both real gems in the rough.

What did we think?

Liddell’s drawings, Neutra Series (above), are re-workings of photos of Richard Neutra’s modernist architecture. He successfully combines both cerebral and craft-driven techniques into vivid renderings of the great architect’s famous imagery. Through mirroring, selective deletion and exaggerated perspective, Liddell filters the original photos through a lens that exposes the core geometries  of modernist form-making. The fine line-work and warm tones of the drawings reveal a meditative process of making that further sharpen the works’ inherent beauty. The resultant, semi-abstract images are architectural, graphical and iconic.

Angela Pye’s sculpture, In Between, is a field of 200 slip-cast porcelain noses. Taken from the noses of 30 friends and family (including Pye’s own), both the finished work and the process of making them are experiments in proximity. Pye states that she is “intrigued by the distance between noses… as one of the protruding parts of the body and a defining feature as one gets closer to another.” Viewing the work, the first thought that comes to mind is how awkward and intimate its production must have been, a sentiment echoed by Pye: “It was fascinating to feel the initial awkwardness of being so close to someone and see this slowly dissolve.” In Between is a compelling work in equal parts empathetic and humorous.

Both Liddell and Pye demonstrate the consideration, technical skill and immaculate attention to detail typically found amongst experienced artists. That both have other “day” jobs and neither work full time as artists makes these attributes even more remarkable. We congratulate them both on their engaging works, thank the VCA for providing them the opportunity to practice and exhibit, and eagerly anticipate future contributions to the wider artistic discourse.

Safe enough or too safe?

What is it?

An article published in the New York Times a few months ago, viewable here, asked the question: can a playground be too safe? Is it really necessary to prevent potential injuries on and around play equipment with rubber matting, lower monkey bars and slower slides? Or is the importance of learning our internal limits and overcoming our fears while still children worth the risk of the occasional broken bone?

Based on observations made in Norway, England and here in Australia, Norwegian professor of psychology, Ellen Sandseter, believes so. She states that “children need to encounter risks and overcome fears in the playground”. Her research has discovered that children approach thrills in a progressive manner, with very few trying to reach the highest point on the jungle gym the first time they climb. Instead, they learn to master the challenges of the playground through their play step by step over the years. In doing so, they also master their fear of heights, speed and other play-related stimuli – the thrill experienced with these stimuli is an important counter-balance to the natural inhibitions that develop with age.

Sandseter and fellow psychologist, Leif Kennair, argue in the Evolutionary Psychology journal that “our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children”. In other words, by protecting our children from small bumps while they are young, we are exposing them to the risk of major injury when they are older.

What do we think?

Evolution has gifted us with many important attributes that have served us well over the millennia. The sensation of pain is a good example, as is the willpower to ignore it. Disappointment helps us mature, self-conviction lets us hope. The instinctive fear of danger keeps us safe, while curiosity permits us to disregard our fear and discover new things.

By intervening in the natural order of these counter-balanced abilities, by removing risk or disappointment or pain from our children’s experience, we simultaneously inhibit their development of willpower, hope and curiosity.

This statement is as true for our cities as it is for our playgrounds. In Australia, the commendable desire to provide equal access for all, supercharged by the intense fear of lawsuits, has seen every train platform covered in tactile indicators, every staircase in bright yellow edging, every window in warning decals. In the effort to make our cities safer, we are simultaneously making us less capable of handling risk.

What should we learn?

Our trip last year through Europe offered anecdotal proof of the unintended consequences of city sanitisation. For the first few weeks of our travels, I found myself tripping over footpaths, stairs and changes in level on a daily basis. It struck me as odd, given I am not normally so prone to such accidents. Then I noticed none of the footpaths, stairs and changes in level had fluorescent yellow strips plastered along their edges. To my mild horror, I realised that Melbourne had in fact blunted my ability to detect tripping hazards. Melbourne had ruined me for other cities.

Risk is an inevitable, natural and even desirable part of life – only by facing and surmounting risk can there be reward. It is the task of playgrounds to help introduce our children to controlled risk and begin their self-education in its management. It is the task of cities to continue this self-education into our adult, civilised lives.

A beautiful garage

What is it?

Parking garage by Swiss architect, Peter Kunz. The concrete structure is partially buried into the side of a hill, with the individual spaces projecting out like warmly-lit jewel boxes exhibiting their precious contents. Kunz states that “each spot is like a private cubby with a large glass panel, so you can park and enjoy the hillside view at the same time.”

Save for the photos, we haven’t been able to find much information about this project – is it a public or private garage? Is it attached to a house or other building? How do the occupants access it either in their cars or on foot?

We may not know much about it, but we can nevertheless appreciate the poetic siting and fine detailing. This is a beautiful little project executed with great deftness and skill.

First seen on Unique Design Obsession, here.

IFF 2011

What is it?

The 12th Italian Film Festival that screened in Palace Cinemas across Australia over the past 2 weeks. We saw four films – Habemus Papam (We Have A Pope) by Nanni Moretti, Manuale D’Amore 3 (The Ages Of Love) by Giovanni Veronesi, Sei Venezia (Six Venice) by Carlo Mazzacurati and Benvenuti Al Sud (Welcome To The South) by Luca Miniero.

Typically, deciding upon which films to go see at an Italian Film Festival involves wading through a lot of movies with the word “love” in the title. This Festival was no exception, however it would be wrong to summarise the cinematic production of an entire country as forgettable rom-coms. There was a lot more on offer than that, with the above films investigating themes as diverse as the impossible weight of papal responsibility, the cultural divide between northern and southern Italy, the rich life of a city that endures despite the crushing influence of tourism, and the idea of family.

What did we think?

Habemus Papam is a quirky story that follows the election of a new Pope, exploring both the grand drama of this most public of events as well as the private troubles of the man in the white robes. The scene that opens the film, in which the College of Cardinals elects from among them their leader, is most telling. As the Cardinals sit in an isolated chamber, fountain pens poised over voting slips, the same thought runs through the minds of each and every one of them: “Not me, not me!” Indeed, the film that follows reveals the Pope elect to be a man of faith but nevertheless unable to rise to the position of voice of God. When even a specialist psychiatrist (played by Moretti himself) is unable to help him, he flees the Vatican and wanders the streets of Rome, searching incognito for an answer to his impossible predicament.

Moretti is renown for his investigations into the human psyche and Habemus Papam is no exception. Michel Piccoli, who plays the new Pope, is well cast – his is an endearing character in equal measures worldly wise and childishly curious, the collision of which lends him a gentle air more suited to entertaining grandchildren than wielding the vast power of the Catholic Church. The film has generous dollops of laugh-out-loud funny moments, but ultimately it left us wanting. Perhaps it was the apparent lack of focus in the plot and character development, or simply the decidedly un-Hollywood-like ending. Either way, we left the cinema feeling like we had missed something – 3 stars.

Manuale D’Amore 3 is our one concession to the iconic Italian love story. Starring Robert De Niro (speaking sophisticated if somewhat accented Italian) alongside Monica Bellucci and touted by New York Magazine as “Italy’s answer to [the excellent] Love, Actually“, we went into this film with considerable expectations.

Addressing the experience of love in the early, middle and final stages of life, Manuale D’Amore 3 does not unfortunately live up to the hype. Lacking the interweaving storylines that make Love, Actually so enjoyable, it is simply three short films back to back about couples falling in or out of love. The three stories are engaging to an extent, but they employ stereotypes Italian cinema has already done to death: the cheating husband, the cheating boyfriend, the stalker, the older man, the younger woman, the temptress. This predictability diminishes the humour of some of the film’s better scenes and begs the question: if art imitates life, is the Italian conception of love today really still so bitter and twisted? 2 stars.

Sei Venezia is an unusual documentary that attempts to reveal the beating heart buried within the hard-nosed tourist carapace of modern Venice. Told via six independent stories, the film explores this hidden Venice through the lives of an archivist, a chambermaid, an amateur archeologist, a painter, a thief and a young boy. Each mini-interview is handled with interest and compassion, revealing diverse individuals with real dreams and worries. The young boy is the most likeable of the six. His dreams outweigh his worries and the innocence his presence brings to the end of the documentary lend it an ultimately hopeful energy. In this, the documentary is successful, demonstrating that such things persist in Venice.

However, the other five interviewees – and thus the bulk of the film – are less compelling. They are no less real, but all somehow seem less hopeful, as though they are nearing the final stages of their lives: the archeologist whose best discoveries are behind him; the laissez faire young thief who is now old, missing most of his teeth, and scraping by on Italy’s equivalent of the dole; the chambermaid who never dreamed she would spend her life cleaning other people’s rooms. These less positive facets of Venetian life are like a series of small deaths, the end of dreams reflected in the waters of a city whose best days too are behind it.

We cannot help but wonder how these six particular individuals were discovered. We love Venice, and our own time in the city proved that optimistic, energetic and passionate people do in fact live there. Sei Venezia succeeds in revealing un vero popolo Veneziano, a real Venetian people, we’re just not sure they’re people we want to know – 1.5 stars.

Of the four films, Benvenuti Al Sud is the real rose among thorns, a fantastic little gem of a movie. When a northern Italian, Alberto (played brilliantly by Claudio Bisio), is transferred to the south to work in the post office of a tiny town near Napoli, he takes with him all the misconceptions the north has of the south. In a dramatisation (we hope) of these misconceptions, he makes the first drive to his new home in a bulletproof vest, crying uncontrollably. However, Alberto quickly falls in love with the south, revelling in both the sunny climate and sunny dispositions of the locals.

This transition feels very natural and is explored without labouring the point: no montage set to uplifting music here. The characters are fascinating, their relationships are all genuine, the food looks delicious and the landscape is glorious. Though the in-jokes would possibly be lost to those who don’t speak Italian, and lost even to those who do but don’t speak dialect, we found the ones we understood hilarious. In the wise words of the postman who first greets Alberto, “Uno strainere che viene al Sud piange due volte: una quando arriva e una quando parte“: an outsider who comes to the south cries twice, once when he arrives and once when he leaves. This is a highly enjoyable film we are looking forward to watching again – 5 stars.

Mihaly Slocombe: Zombie competition entries online

The entries for the 2011 Zombie Safehouse Competition are now online. If you like our submission (entry #1251), please visit our page and give us the thumbs up. Dear readers, feel free to leave a comment extolling our virtues too.