According to Australia’s top architect, the national built environment is at risk of losing any form of substance or cultural contextualisation.
Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) gold medalist Lawrence Nield has gone so far as to say many structures in the built environment are essentially ‘zombie buildings’ and has called on architects to move away from the ‘look at me’ architecture styles that competes with its surroundings rather than reflecting them.
“Now an architect, not a society or the taste of the aristocracy, decides individually on a building’s language,” he says. “This has turned our city environments into an often-noisy collection of individually competing buildings that are expressions of architects’ personality. We are getting a look-at-me architecture that does not have any cohesion in the city.”
According to Nield, the seeming competition between buildings and their surroundings has led to a standardised aesthetic or high performance look. That look, he argues, leads these buildings to appear empty and soulless.
“More buildings, because of performance glass, are becoming zombie buildings,” he says.
Vancouver-based industry professionals have made similar comments about the state of their city, with architect Gair Williamson asserting that demand for this modern, glass-dominated building aesthetic has led to the Canadian city appearing soulless as well.
“The trouble with architecture in Vancouver is that many architects are failing to look at the substance of how people inhabit buildings,” says Williamson. “They’re looking at how buildings appear. It’s about style over substance.”
Nield says obvious factors such as a trend towards high performance glass aesthetics and strengthened industry competition have facilitated this shift toward ‘zombie buildings.’ The star architect also identifies inward focus as a reason behind this contextual disconnect. In an address to the Tasmanian industry while on a speaking tour, Nield praised the built environment in Tasmania for its outward focus and strong connection to the waterfront – a key goal for Australian cities Australia, but one that state industries often struggle to achieve.
“Hobart is almost unique in not having wrecked its waterfront, in that it is a balanced city,” says Nield.
While ensuring buildings fit contextually within their environment, and aiming to create communities rather than a grouping of strictly unique and insular buildings are keys to breaking this ‘zombie building’ trend, a reconnection to the artistry of architecture also stands as a vital piece of the puzzle.
Nield asserts that the art of drawing and having a tactile design experience is integral in creating architecture with soul and in creating successful buildings.
“Young architects need to be able to draw,” says Nield. “Drawing is the handwriting of architecture.”
Many in the global architecture industry have called for an end to the lifeless glass skyscraper style, with the AIA’s top Australian architect taking up the cause on home soil.
Uniqueness and innovation design cohesion can be achieved through shared industry goals and ideals. All that remains is to bring these goals and ideals to fruition.