RMIT Architecture & Urban Design
Bachelor of Architectural Design, Design Studio Semester 2, 2019 [currently inprogress]
Supervisor: Dr Michael Spooner
Students: David Veidt, Audrey Adams, Mietta Mullaly, Lewis Smith, Jacqueline Hays, Riley Marumaru, Yuchen Gao, Ekaterina Rumiantceva, Yasmin Fennessy, Yi Wang, Suan Lee, Brooke Barker, Wenzhao Zhong, Andre Wee, Kaixiang Xu, Heeyoung Chung
I have, as I come closer to death, understood the ballot as a form of therapeutic bloodletting. There is nothing pious or devout in this understanding. I dont expect to get into heaven. And, it is not always my blood that is spilled – in some cases my ballots veil a volley of sharp edges to the contemporary body politic, and so I count myself lucky to be invited back. But I gave up something a little more than ordinary last semester during the ballot for the Bachelor studio Babylon.
the ballot attempted to present the full complexity of relations between my grandfather Claude Prince and the architect Peter Corrigan. The presentation moved across the landscape of my upbringing in New Zealand, my grandfather’s extraordinary pool-table automata replete with spinning plastic Gorillas, my acknowledgement of Peter, and finally to his voice stored permanently as an unanswered message on my phone. I correlated this to Iron Jewellery, where gold jewellery given up in support of the war effort was reflected in an imperfect copy made from iron.
I suspect the authenticity of this relationship between Peter, Claude, and the economics of 19th Century war mongering is doubtful to many. But the ballot was a serious effort from me to account for a delegation of incremental influence, to find consensus where I could not, and ultimately be resourceful. It was not an act cast from the stuff of revolution, there was lacking the sense of rage or mischief I normally reserve for these moments – the indenture of the profession – but it didn’t feel awkward or inappropriate, despite the ballot also recounting the loss of my virginity on a sports field.
The semester prior I had found myself insitu in the empty office of Edmond & Corrigan, and with tape measure in hand, I surveyed the site of my devotion to an individual, determined to restore as faithful a copy of the office as could possible, against the sovereign indifference of new scanning technology. I counted bricks, I crawled under tables, I pulled out draws, I determined the location, thickness and dimension of everything down to the lightning bolt that escapes from under the lip of the sink. I found the edges of each roll of carpet. I ambushed each light and power switch. I cobbled together a harrowingly complete understanding of the mechanics of the library. I was amazed at the discovery of every banal difference. I saw millimetres as potential breakthroughs.
There is a very specific restoration technique in painting developed under the art program of Italian dictator Mussolini and implemented during the post war years of Italian recovery called “little lines”. It is a method of in painting, filling areas of damage using only vertical lines of pure colour with an exceptionally thin brush. It is nolonger practiced as it presents a hybrid of painterly qualities, opening the restored painting to interpretations other than a historical artefact. But the effect is also one of the recovery of the work of art – in that it establishes the damaged work as whole AND that it produces a new, delicate optical effect distinguishable from the damage. The most problematic example of this is the crucifixion by Cimabue damaged during one of Florence’s many floods. Here half of Christ’s face becomes wholly the effect of paint and brush and the sensation of an artist-restorer rendering exactly the magnitude of the loss.
And so, having realised the emptiness of my venture in the Edmond and Corrigan office and immobilised by fanatical detail, the studio Babylon pressed forward with what I had at hand. My grief.
Babylon acted through its semester long occupation of the office of Edmond and Corrigan, my inclination to understand the students as motivated agents, and my belief that the proportions of Babylon, the long ruined city, could carry my grief into the university project. It was not about maintaining the aesthetic experience of the table once occupied by Peter’s infamous studio.; I was never his student. Nor was it about a defacement or defilement: Peter was crudely human to me. I could easily have forged something like a proper studio, steeped in a historical positivism, but I have my own understanding of what a studio is. My ballot was a tactic as much as a confession. It was evidence of the effectiveness of a communal life and a private life. It is what I put forward here now, as the impetus of this studio.
What I think was troubling, for some, was the ballots promise of an architecture. Let me retreat a little here… There is a story of a nun, on whose finger appeared the image of Christ, and which, upon touching, cured a fellow nun suffering from a fatal heart condition. Ive liked the story because of the comic potential of a nun brandishing her finger in an act of vital restoration, not to mention the pageantry that would have met the action of pointing or prodding. The story is wholly a continental departure; there is nothing Australian about a finger in the image of Christ. Rather, I use this story to enhance my enquiry of architecture as a medium for beautification and an assemblage of vital rejoice. If someone asked me what architecture was, I would say it is the tip of a finger that salvages the holy on earth. This may be at odds with those who labour under penalty in the profession. But God, of course, does not need a reason to punish.
And so, Babylon sought the condition of the possible, an encounter with the ineffable. It was an attempt to recover nothing more than the fragile condition of loss when we try to picture what is lost.
And so after 14 weeks we opened the conversation to others.
We opened a bottle of wine.
We opened an exhibition.
Then Maggie Edmond walked in.