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August 2008 Issue
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An imaginary place called Adelaide

Is Adelaide's architecture locked in a time warp, or is there room for change? Professor Ian McDougall from the School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture & Urban Design describes a possible future for Adelaide's design culture.

Premier Mike Rann said recently in relation to climate change that South Australia must "again... be the laboratory for new ideas, to be reforming, to be the test-bed for the future...". I believe these words have a broader application.

We are not only in a time of change in the political, economic and environmental context, but also in the world of design and planning. And I wonder, is Adelaide prepared to become a part of that changing world, to be the laboratory for new ideas? And if it is, then what would this Adelaide be like? I wonder what it is like to be an architect there.

I have a dream about this place. It's a dream that I hope is deeply rooted in the idea that the architectural culture of Australian cities is made from the continuing narratives of our lives. It is a belief that architecture at its best enriches our existence - it is part of a civilising force, it elevates our minds. This new place will be founded on this belief.

I have a dream that this imaginary place is a place where the innovator is lauded, where new ideas are sponsored and encouraged, where the experimental is the normal operation of the architectural office, at the urging of the community. In this beautiful future, the small-minded approach to heritage is gone, and the finest of now is celebrated. The city is recognised as a dynamic respectful evolution, not as something frozen in one time.

I dream of this place where the universities are hothouses of ideas, where the academy is the trusted adviser that the government and industry turns to for ideas about new building practices, on sustainable development, on all things to do with the built environment.

Our future schools of architecture are places of exploration and technological advance, where the new thinkers learn to think, where the new designers challenge those that went before them.

I dream of a place where young architects and researchers don't tear off overseas as soon as they graduate, but stay because there is work for them to do, where they can write our history, where they can begin to build the foundations of an architecture about our city. I have a dream that this future is a place where the young are active and acknowledged makers of the culture.

This imagined place will have a government that leads in the provision of outstanding and recognised architecture. Each new project is driven by the desire for a significant architectural story about the community, its values and its ambitions. New public projects will be properly funded. Governments will have the benefit of sound expert advice at the highest level: a government architect.

I dream of a place where the big fish don't eat all the work so that there is nothing left for even the middle-sized fish. In our future there is a culture of support that lasts longer than a few years of practice.

This dream of hope is for a place noisy with the discussion of design and courageous argument, positions taken, a loud community of opinion. It is a dream of a culture that is everywhere in the city, of a public that engages with their environment through its design community - a city hungry for new and exciting architecture.

Is this a mad dream? Do we really want Adelaide to be like this imaginary city, a high-profile centre for design excellence, or not?

After all, Adelaide is a nice place to work and to live.

It is not an easy thing to go to the ideal level. It requires changes within the profession, within universities, within government, the media and the community.

I have this dream that in fact we all DO want it, and we can't help but undertake to achieve it.

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