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Dissent! Refracted

Histories, Aesthetics and Cultures of Dissent


Edited By Ben Dorfman

This collection of essays addresses the ongoing problem of dissent from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives: political philosophy, intellectual history, literary studies, aesthetics, architectural history and conceptualizations of the political past. Taking a global perspective, the volume examines the history of dissent both inside and outside the West, through events in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries both nearer to our own times as well as more distant, and through a range of styles reflecting how contested and pressing the problem of dissent in fact is. Drawing on a range of authors and international problematics, the contributions discuss the multiple ways in which we refract memories of dissent in cultural, historical and aesthetic context. It also discusses the diverse ideas, images and phenomena we use to do so.
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Janina Gosseye & John Macarthur - Angry Young Architects: Counterculture and the Critique of Modernism in Brisbane, 1967–

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Janina Gosseye & John Macarthur

Angry Young Architects: Counterculture and the Critique of Modernism in Brisbane, 1967–1972

Abstract By 1967, Brisbane architecture students had had enough. Disenchantment with their “outdated” architectural education and the rigidity of the Australian architectural establishment opened out onto the wider context of the Moratorium opposing the Vietnam War and the reactionary Queensland Government of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. This chapter describes how between 1967 and 1972, through a series of organized “events,” this generation of Brisbane architects began a critique of architecture’s modernist orthodoxy as an intrinsic part of a wider reaction to global events and politics of the State of Queensland.

One of the largest protest marches in Queensland’s history took place on September 8th, 1967, when students marched some five kilometers from the University of Queensland (UQ) to Brisbane’s city center, demanding an end to conscription for the Vietnam War and wider civil liberties (Ferrier and Mansell 2004, 266–272). The protest was marshalled alphabetically by faculty, and then by year cohorts. This meant that the Architecture faculty was in front and the first year students at the head of the line. As a result, when protesters met a wall of police in the city center, almost the entire architecture student body was arrested. Paul Memmott, then a first year architecture student at UQ recalls: “… in our first year … 5000 people … marched into the city … and the police watched us the whole way and we all got into Roma Street and the police had paddy wagons on both sides of the road and they attacked everybody and arrested as many people as they could” (Memmott 2013; Ferrier and Mansell 2004, 270).1 For many, their radicalization ← 141 | 142 → began on that day. This march was also the first of a series of intersections between architecture student culture and the conservative government of post-war Queensland.

Although an early settlement of the British in Australia, Queensland developed more slowly than other Australian states. Well into the early twentieth century, Queensland was a largely agricultural economy marked by brutal frontier warfare with the Aboriginal nations of the area and spectacular short-lived gold rushes. After a banking crisis in the depression of 1890 Brisbane, the capital of Queensland lost much its financial independence to the southern capitals of Sydney and Melbourne. A dispersed and highly independent workforce of miners and agricultural workers led to the early rise of socialist politics, the world’s first Labor party government (for one week) in 1899, and a popular pacifist and anti-conscription movement in 1917. Throughout the twentieth century, progressive and then conservative governments practiced a statist agrarian socialism that did not favor education or culture (Evans 2007). Compulsory education ended at age fourteen until 1964, and the first university, the University of Queensland, was only established in 1909, half a century after Sydney and Melbourne inaugurated theirs (Goad 2012; Queensland Government 2014). As an urban area, Brisbane was relatively underdeveloped and characterized by a local residential type of elevated, timber, detached houses and grand classical government buildings from before the bust of 1890 (Fisher and Crozier 1994). By the mid-twentieth century, Sydney and Melbourne had become cosmopolitan cities with a restaurant and café culture and an interest in modernist art and architecture, and while there were elements of a progressive culture in Brisbane, its image remained that of a large country town living in the shadow of its attempts to become a city in the late nineteenth century. From the 1960s, tourism, mining, and then a sun-belt migration pattern began to propel the State towards its present prosperity. This rapid modernization of the economy, with its demand for natural resources and rapacious and largely unplanned or corrupt development of city buildings and beach resorts, reinforced Queensland’s image as a place in which culture was not valued.

In 1957, a center-right coalition took government. Ten years later, in 1968, power within the coalition shifted to the more conservative National Party, led by Johannes Bjelke-Petersen—the highly conservative New Zealand-born son of a Danish Lutheran pastor. Over the next two decades, under Johannes Bjelke-Petersen’s Premiership, Queensland became a police state in which democratic principles were trammeled to privilege the interests of a select and powerful minority; the electorate routinely manipulated; the media co-opted; parliamentary due process severely eroded; freedom of expression sacrificed to oppressive censorship; minority rights branded a risible intrusion; and civil liberties derided ← 142 | 143 → as the dangerous ploy of extremists (Evans 2007, 219–248).2 At the end of the 1960s, as the tectonic plates of the western socio-political landscape began to shift towards socially progressive causes, Queensland’s Government took the opposite direction. Paul Memmott recollects: “We didn’t have a right to demonstrate, didn’t have a right to carry a placard [and] at one point he [Bjelke-Petersen] brought in a law saying [that] more than three people in a public space talking about politics was illegal” (Memmott 2013). Richard Lambourne, a classmate of Memmott recalls, “after three years of studying architecture and a little bit of political dissent, I woke up one morning at six ‘o clock to find sixteen policemen in my house and decided [that] perhaps it was a good time to leave Queensland…It was the days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and they were being extremely zealous, over-zealous perhaps…I suspect that one of my housemates had been out picking magic mushrooms” (Lambourne 2013).

Social historian Raymond Evans nonetheless maintains that Bjelke-Petersen’s oppressive totalitarian rule ultimately had a silver lining. By bitter experience, he writes, the totalitarian experience “taught Queenslanders … what democratic principles, such as the separation of powers, majority rule, an objective media, an accountable government, a non-politicized public service, an uncorrupted police or judiciary, and respect for freedom of speech, minority justice and basic civil rights really meant” (Evans 2007, 221). The extreme conservatism maintained by Bjelke-Petersen’s regime deepened the radical spirit in the state and transformed the University of Queensland into a focal point of socio-political dissent (Schultz 2008). Here, under the watchful eye of student leaders Brian Laver and Dan O’Neill, a New Left emerged, which was characterized by a concern with culture as well as with the staples of the Old Left politics—demonstrations, engagement in the class struggle in economic arenas, and campaigns around political issues. Influenced by the contemporary contest of public spaces in Europe and the United States as well as by groups such as the Situationist International, who strongly believed in the subversive power of the arts, and by Régis Debray’s “foco” concept, Brisbane’s emerging New Left set up its own cultural revolutionary encampment in the city’s Trades Hall. Between March 1968 and February 1969, radical youth would gather there every Sunday night and organize a range of activities—large format discos with live music, poetry readings, folk singing, film and left wing documentary screenings (Evans 2004). This New Left spirit appealed to many (aspiring) young architects who increasingly rejected Queensland’s oppressive ← 143 | 144 → state politics and an architectural training and establishment they viewed as outdated and conformist.

Those who wanted to study architecture in Queensland had two options. The Queensland Institute of Technology (QIT, formerly known as the Central Technical College or CTC) had been offering evening courses in architecture since the early 1920s as an extension of the articled system of training. In 1937, the University of Queensland introduced an academic full-time course in architecture. Robert Cummings became the university’s first lecturer in architecture and—along with his partner in practice, Bruce Lucas, the Austrian émigré architect Karl Langer, and Charles Fulton at the CTC—introduced modern architecture to Queensland. Initially UQ offered courses in Building Construction and History of Architecture and in 1939 added Materials and Testing, Freehand Drawing, Advanced Building and Construction, and Specification to the curriculum (Sinnamon & Keniger 1987, 6).3 From the onset, Cummings taught the History of Architecture. According to former student of architecture Rex Addison, who studied under Cummings, “he had … a penchant for a softer form of modernism…Dudok was his pin up boy” (Addison 2013). Cummings indeed placed the architecture of pre-War Dutch architect Willem Marinus Dudok as the final development of an architectural truth first revealed to the ancient Egyptians. In his lectures he religiously followed Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture, which he—according to his son Malcolm Cummings who studied architecture at UQ from 1954 to 1960—treated as “the bible” (Cummings 2012). In the 1960s, Cummings and his colleagues continued to promote a canon of architecture that they held to have been completed by their generation, but by then the architectural landscape had changed. The modernist dogmas of “form follows function” and existenzminima no longer corresponded to the needs of the mid-twentieth century society, and the elusive character of the era instilled a sentiment of anxiety in architects who were more interested in the iconoclastic and avant-garde actions of modernist architects than in their buildings (Williams-Goldhagen and Legault 2000, 13–22). For a generation of students fascinated by Archigram’s Plug-in City4 and Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic ← 144 | 145 → Domes,5 the stereometric masonry forms of Lucas and Cummings’ and Langer’s buildings looked heavy and out of date (Riddel October 2012). Like cats on hot bricks, post-war architects veered off in different directions, challenging what their predecessors had accepted as given and exploring the limits of the conceivable, their actions drawing on issues and concerns emerging directly out of the social, cultural, economic, and political changes of the post-war years. In Brisbane, these ruptures that were unfolding in architectural ideology met a climate of generalized dissent, which—aggravated by the complacency of the local professional architectural community—encouraged many young architects to express their discontent (Musgrave 2013).6 Through theatrical performances, films, art exhibitions, and performance art events, they questioned their architectural education and sought to subvert the tenets of modernism while satirizing their socio-political environment and challenging the authority of their peers and ultimately the State.

Clash of the Conferences

The first time that the generation gap and the ideological differences that underlay it became starkly apparent was in May 1967, when the Australian Architecture Students Conference and the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) conference were both held in Brisbane (Cross-Section 1967). At the Institute conference, Professor Cummings and the principals of Queensland architecture firms hosted their interstate peers in dinner jackets and ceremonial chains of office. The official opening took place in the Legislative Council Chambers of Parliament House on Monday, May 29th, and was followed by a Presidential Reception at Lennon’s Hotel. The following day, invited speakers Paul Ritter, town planner of ← 145 | 146 → the city of Perth, and Graham de Gruchy, lecturer at the School of Architecture at UQ, reflected on the architect’s role in society. On Wednesday the speakers—all practicing architects and engineers—addressed the theme “Architect and building industry,” bringing the conference back “down to earth” as the first speaker, Emery Balint, suggested: “I had the opportunity of listening in to your session yesterday and this made me very conscious of a division in the ranks. There are the theorists…who feel that the profession should have an image perhaps more than an ideal…and then there are the down-to-earth practitioners, the architects who feel very acutely the day to day problems and pressures of the practice of their profession” (Balint 1967, 629). On Wednesday evening, delegates returned to Lennon’s Hotel for the award ceremony and the conference ended on Thursday with an “Introspection” session, reflecting on the ethics of the architectural profession. As can be derived from the proceedings, which were published in Architecture in Australia, the event was very formal in nature and aimed predominantly at networking (16th Australian Architectural Convention, Brisbane 1967). It was very different from the student conference, which was set up as a seditious response to the Institute conference and was announced with an image of Ron Herron’s 1964 design for a “Walking City,” a figure stalking across a ruined world in the aftermath of a nuclear war.7 Like Archigram, the students intended to “inject noise into the system.”

The conference, which preceded the RAIA conference, ran for a week, from May 20th to May 27th, and offered not only lectures and discussions, but also work sessions, exhibitions, and site visits. For the event, the students invited (among others) the aging Giò Ponti, editor of the famous Italian architecture- and design ← 146 | 147 → magazine Domus, and the young avant-gardist Tony Gwilliam from the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School) in London—two essentially antagonistic speakers.8 While Ponti pontificated about what constituted good architecture, addressing issues such as form, structure and the profession’s relation to art, Gwilliam launched a plea to talk about “building” rather than “architecture,” advocating the need for new building materials and new building methods to satisfy the increasing demand for human shelter. “In one generation,” he said, “we have to build what it has taken 10 generations in the past to build…We simply cannot let millions of people go without shelter” (Building Ideas with Plastics 1967). In the work-session that followed, he invited students to “create some sort of instant environment with various materials,” following which several plastic and cardboard domes were constructed across the UQ campus (Gwilliam 1967). At a micro-scale, Ponti and Gwilliam epitomized the contemporary state of architectural culture: Ponti, the institutionalization of the modernist idiom and Gwilliam an apostle of the phase of experimentation, ringing in the advent of post-modernism.9 ← 147 | 148 →

Tony Gwilliam (center) talking to architecture students during the National Architecture Students Conference held in Brisbane in May 1967. Also shown in the photograph are two of the other conference speakers, namely Harry Seidler (right) and Gilbert Herbert (left).

Photograph: Derek Ellis.

Discussions during the conference were held in a very informal manner, with both students and speakers sitting on the ground, while the evenings were enlivened with barbeques and casual parties. On Thursday night, the students organized a “happening” at the Rialto Theatre, entitled Dorcus French—A Naughty Review. Planned as a performance art event, a number of activities took place simultaneously; a rock band was playing in one corner of the room, someone was demolishing a car in another and a striptease was enacted. Proceedings however ended abruptly when—in an attempt to shock the audience—some students jumped up on stage, “armed” with a number of chickens and killed them by swinging the animals around in the air. Many of those present, among them Gio Ponti, left in disgust and the event came to an end (Tyrell and Twidale 2013).

High on a Hot Banana

The happening at the Rialto Theatre fed a nascent tradition of architecture student revues that had been initiated two years earlier. In 1965, the architecture students at UQ—under the direction of William Yang (then known as Willy Young)—took over the production of the annual revue from the Arts and Law students. These ← 148 | 149 → “Archi Revues” as they became known, were developed by architecture students of UQ and QIT conjointly and consisted of sketches, music, and experimental theatre satirizing not only architecture and urban planning but also politics and current affairs.10 Between 1965 and 1970, six reviews were held in the Avalon Theatre; OWO in 1965, RINTHF’TANG Son of OWO in 1966, High on a Hot Banana in 1967—this was the first revue to receive musical contributions from the newly minted Architecture Revue Band—Young Robert Zimmerman in 1968, Classical Stuff in 1969, and Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom in 1970. That year, Yang graduated and moved to Sydney, leaving his protégés to carry on the productions, which subsequently relocated to the new Schonell Theatre on the UQ Campus.

Psychedelic poster announcing the 1967 Archi Revue High on a Hot Banana.

Private collection of Neville Twidale.

According to Jack Kershaw, who was a fifth year architecture student at UQ when the first show took place, there was initially a bit of conservatism about the revues. ← 149 | 150 → The subtitle “New, not too blue OWO revue,” he says, hinted at its more subdued character—“not too blue” meaning “not too risqué” (Kershaw 2013). Ralph Tyrell, who was a first-year student in 1965 and became heavily involved in the organization of the following revues, however claims that the show evolved and became more provocative over the years:

There was a lot of iconoclastic behaviour and there was a lot of raw bawdy stuff. But, it was clever…Nobody would have gone to a bloody review run by the communists, you know, some sort of dialectic, proselytising [event]. The architects managed to get this fine-tuned balance of maybe being irreverent [and] politically relevant (Tyrell and Twidale 2013).

Poster announcing the photographic exhibition Queensland Background, organised by Richard Stinger in 1967.

Reproduced from ASM 5 (1967)

This shift toward the provocative was undoubtedly influenced by a changing atmosphere—globally as well as locally11. The 1968 revue, for instance, started with a “Testimony of the March,” referring to the September 1967 protest where ← 150 | 151 → many of the cast had been arrested, and comprised an act entitled “The Soldier,” subtitled “Thou Shalt Take What Not Belongs To You.”12

The Archi Revues also played a significant role in the development of live theatre in Queensland. In 1969 Bjelke-Petersen extended his censorship campaign from written publication into the theatre, which implied that people could be prosecuted not only for written prose, but also for on-stage utterances. The musical Hair, famous for its nude scenes, was banned in Brisbane after cabinet member Russ Hinze condemned the musical as being appealing to only the “sexually-depraved, or a group of homosexuals, lesbians, wifeswappers and spivs,” and in April 1969, Brisbane actor Norman Staines was arrested by police, charged with having used an obscene expression during a performance of the play Norm and Ahmed presented by the Twelfth Night Theatre Company (Fitzgerald 1984). The Archi Revues thus not only offered talented aspiring architects a creative outlet, but also allowed them to—in an entertaining manner—chastise the oppressive socio-political environment in which they found themselves.

Queensland Background

Taking place in Brisbane in the same year as the RAIA and the Australian Architecture Student conference was a small photography exhibition organized by Richard Stringer, a young architecture graduate from Melbourne who had moved to Brisbane only four years earlier, in 1963. Upon his arrival, he was “struck [by] the silent buildings around from previous generations of architects,” which inspired him to start travelling around the state, visiting mining towns, such as Ravenswood and Charters Towers, armed with his five by four inch Linhof camera (Stringer 2012). ← 151 | 152 →

Peter Newell’s essay, “Rude Forefathers and Non Pedigree Architecture” in Scarab was accompanied by several small drawings that were meant to show Queensland’s architecture’s “rude forefathers,” which were generally thought of as “non pedigree architecture.”

Reproduced from Scarab 1 (1965)

By 1967, Stringer had already developed a substantial collection of photographs of Queensland’s “silent buildings,” which led him to a belief that current architects were not matching up to the standard the past had set. When the RAIA conference came up, he decided to organize a photographic exhibition, entitled Queensland Background, to make visible “another side of Queensland, besides the side that the Institute [was] presenting” (Stringer 2012). This exhibition was held in Sutton House, a small, private gallery located in George Street, and consisted of sixty black-and-white photographs, each 16 inch (40 centimeters) high by 20 inch (50 centimeters) wide. The poster that he designed for the exhibition was indicative of what the show presented. It contained a photograph of a traditional Queensland house, constructed on stumps, with single-skin timber walls (the structure on the outside) and a pitched tin roof. According to Stringer, this is not what most people viewed as an exemplary piece of Queensland architecture. To him, however, it represented the grassroots of Queensland’s building tradition. The exhibition, Stringer hoped, would offer local architects “a little eloquent testament to the environment that they were operating in” and potentially (positively) influence their appreciation of Queensland’s forgotten built heritage (Stringer 2012).

In a way, Stringer’s exhibition was Queensland’s architecture salon des refusés. In early post-war years—driven by a desire to keep up with centers such as Sydney and Melbourne—Brisbane architects adopted an international-style modernism and (almost unanimously) discarded the local “timber and tin” building tradition that their predecessors had refined for over a century. Sleek office towers and low-lying, flat-roofed California-modern-inspired dwellings ← 152 | 153 → grew popular as the house on stilts, wrapped in a spacious veranda, accrued criticism (Taylor 1986, 116–140). A group of Brisbane’s architecture students and young lecturers at the UQ School of Architecture were also concerned by these developments. In 1965, two years prior to Stringer’s exhibition, the Queensland Architectural Student Association launched a magazine called Scarab, of which three issues appeared between May 1965 and May 1966.13 The first two articles of the inaugural issue, “Rude Forefathers and Non-Pedigree Architecture” and “The Influence of the 19th Century Vernacular Tradition on Contemporary Queensland Architecture,” both launched a plea for a simple architecture that drew on vernacular building traditions. Bill Carr, author of the latter essay—and then one of the young lecturers at UQ—painted a rather negative picture of architecture practice in post-war Queensland. “On thinking over the subject,” he wrote:

I have been forced to conclude that the guts of this [vernacular building] tradition has had no influence on 20th century Queensland architecture…The economy, the structural integrity, the pre-fabrication [and] the lack of pretention of the 19th century Queensland building vernacular have all been overlooked. These very qualities which would seem to be so important to our own picture of the 20th century have evaded us (Carr 1965).

Peter Newell, author of the opening text equally concluded that “[t]he challenge to the [contemporary] architect is to achieve an environment with qualities similar to those that were inherent in less prosperous and less technologically advanced civilizations” (Newell 1965).

Both essays appear to have been informed by the writings of Bernard Rudofsky and Steen Eiler Rasmussen. In Rudofsky’s 1964 publication Architecture without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-pedigreed Architecture, he introduced the concept of “communal architecture,” produced not by specialists but by the spontaneous and continuing activity of a community. Rudofsky pointed to the practical knowledge of the untutored builder as an untapped source of inspiration for the industrial man trapped in chaotic cities (Rudofsky 1964). Five years prior to Rudofsky’s publication, Rasmussen proffered a similar suggestion in his book Experiencing Architecture.14 Here, he (famously) wrote:

At one time the entire community took part in forming the dwellings and implements they used…[H]ouses were built with a natural feeling for place, materials and use…Today, in our highly civilized society, the houses which ordinary people are doomed to live in and ← 153 | 154 → gaze upon are on the whole without quality. We cannot, however, go back to the old method of personally supervised handicrafts. We must strive to advance by arousing interest in and understanding of the work the architect does (Rasmussen 1959, preface).

Similar ideas also surfaced in the later issues of Scarab. Robert Riddel, one of the editors of the journal and at the time an architecture student at QIT, authored the opening essay of the August 1965 issue. He entitled his contribution, which sharply criticized the local architecture establishment, “Resurrection.” Riddel wrote “the architect in Aust [sic.] has with few exceptions become nothing more than a shadow of intellect by being a mere draftsman catering passively to the most absurd whims of an unfortunate clientele.” Riddel subsequently derided early twentieth century functionalist housing as “unimaginative” and launched a plea to develop a different type of architecture that is both psychologically pleasing and economically viable. To demonstrate his point, the article is accompanied by a photo of simple timber barn that he described as “the epitome of ingenuity…[that] shows what can be done with second-hand materials and thought” (Riddel 1965).

Article “Building of the Year” in the second edition of the Architecture Student Magazine Scarab showing a simple timber barn, which was labelled the “epitome of ingenuity.”

Reproduced from Scarab 1 (1965) ← 154 | 155 →

The new generation of post-war architects came to believe that architecture needed to reflect modern life while simultaneously contributing to a deeply needed sense of continuity and identity. This could be achieved through an established contextualism in both time and space. Some architects tried to engender a harmonious relationship to architecture’s history, while others attempted to take into consideration the character and constraints of the specific locale in which they were operating—a concern for place (Williams-Goldhagen & Legault, 20–21). In Queensland, this concern for place and its history—“genius loci”—became a particularly poignant issue for a group of young architects whose training was taking them toward a professional establishment that was busily profiting from pro-development policies, which at times involved corrupt land rezoning and the destruction of Brisbane’s built heritage. For Queensland-premier Bjelke-Petersen the number of cranes on the skyline offered a measure of the state’s prosperity. Demolition became associated with economic growth and architectural heritage was—as his right hand man Richard Katter put it in a recent interview—conceived as the concern of a “…self-indulgent, citified sort of people that would be concerned about ridiculous things like that when people were going hungry” (Haughton, Ross & Smith 2004).

Happiness is a Three-Legged Dog

Brisbane’s angry young architects were certainly prolific. Shortly after organizing the National Student Conference—and while publishing (and writing) multiple editions of the Architecture Student Magazine—a group of architecture students produced a film, entitled Happiness is a Three-legged Dog. Drawing on ideas put forth by the 1964 student revolt in Berkeley, the film melds critique of the university under capitalism—factory education—and the oppressive socio-political climate with a critique of their perceived retrograde architecture training. In one of the first scenes, a group of students, all wearing black trousers, white shirts and black ties are lined up in a classroom and incited to repeat the words “truth, beauty, integrity” ad infinitum. The lecturer addresses the students not by their name but with a number. One of the students, number LX 4152/6, escapes this oppressive classroom environment to join a group of dissidents. Upon his escape he unplugs an electric chord. This results in the lecturer collapsing to the floor, revealing that he is not human but merely a mechanical component of the education “machine.” Robert Riddel provided the script for the film. When asked what inspired him to write this story, he responded that at the time he felt that the local architectural education was appalling: not in the least concerned with “how are we going to learn how to live” (Riddel December 2012). ← 155 | 156 →

Throughout the thirty-minute film, voiceovers utter statements that express the desire of the students to be free. After a woman is heard saying: “Everyone is born with a degree of intuition and creativity and this is fostered or suppressed by education and environment,” a short twenty-second sequence shows a young girl twirling around and chanting “I’m a bird, I’m a bird,” followed by an image of a soldier firing a shot into the air. The twirling girl is then seen falling to the ground. In less than half a minute, this sequence pithily conveys the contemporary state of mind of many young Brisbanites, distraught not only by the looming threat of conscription into a war that they did not condone, but also by the restraints of an oppressive local socio-political environment.

Six stills from the film Happiness is a Three Legged Dog, produced in the late 1960s by a group of architecture students from Brisbane. This film was written and directed by Anthony Airey.

Film: Anthony Airey. Private collection of Robert Riddel.

The film, however, not only criticizes the contemporary socio-political climate and education system, but also targets the architectural training and the discipline of architecture in general. In one scene, the “android” lecturer holds up a large print with two images: one depicting an open, sterile office space with desks organized on a grid, the other a reproduction of van Gogh’s sunflowers. When the lecturer asks student LX 4152/6 which of the images he believes is better, he points at the sunflowers causing the other students to erupt in laughter. The film thus takes a stab at the modernist “form follows function” dogma, represented by the well-organized yet barren office area, and aligns itself with the growing criticism that was heard in the circles of the post-war architectural avant-garde, who believed that, in an attempt to develop a formal language based solely on ← 156 | 157 → physical needs, modernism had come to disregard architecture’s ability to respond to people’s emotional desires. This conviction also strongly comes to the fore in Riddel’s explanation of the film’s title: “My memory of it is that happiness was…central to all of our endeavours and good architecture, good spatial experience gave you a feeling of well-being, but it didn’t have to be perfect…You could still have three legs and have that well-being…and you know when you are present in a piece of architecture with qualities that it gives you—it affects you in a full way. And, you feel this well-being feeling. It’s your response to architecture” (Riddel December 2012).

Art Week: Experiment

By the early 1970s, change was imminent. In the Federal Election of December 1972, Australians voted for the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam, who immediately began a New Left program of reforms including the withdrawal of Australia from the war in Vietnam, new regulations against racial and gender discrimination, introduction of universal public health care, provision of substantial support for the arts, and abolition of university tuition fees. Queensland was, however, not entirely onboard with this spirit of reform. In 1971, the nationwide anti-apartheid protests against the touring South African rugby team—the racially selected Springboks—led to the Queensland government declaring a state of emergency and giving the police license to violently suppress protests. Twenty students were hospitalized, and many others arrested and bundled into vans to the city’s watch-house (Schultz 2008, 17). Friction was also felt in the School of Architecture, where the older cohort of lecturers had been complemented by a group of young, energized teachers, such as Bill Carr, Peter O’Gorman, and Ian Sinnamon. These angry (or perhaps rather ambitious and idealistic) young men determinedly wrought the course away from its stale modernist grounding towards a more varied curriculum, which included an assortment of creative experiences. Bruce Wolfe, who started the course in 1971 recalls: “We were introduced to other things like pottery and life drawings classes and things like that in the first year…I think that was perhaps instigated by Peter O’Gorman wanting to get a more touchy feely approach to design” (Wolfe 2013).

In 1972, determined that the UQ architecture students were insufficiently appraised in contemporary art, Bill Carr devised “Art Experience Week.” Intended to shock the first, second, and third year students out of their familiar and (what he saw as a) parochial environment, Carr invited several renowned avant-garde artists to Brisbane. These included well-known film-maker Albie Thoms, art editors of the magazine Oz Gary Shead and Peter Kingston, and Sydney-based artists Franklin Johnson and Tim Johnson, one of the co-founders of the Inhibodress ← 157 | 158 → artists’ atelier in Sydney, which provided a space for experimental performance art (The Art Week Controversy of 1972—Fact Sheet 2006).

Students from the University of Queensland are shown lying on their back during “Art Experience Week,” as they attempt to “produce an erection (penile, clitoral) by directing [their] thoughts towards erotic subjects…” This event was part of Tim Johnson’s “Induction.”

Photograph: Tim Johnson

Art Week started on Monday, 31st of July, at the Masonic Hall in Alice Street, with Tim Johnson’s “Induction.” For this event, Johnson had written the following instructions for students on a blackboard: “Lying on your back attempt to produce an erection (penile, clitoral) by directing your thoughts towards erotic subjects and attempting slight movement of your organ inside your under clothes.” Although this work was directed at making apparent the unbridgeable divide between body, socialized behavior, and psyche, it was not recognized as such and much less appreciated in conservative Queensland of the time. As soon as Bill Greig, then head of the School of Architecture at UQ, heard about the “incident,” he ordered Johnson to “cease the eroticism” and informed the University’s Vice-Chancellor. This set in ← 158 | 159 → motion a chain of events that unfolded over the next few days: Tim Johnson was dismissed, Art Week was cancelled on grounds of immorality, the validity of Johnson’s work was questioned in State Parliament, and organizer Bill Carr was brought before the University’s Dismissals Advisory Committee (Senate of the University of Queensland 1973). The Art Week controversy also caught the attention of several newspapers, including the The Courier Mail, which in September 1972 reported “…recently some Queensland University academics and students…staged an erotica display before men, women and children. Everything conceivable was performed—masturbation, homosexuality, sodomy, and sex deviation—in full view of everyone there…Only the filthiest and foulest things were performed” (Erotica Display at Uni—MLA Claim 1972).

The press that Art Week received was perceived by many as an attempt by the Bjelke-Petersen government to discredit the University of Queensland (and perhaps university education in general), which was a known bulwark of leftist propaganda and one of the main loci of political dissent. In a recent interview, artist Tim Johnson reflected that he and the other artists had been pawns in the game of the conservative forces: “they wanted to find ways to repress students a bit …and when this [Art Week] happened, this was a good opportunity to make the students look bad or to make the universities feel that they needed more regulation” (Johnson 2014).

Whether or not Bill Greig’s closing of Art Week was a matter of his being morally affronted, his animus for Bill Carr’s style of education, or directly served a Government agenda, Johnson’s diagnosis is in general correct. The establishment reaction to Art Week and the earlier student “happenings” failed to distinguish performance art from the sexual proclivities of youth, but rightly understood that a radical education, which emphasized a politics of the person and the body, was on a continuum with the violent clashes between the students and the police that continued through the 1970s. The repressive actions taken in the 1970s to clampdown on experiments in architectural education and silence students’ critique of the Queensland administration was a fragment of a wider conservative reaction that led to the landslide victory of Bjelke-Petersen in the 1974 state election.


In 1970s Queensland, the conservative backlash encouraged many young architects and students, whether angry or simply aspirational, to leave for Britain, America, or the more progressive southern Australian cities, while others chose to leave the architectural profession and took up jobs in other creative industries. Their ideological convictions, in combination with a strong ambition and ← 159 | 160 → imaginative power, gave them the courage to unshackle themselves from their oppressive surroundings and work towards an alternative future elsewhere. Even though many of the student leaders left and architecture became less overtly political, it would be a mistake to think of this simply as a return to order. Rather, the distance between university culture and the profession that the Sixties had produced became the state of affairs in the following decades.

In the late 1970s, critical regionalism flourished in the UQ School, and youth culture changed at the same time with the influence of New Wave and punk music, to which the School of Architecture contributed some notable bands (Stafford 2006).15 Short hair, tight black jeans, irony, melancholia, and an interest in semiotics and architectural history was felt by a new generation of students to be a complete repudiation of the “hippy shit” and naiveté of the previous decade. Internationally vanguard architectural culture had changed from social and technical utopianism to a new would-be politics at the etiolated level of culture critique. In the late twentieth century, the concept of a ‘critical architecture’ emerged, suggesting the possibility of a mode of architecture that opposes dominant economic and cultural strands, and proposed an alternative form of practice that does not reproduce prevailing values (Rendell 2006). This ‘critical architecture’ was a figment of the ‘theory moment’ in academia, which emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century. It matched the punk rock aesthetic of crudeness and unpleasingness, and made Neil Young and Buckminister Fuller equally risible.

The new punk formalism that appeared at UQ nevertheless relied on the foundations of the by then legendary 1967 conference, the Architecture Revues, and Art Week. Firstly, critical regionalist and post-modernist ideas in architecture provided a theoretical platform and cultural movement built on the foundations of the doubts about orthodox modernism of the earlier period. In a State run partly in the interests ← 160 | 161 → of corrupt property developers, attacking the functionalist and technological teleology of architectural modernism in the name of meaning and history was also an attack on the modernization of the Queensland economy that had hidden so many injustices. Secondly, after decades of misrule, it was apparent that oppression was deeply structured in Queensland’s gerrymandered electoral system and government cronyism, and these were not susceptible to public pressure no matter how radical. The Bjelke-Petersen government held power until it miss-stepped by allowing an independent inquiry into police corruption in 1987 that lead to a spectacular implosion of its 32-year rule.16 By the 1980s, opposition to the State and authorized forms of culture was not a moment of rebellion but the default condition of an intellectual life expressed in music and dress that would confront the bourgeoisie. The dissent of the Sixties had failed to change the order of society. However, it had appropriated repression as fuel to the next authentic counter-culture. In this way, the story of Brisbane’s “angry young architects” reflects generalized tensions of 1960s and 1970s counter-culture. While their actions failed to dismantle hegemonic mainstreams, they successfully established mores that became critical to later forms of dissent. Primary among those might have been the critical spirit of dissent: that art and politics not be unbound, and that each succeeding generation would bind them in their particular ways.


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Addison, Rex. February 15, 2013. Interview by Janina Gosseye and Robert Riddel.

Balint, Emery. 1967. “The Professional Builder?” Architecture in Australia 56 (4): 629–631.

“Building Ideas with Plastics.” 1967. Courier Mail. May 27, 11.

Carr, Bill. 1965. “The Influence of the 19th Century Vernacular Tradition on Contemporary Queensland Architecture.” Scarab 1 (1): no page numbers given.

Untitled. April 1967. Cross-Section 174: no page numbers given.

Cummings, Malcolm. December 20, 2012. Interview by Janina Gosseye, John Macarthur and Andrew Wilson. ← 161 | 162 →

Evans, Raymond. 2004. “FOCO, Second Trades Hall.” In Radical Brisbane. An Unruly History, ed, Raymond Evans & Carole Ferrier, 273–276. Carlton, Victoria: The Vulgar Press.

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Ferrier, Carole and Mansell, Ken. 2004. “Student Revolt, 1960s and 1970s. The University of Queensland, St. Lucia.” In Radical Brisbane. An Unruly History, ed. Raymond Evans and Carole Ferrier. Carlton, Victoria: The Vulgar Press.

Fisher, Rod and Crozier, Brian, eds. 1994. The Queensland House: A Roof over our Heads. Brisbane: Queensland Museum.

Fitzgerald, Ross. 1984. “Censorship in Queensland 1954–83.” Australian Journal of Politics and History 30 (3): 348–62.

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1 In Radical Brisbane. An Unruly History, Ferrier and Mansell (2004) describe this event as follows: “SDA [Students for Democratic Action] led 4000 students and staff members—approximately half the campus population—onto the road towards the metropolis. More supporters, les intrepid, marched alongside on the footpath. At the corner of Makerston and Roma streets, they were confronted by 250 police and ordered to disperse. About 1500 to 2000 sat down outside the present police headquarters. Police moved in and began making arrests, 114 in total.”

2 Bjelke-Petersen’s regime fell in 1987 after an inquiry revealed endemic corruption, extending up to the Police Commissioner and cabinet.

3 By 1940 the course was being revised, and offerings included: Architectural Drawing and Design, Descriptive Geometry, Specifications, Town Planning and Street Architecture, Surveying, Professional Practice, History of Art, History of Architecture, Architectural Drawing, Freehand Drawing, Building Construction and Materials Testing.

4 Archigram was an avant-garde architectural group, which was formed at the Architectural Association in London in the 1960s. During the 1960s, the group gained prominence thanks to its neo-futuristic, anti-heroic and pro-consumerist hypothetical (largely dystopian or utopian) designs, which expressed the desire to—through technology—create a new reality. Their projects often included elements of pop-culture and science-fiction. The main members of the group were Peter Cook, Warren Chalk, Ron Herron, Dennis Crompton, Michael Webb, David Greene and Theo Crosby.

5 Buckminster Fuller had been experimenting with Geodesic Domes for some twenty years before he designed the Montréal Biosphère for the World Expo in 1967. In 1966, Fuller was one of the speakers at the Australian Architecture Students Conference in Perth, which was attended by several architecture students from Queensland. At this conference, he emphasized that the measure of a good building was its weight (the lighter the better) and also spoke about the design of geodesic domes.

6 This discontent was not only felt among students, but also among the younger lecturers who joined the older generation at UQ and QIT. Some produced little pamphlets and handed them out to students of architecture at the University of Queensland and the Queensland Institute of Technology. These pamphlets were intended to fuel student activism.

7 The conference was announced in 1966 in the fourth issue of the student magazine ASM. Between May 1965 and May 1966, three issues of Scarab appeared. These three issues were edited by architecture students Haig Beck, Mike Hughes, Bob Martin, Phil McMaster, Barrie Reuter and Robert Riddel. Mid 1966, architecture students Haig Beck, Tom McKerrell and Don Cunnington took over the publication and renamed it ASM, which stood for ‘Architecture Student Magazine’. Seven issues of ASM appeared between 1967 and 1968. The fourth issue, published in early 1967, announced the National Architecture Student conference, introducing all of the speakers who had been invited, accompanied by a biography for each of them, while the fifth issue—which appeared shortly after the conference—offered a retrospective of the event. By 1970, the magazine changed name once more and became MK2, of which four issues appeared between May 1970 and March 1971.

8 Giò Ponti was born in Milan (Italy) in 1891. When he attended the Australian Architecture Student Convention in Brisbane in 1967, he was 76 years of age, while Tony Gwilliam was in his mid-thirties.

9 Ponti was one of Italy’s most renowned modernists. Even though he was not a member of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), which was responsible for a series of events and congresses arranged across Europe between the late 1920s and the late 1950s by the most prominent architects of the time, with the objective of spreading the principles of the Modern Movement, Ponti’s ideas were in line with those of this organization. He strongly believed that architecture (and design in general) should strive for a harmonious relationship between a form and its function. By the 1960s, however, a new set of values for modern architecture emerged which went beyond looking at biological concerns and became more focused on psychological needs. These ideas were propagated by a group of CIAM’s younger members, who became known as Team 10. In the 1950s this group started formulating theoretical positions that questioned the tenets of modernism and undermined the very foundations of the organization, which eventually led to CIAM’s dissolution in 1959. Although Team 10 was only a small group of “angry young architects,” their critical stance towards modernism was representative of a broader cultural critique of Modernism that gradually developed in post-war society, leading to architectural critic Charles Jencks eventually announcing the death of modernism in the early 1970s.

10 William Yang is today a well-known writer and visual and performance artist based in Sydney.

11 In March 1966, the Government announced that National Servicemen would be sent to Vietnam.

12 The program of the Archi Revues was commonly announced on the verso of the posters. The posters are held in the private collection of Neville Twidale.

13 See footnote 7.

14 Rasmussen was a lecturer at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art. One of this students was Jørn Utzon, who later designed the Sydney Opera House (1973).

15 Architectural theorists Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre first used the concept “critical regionalism” in the early 1980s to define a role for buildings and cities in a globalizing world. Coining “critical regionalism,” they argued that designers should overcome biases favoring imported or local choices through questioning and reflection, considering the specifics of the actual situation, the region. While welcoming what the open world can offer, they should value the uniqueness of the “region,” the quality of social ties as well as the physical and cultural resources. Critical regionalism thus not only strives to counter the placelessness and lack of identity of the International Style architecture, but also rejects the whimsical individualism and ornamentation of Post-modern architecture. Critical regionalism seeks to develop an architecture rooted in the modern tradition, but tied to differing geographical and cultural context.

16 See footnote 2. The inquiry was led by Tony Fitzgerald, QC.