What is the ‘Cockroach’ of Design?

Considering the importance of creating an architectural identity for Australia, Arthur G asks us: why do we cringe?

At the time, it seemed incongruous to talk about something so foul and base as the “cockroach of design” in a space that seemed opulent, gilded and sumptuously lavish. Actually, come to think of it, the whole thing was incongruous, wacky, and curiouser and curiouser. But maybe that was the point.

Recently at Melbourne Indesign 2016, Arthur G collaborated with Molecule to host a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Inspired by Radford’s Christian Lacroix, Liberty of London and Cole & Son ranges of upholstery and wallpaper, the space was carefully curated to evoke the whimsical sensibility of Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole.

But as the frame for the goings-on inside, the space provided an inspired backdrop against which questions surrounding our architectural past were flung around in heated debate. The room, in all its topsy-turvy wonderment, eschewed everything we knew or could recognise as Australian architectural design. It made orientation difficult – and that was calculated. Like our very own adventure in Wonderland, the assembled guests at the LiveLife seminar Heritage and Australian Identity: the Brick Veneer and the Suburbs, asked us to think about ‘home’. As a result, what we thought we knew as ‘home’ started to look very, very odd indeed. As part of a braoder seminar series about home, our ways of life, and the Australian A+D community, this talk was hosted by Alice Blackwood, the co-editor of Indesign Magazine, and the panel saw energetic banter from comedian Tim Ross, Shelley Penn from the City of Melbourne, and Paul Roser from National Trust Victoria.

So, “cockroach”? Like a Cheshire Cat, comedian Tim Ross cajoled the audience into laughter with the assertion that the iconic Australian terrace house – tired mainstay, or undoubtable grande dame (depending on who you ask) – still has a ubiquity on the Australian street akin to an architectural infestation. As the “cockroach of design”, for all of their faults, and always their own infestation of cockroaches, we accept them for what they are: our history. In part, the terrace house represents an architectural response to both a growing middle class in the late-nineteenth- to mid-twentieth-centuries, and the ever continuing growth of urban population density. Currently, they may not be our best solution to alleviate the urban planning woes of our city centres, but they were once upon a time.

And that’s the problem. Terrace houses are cravenly protected Australia-wide – and to a surprisingly large degree in Perth – by our National Heritage bodies. Intervening in the cultural cringe surrounding our architectural past, Paul Roser of the National Trust of Victoria discussed the necessity of Heritage Advisors and the trickiness of navigating the balance between what the public might not value (aesthetically and economically) and the need to preserve the higgledy-piggledy nature of our streetscapes dotted irregularly with two hundred years of architectural responses to social problems.

“The beauty of the suburbs, terraces and all, is that they’re wonky and mismatched – it doesn’t have to be beautiful. It’s boring when they’re all beautiful and new and say nothing about Australia, and don’t reflect where we’re from.” Roser says.

The sheer whimsy, oddity and larger-than-life surroundings at the Arthur G showroom during the discussion provided the perfect opportunity for distanciation. Surrounded by a truly other-worldly realm of rich colours, luxurious fabrics, graphically embossed wallpapers, exaggerated forms everywhere you cast your eye, we were able to look, again, upon the familiar with a fresh perspective.

As Perth Heritage presents Open House Perth, questions about our cultural history surrounding architecture, the evolving nature of the Australian identity, and the importance of creating an architectural one remain to be hot-topic.

As far as Arthur G is concerned, embracing the past in a variety of existing spaces can be invigorating. Since 1979, the high-quality furniture design company has championed the versatility of Australia’s architectural history affording a truly unique and diverse range of spaces we reinterpret as our homes. With distinct interior style, innovative solutions for multifunctional areas – be it for home or work – Arthur G has been serving the Australian population on the West and East coast with unflagging passion and dedication. Proudly manufactured in Australia with the finest timbers, leathers and fabrics, Arthur G reminds us that home was always, already, the Wonderland we dream of.

To view the Arthur G range, visit their showroom at 1/207 Stirling Highway, Claremont WA.

Arthur G
arthurg.com.au

The LiveLife Seminar Series were proudly sponsered by HAY and Assemble Papers.

Words by David Congram.