Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai, and some Chinese movie star.
Shanghai Grand Theatre designed by Jean-Marie Charpentier.
Ningpo Museum designed by Wang Shu.
Hangzhou Grand Theatre designed by Carlos Ott.
International Convention Centre, Hangzhou, designed by Xia Bangjie.
Brick mountain sculpture, Hangzhou.
Dragon boat, West Lake, Hangzhou.
A hardware shop in Jinxi.
The Grand Canal, Jinxi.
Fishing with cormorants in Jinxi.
Curing pork in Hongcun.
Traditional brickwork, Hongcun.
Xuzhou Concert Hall designed by the Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tsinghua University.
Wuxi Grand Theatre designed by PES-Architects.
Suzhou Museum designed by I.M. Pei.
Instructions on how to find your room at the hotel we stayed at in Suzhou.
Suzhou Grand Theatre designed by Paul Andreu.
Tianjin Grand Theatre designed by gmp Architeckten.
The Porcelain China House, Tianjin.
The abandoned “Disneyland” at Nan Kou.
Beijing Shijingshan Amusement Park.
CCTV Building designed by Rem Koolhaas.
The National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, designed by Paul Andreu.
Beijing National Stadium designed by Herzog & de Meuron.
Los Angeles, California
The star of William Boyd/Hopalong Cassidy on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The grave of Topper, Hoppy’s beautiful white horse, in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery.
The grave of Andy Clyde, Hoppy’s loveable sidekick, California Carlson, at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
The Colburn School designed by architects Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (opposite the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by architect Frank Gehry; makes a nice contrast).
The Getty Museum designed by architect Richard Meier.
The Marriott Hotel near Los Angeles airport — who designed this building? It looks quite John Portman-ish to me, but I don’t think he designed it.
The quirky Museum of Jurassic Technology at Culver City — a modern-day cabinet of curiosities. David Wilson is a genius.
The Gothic, mountain-like, American Heritage Center designed by architect Antoine Predock.
Playing cowboy with Hoppy’s pearl-handle six-shooters at the American Heritage Center.
The McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota — a giant carbuncle on a big brown box — designed by architect Antoine Predock.
The Regis Art Center, University of Minnesota, designed by local architects MSR — a very impressive example of corbelling.
The Weisman Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, designed by architect Frank Gehry. (Did he forget that it snows in Minneapolis when he designed that canopy?)
The surprising rear of the Weisman Art Center — not just a brick box.
Stripped noticeboard, University of Minnesota — accidental collage.
Newspaper cartoon showing the actor William Gillette in the play, Sherlock Holmes, from Gillette’s own scrapbook, which is part of the Sherlock Holmes collection at the University of Minnesota.
The Guthrie Theater designed by architect Jean Nouvel. It’s all about the views.
The fabulous Metrodome Transit Station designed by local artist (and old buddy) Andrew Leicester.
Andrew’s cute French bulldog, Buster.
The quirky gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Driving down to Stockholm, Wisconsin, to sample pie with buddy Craig Hinrichs.
Delicious cherry and berry pie from the Stockholm Pie Company.
The Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, designed by architect Peter Eisenman.
With Laura Bates, Hoppy’s number one fan, at the Hopalong Cassidy Museum, Cambridge, Ohio. It was a cold day!
Hopalong Cassidy mural (detail), Cambridge, Ohio, painted by local artist Sue Dodd.
The Summerhouse (a.k.a. the Grotto) designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
Bricks from the brick collection at the National Building Museum.
National Gallery of Art designed by architect I.M. Pei. Impressive spaces, but a “user-unfriendly” building.
An escalator in the Washington D.C. Metro — like a scene from 1984.
Rochester, New York
The First Unitarian Church of Rochester designed by architect Louis Kahn. I think these Unitarians may be onto something!
Last year (2011) the students who did my Popular Architecture and Design course at the University of Melbourne examined kebab shops in Melbourne. This year they looked at another similarly “invisible” and seemingly banal building type — launderettes (the English term) or Laundromats (the American term) in Melbourne.
Kebab shops and launderettes represent “third places” (in contrast to first and second places — home and work respectively) as described by the American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place. He argues that, despite being taken for granted, they are central to urban vitality.
Working in pairs, the architecture students were asked to document a launderette in Melbourne, which included the following basic information:
• The name and address of the launderette.
• A plan of the launderette, including fittings and furniture.
• A photograph of the front of the launderette during the day.
• A photograph of the front of the launderette at night.
• A photograph of the launderette showing it in relation to the other shops in the street.
• Photographs of the sides of the launderette (if they were accessible).
• Photographs of the interior of the launderette.
• Photographs of any advertising, signs, etc.
• A brief description of the launderette.
• Comments by the owner/manager and any customers.
Launderettes in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey contains the above information exactly as the students gave it to me — errors and all. To a large extent, the value of this work is being able to compare 37 different launderettes in Melbourne at a glance and seeing their similarities and differences.
Hopefully Launderettes In Melbourne, along with Kebab Shops in Melbourne before it, will encourage a greater appreciation and understanding of these “third places” locally.
My latest book titled, Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design, is due to be published in September this year by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
The book’s blurb by Andrew Chrystall:
Out of the Ordinary is one part unembellished documentation and one part verbi-visual equivalent of a Pro Hart work made with nineteenth-century, paint-loaded canons. It is a cultural history, resource for contemporary designers, imaginarium and luminous almanac of an explorer of the stranger species of creativity — from brick art to letterboxes, junk mail, mail art, television, fashion, food, model trains, Disney’s imagineering, amusement parks, feng-shui, Postmodern architecture, human-scale craftsmanship, forgotten Australian architects in China, famous architects (that, perhaps, should be forgotten save for their bow ties), collectors of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, outsider artists and clients — and none of these things exactly.
Everywhere Derham Groves attends to and finds significance in the minutiae of everyday life, inter-association, and those things that affect us so profoundly but remain just outside the purview of the “normal.” And in these things — objects, art, architecture, environment(s) — he finds stories and teaches his reader how to do the same. Out of the Ordinary is also a motivational text. It begins with bricks, perhaps the most standardized and repeatable units of construction, and reveals how they can be used as vehicles for unfettered creativity and not merely for the creation of containers. Groves shows how art and architecture can emerge and receive nourishment from the garbage of the everyday and creative collisions. Groves also calls, albeit subtly, for a turn away from homogeneity, the standardized, and unimaginative or “lazy” design informed by principles of economy, efficiency, utility and function conceived in abstraction. Rather, Groves celebrates the reanimation and/or rejuvenation of place by the makers of anything out of the ordinary (who don’t necessarily pray to the demiurge of good taste) who have created spaces and things through which the creative imagination shines.
Dr. Andrew Chrystall, School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University.
A review of the book by Michael Jørgensen:
Derham Groves is a unique thinker and one might say that he himself is “Out of the Ordinary.” An extraordinary range of phenomena fascinates him, which he investigates with an unusual tenacity, skill and erudition. In each case these topics and issues — at first glance deceptively diverse and unrelated — is meticulously dissected, illustrated and described with clear, unpretentious and very readable prose, which puts much other so-called academic writing to shame. Consider just some of the things he covers, taken at random here from the contents page of his latest book, Out of the Ordinary: Deceptively “mundane” things such as bricks and brickwork; do-it-yourself letterboxes; and (who would even think of this?) junk e-mail or spam. Then there is television and its manifestations in the days of its introduction in Derham’s home country, Australia; Disneyland and the feng-shui of Hong Kong Disneyland; the shop-houses of Vietnam and elsewhere; Sherlock Holmes and other crime fiction, one of Derham’s longstanding interests; a little-known Australian architect and a better known one; and an eccentric naïve Australian painter, the late Pro Hart. But that is not all! Dr. Groves has written elsewhere of the 1939 tour of Australia by Anna May Wong, the celebrated Chinese-American actress, and since the publication of his book about her in 2011, he has become intrigued by another tour “Down Under” by an American, William Boyd, a.k.a. Hopalong Cassidy, in 1954. Derham has also become interested in the crime novels of a little-known Australian writer, the late June Wright, whose crime novels were published in the 1940s through to the 1960s. He has also traced the overseas travels in North America of a group of young Australian men in 1959 using an old diary written by one of them. Where did he obtain the diary? On eBay would you believe it, just one of Derham’s research tools and so like this most unusual person — architect, academic and cultural historian. I cannot recommend this book more highly. Derham Groves’ many-facetted interests and the manner in which he so skilfully draws you into them will fascinate you.
Michael Jørgensen, Architect, author and publisher.
A book review by Zoe Nikakis in the September 2012 edition of Voice:
In Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design, Derham Groves explores his academic and personal passions. Zoe Nikakis dives into his world.
Derham Groves investigates, “the popular, the ordinary and the odd”.
So writes Dr Groves’ frequent collaborator, the celebrated architect Corbett Lyon, in his introduction to the recently published Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design.
“His definition of ‘popular’ is broad and not restricted to the high pop art and architecture of the elite,” Mr Lyon writes, “but embracing and celebrating the popular culture of the masses – do-it-yourself renovators; collectors of kitsch; high street commercial architecture; and the signs and symbols of our suburbs.”
Dr Groves focuses on seemingly unconnected topics and types of Australian ephemera and art – from the use and importance of brickwork as an artistic medium and the place of letterboxes in pop culture – but his passion for the obscure and the overlooked ties these disparate oddities together.
His interest in letterboxes and the everyday as art began when he was completing his PhD in the US during the 1990s.
“My supervisor was a Disney and television scholar, and she spurred my interest in popular culture,” Dr Groves says.
“Australian handmade letterboxes are much more than merely containers for mail. Firstly, they are Australian icons, since perhaps nowhere else in the world do people express themselves through their letterboxes with quite as much fervour as we do in Australia.
“Secondly, letterboxes facilitate links with the outside world. Most people love to receive letters – at least those containing good news. The letterbox is also where neighbours often meet to chew the fat and discuss the weather. Thirdly, letterboxes are symbols of home.”
The book also focuses on Dr Groves’ projects with collaborators and his students, who have created artworks for exhibitions made from bricks.
“I’m also interested in bricks because in some ways, they’re the very bottom line of architecture: you can’t get more basic than a brick,” Dr Groves says.
“Australia produces high-quality bricks in a wide range of colours so there is no reason for boring brickwork in my opinion.
“Often the problem is that architects do not design brickwork, but allow it to happen of its own accord. However the interesting brick buildings that have been designed by Lyons Architecture and others in recent years indicate that things are changing for the better.”
Dr Groves often incorporates his students’ projects into his books.
“Students produce so much work that it gets lost, so it’s important to record it,” he says.
“In the past I have investigated the design of brickwork from several different points of view. I have taught several design courses for architecture students focused on how bricks can be used in innovative and interesting ways.
“Earlier this year, I also spent time in Trivandrum in India doing a brick workshop with a group of first year students looking at a specific style of brickwork, so it all ties together.”
Other essays focus on the ways in which Dr Groves incorporates this research into his teaching.
“It’s all about material culture, and the interactions between art, design, symbolism, and popular culture,” Dr Groves says.
“It’s about pop art as architecture – sometimes buildings are ugly, provocative, edgy – and how important it is never to let good taste get in the way of good design.”
Out of the Ordinary in Amazon’s top 10 “Hot New … Architectural Criticism” list!
Anna May Wong’s ashes and also her sister Mary’s ashes were buried with their mother, Lee Toy Wong, at Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.
It’s a Small World, Disneyland, Anaheim.
Toon Town in Disneyland, Anaheim.
More Disneyland, Anaheim.
Clifton’s Cafeteria has closed for renovation. Thank goodness it hasn’t closed for good!
Gene Autrey statue (top) and costume at the Autrey Museum, Los Angeles.
Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles. I had a great seat behind the orchestra for only $24!
Walt Disney’s workshop, now in Griffith Park, Los Angeles
Model of Walt Disney’s workshop at Disneyland, Anaheim.
Train at Disneyland based on Walt Disney’s own model train.
Max Payne billboard, Los Angeles.
Bruce Goff’s typically brilliant and quirky Pavilion for Japanese Art (1988) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). I’m sure that the “temple roofed” cabinets don’t resemble erect penises by accident!
Barbie’s Dream House (1962) made of cardboard by Mattel on display at the LACMA.
“Metropolis II” (2011) by Chris Burden at the LACMA.
Is this Mother Goose’s grave?
Another “shocker” by John Andrews — the Harvard Graduate School of Design (1972).
Architectural design work at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Frank Gehry’s Stata Center (2004) at MIT, which later sued the architect because the building leaked.
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (2006) designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. A cantilever and a half!
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (2004) by Rafael Viñoly. A porte-cochere and a half!
The Old State House, Hartford.
Centre Church, Hartford.
William Gillette Castle, East Haddam
Tyke and Teddie Niver.
Samples of Laurie Baker’s architecture:
(1) The Laurie Baker Centre, Trivandrum
Ms. Shailaja Nair talking to the first-year students about Laurie Baker and his architecture.
(2) The Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum
(3) The Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum
(4) The Hamlet (Laurie Baker’s own house), Trivandrum
(5) Loyola College, Trivandrum
(6) Buildings by some of Laurie Baker’s “disciples”
Brickmaking in Kerala
The first-year student workshop:
(1) “Playing” with bricks
(2) The College of Engineering Trivandrum wall
(Angel Varghese, Anuja J., Archana, Anna Baby, and Nisha Nelson)
(3) The elephant/butterfly wall
(Muhammed Jiyad, Hisham A.A., Amalraj P., Ahmad Thaneem Abdul Majeed, Muhammed Naseem, Sankasnath P.M., Sai Prasad C., and Suneer K.K.)
Bricklayer Joy Francis showing the students how to use a plumb bob
Joy Francis and the students using a “homemade” spirit level
Is it two elephant heads or a butterfly?
(4) The brick jali wall
(Soumya S. Warrier, Deepthi B., Anutpama Warrier, Saijith M.S., Nikitha, and Nikita Jimmington)
A cement bucket made from old tyres
(5) The herringbone and stepped wall
(Parvathi P., Prasanth R., Najeeb T., and Rahul Sarovthaman)
Testing the wall’s stability. No worries!
(6) The fish wall
(Dheeraj K., Abraham Philip, Richard Lalduhsaka, Vignesh Sajeev, and Abhijath Ajay)
(7) The little house wall
(Gitanjiali V.R., Harsha Hareendran, Roshni Maria George, Athira P., Akshaya K., Aryaa, Mizna Reem, Aafreen Fathima, and Reshma Cherian
(8) The double-curved wall
(Magna George and Jisa George)
(9) Feedback session
After testing the tarpaulin’s strength, Wally needed a jar of “Pileless — Wonder Relief for Piles” …
Joseph Stalin — Still a hero in Kerala!
In 2010 I visited Iran, courtesy of a travel grant from the Iran Heritage Foundation, to look at Iranian brickwork. What marvellous brickwork I discovered there! But that is another story.
Travelling around Iran (which I found to be quite different to that usually depicted on the six o’clock news, by the way), photographing some spectacular brick walls, naturally I stopped to eat from time to time, and as a result I found myself unexpectedly examining something else besides the country’s brickwork—Iran’s ubiquitous kebab shops.
The differences between say Melbourne, where I live, and Tehran, the capital of Iran, are in the main truly vast, but here was one tiny thing that both cities have in common.
This got me thinking after I returned home: if I found the kebab shops in Iran so interesting then perhaps I should look more closely at the kebab shops in Melbourne.
So I asked the Master of Architecture students who took my Popular Architecture and Design course in 2011 at the University of Melbourne, where I teach, to pair off; to each select a kebab shop in Melbourne; and to record the following basic information about them:
• The kebab shop’s name and address
• A plan of the kebab shop, including its fittings and furniture
• A photograph of the front façade of the kebab shop
• A photograph of the kebab shop next to the other shops in the street
• A photograph of the kebab shop at night
• A photograph of the other side and rear facades of the kebab shop (where they were accessible)
• Photographs of the interior of the kebab shop
• Photographs of the kebab shop’s advertising/signage
• A copy of the kebab shop’s menu
• A brief description of the kebab shop
• A brief interview with the shopkeeper and perhaps some customers
Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey, a new book published by the Custom Book Centre at the University of Melbourne, contains all of this data exactly as collected by the architecture students and given to me.
The idea of compiling an eclectic-style, uncritical and unedited “encyclopaedia” like this was suggested by the 800-page The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping (2002) by the Dutch “starchitect” Rem Koolhaas et al.
Several people have looked at and written about everyday places that are usually taken for granted and not given a second thought. One of the most interesting is the late French author, Georges Perec (1936 – 1982), whose work I introduced to the Master of Architecture students-cum-“kebab shop detectives.” His little book, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (first translated into English in 2010), is a quirky masterpiece in my view.
Another source/sauce of inspiration was Reyner Banham’s brief but amusing and surprisingly insightful assessment of hamburgers and hamburger shops contained in his classic study of Los Angeles, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971).
In light of some of the recent scary exchanges between America and Iran, it is oddly comforting to realize that fast food is fast food no matter whether it comes from Los Angeles or Tehran.
I hope that Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey will encourage further and more detailed research into the humble kebab shop, which is an interesting and ubiquitous—nevertheless almost “invisible”—part of the urban built environment not only in Australia and Iran, but also elsewhere (for example, on a recent trip to Auckland, New Zealand, I spotted many kebab shops there too).
To sum up then, Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey describes over 40 kebab shops in various Melbourne suburbs by means of descriptive prose, line drawings, black and white photographs, and interviews with shopkeepers and customers. This data was collected by Master of Architecture students at the University of Melbourne and compiled, warts and all, by Derham Groves. This quirky 500-plus-page book is perhaps best described as The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping meets Georges Perec.
The cover of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes designed by Huey Groves
The book is published by the Culicidae Press and is available via Amazon.com or Culicidaepress.com
A review of the book by Zoe Nikakis in Voice in The Age, 10 October 2011
ANNA MAY WONG’S LUCKY SHOES: 1939 AUSTRALIA THROUGH THE EYES OF AN ART DECO DIVA, DERHAM GROVES (2011)
Ames, IA: Culicidae Press, pp. 103,
ISBN: 978-1-257-71315-8, Paperback, AUD $39.95
Reviewed by Andrew Chrystall, Massey University, New Zealand.
Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes interfaces a chronological biography (cum-histography) of the Chinese-American film star, Anna May Wong’s 107-day visit to Australia in 1939 with the documentation of 52 design-as-biography projects by students at the University of Melbourne. The effect(s) is uncanny. Groves demonstrates a different approach to writing biography that is as challenging to the historian as his approach to design-as-biography is to the designer and architect and his mode of pedagogy to the teacher. While operating just outside the realm of the readily classifiable, due in large measure to the work’s hybridity and Groves’ multidisciplinary transgressions, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes makes a contribution not only to our understanding of the popular and material cultural history of pre-World War II Australia. Arguably, Groves can also be read here as having created something of an anti-manifesto for dialogic, sustainable design that is of immediate relevance.
At the level of surfaces, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes appears simple and unpretentious, if not parochial and banal. However, when read in light of the interplay between the two sections—biography and the documentation of design-as-biography projects —it becomes apparent that the materials have been organised to give the work a circuit-like quality. Surface simplicity gives way to a subtle complexity. Groves’ biography nurses the reader into an encounter with the design-as-biography projects and the projects draw the reader back to rediscover the biography of Wong—text begets image(s) and the image(s) beget a re-energized and re-configured text.
The first section of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes documents the movements of the now little-known Wong to, around and from Australia just prior to World War II. Groves briefly establishes his personal appreciation of the enigmatic, Lady Gaga-esque Wong in the first person. But he quickly abandons a point of view and his writing takes on some of the characteristics of American novelist, Thomas Pynchon. Like Pynchon, Groves has the meticulous eye of the sleuth or the roving tactile-eye of the virtual camera for detail. Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes if full of detailed lists: passenger lists, guest lists, menus, and filmography. Around the movements of Wong Groves builds an inventory of Australian material and popular culture just prior to the war. His camera eye, panning and zooming incessantly, is quick to focus on concrete, individual particulars of the material culture of the day: time, date, places, street names and numbers, transactions, costs, makes, models, colours, patterns and textures. In addition to offering insight into Australian architecture, entertainment, fashion, food and politics, Groves provides a lens through which to view of racism in Australia and the racial politics of film production, homophobia, the rising cult of celebrity, (beautiful-) freak aesthetics, and the milieu of Australia’s social aristocracy. In short, Groves’ inspection captures everything that is going on—by means of a close inspection of the most common, everyday and banal—not merely what some people think should be going on. In this respect Groves’ operation is something of a prose equivalent for what his fellow Australian artist Reg Mombassa achieves in paint. And it is for this reason that the long-dead Marshall McLuhan might have said that Groves succeeds where F. R. Leavis failed. “The trouble with Leavis,” noted McLuhan (1987), was that his “passion for important work forbids him to look for the sun in the egg-tarnished spoons of the daily table […] [this] cuts him off from the relevant pabulum” (166).
In the second section, Groves, with the help of photography by Lee McRae, documents and offers a brief reflection on 52 pairs of shoes designed by his students enrolled in the Popular Architecture and Design paper. Groves set his students the task of designing a pair of (lucky?) shoes for Wong by altering an old pair of shoes purchased from an opportunity shop. Groves’ reflections here, however, do not interfere with documentation of the shoes on display. Rather his mode, tradition or sensible orientation towards art and art history appears to have some affinity with the humanism of Burkhardt, carried on in the 20th century by figures such as Wölfflin, Giedion and Moholy-Nagy. While Groves might disown the connection to these figures it is worth mentioning here as it may open up a way of reading Groves and help illuminate why he has sought to showcase the work of these young Australian designers.
The crux of the matter is that Groves does not turn away from objects or art nor does he use either as a platform to illustrate or argue a set of ideas (in the mode, say, of the social-engineer who sets design the task of changing people). Rather, for Groves, it is art that matters and he extracts himself to make a space for “objects” and the “art” to speak for themselves on their own terms. Subsequently, and this may be another reason why Groves eludes convenient categorisation, if he has anything to say beyond showcasing a motivational and fun pedagogical activity it is said at the level of demonstration. Design, as Groves presents it, can be a deeply dialogic activity with and in service of unique human individuals (with a history and somewhat messy relationship to material artefacts that can be, simultaneously, practical, emotional, irrational, calculated, and ever-changing). His mode of demonstration that eschews linear, logical and hypothesis-drive rational argument is entirely consistent with his goal(s). If we allow, then, Groves to demonstrate what design is, can and should be we find design (inclusive of architecture) can be a form of biography. It emerges from story—rich and concrete encounters between peoples, places and material culture. Design maximizes diversity and, therefore, minimizes competition (which is predicated on a large degree of sameness). Design is also transmutative and realised in and through a dialogue with pre-existing materials that are as historically conditioned as the client. Subsequently, design, neither has to result in the creation of more stuff, which is what Andrew Milner argues needs to be avoided for the realisation of a sustainable future, nor has to set itself the task of promoting a bloodless, or perhaps glamour-less, austerity ill befitting an art deco diva.
McLuhan, Marshall. (1987), ‘Letter to Walter Ong and Clement J. McNaspy, December 23, 1944.’ in M. Molinaro, C. McLuhan, & W. Toye (eds.), The Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Toronto, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press,
The suite of six letterboxes in front of Holmesglen Institute of TAFE
En Yee Teh
Nur Zainal Abidin
NOT JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
An innovative program at the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning has seen students design unique letterboxes which were then built by bricklaying apprentices at Holmesglen TAFE. Zoe Nikakis reports.
As part of the Popular Architecture and Design subject, students created a brick wall or letterbox and wrote clear design briefs for the apprentices to follow.
Lecturer Dr Derham Groves said the subject was about teaching the students how to put theory into practice.
“We have all these students with so many ideas, who just need a vehicle for them,” he says.
Dr Groves chose letterboxes as the focus of the project because he has always been interested in their symbolic qualities.
“I focused on letterboxes and the Australian D.I.Y. movement in my PhD thesis,” he says.
“In past decades in Australia, if you were to go crazy in terms of the built environment, if you were to do something bizarre, you could do it with your letterbox and people would be forgiving.
“You could have one area of unfettered creativity, unfettered madness, where people wouldn’t hold it against you.”
Seven students’ designs were chosen for construction: Lachlan Michael, Muhummad Abid, En Yee The, Audrey Zerafa, David Young, Rubina Barooah and Nur Zainal Abidin all created highly original designs which ranged from a multicoloured Pacman letterbox to one featuring a brickwork prawn.
Pacman letterbox designer Nur Zainal Abidin says the project was very interesting, because she got to design something besides buildings and could be wacky in that design.
“Although the brief said we had to use bricks, it didn’t stop me being creative. I took it as a challenge to create interesting shapes, and I came up with a Pacman shape,” she says.
She says she enjoyed the challenge very much. “I really like the design I’ve produced, and it felt really amazing to have it chosen to be built. The guys in Holmesglen did a very good job in putting it together. I was thrilled.”
She says also that letterboxes can actually be part of the house design.
“It could be something hilarious and unthinkably unique that people would be amused by. Letterboxes can inform the character of the house owners, some might choose to be bold and go the extra mile in designing it, but some might not.”
She says her idea for the Pacman letterbox came to her during a lecture.
“Derham gave a lecture about brick pattern designs using image pixilation, and I thought it was actually a great method, but I didn’t just want to pixilate a picture and design the letterbox shaped like a skinny brick wall, I wanted it to have a shape, so then I thought of other pixilated things, which made me think of video graphics, which then led to those old-school video games that I used to play.
“I love the Pacman game, so I decided to use the Pacman in its ghost shape.”
The University and Holmesglen have now collaborated on four student projects in the past decade.
Dr Groves says it was truly a win-win situation.
“The students and the apprentices take so much pride in completing these projects, because it really forces them to think.
“On the day the letterboxes were launched, the pride on the students’ faces was great to see.
“For many architecture students, the letterboxes are the first things they’ve designed which have been built. They’re never going to forget it.”