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Aussies rule

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Australian Architecture Now By Davina Jackson and Chris Johnson. Thames & Hudson, 2000. 264pp. £39.95

In popular mythology, Australia combined the anonymity of Sheila and Bruce with the vacuity of Kylie and Jason in a parodic land of corks, koalas and corrugated roofs. But the convict jokes are wearing a bit thin. Believe it or not- it is now cool to be Australian.

This book claims to record 200 of the most significant Australian buildings of the past six years.

Big, glossy and bold, Australian Architecture Now reflects the new-found confidence of an economically dynamic continent; a country on the verge of being more than just a member of the Commonwealth.Even architects, it would seem, have thrown off their shackles. Throughout the book, the architecture is redolent with 'the palpable swellings of independence' and confident in its use of colour, materials and settings.How many books on architecture would lead with a photograph of the flank retaining wall of a city expressway?

There are some excellent buildings in this collection: Australia's global corporate architecture sitting comfortably with 'rustic architecture' in a dynamic mix of styles; transnational icons mingling with smaller, domestic-scale indigenous buildings. The majority of the works are imaginative, stylish and have obv iously been designed in a financially and geographically expansive environment. The Ayers Rock Visitor Centre would make Edward Cullinan green with envy, while the domestic buildings would give British planners a heart attack.

The architecture on show in this volume is a fascinating, confusing mixture; rejecting 1990s materialism while embracing its opportunities.

Chris Johnson explains the architectural tension as reflective of colonial English and Scottish attitudes to the Enlightenment: 'A tension between pure modernism and dynamic, hybrid styles which express post-modern theories of deconstruction . . . the English attitude was to dominate nature, while the Scottish tended to relate to the environment.'

But in reality, Australia is simply trying to cling on to old certainties while, at the same time, struggling to consolidate its new identity. So, not wanting to diminish Australia's new-found selfawareness, the text provides only a brief nod in the direction of Tadao Ando, self-consciously failing to acknowledge the undoubted influence of East Asian architecture.

This is a pretty, cappuccino-table book, but the accompanying text only hints at the thesis yet to be resolved.'Antipodean architecture was set back by a 1980s surfeit of romantic introspection, ' says Davina Jackson. By this she means a predilection for colonial and Modernist design styles, as opposed to 'less othogonal goemetries'. She argues that 'Australia's hierarchy of architectural types is no longer headed by classic stone symbols of authority.' Unfortunately, she fails to recognise the introspection of current attempts at a democratic, indigenous architecture.

With a wide variety of styles and settings, aims and objectives, Australian architecture has a certain paradoxical quality. Its aspirations may be republican, but full independence is yet to be achieved.

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