For architecture tragics like me – young fogeys as we used to be called, when we were young – the destruction of the Myer building in Hobart is a disaster pretty much on the scale of paving over a rain forest.
My head realises that the earth’s lungs are probably of more importance than a gracious 19th C timber building, but my heart says, goddamit this was a 19th c timber building…
But it’s gone for good. Yet its absence raises the question as to what is to be done with key urban sites like this, whose character determines the character of a city. Are they simply to be left to the developers to plonk something down, or should a city have a say?
Architecture, unlike the other arts, is necessarily public. Whatever goes in the Hobart Myer space is something that Taswegians are going to have to look at for decades.
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And until about the 1930s you could rely on the private sector to at least put an effort into making the thing look good. Buildings were commodified space to be sure, but they were also part of a city, and they wanted to contribute to its glory.
But after WW2 a new idea took over. Buildings were nothing other than commodified space and the cheaper you could throw em up the better.
When the full disaster of that policy became visible in the 1980s, post-modernism was invented, and you could throw buildings up cheaply and put a few frou-frous making coded references to the St Peter’s Basilica or some such, on top.
The last thing you would want to do with such spaces is have them designed by public vote – a camel under construction – but there’s no reason why a body such as Hobart City Council shouldn’t demand that, formally and otherwise, that Myer propose something really a cut above, from an A-list architect, for such a space.
In other words, the use of positive aesthetic criteria in permit approvals, rather than a series of negative ones.
Of course what is attractive is ultimately subjective and no building can please everybody. But there are certain minimum standards of design that are objective, and that a council could demand.
Civic imagination could make Hobart a national and world leader in this process – which is why I suspect Hobartians will nevertheless end up with a box with a few glass frou frous.