In a past post I made a small mention of active architects in the 70’s (and 80’s) and how they drew inspiration and influence from their surroundings to create their works. One of them who I’ve been emailing lately due to my latest interest in PNG architecture has been Ken Costigan.
I caught up with him this afternoon for a short chat before his trip back to Brisbane, but a little about him first. Ken Costigan is a 1999 Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) award winner. As mentioned on the RAIA website, “his award came from over two decades of work to develop architecture for Papua New Guinea which takes seriously the country’s evolving culture, climate, resources and dual economy. His work has involved hundreds of building projects, training programs, material production and the development of innovative construction management. His work was intended to create architecture that was accessible to ordinary citizens.
A recent example of this approach is the Brown House near Rabaul. Designed through extensive client consultation, it relates to local architectural traditions, family structures, economic systems and resources. The inland rural site is held under traditional land tenure and is surrounded by coconut plantations, small houses and a school. The house is a series of scattered pavilions used for different purposes. Some are open walled ‘haus wins’ and all have steep roofs with wide overhangs, vented at each end of the gables. Locally harvested timbers and bamboo were assembled in post and rail forms lined with 22mm boards.”
As less developed communities emerge within the growing globalisation phenomenon, it is inevitable that their cultural and design origins are threatened by new technology, foreign economic influences and the overwhelming influence of the “imprinting” inherently carried out by the larger, developed communities on their smaller, less developed neighbours. The recognition of the importance and sustenance provided by the traditional design and crafts in PNG has led a group of architects working in PNG to take seriously the country’s culture, climate, history, materials, human resources and economy, as the country evolves. Their work has focused on finding solutions that reflect realistically on the financial, cultural and physical needs of the ordinary citizen. In resisting the temptation to simply import the solutions concurrently finding favour elsewhere, Ken Costigan, David Week and Iain Stevenson have produced over the last twenty years a body of work which draws from traditional building methods and materials and explores design solutions that reflect an understanding of local cultural priorities.
The success of their efforts and design philosophy is seen in the broad body of work carried out over a long period of time rather than in any one particular project. Their consistent yet evolving design solutions show a convincing celebration of local cultural aspirations, skill and pride. The communities within which they work are, as a result, the richer for it.
Now, when Ken asked me what my interest in Architecture was, I was taken aback somewhat as I hadn’t actually thought it through in my mind before I came to see him. I guess it started with some level of aesthetic appreciation of what you recognise as traditional design and what your tumbuna’s did when building houses and then recognising some of those elements in modern designs around PNG. But to be honest, I’d be hard pressed finding a new building today that incorporates any of these traditional design elements.
There are still examples that we can take inspiration from, for example the Raun Raun Theatre in Goroka which was designed by Rex Addison and Paul Frame and was completed in 1982. Basically what they did was take a traditional village Round Haus, then they upscaled the entire design while using the same materials.
On another design, from another ARIA award winner, have a look at James Birrell’s designs for the PNGBC building (now BSP) and the PNG Development Bank.
Even outside of PNG, Australia’s Pritzker Prize winning architect, Glenn Murcutt has been influenced by PNG. So I gotta ask, what happened? Both aesthetically and architecturally, why did the innovations stop? Maybe on a small scale they have continued, but with the number of large grey blocks going up, is it any more expensive to design something appealing to our senses and their budgets?
Ken and I rambled on about many other things, but his question about what my interest was in architecture got me thinking more about design. Maybe I need to write more about it on this blog, maybe I could host an exhibition of past work or maybe organise a series of talks by people like Ken to discuss ‘effective’ design for PNG. I’m still thinking about this and not sure yet how I want to express my thoughts about this subject.
Consequently though, I’ve also come to realise that architectural design will just be one part of a whole lot of different areas where design and innovations can not only add to aesthetics but to possibly cheaper projects, better living and maybe less ‘imprinting’. For example most people have heard about the Bougainville Coconut Fuel story and so its other areas of design like this, besides architecture, that makes you wonder whether a better PNG can be built through better design?
NB: Read Also ‘Touch the Earth Lightly‘. A post on architect Glenn Murcutt.