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Architects, answer me this…

Blues Point Tower in McMahon's Point. Photo: Flickr/Andrea Schaffer

Opinion by PETER HEHIR

We were born within eight months of each other, but it’s no surprise that I really have little in common with our bonnie Prince Charlie. Our backgrounds couldn’t possibly be more disparate.

Except perhaps for an appreciation of antiques and an abhorrence of modern architecture! And oddly enough – a social conscience. Don’t laugh. I believe it to be so. In an odd sort of way. But then he’s an odd sort of fellow.
A product of his environment just as much as I am; and as are you, for that matter.

So why do we keep throwing up – the words were chosen carefully here – these “Little Boxes”, as the lyrics of the 60 year old song identifies them?

Malvina Reynolds was at least 60 years ahead of her time when she sang;

“Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.”

Except they’re not little boxes anymore. They’re not just on the hillside, they’re all over the place and they’re bloody great big ones!

A fellow thinker describes them as “milk crates”.

He’s is a delightful guy who talks in a rapid-fire tongue that necessitates a thought process that is almost as demanding as that required to decipher his written word, due in no short measure to his penchant for utilizing a shorthand descriptive code, understood only by those few in the know, a language that goes way over the heads of many, though his passion is beyond reproach and so is greatly admired… by me at any rate.

So please forgive the mild admonition. “They’re not just milk crates, old mate, they’re a ginormous stack of milk crates”!

Sixty years ago Malvina got it, along with Joni Mitchell.

“They took all the trees
Put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot
Shoo, bop, bop, bop, bop
Shoo, bop, bop, bop, bop
Hey, farmer, farmer
Put away the DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot”

Little boxes and paving paradise… So Joni Mitchell nailed it with her “Big Yellow Taxi”.

Her prophetic concern for the ‘birds and the bees’ is chilling, and it does make you wonder why they took the old man away in a big yellow taxi. An ambulance to the funny farm? Driven crazy by a world gone mad?
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?

A bit like amenity. The best beach or the best suburb in the world becomes the world’s worst kept secret and before you know it ‘you dunno what you’ve got till it’s gone.’

“Every generation blames the one before”, sings Mike and the Mechanics in the song “The Living Years”, but hey; were not all guilty.

We do get it. We got it then, well a lot of us did; but like you, we were powerless to act. The true believers among us divested. We gave away our possessions, left the church, we marched to ban the bomb, against the Russians and the Yanks and we fought pollution, nuclear power, the fuel and the tobacco lobbies and against high rise development.

We demanded clean air and food. And we fought for but failed to keep the Sydney trams. We railed against the war in Vietnam. We shunned synthetics, the petrochemical industry, plastics that polluted the entire planet. We wore cotton and even had a good hard go at billboards promoting unhealthy products.

Some of us even refused nicotine and alcohol and even smoked dope. Shock, horror, shame…

And we raised our kids to be aware, so that the crushing reality of the neo-conservative world didn’t totally shatter them when they reached the age of reason, as someone once sang about; but not with a truly heart felt conviction for mine.

Our impotence is due in no small measure to the total dominance of the converging ideologies of the major political parties in Australia and their embracement of neo-conservative policy, the concentration of the media, the emasculation by the State of the education system, the censorship of the television, radio and printed media and the inherent and irrational conservatism of the hugely influential multi-hued Church and the State.
So enough of the little boxes stacked high atop one another like some cartoonists vision of a high rise pigeon coop, a 21st century re-envisioned Blues Point Tower – an edifice standing alone as if ashamed of its ugliness; banished to the end of a Sydney peninsula…

Is it not possible to build an environmentally benign, positive energy home, one that utilises recycled materials, one designed to last, produced using carbon neutral means; a home in a community that people would be happy to live in with ready access to green spaces and that isn’t really, really ugly?

Can we not avail ourselves of a structure that utilises the best that the natural world can give us and also recognise the astonishing merit of a bygone architectural world, now seen by the developer at best as ‘passé’, just an irritating inconvenience, with green tape simply a bar to their untrammelled greed?

Or are the massive milk crates that are currently thrown up just the best of the minds of those who;

“All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there’s doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same”?

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