The Italian art critic, Phillipe Daverio, puts it nicely: ‘We’re all victims of the architect … You can avoid paintings, you can avoid music, you can even avoid history … good luck getting away from architecture.’
Here in Maleny we’re a case in point. We inhabit an architectural vacuum, a no-place of thrown-together buildings that wear a bleak and abandoned look even before they’re finished. With some very few exceptions it’s actually getting worse.
You think I’m being too harsh? Consider our new Police Station. Constructed out of ex-1950’s toilet-block brick it crouches beside Macadamia Drive, huddled amongst its cramped loading docks, hiding its face from the world from shame at its ugliness, doing its best to reference nothing so much as the old Masonic Hall over on Tamarind Street, itself a spectacular example of poor design and worse realisation.
What’s important to note about this is that the Police Station is the first public building to arrive in Maleny for a long time – or no, not quite, because there’s another, over on the Precinct – something that’s supposed to be a museum in the making but at this stage is no more than the cheapest of tin sheds with a roll-a-door frontage and no public access to the toilets (which, I might be mistaken, but to deliver was one of its briefs).
Does this matter? Yes, and yes again. Apart from the problems which arise for people who have to live and work in poorly designed buildings there is the effect they have on the community around them. Public architecture provides the stimulus for private endeavour. If we can’t, collectively, put up structures that make us proud, then why should any private business or home owner bother to even think about doing the same?
The Beersheba Light Horse Museum on the Precinct is the first public building to be erected on a large piece of land adjacent to town, a piece of land which could, if properly envisaged, change the way our whole community develops. On the basis of this first building it looks like we are in for a carbon copy of the showgrounds with its motley collection of shacks and tumble down sheds resembling nothing so much as a blown apart shanty town.
And I hear the arguments being raised even as I dare to suggest there’s something wrong with this: there’s no money. To which I cry rubbish. Our society today is richer than it has ever been in its history. Far, far richer than it was in the nineteenth or even the twentieth century when it was seen as important to construct schools and town halls and libraries, even museums, that reflected the importance of a civic world. We are not helped by having a Council that is pedantic about the smallest things but lacks any vision of what our community might want to look like and is too busy promoting development to ask. It’s time we demanded better. Otherwise we’ll be condemned to live amongst buildings like the brutal box that’s just been constructed behind the old butter factory.