PROJECTS N1 How to be a good witness
  N2 Networks of surrender

Our mouth is like a gun loaded with the future

Oliver Watts & Tim Gregory


John Ruskin in his The Lamp of Memory suggests that the architecture of the past must be retained as an embodiment of the culture in which they were built – the better to build for the future. For Ruskin architecture compressed time and values: past, present and future. But what if we have forgotten how to respond to a building? Do buildings then become monuments of a lost hope, of lost belief in ideologies which we no longer follow?

Like a gun with a flag that says BANG!, utopic dreams unfurl rather than ignite. These utopic visions are always contingent on the flag (nationality) and the word (language). Instead of the ripping of flesh and the rupture of society we are left with symbols and monuments scattered across the cityscape. We will examine a few pieces of utopic shrapnel in our hometown Sydney, discovering that it is not only safe but fun to look down the barrel of a future loaded gun.

1. Humanism: The city once deeply believed in the cradle of civilization. From the canon of ancient artists on the Gallery façade to Macquarie's Obelisk (1818), the western humanist tradition aimed to promote universal values for a new colony. The motto on the early Great Seal of NSW was Sic fortis etruria crevit [So, I think, this is how brave Etruria grew]; this motto can also be seen on the western façade of the GPO. Fasces, obelisks, and even the Archibald Fountain's Apollo are almost dead symbols of enlightenment, law and knowledge, no match for the various contingencies that have been thrown at them.

2. International Democracy: By the mid 19th century Paris was seen as the cultural imperial centre of the world. By building in the Second Empire Style, the Town Hall proclaimed that Sydney too wanted to be counted as one of the world's metropolises. Most provocatively the Town Hall suggests a move away from the British centre, towards a greater internationalism and was started only four years before the 1873 Expo in the Garden Palace on Macquarie Street. If anything the building borrowed directly from the arche-democratic building, the Philadelphia Town Hall. Is it fitting that the brutalist Town Hall Tower, had similar democratic and humanist ideals behind it. Like the UTS Tower, the future it demanded in a post WW2 world was one of brotherhood and democratic universal values (against Communist repression). Is it interesting that on the backdrop of Internationalism in the 60s the original Town Hall was threatened with demolition for looking like a "wedding cake"; in fact the buildings spoke the same message in different languages.

3. Socialism: The Odd Fellow Memorial Park Street; every Medicare and Centrelink Office. Against the humanist ideals of the western façade of the GPO (see Ideology 1), the additional and later eastern façade was already responding to Realism, and Marxist materialism. The bitter public art scandal of 1882-1887 was that the images of a butcher, a sailor and a judge did not meet the allegorical ambitions of the rest of the building. The Chief Justice suggested that the architect James Barnet should have "consulted gentlemen of taste and judgment in art" before proceeding. Barnet insisted that as the building was a public building it should be for the people; despite a parliamentary enquiry and a referral to the Royal Academy London the politcised reliefs are still there.

4. Nationalism: By the turn of the century symbols of Empire were joined by nationalism and federalism. The Commonwealth Bank Building (the "Money Box") represents this mood clearly. It was a government building which foresaw a future of open trade and banking between the states. The stone chosen for the façade was Bowral Trachyte, the national (green) stone, used for example: Australia House (London) [Gringott's Bank in the Harry Potter movies, a goblin green?]; kerb stones in Martin Place; the Federation Stone; and countless other monuments and buildings. Even the mine in Bowral is now heritage listed. The stone itself promulgated hope. But it is perhaps The Train Museum of New South Wales opened in 2011 in Thirlmere that best describes the distance of time on nationalism. Trains have always carried heavy utopian dreams. From Manifest Destiny in America, to the sun never setting on the British Empire, the train made such dreams possible. Within Australia the train has always been a symbol of nationhood or lack there of. The fight to unify train gauges between the states put a significant dent in a country moving toward federation in 1901. The steam train was probably the symbol of Modernism, pushing industrialization across a vast "barren" land. The failure of many of these cross continental train lines (and of rail transport in general in NSW) is not the focus of the museum, however the museum is strangely complicit this other history. For a train museum that is 85km from Sydney it is sticking that one cannot arrive there by train. The old line it is build on has been long abandoned. A gentle loop line is operational, and politely circles this overgrown Modernist utopia.

5. Romantic: The Three Sisters; sublime nature; the Tank Stream underground; Indigenous sacred sites; environmental heritage and sustainable development; Centennial Park: founded as the "people's park" by Sir Henry Parks in 1888 to celebrate 100 of European occupation, Centennial Park demonstrated the desire for Sydney to have a space for public philosophy. However the reality was euthenics masked as democracy. Parks himself said in parliament 'the wealthy people will use this dive [the riding/carriage paths] and the people will congregate to look at them for an elevating and refining effect.' The legacy of this refining still exists today as spectators still gather to watch exclusive private school girls with impeccable posture risk themselves on imposing stallions. As for the democratic hope, laws passed soon after its founding to ban gatherings of over 20 people soon put an end to it being a potentially radical space. Individuals have managed to upset the euthenic aura; the park became a popular spot for suicides and murders and was even used as a dumping ground for the once illegal abortion trade in the nearby Surry Hills. Doesn't the Barangaroo site bring some of these aspects together. The idealist Romantic vision of "returning" Sydney to a primal state of nature, untouched by evil man and evil city-man reborn within the garden environment.

6. Global Capitalism: Woolworth's; horn of plenty; Starbuck's Planet. All and none of the above ideologies: listen to an audio guide for an excursion with commentary to Hyde Park Starbucks,