The DAN Conference

David Legg
We speak with our architecture just as clearly as we speak with words.

Any school curriculum which does not include the language of architecture is rather like one which fails to teach the art of reading and writing.




Those who are not able to read and write are not able to take control of their own destiny. They become victims of the powerful because they cannot participate in a wide range of human interaction.

Those who do not understand the complex language of architecture are equally unable to take control of their own destiny. They become victims of real estate agents, developers and profiteers who create their dreams for them, and in turn destroy them, without individuals even realising what is happening.

The greatest tragedy is when a whole community comes to believe that buildings are nothing more than materialistic objects. A religious position is not only foisted upon the community but it also becomes all pervasive as it is almost impossible to escape from architecture. A materialistic consumer society become the only choice which seems to be available. Before long this attitude becomes enshrined in law. Architecture becomes a tyranny when it might have set people free.

Building is a spiritual and cultural experience.

At the DAN Conference, held in New Zealand for the first time, at Kings College Otahuhu, on 20-21 April 2006, I presented a workshop on "Spirituality and Architecture".

DAN, Dialogue Australasian Network, is concerned with how ethical, moral and spiritual issues might become part of the school curriculum.

The architecture of the space we were in had already made some choices for us. Teaching spaces can be authoritarian or they can speak of equality. How we teach is concerned with spiritual values as much as it is to do with practical issues. We can be himble or we can be arrogant.

We began by agreeing that we alone have the power to change our own lives. No one else can do it for us. Knowledge empowers us. Any person who has no architectural knowledge is destined to become a victim.

We need to know what our life choices are. Our intellectual knowledge then needs to be supplemented by experience. We need to know about building and we also need to build. No one else can tell you what it feels like to do something yourself.

We agreed that some of the built environment choices we need to make are not easy. A carpet treated with toxic chemicals to make it bug free is killing us as well as the beetles. The easy-to-clean polyurethane surface is a health hazard.

We then looked at the relationship between architecture and culture.
We tell our stories through our architecture.
We listen to our ancestors by looking at what they have built.
Land speaks to us. Buildings speak to us. Urban design speaks to us.

Lest we should feel it was impossible to change the curriculum we looked briefly at the way in which in Japan architecture is part of the school curriculum. We looked at Kazuko's text books.

Lest we should feel powerless we looked at Environschools as a success story.
The story of Heidi and the Eco-Art Symposium.

Lest we should feel isolated we looked briefly at the global context.
Sustainability appearing now in all our legislation.
Chapter 7 of Agenda 21 setting a built environment agenda for the 21st century.
Phase four of the environmental movement when people realised that the questions were spiritual.

We looked at how we might communicate this spirituality.
The Karaka Bay article in Architecture NZ. The spirituality of place.
The Waterfall Chapel article. The spirituality of the building process.
"Piglet the Great of Karaka Bay" as an experiment in making very complex ideas both simple and accessible.

More than just a change in the curriculum is needed.
We may need to also change the world.
The new Building Act in New Zealand is a materialistic document.
We need to build community before we build buildings.

For further reading I recommend...

Housing by People, John Turner, Marion Boyars, London, 1976
When people house themselves they take control of their own lives.

The Constitution of Japan, Sapio Books (in Japanese)
The language of the text is brought to life by the language of the photographs.

Architecture for beginners, Louis Hellman, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1986.
At first glance it seems to be just fun, but profound truths are made palatable.

Depth of Translation - The book of raft, Paul Carter & Ruark Lewis, NMA Publications, Burnley Victoria, 1999.
From a fragment a whole world is revealed. A challenge to the banal.

the heART of this place, Waitakere City Council, 2002.
The story of a Council realising an Art and Culture vision.

Two Japanese textbooks about living and architecture by Kazuko Hayashi.
In Japan the importance of everyone understanding architectural traditions is recognised within their school curriculum.

Dwellings, Paul Oliver, Phaidon, London, 2003.
Vernacular buildings respond to place, climate, culture, traditions and occasion. They are as unique as our flora and fauna.

Exquisite Apart, 100 years of Architecture in New Zealand, ed Charles Walker, NZIA, Auckland 2005.
A book of buildings with no people, and one group of people with no building.

Dwelling, River, Freestone Publishing Co. Albion CA, 1974.
A poetic plea for houses to become poems.

Home Made Houses, David Liddle and Ann Taylor, Second Back Row Press, Sydney, 1980.
There are many similar books about people building their own homes. This one shows examples from Australia.

Earth to Spirit, David Pearson, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1994
The visual delight of architecture which lifts the human spirit.

Glenn Murcutt, Haig Beck & Jackie Cooper, Images Publishing Group, Mulgrave Victoria, 2002.
An architect who touches the earth lightly, respecting the spirit of place.

At Home, A century of New Zealand Design, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Godwit Random House, Auckland, 2004.
The bringing together of architecture, design, art and craft.

Piglet the Great of Karaka Bay, Tony Watkins, Balasoglou Books, Auckland, 2003.
Making complex and difficult ideas seem simple and accessible.

Architecture New Zealand March/April 2006, AGM, Auckland, 2006.
Karaka Bay vs the killjoys by Tony Watkins.
Architecture needs to be seen within the context of whakapapa and history.

A history of New Zealand Architecture, Peter Shaw, Hodder Moa Beckett, Auckland, Second edition 1997.
Architecture seen as art object. History is thus a study of objects.

The Natural House Book, David Pearson, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1989.
Most of our houses are sick buildings and they have a negative impact on our health. This book suggests many ways to make a house more healthy.

Enviroschools Scrapbooks and the Environschools manuals.
These establish a template with green architecture as the agenda.

Agenda 21
This is the United Nations document which set an agenda for the 21st century.
It was the major outcome of the Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992.

A number of issues were raised during the workshop.
They tended to focus on "conventional wisdom" concerns rather than how a curriculum change might be achieved.
How do you achieve spirituality in a mall? Well you don't. They deny participation.
How do you keep in touch with family when they are dispersed? The Net. We don't know how lucky we are.
How do you overcome traffic congestion? Stay home.
How good is the Canberra community? Great for choirs, apparently.
My contention would be that it matters little how you play if you are merely playing someone else's game.
The school curriculum needs to take a very broad view of the built environment, educating children rather than teaching them.

Tony Watkins
Design Educator
Secondary School Curriculum
The DAN Conference