American Modernist Tectonics vs Australian Gold Coast Topos

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In the 1940-50s, when the long stretch of beaches and swamps in the sub-tropical south-eastern Queensland started to be developed, it became the quintessential Australian holiday destination. In the area now known as the city of Gold Coast, modernist motels and hotels were built along the shoreline, while the marshlands were dug and dried into canal developments, largely following Florida as a model. The architectural language of the houses and ‘beach shacks’, on the other hand, was much influenced by the LA Case Study Houses among other American precedents, which was at least partially a result of rather similar climates in southern California, Florida and the Gold Coast.

The identity of the Gold Coast, however, is rapidly changing as a result of both national and international migration and tourism which requires, or justifies, higher density. At an alarming rate modernist buildings are demolished with short, if any, notice. Although some individuals are raising their concerns and sadness about the loss of the area’s identity, others see the change itself as the identity of the Gold Coast. Furthermore, many of the latter regard the Gold Coast as ‘a city without history’, meaning that there is nothing worth preserving, which reflects the lack of understanding the value of its mid-century modernist architecture.

Due to the aforementioned concerns, this paper focuses on the tectonics within the topos of south-eastern Queensland and its specific synthesis of mid-century modernism. The primary methodological framework is that of embedded case studies, which addresses the complex dynamics of the context, explains causal links, and uses multiple sources of evidence. The goal is to generate a theoretical framework for analyses regarding these techniques as part of the historiographies of decolonization and social change in the Asia-Pacific region in general, and that of the Australian Gold Coast in particular.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistorographies of Technology and Architecture
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ)
EditorsJoanna Merwood-Salisbury, Christopher McDonald, Michael Dudding
Place of PublicationWellington
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-473-45713-6
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2018
EventThe 35th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: Historiographies of Technology and Architecture - Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
Duration: 4 Jul 20187 Jul 2018
Conference number: 35th (Conference website)


ConferenceThe 35th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand
Abbreviated titleSAHANZ
Country/TerritoryNew Zealand
OtherContemporary descriptions of the future of architecture and architectural practice continue to proclaim the benefits of technology: a built environment that is automated and intelligent; building construction via robotic fabrication processes; form and space-making utilizing virtual reality. In what ways do our current obsessions echo, extend or overturn the profession’s historic preoccupation with technology?

The privileging of technology within architecture had its most obvious manifestation in the modernist period, when architects borrowed knowledge, practices and imagery from other technical fields. But the projection of architecture as technology has been ever present and has its own deep history.

The Greek root “tekhn?” – meaning “art” or “craft” – reminds us that conceiving and making are inextricably linked. This dependency suggests that “tekhn?” lies at the core of architectural practice: the task of creating architecture has always been subject to modes of representation and analysis that can be thought of as “technical”. Equally, the discipline of architecture is responsive to changes in manufacturing, engineering and the other applied sciences. Frequently, this reflexiveness is mediated by the social changes that are wrought by these new technologies.
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