Hot Modernism Queensland Architecture 1945-1975 is one of the major outcomes of a large research project which set out to document Queensland’s post-war architecture.

It complements the highly successful Hot Modernism exhibition which was held at State Library of Queensland in 2014.

Hot Modernism is a fascinating study into what some consider a golden age of Queensland architecture; a bright forward-looking period as Queensland emerged from the torpor of the Second World War, when austerity measures were gradually lifted and a new crop of hungry young architects were ready to make their mark.

Hot Modernism is a thematic presentation of architecture in Queensland, with nine essays written by a group of international scholars and organised into four thematic sections – Foundations: Modernism and its Critique; Influences; People, Firms & Networks; and Building Programmes.

The essays bring to life Queensland design where the existing timber and tin vernacular was being questioned both aesthetically and climatically, and where travel and immigration exposed Queensland to a whole new world of modern ideas and techniques.

Interestingly, Hot Modernism touches upon the influence of architectural education in the post-war period as well as the education of the public in architectural matters. To quote the book: “…the education of the architectural student morphed from one exclusively on construction, technical drawing and materials, to design.”

The chapter Civic Visions for Brisbane details various development proposals (some never realised) that shaped the city, such as The Cultural Centre and ANZAC and Post Office Square. It is a particularly poignant chapter due to the monumental changes currently proposed for the Government precinct in William Street. Perhaps future developers could consult the numerous iterations of these developments and consider the best use of the public realm of the city?

…who were those architecture students lying supine and fully-clothed in that image…

By far the most intriguing essay is Angry Young Architects which explores the discontent of young architects between 1967-1972 – a reaction to the rigidity of the architectural establishment in the context of the Vietnam War and the conservative Bjelke-Petersen Government’s hold on Queensland politics. A must-read section is the ‘immorality’ of the Art Week Experiment (page 41) held for the benefit of UQ Architecture students in 1972 (who were those architecture students lying supine and fully-clothed in that image, concentrating intently on their erections?).

However, the true standouts in this book are the vivid visual essays themed according to Climate & Regionalism, International Influences, Lifestyle and Urbanisation. We are treated to the comprehensive photographic record of the projects built, never realised or demolished, many of which were showcased in the SLQ Hot Modernism exhibition in 2014.

Who could not be affected by the images of Peter Heathwood’s now demolished Speare House in Indooroopilly or Eddie Oribin’s sublime house and studio designed in seeming isolation in Cairns, or James Birrell’s evocative idea of sub-tropical recreation in the form of Centenary Pool?

Hot Modernism is not merely a walk down memory lane although ‘nostalgists’ will not be disappointed given the rich visual content of significant buildings and their under-acknowledged designers. The book is indeed an intelligent study of Queensland modernism based on substantial oral history and vigorous archival research.

Perhaps it is too soon to call, but this book may be the definitive architectural text on Queensland in this pivotal era. Its significance may be felt in many years to come.

How will Hot Modernism open up the discourse on the proposed developments of the government precinct in William Street?

Anita Lewis

 

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