The same message, different.
We were thrilled when Cameron Bruhn, Head of the School of Architecture at The University of Queensland, agreed to fly over to launch us on our way! Cameron has been a long supporter of ours over the years, is always a source of insight and advice and has recently done major pivot of his own. Here’s what he had to say.
I would like to thank Emma and Kieran for asking me to send them on their way this evening as they embark on the next stage of their lives in architecture and acknowledge and thank their fellow travellers in adventures past, present and future. Can I please add my welcome to friends, family, colleagues, clients and collaborators who have gathered this evening to launch TheFulcrumAgency.
The premier issue of TheFulcrum.Agency's journal takes the pivot as a theme and puts the metaphor to work as a theme, action and device. Having just enacted my own personal and professional pivot I have been reflecting on the different ways a pivot can occur for a person or a community and why the new venture might be characterised as a pivot.
For an individual there are seemingly two very different types of pivot – the one we consciously make happen and the one that happens through circumstances that are beyond our control. There is a cautionary note here because like all opposites there is a moment where their differences can reveal their inherent similarities.
The journal’s interview with Scott Ludlum explores the aftermath of a situation that falls into the latter category – something out of the blue that turns our world on its head. As the introduction to the piece notes, "Very few, if any, of us will experience as dramatic a turning point in our personal or professional lives as that which Scott Ludlam experienced."
And yet somehow Scott's changed medium of professional practice and community advocacy, reassessed as the public spectacle surrounding his 'Citizenship Crisis' subsided, has not altered his commitment to the health of our planet and the conservation of our natural environment. He hasn't wavered. It is the means by which he works to achieve his objectives that has changed. The medium has changed but the message is the same.
I would like to think that my own personal pivot, one that I designed myself, or at least made it seem like that to everyone else, had the same outcome – same message, same agendas, but practiced through the medium of the university in place of the medium of the magazine. For me pivoting has been an iterative process that embraces the opportunities and energy of change.
I think of Kieran and Emma as exemplars of the designed and strategised pivot, individually and jointly designing and re-designing their own careers on more than one occasion.
In their introduction to the journal Kieran and Emma observe that it is their ability to embrace the pivot that matters - not the cause or causes. I wholeheartedly agree.
I am going to quote a paragraph from the forward in full because it says so much about Emma and Kieran's approach,
"In the brash, confident world of Silicon Valley, it [the pivot] has come to refer to the need to adapt and iterate, and to shift the experience into new, more positive territory. In short, it is a word that turned failure into a rite of passage for the innovator and made it a strength rather than a weakness. It celebrates those that are not afraid, those that are open to change, are agile and resilient. It alludes to moving at pace, being willing to change direction but keep momentum. lt rejects the idea of losing face.”
One of the reasons I like this passage so much is the curious way it is written as an observation but is somehow autobiographical for our protagonists.
Emma and Kieran are "not afraid", they "are open to change", and they are definitely "agile and resilient". It is these characteristics that have distinguished them in Australia's architectural discourse, production and community for the past two decades.
I have spent fifteen years working in architectural publishing and advocacy and it was through this work that I got to know CODA, Emma and Kieran, their teams and collaborators. I would like to make three observations about their practice and practices before saying a few words about the agency that is imbedded in The Fulcrum Agency. These notes are about Awareness, Materiality and Generosity.
Kieran and Emma are conscious practitioners – they are aware of the potential and limits of architecture and actively seek out opportunities to explore and give both a good nudge.
They are known for working collaboratively across disciplines – with artists, engineers and fabricators – as a way of energising and innovating the design process and project. They understand change and its opportunities. Lynn Churchill's introduction to the review of a new CODA studio space a few years ago exemplifies this awareness.
"Simply stated, two questions catalysed the design decisions ... Firstly, ‘how does an architectural practice swell to include thirty staff without losing the “domestic” feel of the earlier, smaller, more intimate versions?’ And then, at that point of expansion, the more reflective [and much bigger] questions: 'Why are we in practice?’ and ‘What are we about?’”
These latter questions are imbedded in the ideation and vision for the Fulcrum Agency they reveal tonight.
The work is made of stuff and the way this is orchestrated is both deft and playful. The latter can be glib and fashionable but it has much more depth here, Kieran and Emma' s version of playful is dramatic, thoughtful and accessible.
One of my favourite CODA back-catalogue projects is the Bunbury Catholic College. I like the old stuff and I am confident I will like the new stuff. Simon Pendal reviewed this project for Architecture Australia and captures the materiality of the work perfectly. Simon mused that the description, "space, surface and urban structure meticulously hand-sewn", spoke to [him] of “the project's conception and the manner of its execution in the direct present and as a lingering impression."
“Hand-sewn” is a descriptor that sits very comfortably with the work. In his conclusion to the Bunbury review Simon captures the material qualities that reside in the built work writing that "the presence of significant human labour can be broadly felt; this work feels handmade rather than manufactured or"procured".
The project of architecture is much bigger than all of us and in this sense Emma and Kieran are distinguished advocates for the value of design for Australia' s cities, towns and settlements.
"If you are generous then you help to make the conversation bigger and you will probably find yourself to be more relevant ... [but] it requires us to come together."
This generosity is embedded in the manifesto of the Fulcrum Agency.
This new practice takes a position of advocacy with government agencies, the media, communities and councils. It is clear that Fulcrum is starting a conversation that is not just architects talking among themselves. It will engage in conversations with the public and conversations that leverage the politics of architecture.
The end goal being – and I quote Emma – "to manoeuvre us into a position to get better buildings".
Finally, I want to speak a little about ‘Agency’
Fulcrum is an agency.
I like this post-nominal for a number of reasons. For some strange reason I go way back to a childhood memory of watching the sitcom Bewitched after school when I think of what might happen at an agency. Many scenes in Bewitched take place at the Madison Avenue advertising agency, McMann & Tate, where mere mortal Darrin Stephens works, pitching ideas about how to market all manner of fast moving consumer goods.
There is an earnestness (and underlying magic) to this venture that seems much more appealing than the self-consciously mid-century atmosphere of Mad Men's Sterling Cooper advertising agency. And lets be honest, we like the idea of Emma and Kieran cast as Bewitched's Darren and Samantha.
This is version one of the Agency – TheFulcrum.Agency is by definition "a business or organisation providing a particular service on behalf of another business, person, or group".
It is a useful distinction to describe Fulcrum as providing a service rather than delivering an object or artefact. Without eschewing the primacy of buildings within the discipline or practice of architecture, Fulcrum introduces a new mode of practice that expands the role of the architect beyond the built outcome.
The parallel version of this agency describes a group of people working to create an action or intervention that produces a particular effect. This effect is powerful and operative. This action uses architectural intelligence as an agency for value and impact for individuals, cultures and communities. In this mode agency foregrounds humanity and generosity, beauty and vibrancy.
This group of like minded people are problem solvers at whatever scale they work. This is a mode of architectural practice that anticipates the future of the discipline of architecture and of a more sustainable, equitable, resilient and beautiful built environment.
Ladies and gentlemen, l commend TheFulcrumAgency to you. It is my great pleasure to crack a bottle of bubbly over the bow of TheFulcum.Agency as it launches forth.
Thank you and good evening.