Architecture Australia

This paper examines the conditions surrounding the operations of Architecture Australia in the late 1970s and how it attempted to install a new economy of images within the cultural construction of architecture in Australia over time.

Existing studies of the commercial printed press are largely based upon empirical

methods of analysis. This mainly involves reading documents as expressions of economies of communication: that is, examining the nature of supply and demand of information, describing technologies of production, relationships between producers and consumers, trends and patterns in the circulation of capital, and compiling biographical accounts of particular individuals and


Most of the work that has been done in this empiricist mode bas been centered on three kinds of study: content analysis, what is known as "effects studies", and "audience studies."

Type of assignment
Writer level
Number of pages
First order only

Theories and explanations of the media are generally constructed once all the facts have been assembled, an activity that prompts the kinds of questions that are asked, or the issues raised, about the subject matter. The adequacy of certain concepts, principles of organization, and ways of reading the media are only beginning to he discussed in terms of contingencies of practice, local needs, and institutional frameworks for the production of knowledge.


The global rise of the architectural publication industry during the 1960s and 1970s brought with it a new gratification of the printed surface and the glossyimage.

The management and production of architectural journal became a business in itself involving an array of specialists whose job it was to respond to the demands and economic realities of large-scale mass publication. This boom in architectural magazine publication was accompanied by the increasing influence of the public relations industry on the architectural profession, setting new frameworks for promoting architecture and communicating to the public.

In Australia, the journal of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects underwent a number of changes that were meant to reinvigorate the image of architects as well as bring the architectural profession closer to the practices of business management. From 1975 to 1980 especially, Architecture Australia Journal  underwent several abrupt changes to its aims, content and layout. A series of editorial and layout priorities were introduced which intensified the visual nature of the journal through the generous use of colour photographic images.

The journal also began publishing articles based upon a style of journalism that was considered to be more attuned to the changing nature of critical investigation in the mainstream media. These editorial initiatives largely overturned traditional views about what the Institute's journal should he, what types of images and ways of speaking it should promote, and what standards of journalism it should employ.

This analysis of Architecture Australia Journal highlighted a mode of reading discourse that employs elements of empirical analysis to reveal the formation of certain editorial attitudes and their theoretical underpinnings.

If one were to follow previous historical studies of profession-orientated architectural journals, the editor would he positioned as the primary subject of consideration. Editors are seen as the people who possess the power and authority to make changes, and therefore their ideas, 'creative genius' and innovations are considered to he the ultimate reasons as to why a journal might take a particular form and direction. If an architectural journal fails to succeed, the had decisions and default social relations of an editor are considered to be main causes behind its demise.

As achieving visibility and establishing viability within the architectural profession and academic circles is becoming more and more centered on the puhlication of work, the decisions of editors and the design of their editorial statements have come to carry significant economic and social effects. For these reasons, it is timely to inquire into what status and function editorial statements have in shaping the nature of architectural discourse.

Firstly, to account for certain changes to Architecture Australia in the late 1970% it focuses on the transference of several concepts from the world of the Commercial media to the pages of the journal.

Secondly, the analysis aims to raise issues concerning the preconditions for authority on architectural matters within the context of commercial publication. Thirdly, the analysis looks at how the rise of commercial concerns effected the nature of awarding merit to new

buildings. This highlights how the appearance and functioning of signifiers such as 'significant architecture' and 'good design' are contingent upon strategies editors and publishers use toconstruct meaning within the image-exchange market.

Design and layout

An important feature of studying any type of media (whether it be a journal, newspaper, advertising, film or television) is to develop an understanding of how one form of media relates to the design of other media.

Like any other visual product, the magazine must possess certain formal characteristics to be able to enter the image exchange market. Yet these characteristics-paper, printing, layout, graphic design-tend to be homogenized by the spread of general "aesthetic models" of promotional publishing.

The same rules for the visual promotion of objects work indifferently whatever the context, so paintings and light fixtures, food and architecture, cars and animals are advertised and published in the same way?

During the 1960s the preoccupation with objectivity in commentary had made

description-reports the normative way of presenting new buildings. These description-reports were comprised of factual information about the technical and physical properties of new buildings.

By the mid-1970s however, this approach had lost its hold on the journal as articles dealing with conservation and housing often expressed the emotive and politically charged nature of debate about these issues."

What marks the changes to Architecture in Australia during Smith's editorship is the way the journal turned toward the genre of investigative journalism for the style of its editorial content.

Investigative journalism had grown in popularity in the American daily press and television, and its expose style of discourse was being incorporated into current affairs programming in Australia. Investigative journalism within the mass media actively combined investigative suspicion with sensationalism to produce the effect of commitment to political and social issues.

The whole apparatus of this style of journalism was geared by the notion of public inquiry into corruption and scandal. The study of investigative journalism in America has been largely based upon the formation of social responsibility theory." Studies have shown that the kinds of investigative journalism that circulated in the 1970s came from a tradition of muckraking driven by reformist and modernist ideals of public enlightenment.

Smith, who had edited the National Times Colour Magazine, tried to import this style of investigative journalism into Architecture Australia with fragmented and unsophisticatedresults.

New sections such as The Column, devoted to "news, gossip and scandal," and later, View-Point, used crass language to popularize and sensationalize issues.

Smith saw Government cost-cutting as a symptom of Australia's consumerist attitude towards its national products.' Heritage Watch, a section devoted to reports on the demolition and preservation of old buildings was the most coherent attempt at political commentary minus the sensationalist overtone. Under Smith's editorship, the imperative toward profit also had consequences on the kind of regular contributions that were made to the journal during 1976.

Smith set up the object of the journal to suit an economic rationalist approach to architecture by the frequent publication of marketing information and projections. He introduced sections entitled McGuiness and Property, designated spaces for commentaries by the Economics Editor and Property Editor of the Australian Financial Review respectively.

Smith's actions as editor received criticism as being sensationalist, and in one case Smith were accused of failing "miserably" to understand the changing nature of the architect's relation to society." Also, judging from the small amount of published material written by major architects, it seems that Smith received little support from the Institute and its social network.

Attempts to commercialize Architecture Australia meant putting at risk the guaranteed supply of articles and the names of well-known architects. Despite his convictions about consumerism, Smith practised a naive approach to publicity and promotion. The assumption that full-page colour photographs and sensationalist journalism would amplify

the audience and popularity of the journal implies that its readers were being cast as simple consumers of images and gossip, whose collective desires could be automatically aroused by expensive looking visuals and minimum criticism or commentary. Frank Lowe, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Architecture and The Commercialization of Architecture Australia Building at the NSW Institute of Technology criticized the superficiality of this Kind of editorial practice by asking, "What are you trying to say? Who are you writing, publishmg for? The whole thing is like an exercise in prestige tokenism.

Apart from noticing how the journal relied on the genre of investigative journalism to attract interest, it is important to describe how the journal's rather fragmented attempts to foster a fresh image of architecture in Australia arose in a new context for Bunking about communication within the public sphere. By the early 1970s, books on public relations were being published in profuse numbers in America.

In order to have effect, they proposed that public relations needed to become a discipline in its own right, with its own codes and rules for practice.

The models of social psychology and behavioral science were adopted for measuring and explaining the use and effectiveness of its objects, namely, understanding human motivation, two-way communication, and promoting social compatibility.

Theorizing on public relations meant that such terms as 'the public' needed to be defined and conceptualized in order to set the framework for analysis and action. For public relations to develop as the science of managing public opinion it was commonly held that previous conceptions of 'the public' needed to be abandoned: "The public cannot sensibly be conceived of as an amorphous mass, nor even as a large collection of person units."24 According to the new theory, the public should no longer be considered as an idealized or virtual mass.

Instead, to achieve rigour and sensibility in understanding, the public was redefined as the specific audience of an organized action. What is more, the publicness of this audience was defined by the common interests and attitudes they collectively shared. The first law of public relations was to recognize, define and reach the groups who were responsible for the opinions and attitudes "that determine an organizations’ external image and its success. This was not so much a philosophical problem of democracy or consent, but rather a socio-scientific problem-how to determine the rules and regularities of public opinion at the level of their formation within the collective consumer belief that public opinion was measurable through "quantitative attitude the theoretical impasse of two-way communication: studying the desires, needs and dispositions of the public and supplying them with what they want, at the same time modifying opinions and attitudes by manufacturing new images, desires and needs.


The commercialization of the journal meant experimenting with new aesthetic models that were intended to increase subscription and broaden interest in the journal.

This process created its own dilemmas regarding the representative status of a comrnercially-run journal, the dwindling of institutional support and anxieties over the value of publishing criticism. Aspects of Architecture Australia journal  today may be read as a development of this commercial sensibility, the journal's present mode of stylization being derived from the glossy magazine marketplace into which it has now been inserted." As this analysis has shown,

the design and production of the journal is tied to particular notions of what makes good journalism and public relations.

Related essays