After The Australian Ugliness: New book on Australian architecture reflects on nation's 'ugly' past

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After The Australian Ugliness: New book on Australian architecture reflects on nation's 'ugly' past
After The Australian Ugliness publication. Image: Courtesy of NGV.

MELBOURNE.- Co-published by the National Gallery of Victoria and Thames & Hudson Australia, After The Australian Ugliness responds to Australian architect Robin Boyd’s seminal text, The Australian Ugliness, with new critical and creative writing by authors from a range of disciplines, including architectural historian Philip Goad, author and journalist Benjamin Law, artist Eugenia Lim, designer and founder of the National Aboriginal Design Agency Alison Page, and writer and founder of the Planthunter blog and Wonderground journal Georgina Reid.

Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness was published in 1960 and is venerated as a key work of architectural and cultural critique in the nation’s canon. In this hugely influential volume, Boyd surveyed Australia’s architectural landscape, but also the negative forces he saw shaping the country’s society and culture in the mid twentieth century. He highlighted Australia’s architectural flaws, but also offered design solutions that would change the architectural trajectory of its urban and suburban spaces.

This new title, After The Australian Ugliness, published sixty years after Boyd’s treatise, explores the significance of the original text while ruminating on how Australia sees itself today – both externally and from within. Through different styles and approaches, from critical essays to short stories, each author makes Boyd’s work live in the contemporary moment, examining how the Australian aesthetic has changed since 1960, and how other Australian ‘uglinesses’, as identified by Boyd, remain unchanged.

After The Australian Ugliness is edited by Naomi Stead, Professor of Architecture at Monash University; Thomas Lee, Senior Lecturer in Design Studies at the University of Technology Sydney; Megan Patty, NGV Head of Publications; and Ewan McEoin, NGV Senior Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture. It features 18 essays by twenty authors, including architects and landscape architects, architecture and design academics, fiction authors, social commentators, curators, historians, publishers, archivists and editors.

The publication is rich in visual material and includes new photography by David Wadelton that captures the rapidly changing face of Melbourne’s built environment in evocative black-and-white images. There is also a selection of drawings from illustrator Oslo Davis, who has re-imagined Boyd’s satirical drawings from the original text and placed them in contemporary settings.

A selection of never-before-published photographs taken by Robin Boyd himself – mostly in 1956–57 during the year he spent in the US teaching at MIT – also feature, as well as a group of photographs by Melbourne photographer Nigel Buesst that originally appeared in the 1968 and 1971 editions of The Australian Ugliness.

Tony Ellwood, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, said: ‘Robin Boyd was not just one of Australia’s great architects, he was also one of its most effective communicators. Boyd encouraged Australians not to look to Britain or America for inspiration in the built environment, but to the landscape around them. At a time when the influence of design was not widely understood in Australia, Boyd’s writing impacted the public consciousness in a way no architect has before or since.’

Megan Patty, Head of Publications at the National Gallery of Victoria, said: ‘The Australian Ugliness was always about much more than taste. It used aesthetics to ask much larger questions about how Australians should live in this country, what we should value, how we should arrange our cities, as well as what might be beautiful. This new publication brings these questions – as well as pertinent new ones – firmly into the twenty-first century, offering new perspectives on the concerns of our time.’

After The Australian Ugliness will be launched on Sunday 28 March at Boyd’s Walsh Street house as part of the NGV’s Melbourne Art Book Fair. The publication will be available from the NGV Design Store and select retailers from 1 April 2020 and is supported by Monash University and the University of Technology Sydney.

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