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Opinion 09: Blots & bouquets

By Mia Clarke Recently, agm was invited to attend a panel discussion hosted by the Robin Boyd Foundation at the Walsh St House in South Yarra. The event focused on the topic of student publishing and design criticism, bringing together a diverse group of participants, including recent graduates and students. Assembled by Rory Hyde, the “Design Matters” panel took inspiration from Robin Boyd’s involvement in the Student Society of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects publication “Smudges”. This provided a starting point for engaging discussions about the importance of student publishing and its role in shaping architectural discourse.



The event aimed to explore a wide range of topics, encompassing the contemporary student experience, the role of writers, editors, and publishers, and the evolving landscape of new media collaborative publishing. It also delved into the significance of maintaining a critical writing practice beyond the confines of the university environment.


Robin Boyd, renowned for his wit, served as an inspiration throughout the evening. His mastery of language, exhibited through his work in Smudges and subsequent publications, established him as a prominent architectural critic. Over the course of 25 years, Boyd left an indelible mark, authoring scholarly and popular books, penning newspaper columns, and hosting television and radio programs. His most famous work, “The Australian Ugliness,” remains a significant contribution to the field.


The panel discussion hosted by the Robin Boyd Foundation provided a platform for examining the world of student publishing and design criticism. By bringing together panelists and drawing inspiration from Robin Boyd’s legacy, the event facilitated insightful discussions on the contemporary student experience, the power of written expression, and the evolving landscape of architectural discourse.


The panelists included members from Inflection Journal, Caliper Journal and 411 newsletter and website.


The Inflection Journal panelist, former member Aurelia Tasha Hondoko, discussed the focus

on engaging with contemporary architectural discourse. The journal recognized the presence of inherited boundaries and structural limitations. However, the students had the agency to shape and drive their ideas within those parameters. They believed that they still had control over how they framed their articles, so they did not feel that their voice was entirely lost. In terms of working with contributors, Inflection emphasized the importance of reaching out to potential contributors and marketing the publication.


Caliper, led by Stephanie Pahnis and Lauren Crockett, started as an informal discussion about architecture aiming to showcase a diverse range of voices within the field. They experienced financial limitations, which required them to make compromises and sacrifice some freedom in terms of openly critiquing and challenging ideas. Caliper found that the independence from the university environment led to an escape from the “echo chamber” effect. They were able to collaborate with other disciplines. However, they also experienced a lack of university support and editing. When working with contributors, Caliper initially started with people they knew and expanded from there. They emphasized the importance of engaging in conversations and being present at reviews and exhibitions.


411, curated by Maddy Lo-Booth, addressed the architectural question of why people don’t want to live close to others, exploring the significance of neighbours and local history. Maddy had an interest in physical publication, highlighting the ability to capture the “volume of someone’s life... in a physical, tangible way.” Regarding criticisms, 411 mentioned that they had to be cautious about publishing reviews that were deemed excessively harsh. When Maddy herself contributed to a student magazine, she discussed the idea of tone and the people involved. She mentioned choosing to pitch ideas that she thought would align with the magazine’s preferences, rather than solely expressing her personal desires.


Some of our reflections from the evening are summarised below:


It appeared evident that all the publications initially aimed to foster informal discussions. However, the nature of written work inherently tends towards a certain degree of formality, rather than embracing casual thought. Among the student-run publications, such as Caliper, there was a greater inclination towards experimentation and creativity compared to Inflection. During the panel discussions, there was a consensus that universities often adopt a cookie-cutter framework, where they tend to embrace and replicate student works, rather than fostering the manifestation of one’s own thoughts and ideas. Even as a student, Robin Boyd skilfully incorporated humour and expressed strong opinions in his writing, which proved to be successful.


Student editors and contributors, in general, appeared to be more well-versed in contemporary architectural discourse. They demonstrated a broader range of opinions and insights into existing buildings and development, which are both essential aspects for the development of a designer. Written words hold significant importance as a means of capturing a specific moment in time or a particular stage of thinking. What intrigued me was the emphasis on preserving a moment of time that possesses integrity, rather than futilely attempting to sustain something that has become disconnected or less relevant. It appeared that an organic stream of consciousness, with individuals writing about their genuine thoughts and curiosities, yielded greater success than enforcing a predetermined theme or outlook that must remain consistent and cohesive. This approach allows for the gradual development of thoughts into more successful and comprehensive concepts.


Furthermore, there seemed to be a heightened comprehension of the purpose and intention behind a publication when it was gradually developed from an initial idea, as opposed to being imposed upon it. There is immense value in expressing ideas and opinions, even as a student. Experience does not necessarily equate to having the best ideas, as experience can take various forms. It is crucial to maintain one’s own perspective and contribute it whenever possible. Recognizing that there is no singular truth, by contributing as much as possible, one can help construct a broader understanding and document various aspects of “reality.”



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Contributors:

Mia Clarke


Tom Davies


Lily Richards


Jevons Wang


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Image credit:

Jevons Wang

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