Author Archives: Charles Pickett

Fibro coast

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'Seaside Cottages', Wunderlich Limited, 1937. Powerhouse Museum collection.

‘Seaside Cottages’, Wunderlich Limited, 1937. Powerhouse Museum collection.

The Gold Coast City Gallery has been displaying the exhibition Fibro Coast; it will soon be at the University of the Sunshine Coast Gallery. Fibro Coast is about the holiday architecture that is still a feature of the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

When I was writing the Fibro frontier during the 90s I went on a research trip to  Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. I hadn’t been to any of these places since I was a child so it was a revelatory sort of trip, especially the amount of fibro on view which I eagerly recorded on film. So I was pleased to be asked by the Gold Coast gallery to write for the exhibition catalogue and give a gallery talk.

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Max Dupain and Chris Vandyke

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Vandyke house at East Hills, 1948. Photo by Max Dupain. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Tony Vandyke.

You might have seen the story re the State Library of NSW’s recent acquisition of a photo album containing a different version of Max Dupain’s well-known 1937 ‘Sunbaker’ photo.

That Max disliked the widely published version doesn’t strike me as headline cultural news (well done to the State Library’s pr people tho). But the fact that the story was front page is confirmation of Max’s own annoyance that what has become a nostalgic salute to the old Australia of beaches and sunshine is more famous than his urban portfolio, the defining majority of Dupain’s output. The Library rubs it in somewhat by referring to the Sunbaker as ‘the holy grail of Australian photography’.
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Neons and museums

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William Street, Sydney about 1968. Photo by David Mist, Powerhouse Museum collection. Gift of David Mist.

A few years back I was interviewed about the fate of Sydney’s neon advertising signs:

‘The great age of neon has passed,’ laments Charles Pickett, a curator of design and society at the Powerhouse Museum, an institution that houses the AWA sign that once sat atop the eponymous1930s skyscraper, and a red neon greyhound removed recently from Wentworth Park Raceway. ‘The days of William Street being a gallery for neon are long gone. The Coca-Cola sign is all that’s left.’

Since then we’ve added the Sharpies Golf House sign to the Powerhouse collection, another of many well-known neons to disappear from Sydney nights (there’ll be an article about the Sharpies sign in the next issue of Powerline). The decline of neon as a marketing and visual medium is partly one of advertising fashion and technological change – LED signs are cheaper, less fragile and use much less electricity than neons.
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One armed bandits

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Poker machine (detail), Queen of the Nile, Mark 1, designed and made by Aristocrat Technologies, 1997-2006. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Aristocrat Technologies Australia, 2006.

I read some good news recently – the number of poker machines in NSW pubs has reduced by 2675 in the past two years. More pubs are giving pokies the flick.

I’m interested in this for a couple of reasons: The Powerhouse holds what is probably the only collection of poker machines in a major Australian museum. And we hold a huge collection of photos, architectural drawings and other artefacts relating to pubs. Perhaps more than that I’m fond of pubs, less so of pokies.

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Shopping around

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Opening day at Roselands, 1965. Australian Women’s Weekly, 27 October 1965, Powerhouse Museum Library.

A groovy shopping mall is a contradiction in terms for many people. Yet that is what has just opened at the Central Park development on Sydney’s Broadway. As malls go the new one is small but it’s illuminated from above by a Jean Nouvel-designed heliostat and according to the Herald, has the personality of ‘a well-dressed hipster with a short attention span’.
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Design for happiness: George Korody furniture designs

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Seven designerd

Screen by Steven Kalmar, Sydney, c1955. Coffee table by Douglas Snelling and made by Functional Products Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1955. Settee, ‘RS161’ designed by Grant Featherston, Melbourne, c1951.

If you’re a fan of mid-century modern furniture, the Powerhouse Museum’s current display is a must-see. 7 Australian Designers profiles a number of Australia’s celebrated modernists and includes iconic furniture by Grant Featherston, Gordon Andrews, Douglas Snelling, Clement Meadmore and Steven Kalmar.

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Casinos and stadiums: Philip Cox

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Model, Aquatic Centre for the Asian Games, Bangkok, Philip Cox/Cox Architects, 1995. Powerhouse Museum collection.

The architect Philip Cox recently told us what we already knew:  Star casino in Pyrmont is by far his worst building. Needless to say a Star flack was immediately reassuring the media that almost none of Cox’s 1997 design had survived the casino’s recent renovations. Whether the casino genre is a likely inspiration for good architecture need not concern us here – for his part Cox declared casinos a toxic genre and wished he’d never designed one.
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The Opera House industry

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Photo by Max Dupain 1966, Powerhouse Museum collection. Courtesy Max Dupain & Associates.

We’ve just installed a small exhibition to mark the fortieth anniversary of Sydney Opera House on 20 October. The anniversary, by the way, is of the official 1973 opening by the Queen, not the first public performance there on the 28 September 1973, an interesting choice of dates.

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Learning from Denise Scott Brown

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Denise Scott Brown outside Las Vegas, 1966. Copyright VenturiScottBrown.

You might have been following the controversy about Denise Scott Brown and the Pritzker Prize. In 1991 Scott Brown’s husband and professional partner Robert Venturi was awarded the Pritzker Prize (often described as architecture’s Nobel Prize). Scott Brown was not, although it was widely recognised that she was Venturi’s equal creative partner.  She did not attend her husband’s award ceremony while Venturi appealed to the Pritzker jury to co-award his wife. No deal, on the grounds that Pritzkers are only awarded to individuals, not partnerships. Continue reading

Condom architecture

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Tin Men

Danny De Vito, Richard Dreyfus and Cadillacs in Tin Men, 1987. Copyright

Re-skinning of buildings takes several forms, not all of them particularly reputable. During the 60s and 70s salesmen prowled the suburbs, seeking out fibro and weatherboard cottages that could be re-clad with aluminium or vinyl. The hard sell would then begin, with promises of capital gains, improved appearance and insulation. I’m not sure that many houses were actually improved, especially as the new cladding was usually screwed on over the existing one.

This business was immortalized in a popular US movie of the 1980s: Tin Men was both satirical and nostalgic about two competing aluminium cladding (‘siding’ in US lingo) salesmen, played by Danny De Vito and Richard Dreyfus.
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