Tasmanian Times


The Architecture of Happiness

PETER UNDERWOOD AC, GOVERNOR OF TASMANIA. Presentation of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (Tasmanian Chapter) Awards. Moorilla Vineyard, Saturday, June 20.

Thank you for asking me to be here this evening to take part in the 2009 Tasmanian Architecture awards. As well as being the Governor of Tasmania my qualifications for being invited this evening include the fact that I grew up in a family of architects. My father was the Government District architect for the north and north east of the State and my elder brother has just retired from private practice as an architect in Victoria so I knew what an RSJ was before I had grown into long trousers!

The Institute is the voice of architecture in Australia representing the views and promoting the skills of the profession to all levels of government, industry, the media and the community. Nationally, the Institute has 9000 members and is dedicated to advancing architecture for the common good. This annual event, first held in 1981, go a long way towards satisfying two principal aims of the Institute namely, the advancement of architecture and the maintenance of the integrity and standing of the profession. Last year more than 700 projects from all around Australia competed for awards and of those, 22 projects and architectural practices were the recipients of the 2008 national Architecture awards. This year in there are 31 nominations in seven categories. Not surprisingly, just on about 50% of the nominations concern residential architecture, either new buildings or heritage stock.

In his book, “The Architecture of Happiness”, Alain de Botton writes about the 20th Century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who apparently abandoned academia for three years to build his sister a house, an enterprise that once famously caused him to observe, “You think that philosophy is difficult, but I tell you it is nothing compared to the difficulty of being a good architect.”

But I refer to de Botton’s book because in it he asks the question, “What is a beautiful building”? And having put that question goes on to say:

“To be modern is to experience this question as awkward and possibly unanswerable, the very notion of beauty having come to seem like a concept doomed to ignite unfruitful and childish argument. How can anyone claim to know what is attractive? How can anyone adjudicate between competing claims of different styles, or defend a particular choice in the face of the contradictory tastes of others? The creation of beauty, once viewed as the central task of an architect, has quietly evaporated from serious professional discussion and retreated to confused private imperative.”

I am not sure that everyone would agree with those remarks, especially on the occasion of these architectural awards, but it cannot be denied that even with the strict judging criteria that applies to these awards, the task of the jury must have been incredibly difficult and not one to be envied. So I would just like to say thank you to the five members of the jury and to the jurors who adjudicated on the James Blackburn Triennial and the SWT Blythe prizes for a difficult job well done.

De Botton, a Swiss born philosopher, makes the point with which I think most people will agree that our ideas of what is beautiful are in a state of continual change. He says that one would expect that upon finding something beautiful one would, as he says, “remain loyal to [one’s] feelings. However, de Botton says that this not the case stating, “the histories of design and architecture offer little reassurance as to the fidelity of our tastes.” He then develops an interesting theory that art and architectural design is called beautiful when it contains in concentrated form “those qualities in which we personally, or our societies more generally, are deficient.” By way of illustration he points out that an understanding of the seventeenth century’s taste for gilded walls and rosy cherubs needs to recall this form of decoration developed at a time when violence and disease were ever present threats even for the wealthy and – as he describes it, “fertile soil from which to begin appreciating the corrective promises offered by angels holding aloft garlands of flowers and ribbons”, pictures so often seen on walls at that time.

Now, these awards have only been in existence for a little over a quarter of a century, but perhaps in another quarter of a century, they, as representatives of what was considered the best architecture of the time, will provide a fruitful source from which to test De Botton’s theory about change in what is considered beautiful, and whether he is right when he expresses his opinion that what is considered good architectural design is a reflection of the qualities in respect of which society of the time deemed it was deficient.

It is perhaps something worthy of a little debate, but for now my congratulations go to the Institute for conducting these awards and very importantly, to the sponsors who make them possible, including, may I say, particularly BlueScope Steel which has been a loyal sponsor for 20 years now. My congratulations also go to all the entrants this year and of course, especially all those who were successful in winning an award.

A Book of Verse and Thou
God is in the details

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Geraldine Allan

    July 7, 2009 at 6:03 pm



    I am pleased to advise TT readers that, at 1.05 pm today I received a personal e-mail reply to my #13, from Mr Crotty. It is a decent response, and I am delighted he has taken the time to be interested, and to correct my mis-interpretation of part of his comment to TT.

    At this point of time, out of respect — I will reply to the writer personally by e-mail. If he chooses to post his comments on this thread I will respond accordingly.

    What I find encouraging in this step, is that so often contributors assert their opinions on TT and when politely challenged, go into hiding thus failing to continue the debate. That is indeed annoying to readers who genuinely want to get to the truth.

    Thanks James for the courtesy of a reply.

  2. james crotty

    July 7, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Apologies for delay in responding. I have been away and the email referral didn’t reach me.

    It appears I did not state clearly enough the problem I see with the police to allow it to be readily understood as unfortunately Geraldine has taken the opposite meaning to what I intended. The quote from my post Geraldine cites,

    ” In the same post, you go on to recognise but not agree with, Peter’s concerns. You summarise it broadly as, “where does one complain about alleged judicial, magisterial, prosecutorial or police wrong doing”?

    You then answer the question with your overall one-stop shop solution — “The present answer in relation to all of those bodies is the police.”

    I can state it no other way — you are wrong.”

    If I had intended to say that I would be wrong. What I said, and I think if you read my post again you will agree I say it, is that the police have not demonstrated they are the appropriate agency for this type of investigation.

    There needs to be an independent investigative body for allegations against the police, DPP and judiciary and the like.

    And while I’m here; John I am neither Chief Justice nor Governor. I don’t understand your criticism and inference adverse to my character. What does my very public support for community confidence in the role those positions play in democratic checks and balances have anything to do with my unsuccesful attempt for Alp preselection for Pembroke. The party doesn’t want me for the job. I disagree with their decision. I think we should now leave that decision to the electors of Pembroke. While this to some extent is personally vain I can’t see how it is “treasonous and despicable”.

  3. Geraldine Allan

    July 7, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I note Mr Crotty has gone mute.

  4. john hayward

    June 30, 2009 at 1:48 am

    I am hoping that further genome research will indicate that I am not of the same species as Crotty and Underwood. An immense degree of public trust is vested in the posts of Chief Justice and Governor. To betray this trust for political favour or personal vanity is treasonous and despicable. I am not surprised that Crotty is up for Tas ALP preselection.

    John Hayward

  5. Geraldine Allan

    June 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I realise this comment is not within the context of the original thread topic. However, I cannot allow the comments listed herein to include James Crotty’s 26/06/09 comment without make a correction for the record.

    James #8 — I get really annoyed when I read such rave reviews of the DPP. I don’t agree with your wide-ranging statement that the DPP is commendably independent in bringing all prosecutions. I know that is what we are supposed to believe, but it is not always the case. I have personally experienced a case where the Office of DPP went out of its way to gain a prosecution at any cost and certainly failed to act independently as the office was obliged. Those activities I witnessed included
    1. turning a blind eye to crucial evidence of fact that favoured the defendants,
    2. withholding evidence that would have most definitely exposed the complainant as a liar, and thus exposed that person as not a credible witness — to the jury,
    3. working hand in glove with Tasmania Police, who were complicit in items 1 and 2 above,
    4. failing to notice (by chance — I don’t believe) that the complainant, by the time of a Supreme Court trial, had accumulated six differing versions to the story, 5 variations of which the jury never heard,
    5. And much more, which I included in my submission to the JSCEC. That submission, which I had no problem with its contents being disclosed (I recorded the truth at all times) was deemed by the committee to not be made available to the public for reasons as follows: –
    “The Committee further resolved however, that some of these submissions should not be reported in order to ensure that no breaches of natural justice occurred by the denial of any right of reply and the possible denial of natural justice.”

    If you doubt the credibility of my claims James, you are welcome to contact me. I have the direct evidence.

    In the same post, you go on to recognise but not agree with, Peter’s concerns. You summarise it broadly as, “where does one complain about alleged judicial, magisterial, prosecutorial or police wrong doing”?

    You then answer the question with your overall one-stop shop solution — “The present answer in relation to all of those bodies is the police.”

    I can state it no other way — you are wrong. It may be effective in some instances, but in my experience — I have done that and it inappropriately and farcically failed. I repeat for the credibility of this post, if you doubt my claims, James, you are welcome to contact me. I have the direct and appalling evidence of a cover-up to protect persons in public positions.

    I am being cautious in this post due to current Tasmania Police matters before the courts.

    If in the future a thread is commenced on the role of some recent Governors who in their previous lives, presided over the Supreme Court, I am quite comfortable with posting some of my experiences of the blatant and erroneous activities of which I have the evidence.

  6. Low Carl

    June 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Tks William; mostly its only people rooted in the country who understand. People antanaed in central city understand only sectors. City architecture can be utterly divorced from the land, but not of course gravity. Glen Murcutts architecture is like a lizard in town. The planning schemes dont like it but they should make room. Making room is what architecture is. Room needs at least some lizard like a diver needs some air.
    Ah excuse me I find it hard to stop sometimes.

  7. William Boeder

    June 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Well Cheekybugger Talkabout, your point is valid!

    The commentary from Mont 25/06/09 is a pleasant walk into the realm of words and descriptives that paints a clear picture of all the many things encapsulated into what might become the wide-thinking resourceful and quite possibly, an successful and acclaimed Architect.

    To me it was an interesting glimpse into the inspiring natural themes that might influence the deep-thinking artistry of a building or of an intended constructional design.

    There appeared to be a little of the James Joyce style of delivery here, though this is not meant to in anyway indicate criticism, more rather to lift its enchantment into the mind and to further give this particular discourse the spirited compelling reward to those who took the the time, to enjoy the clevery architected construct of so many wonderful words.

    William Boeder.

    Well done Mont.

  8. Cheekybugger Talkabout

    June 26, 2009 at 12:52 am

    How about paying some respect to the architecture awards you chaps who chatter in the audience!!
    You may have jolly good points to make of view but one might might just as well rant on about world poverty or the very long shroud that tore from top to bottom at the hour of death.

  9. William Boeder

    June 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    With regard toward your comments here James Crotty, I respect your views as to the position of a judge presiding over the conduct of what is generally referred to as a fair trial.
    Though much of what is contained in the closing remarks of any said judge, these remarks can create in the minds of jurors, specific references that may well cause a jury panel to consider most specifically that of which the judge alone deems to be vitally important.

    I now refer to the matter of intent, as opposed to the action of any particular event, or of any unsought misdemeanor, or occasioning harm to others without direct intention.

    On these points alone, the lack of intent carries no overwhelming role of importance to the actual resultant actions or damages caused by an individual in such a presumed accidental situation.

    Thereby to seek intent alone as to being the matter to be decided upon, can thus remove the emphasis away from the actual alleged criminal action.

    So I give a yes to your comment that suggests an independant investigative body to be available toward matters I have eluded to.

    Back to you James.

  10. james crotty

    June 25, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    My initial post was to draw attention to the need I see to review the position of the Governor here in Tasmania. A modest ambition, readily achieveable given some political resolve. It is presently too ambitious to attempt anything nationally after the failures of past republican campaigns.

    Some of the responses attempt to link the judiciary with controversial prosecutions and and perceived failures in our system of government. Just let me put those matters to bed.

    First, to William, in the trials you mention the Judge played no role in the prosecution or outcome. The DPP is laudably independent in bringing a prosecution. The jury made or failed to make a decision on guilt in both cases. The role of the Judge was limited to ensuring the trial went according to law.

    Second, to Peter, although I do not agree with what you say your post does cause me to consider a problem we have in Tasmania, broadly put as, “where does one complain about alleged judicial, magisterial, prosecutorial or police wrong doing”.

    The present answer in relation to all of those bodies is the police. Present and past experience demonstrates that public confidence in such a system may not be warranted. Better that the public be confident all personages are equal in being the subject of competent and unbiased investigation. For that purpose we need something akin to an independent investigative body. The nature of the body is beyond the scope of this post. But I suspect the notion would allay the expressed concerns of William and Peter, and a considerable number of thinking Tasmanians.

  11. William Boeder

    June 24, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Following on from the comments of Peter Joyce. #2.
    There has still been no satisfactory resolve given toward the TCC Scandal, this that strangely needed (2) Supreme Court Cases to reach its conclusions.
    Given that our Governor is well regaled and decorated for his own excellence’s, there are still the murkily messy manifestations resulting from this now State Governor, going back to his office as the Chief Justice in Tasmania.
    Many are those in our communities whom are still puffing smoke and hissing steam as to the result of the 2 Bryan Green Supreme Court Trials.

    Now is as good a time as any to reflect on that which is the most apparent, (since the day that this crudely delivered outcome was so haphazardly dumped upon the people.)
    There is still wonder and disbelief toward the contradicting aspects of both trials. As is set out below?
    The outcome of the first Court case, necessitated the need for a 2nd Court Case, then the decision that arrived after this 2nd case, is on a par to the conclusion of the first case,
    Sounds confusing doesn’t it?
    Of course there was the fact that one of the (2) parties involved in the allegations soon pleaded guilty!
    So as the old saying goes, (if it takes (2) people to tango,) so why is there one half of those involved in this conspiracy, now gaily tango-ing and bouncing about as though he is the personification of the most excellent person and of a fine and upstanding character?
    This matter is, in the estimation of many people in this State, a gross example of distorted over-embellished hum buggery justice, rather than plain and true justice.
    Why is this so?

  12. Peter Joyce

    June 24, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Unlike Mr Crotty, I am not a lawyer. Apart from the waste of money, I don’t want to knock the Queen. I presume at least she’s ethical. Under-mining the court system is definitely a lot more serious than just a waste of money. A tidier system of government as Mr Crotty desires, would be nice and pleasant. However a decent court system is a right worth fighting for.

  13. Peter Joyce

    June 24, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Underwood may be “immensely talented, accomplished and personable” but does that mean he is ethical? Most used-car salesmen are personable. Was that some sort of joke on his part when he said he didn’t want to go to uni but his parents threatened to torture him. Or is he representative of Tassie’s redneck fringe that shun education?

    Tasmania’s judiciary is a joke and Underwood is the man who presided over it as Chief Justice until a few years ago. I’ve always thought of him as the linchpin of what’s wrong with our courts in our state. And that extends to making Tasmanians virtually powerless to compel state/local government agencies to obey state law as the Supreme Court is stacked.

    I’d prefer to hear other news about our guv such as him being involved in a car/train crash at Spreyton. Why do only the good suffer in such tragedies?

    There is currently imbalance in fight against evil, i.e. Underwood’s ilk, in Tasmania.

  14. james crotty

    June 23, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    The present Govenor epitomises the problem for those of us who wish to be rid of the post of Governor. An immensely talented, accomplished and personable man, he is ideally suited after a life of public service and considerable achievement to represent the state. To attack the office of Governor is somehow seen as an attack on the occupant. In my case it is not. I hope one day the office will go. It, and other anachronisms from a colonial past will be swept away by the reform of an independent political community and one well capable of self government. When that reform comes there will still be need for persons of the stature of Governor Underwood to fill what is a necessary and not always ceremonial role. The question of what is that role, how they are chosen and what they are called has been too difficult for a succession of governments. Perhaps against priorities of health, education, employment the reform of the office of governor has little weight . However, if we are to have a Governor, let it be ours, not a relic of a convict past framed in a time of colonial controls when it was considered we could not be trusted to determine our own futures.

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