The Interview.

This is an extract from the novel 'The Architecture People' by Don Gazzard.  The complete novel can be downloaded as a PDF file by clicking on the Publications tag of the website.


When I agreed to this bloody interview six months ago it seemed a long way off, and I only agreed because she offered to come down to Rosebud. Her name escapes me although she confirmed the arrangement, Virginia somebody, an art historian, for her PhD thesis, she'd said, and the tape would be put in the DOCOMOMO archives.  Despite some irritation at being disturbed, I'm always keen to set the record straight, it won't take long,  I'll give her lunch afterwards and piss her off.

 Virginia Lorelle arrived spot on time, a smartly dressed young woman in her early thirties with sharp features, all in black in the current fashion she looked bright and shook hands with a firm grip.  I must say I like the no-nonsense style of these young women.  She declined coffee, produced a neat little Sony recorder, pressed a button so a little red light blinked and started promptly saying, I quote from your speech to the RAIA Convention in mid 1975 when you said,

'For me architecture is not a thing apart, I always relate it to the urgent questions of life, how it is lived and how it could and should be lived.  I despair sometimes at connecting the personal and the social, and worry that architecture and design no longer matter in a noisy and distracting consumer culture where design, if it is considered at all, is often just another marketing ploy.'

 And later in the same talk you said,

 'We must be quite clear that architecture is not primarily about stylistic concerns, it is about solving human problems and its real importance resides in its ability to do this in unique and beautiful ways.  Reliance on the past or on the abstract appearance of facades cannot create buildings that will inspire us and stay with us.  Buildings are too expensive, last too long and influence public and private life too much to be simply seen as some sort of public art.  Service to broader social and cultural ideals is needed to create great and lasting architecture'.

 'Does this still sum up your philosophy and approach?'

I took a deep breath, I don't care much for making speeches and didn't much like the sound of my own words being read back to me; most of the time I feel a bit of a fraud speaking with puffed up words like that, y'know.  I'd rather talk about design and buildings than get into words and theory, I had a gutful of that when I was teaching, but I replied that, yes, I still agreed with all that, but was a bit embarrassed, that it sounded a bit portentous when it's read out like that. If anything, things have got worse, with even greater current emphasis on the more superficial visual aspects of design.  Virginia shifted ground and asked me about growing up in Fitzroy.  I rabbitted on and it came out sounding a bit too much of a warm hearted, working class area when it'd been a grim place in all sorts of ways, more polarized with unions striking against bosses; no one ever asked you to have a nice day then!  

 I happened to be wearing a red t-shirt that a visiting French architect had given me, and she commented on the words on it which read 'Mai 68: Debut d'une lutte prolongee'.  She translated it correctly as 'the start of a long struggle,' and asked if I had been involved in the events of May '68?  I told her I was married and running my own practice by then, but my heart had been with the students and the idealistic hopes stirred up by the events in Paris, and I treasured the t-shirt because of these sentiments.  

Then I started to wonder whether this pose was simply a manifestation of the increased sentimentality that I'd noticed in other old people. Despite my leftist sentiments, my Fitzroy life came out sounding like an episode of East Enders, and I told myself to shut up.  It's always been one of my failings to talk too much, trying to seduce with words.  My past self almost started to sound like a stranger in some story, and I almost felt I should be describing events in the third person, saying he not I as though I was talking about someone else.  It would be more seemly I told myself to stick to the facts, even now, just short of seventy-five, I was still trying to charm!  In a way being questioned offended my Fitzroy sense of dignity, I've always wanted recognition f course but despised playing the game to get it, I was arrogant enough to think that it should just come without being sought. 

 She brought me back to earth with a bump by saying she understood I'd been sexually molested as a boy, how had that altered my perceptions of Fitzroy and life?  I don't mind talking about it I told her, but how did you know about it?

'I interviewed Lotti a few months before she died, she didn't mean to and was a bit embarrassed when it popped out; didn't you know about her interview?'  I lied saying Lotti had promised to give me a copy but had forgotten, and asked her to send me a hard copy. I'm still a print person, I like reading on the page rather than scrolling up and down.  I warned myself again to watch it, this woman knew too bloody much.

She was a feminist of course and digressed to say how much she admired Lotti, her paintings, and how she'd combined a number of careers, even writing books for her grandchildren, and was such a warm person.  Did she give you a pot plant, I asked?  She was a bit surprised and answered yes. That was my Lot, she must have warmed to young Virginia, but I forbore from asking her if she'd looked after it, most people don't.  She'd been at the funeral but I didn't remember her, there were so many people there that day.

I told her that I didn't think being molested affected how I thought about Fitzroy and my childhood, I was already at high school and it affected more how I regarded my mum and dad, I thought they should have looked after me better.  As you probably know, I went to Melbourne Boys High and met kids from all sorts of backgrounds, my best friend's dad was from the Veneto and had a deli in Carlton, another lived in a big house in South Yarra, both his father and mother were hard working GP's who loved opera, and it all opened my eyes to the great big world outside grimy postwar Fitzroy, y'know.  

I didn't want to end up like my dad, and university was like a new world, I craved understanding and couldn't read books quick enough. I don't think I had any particular political views when I was growing up, my father was on strike from time to time and like everyone else in Fitzroy I was on the side of the workers.  It was at university that I took an interest in politics, and the social justice interests I developed then affected my attitudes to architecture and they've never left

 *            *            *

 She changed the subject by asking me about the early days of my practice, so I described the gradual changes in the size and types of buildings I was asked to design, and the way the office grew in size and the problems that ensued, when she interrupted with a question that revealed, for all her intellectual art-theory smartness, she didn't understand how the design of buildings actually happens. She was treating buildings as though they were large art objects like sculptures that somehow just happened.

I held up my hand, told her to turn the machine off and listen to a lecture.  
You have to understand the process, I told her or you'll always be yet another writer who thinks buildings can be completely understood in aesthetic and art history terms. I spent half an hour explaining what goes on and how things like council approvals, building costs and how to fit in the ducts and pipes end up subtly distorting and influencing the way designs for building develop. I explained that if you're not careful, the planning and money aspects can steer the design away from serving the future users of the building. 

Bit outside what you've been taught, Virginia, but try and understand. Buildings are important, you know Churchill's quip I'm sure, 'We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us,' but to understand and appreciate architecture you've got to climb down off your fine arts pedestal.  You may not remember but in the talk you referred to I also quoted Harry Seidler saying,

'Architecture is not an inspirational business, it's a rational procedure to do sensible and hopefully beautiful things; that's all.' I've always liked that ending, 'that's all,' bloody hell, that covers a lot of ground!  

I went on to tell her that in my opinion one of the best current critics is Martin Filler, who writes for the New York Review of Books.  While we were talking I found a few copies lying around for her to borrow. You'll see when you read Filler that he really understands how crucial all the financing, legal and political details are in appreciating the influences that determine great architecture.  After he had moved to the States, Mies van der Rohe was accused of complicity with the Nazi Party before the war, the 39-45 war I added quickly as I realised she hadn't been born then.  This was in the early days of the Nazi rise to power and Filler dismisses this concern saying that Mies was simply trying to get work, that in 1926 he'd also worked for the Communist Party, when he'd designed a great brick memorial to Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Leibknecht, two revolutionaries who had been murdered by the Nazis, and which they demolished when they came to power.  

Not all architects are as apolitical as Mies, but all of them need work to survive, to be able to practise their art you would probably say.  If I'd only worked for clients who shared my political views I'd have been out of work most of the time. I could feel myself getting carried away, y'know, and realised that while she knew all the names, they were just footnotes in a book to her, and she didn't really appreciate the social background to the history of the modern movement and world events at the time. 

It was midday by now so I made open sandwiches, smoked salmon and avocado on Flinders bread, and while we ate them in the sun in the courtyard, I gave her another simple lesson, explaining step by step the visual and practical reasons why my extension ended up looking the way it did, that along with practical reasons there were clearly aesthetic preferences but that no great abstract art theory was involved.  She was clearly surprised at this, it was almost as though she was a scientist who had identified some sort of antediluvian 'no theory' creature she had read about but had thought to be long since extinct, y'know, a Lazarus specie now only found in remote parts of the world like Rosebud.

  *             *            *

She switched on the recorder again, assuring me she'd got the point. 'Please explain the background to the Elwood building, so I can understand it the way you've described.'  So I told her how it had started with a community group badgering the council, and how fortunate I was to have an enlightened client. Great architecture is so much the combination of an interesting site, a good architect and an involved client, plus an adequate budget, open minds, sophistication and general culture et cetera, et cetera that it's no wonder that it happens so seldom.  Fortunately a lot of these things were present in Elwood.

The quid pro quo in persuading the council to agree to a development larger than that normally permitted was that three of the flats were given to the council for renting to low-income people.  I believe that if we are to be a balanced and caring community, it's desirable to provide for all socio-economic classes and be able to give the poorest a leg up, and the Council agreed.  A council library and a daycare centre that weren't in the original brief were also incorporated.  The expensive basement parking in the brief was eliminated at my suggestion and this helped fund all these goodies.  As you get higher rents for the ground floor retail space I put the creche on the roof, which gave me the opportunity for a sculptured shape on top; I hate buildings without a top, buildings that just finish as though it doesn't matter whether they have an extra floor or not, y'know.

This was well before the word sustainability became fashionable, right. 
To compensate for the loss of the parking, I talked the council into providing a free community bus that circles the area; no fixed stops, you hail it like a taxi.  I thought this would be easier for people without cars, like oldies and mums with kids, as well as reducing energy use, all desirable things in my eyes.  And then there were a battery of environmental things, some of them a bit untried and ahead of their time, like solar power generation, rainwater and grey water collection, natural ventilation rather than air conditioning and maximising daylight rather than dreary, uniform fluorescent lighting everywhere. 

This building was built well over twenty years ago, don't forget, and some of these things have since become normal, but they were pretty revolutionary then.  I also introduced the technique of life cycle costing where all the future costs over the life of the building, like cleaning and replacement of equipment, are taken into account in choosing materials, unknown in Australia then and still not used often enough.  Although it doesn't produce the lowest first cost, better materials are often cheaper over the life of the building. My client embraced this approach without reservation and although it took a lot of investigating to get all the relevant data, we ended up with better quality, more attractive materials, as well as lower long-term maintenance costs. 

My client was smart, he wanted a sustainable, low energy, long term investment, y'know, one he could own and that would retain its value, in contrast to speculative developers who sell their lowest cost 'investment products' on to an insurance company as soon as it's fully let, leaving all the future problems for some one else to deal with.

These aren't the sorts of things usually talked about in art dissertations, but it was all these things that provided the conditions and the opportunity for good architecture to occur. You've seen the building, it's on a corner where two roads join at an acute angle, and this complicated the design but at the same time the geometry and mix of uses provided the impetus for the facades to be visually differentiated depending on the particular use in that part of the building and all this gives the building its distinctive appearance. Sorry to disappoint you Virginia, but absolutely no big art theory behind any of it y'know, just a capacity to search out and develop a unique response to this particular site and this particular client and which served good social purposes as we saw them at the time.

  *            *            *

I paused, and she asked if Elwood was before or after Lotti left me.  I wondered what Lotti had told her, and replied that I wouldn't use those words.  It wasn't the whole complicated truth perhaps, but I said Lotti went to Sydney to advance her new career in arts administration and her desire to help bring up our grand daughters.  We went in separate directions for a short while but remained close, Lotti visited regularly and even died in the next room.  

But to answer your question the Elwood building was years before Lotti went to Sydney, it was only six or eight years after I'd started in practice. It's strange but the same opportunity of an intelligent client, good site, adequate budget and so on has never occurred again for me in quite the fortuitous way it did at Elwood.  Knowing when to take risks and go for it like Elwood and when to accept the limitations of a low budget brief and just design as straight forward building as possible.  It's a dilemma young architects often founder on; their auntie's low budget beach house is treated like an opera house and grossly over-designed, trying to incorporate every good idea they've ever had.

Like most people, by the time I was thirty I had to admit to myself that I wasn't a great original thinker like Darwin, Freud or Marx, or even a great original architect like Wright or Corbusier.  And I regret now that I didn't have the courage to change to a second career in my late fifties, although I don't know what else I might have done.  In hindsight I think I might have tried to become a writer but it didn't occur to me then.  

 Looking back, my output of completed buildings is not that great, but I've always consoled myself that quantity isn't as important as quality.  Charles Eames, absolutely the best modern furniture designer, effectively only built one building, his own house in Santa Monica, but it's been an important influence, not just on me but also on my generation world-wide.  My work stands up alongside that of my contemporaries but I'm just another good architect.  I found myself explaining things that should probably be better left alone, too much explication can kill that sense of mystery that's the essence of the creative life, but I've always had a bloody compulsive side, not knowing when to stop.

                                    *            *            *

She commented that although my buildings had become bigger and more complex over the years, I'd never stopped designing houses, why were houses so special?  I explained that when an enlightened client meets a good architect, the results can be special and have great influence and that's why architects still go to see the famous houses.  Where would we be without the Villa Savoye, the Farnsworth house and the Eames house to inspire us?  Houses've always been a place for architects to experiment, and each generation restarts the odyssey all over again.  

I revisited Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye a couple of years ago. I'd seen it in the postwar years when it was in a bad state after it had been used to store hay and farm machinery during the war, but the French government finally realised it was an important national monument and did a real restoration number. It looks superb and if this eighty-year-old house were built in Melbourne today, apart from a kitchen designed for servants y'know, everyone would be surprised at how much more avant-garde it is than any of the current crop of award winning houses, and what's more, how good it would be to live in.

 I explained the special relationship you develop with the two clients and that experimentation is more likely in houses than in commercial buildings.  Houses are the crucible of architecture, it's where most architects start their careers and where new ideas are forged.  Bigger buildings get more careful evaluation and commercial clients rarely take risks, there's too much money at stake.  But two enlightened young people setting out on a life together are often open to new ways of doing things.

 *            *            *   

I went on to explain that I'd always been interested in the ideas of a group led by Christopher Alexander.  She'd never heard of him so I filled in the background. He wrote what I think is a pretty good book called The Pattern Language, and another not so good one called The Timeless Way of Building, which tried to set down a philosophic basis for their ideas.  Like me, Alexander admired the inevitable look of ordinary vernacular buildings, and came up with combinations of elements he described as 'patterns'. For example he considered the traditional covered entry porch into houses is a pattern if designed in the right way, so is a real covered outdoor room, and another one I've always accepted is that 'a room needs light on two sides' if it is to be truly alive and not like a boring motel room.  I suspect he hoped that by joining patterns together, ordinary people might be able to create buildings as natural looking as Italian farmhouses and whitewashed Greek island buildings.

The philosophy was another thing again.  Alexander lived in California, and his intellectual attempts to underpin the patterns were a mix of hippy flower power and Buddhism.  While we were talking I picked The Timeless Way off the shelf and it fell open at random at a bit I'd underlined which read, 'When a place is lifeless or unreal, there is always a mastermind behind it.  It is so filled with the will of its maker that there is no room for its own nature.' 

Bloody hell, that disposes of us architects.  You might sense what he was trying to say, and you might even think that it sounded like a good idea. After all, ninety-nine point nine percent of houses in the developed world happen without the involvement of architects and the standard can't get much worse.  But what he said is just plain unhelpful, where do you go from there?  Many people dismissed Alexander and his mates, but although their philosophy stumbled I thought they were onto something with their patterns and found his ideas useful when designing houses, y'know. 

One of his patterns was about decoration on buildings, he saw decoration as a universal need and that modern architecture was lacking because of its absence.  Although I've sort of come to agree with this view, I'd been brought up on Adolf Loos's saying, 'Ornament is crime,' and that it was only savages who tattooed themselves.  I peered over my glasses when she wasn't looking but couldn't see any tats on her, and went on to say that I'd long since got over that Thirties ideological stuff and each time I start a new design I remind myself that it's time to incorporate some decoration.  But it never happens, I just don't know how, better not to have any than do it badly, I tell myself.

I told Virginia that Alexander was a sub-branch of the tribe that I call poet-architects.  In another place he says that if we will only let his 'quality without a name' guide our acts of building, the buildings that we make 'will be the forests and meadows of the human heart;' great romantic stuff isn't it? 

She took the book and flipped through it and asked if I always underlined passages in books and I answered yes, it was a compulsion of mine, that I mostly underlined things I agreed with or was amused by, but sometimes heresies, and also words I didn't know to remind me to look them up.  Lou Kahn was another poet-architect whose aphorisms have always touched other architects, but unlike Alexander, whose actual designs fell short of his words, Kahn was also a great architect. His Kimbell Art Museum is a fine building, absolutely one of the best with vaulted ceilings lit by concealed natural light.  And it isn't just a great building that says look at me, it enhances the artworks as well, y'know.  

I got the chance to go there once, I'd been asked to design an airport terminal in Brisbane and as there'd been a spate of new terminals built in the US using people movers of various sorts, my airline client provided subload tickets for me and the interior designer to go and see if they had any applicability here.  
It was a mad trip, we flew from one airport to the next, saw the airport manager, were given a detailed inspection of the building and were usually fed, they were all very hospitable, and then got on another plane to the next place.  There were only two places we stopped more than overnight, Dallas-Fort Worth to see Kahn's museum was one, and the other was at Tampa, Florida to see Disney World.

Kahn said things like 'I asked the brick what it liked, and the brick said I like an arch.'  I know, I know, it sounds absurd, but Kahn had so much charisma and character as a teacher that this rambling poetry resonated with students and communicated his passion about the truths of classical architecture which he hoped would influence modern buildings.  As I expected she raised her eyebrows at the brick quote, I told her I can't explain why a hard head like me would find his rhetoric inspiring, it was all of a piece with his buildings and made you think.  

She said she'd look up the Kimbell to understand why it was so highly regarded, and then asked, she was curious she said, why on earth had we gone to Disney World?  So I explained that the first Disneyland in Los Angeles was built on a restricted site so when they decided to build one on the east coast they acquired over 3,000 acres of land in Florida and planned it like a new town, that as well as the entertainment stuff there were three resorts, golf courses and some residential areas with a monorail connecting it all, and was well landscaped with lakes and trees.  People like me wanted to learn how they did it. Our society seems unable to create beautiful extensions of our cities, they all end up like Patrick White's Barrenugli. I could see she didn't know who White was, he's right out of fashion now, but I didn't stop and explained that Disney had managed to do this in a practical way that people not only liked but was beautiful, clean and easy to get around without cars. The downside was that to make it work it needed autocratic and undemocratic management and decision making.  Fascinating she said, she'd only had a high art view of Disney World, that it made her appreciate how inclusive a profession architecture is.

 *            *            *

I interrupted to ask about her self.  As I'd guessed she was from the Sydney North Shore, Presbyterian Ladies College at Pymble and a Masters in Fine Arts at the Power Institute at Sydney University under Bernard Smith.  We reminisced about Smith, a tough, old left wing intellectual, she knew him much better than I did of course, but he'd given us a lecture when I was a student and I'd warmed to his views as well as admiring his intellectual rigour. With her background, Smith had come as a real shock but she'd come to appreciate how lucky she was to have such a demanding professor, that he'd made her think differently about art, y'know.  'It's how a nice girl like me has heard of the events of May 68,' she explained.  She'd moved to Melbourne because her boy friend was setting up a business, something to do with the internet. He sounded a bit of a con man but that's probably my age showing.  She remarked that I was very well travelled. Except for Africa and South America I reminded her.  In the first place I went to Europe and Asia to round out my education, to see and learn first hand from the great buildings of the past.  My education in architectural history hadn't been very good and I had a lot of catching up to do. 

Our bible was 'A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method' by Sir F Bannister Fletcher; you should look it up for a giggle but it was no joke.  The first edition was in 1896 and it was still going when I was a student; my second hand copy was the 10th edition re-printed in 1940!  It started in Egypt and worked its way up through Greece and Rome, medieval Romanesque and the Renaissance, and on to the 19th century in Europe stopping short of the development of modern architecture. It's a totally misleading book, all the plans and sections are small and at different scales to fit on the page so you got no sense of the relative sizes of buildings, and the photographs were dreary and uninspiring, And of course living here, none of them were available in the flesh, and you simply can't appreciate buildings from books, y'know, you have to see them and walk around and through them.             

The last chapter was about what Fletcher called 'the non- historical styles', a potted overview of Persian, Indian, Islamic, Chinese, Japanese and Mayan buildings, the architecture of more than half the bloody world condensed as an afterthought, disposing of masterpieces like the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore to the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto in one fell swoop.   Fletcher was a British Empire, white, upper class male and all that bloody wog architecture clearly wasn't to be taken seriously.  

With a more inclusive view of our heritage, it's no wonder Walter Gropius was knocked rotten by Katsura with its modular tatami mats and light weight, almost prefabricated construction and the close integration between house and garden, all of which have had such real lessons for our time.  Whenever we were in Europe we always made a point of seeing the latest buildings and paintings, and the oldest villages as well as the most important cathedrals.  And architects took us to see less wellknown buildings ; architects are a great freemasonry in that way.

 *            *            *  

Virginia interrupted my rambling to say that she wanted to get back before dark and only had two last questions.  The first was about my one heritage building; she wondered how it fitted in with everything else I'd done.  The grand Victorian town hall I'd restored had been built at the height of the gold boom but there were town halls to spare after Kennett amalgamated the local councils, right. I've never understood how I came to be asked as it was quite outside my normal line of work.  It was threatened with closure if the timber fire escape stairs weren't replaced, and as an afterthought they suggested that a colour scheme might also be a good idea, as the building needed painting.

To them it was a straight forward maintenance job but a bit tongue in cheek I reminded them, that the building was a listed heritage item, and that the law required that a Conservation Plan must be prepared before the place was touched. Do whatever is required, they said impatiently, just fix it up so there are no problems, and this was how I entered the rarified world of heritage conservation. I'd never done anything like this before, but I've always admired the sophisticated way similar problems are tackled in Italy, y'know. 

So I informed myself about the Burra Charter, the bible of conservationists, wrote the conservation plan and made more far reaching changes than those the client suggested. Looking at old photographs, I realised that the glazed upper floor had originally been an open loggia matching the one on the ground floor, pretty obvious when you think about it, and that there had also been a triangular pediment over the original entrance to the offices that had disappeared.  All these things were put right and the interior was refurbished.  

But one of my bétés noires are heritage buildings for which there isn't any clear use and I spent most of my time trying to find a proper bloody role for the building, they can't all be contrived museums with no provision for the ongoing operating costs.  It looks good but I'm afraid I failed to find an appropriate use, and basically all that ever goes on now are the odd public meeting and occasional sales of factory seconds ski gear; a sad end for a grand building and a waste of a community resource. 

I told her that important as it was, I didn't agree with a great deal of the current attitudes to heritage conservation in Australia.  Mainly that we are listing and keeping far too many second rate buildings and that this is going to create problems as the densities of our cities inevitably increase.  The latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century weren't good times for architecture anywhere, and particularly in this country. I could understand it if they were really great buildings, but keeping so many of them seems to be a failure of nerve, a desire to be comfortable along with understandable concern about what might replace them; and I have to admit that's a problem with all these second rate modern buildings around!  And when we alter the interiors of buildings that are genuinely part of our heritage we should emulate the Italians, and use stainless steel and plate glass in a modern way so you can see what's new and what's old, and not try to make it 'fit in' in the current half arsed way that isn't very convincing. Modern details always emphasise the good qualities of the older building in my opinion.

                                            *            *            *

Her last question was a simple one, 'Which living architect did I most admire?' I started on about my debt to Corb but she pulled me back to living architects.  I thought about it for a minute, I haven't travelled much in recent years and only see what's published in AR, the Architectural Review from London, which I still get.  After a moments reflection, and although I admire many more than one person, it's unfair to have to choose, I nominated Renzo Piano for the way his buildings are not only beautiful but also rational in a way that some of the other high flyers are not; his plans are a pleasure.

It's in geometry that architecture shows its practicality for construction and if you're experienced you can read this from Piano's drawings. I probably picked him because his most recent building, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco was in the latest AR.   Some of the other high flyers like Frank Gehry, mostly design buildings like art galleries where tight planning is not required, and although some of them are very beautiful they aren't in the same class of making a difference. Piano takes on complex buildings like this part research institute, part museum, and creates beautiful places with a solid environmental base.  He understands the use of computers but he's one of my mob and resists the temptation to exploit what computers can do for their own sake, y'know. He's more inclined to learn lessons from nature and I liked his recent warning about avoiding contrived shapes: 'Stupid shapes,' Piano called them, 'produced by pressing stupid buttons on stupid computers.'

I had the same problem, I told her when I was teaching I was always being shown whiz-bang computer drawings and they were often very beautiful, but my reaction was always to ask 'but is it better architecture?'  Computers are only tools after all, valuable but only a means to an end. How the drawings are done or how beautiful they are doesn't matter as much as what you experience when you walk through the building.  Piano's buildings are rational and beautiful, taking mundane facts and making them sing.

We'd gone on all afternoon, she was a good listener and asked intelligent questions, and thanked me when we finished for changing her perspective about architecture, that she had a lot to learn.  She got up to leave, asking could she please take a photograph of where I worked before she left.  I led her across the courtyard, it was a bit of a mess with my scribbles for Tom and Helen's alterations all over the floor but she wouldn't hear of tidying it up, there was something special, she said about the ambience of places where creative people worked.  It didn't take long, she'd borrowed her boyfriend's car, and wanted to get back before the light faded.

 When I spontaneously hugged her goodbye, she blushed and was a bit embarrassed, but I felt old enough to offer advice, y'know, and without mentioning the boyfriend told her to stick to her principles.  She agreed and grinned as she drove off, and I walked down to the beach to watch the day end before thinking about dinner.  It had been another day marking time talking about the bloody past; it's all I seem to do these days, but as people used to say when I was a boy, I wouldn't be dead for quids.