Dr Paul McGillick
About the speaker
Our speaker today is Mr Paul McGillick.
Paul is a writer and editor of architecture, art and design. He is the author of many books, essays and articles and has edited a number of journals. Paul has contributed to leading newspapers and magazines in Australia. He has also worked extensively in radio and television for both the ABC and SBS.
Paul was previously the Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Sydney and responsible for planning and implementing multi-disciplinary programmes. Paul also played a key role in organising the Subject Painting for the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
He also had a parallel career as an academic lecturer at the University of New South Wales and taught and researched at the University of Sydney, for almost twenty years.
Paul holds a degree in Master of Architecture from the University of New South Wales, a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics from the University of Sydney and a Doctor of Philosophy from Griffith University.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Mr Paul McGillick to deliver the occasional address.
I am not here to talk about myself. But may I ask you to indulge me for just a moment because there’s a tale to tell which I hope will lend some weight to the message I would like to deliver this morning.
I have ─ seemingly accidentally ─ accumulated five degrees during my life. And this, I like to smugly tell people, came after I had failed second year in my undergraduate degree and been gently informed by the Dean that, in his opinion, I was not cut out for academic life. I subsequently taught for more than 20 years at the University of Sydney and the University of NSW.
My BA was in Far Eastern history. My next qualification was not strictly-speaking a degree, but a post-graduate Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Then came a Master of Arts in Linguistics, followed by a PhD looking at the role of ritual in 20th Century theatre and finally a Master of Architecture degree.
Now, in the unlikely event that anyone here may seek to emulate this career path, I need to warn you, that Universities do not look kindly on this kind of indulgent diversification. In fact, there is a general disapproval in the community at large of over-qualification, indeed of qualifications of any kind. I recall Dr Hewson, then leader of the opposition in Federal Parliament, being mocked in Parliament for having a PhD in Business Studies from Harvard. And when I worked as an editor in the architecture and design press, a publisher once commented that he would never have employed me had he known that I had a PhD.
These days I write books and articles on architecture and design. My books include several on residential architecture in South-East Asia. As a result, I know a lot of architects in the Region, some very well. This does not mean, however, that it’s easy for me to contact them when I need to. It’s true they don’t like email, but a lot of the time they’re simply somewhere else ─ ‘out-stationed’ as they call it. They may be working on a commission, but often it is something else altogether.
For example, a Singapore architect I know very well, takes his staff once, sometimes twice a year, on a kind of sabbatical, usually to Europe, on architectural study tours, visits to the great cities and their museums, and to take in as much cultural content as possible.
A Jakarta-based architect I know has an ongoing project in the outer islands of the archipelago, such as Nias and Flores, to sustain vernacular building traditions and associated cultural activities. He doesn’t design these buildings ─ these are, after all, traditional buildings built by the community. Instead, he facilitates the projects and then he and his staff go on site assisting in the building work and documenting the projects as part of extended cruises through the archipelago exploring local culture.
These examples are not isolated. They are an accurate reflection of the predispositions of a younger generation of architects and designers in the Region. And they tell us two things. Firstly, there is a continuing commitment to professional development – lifetime learning, if you will. Secondly, it tells us that these architects and designers ─ and I need to stress that this is true not just of architects, but equally of product designers ─ see their practice as embedded in their community, its values and its culture.
So, let me make three points.
This degree ceremony is not the end of your education, it is just the end of the beginning. I am currently writing a book on a Singapore-based architect who is about 50 years of age. He now works mainly for developers on high-rise multi-residential developments. Although he worked for Norman Foster for eight years, he never really imagined himself doing this. But the way he tells it is that this phase of his career ─ like the rest of his career ─ is a constant process of learning. While he is proud of the buildings he has built, what he invariably ends up talking about is what he learned in the process. In fact, it is the process rather than the end result which fascinates him ─ the process of achieving the highest quality design outcome while still meeting the needs of his developer client. Driving value through design.
Secondly, never forget that, at the end of the day, you are making things. Making things for people. And what this implies is that, in some way or another, you are collaborating with the people for whom you are designing ─ in other words, the end user. What you design must be fit for purpose and that purpose resides in the real world, echoing the title of Victor Papanek’s famous book, and essential reading for all designers, Designing for the Real World.
Finally, to return to my opening remarks, your ability to respond creatively to the design challenges thrown at you will reflect the breadth of your cultural experience and knowledge. The acquisition of this cultural character does not depend on the accumulation of degrees, but on openness, humility, the commitment to discover the riches of human cultural achievement and the willingness to do the hard work entailed in that. A lifetime process.
Having said all that, may I make a special appeal to graduating architects: do not spell the word ‘architect’ with a capital A. Be content with a humble lower case ‘a’ because it will be a reminder that you are a part of this messy world. Likewise, do not wear black, the garb of the priesthood. You do not come enlightened into this world, but learn painstakingly how to make this world a better and more fulfilling place to live ─ even by working for developers.