It was May 1969 when a suburban shopping centre took out the major architecture award ahead of the highly anticipated National Gallery of Victoria. Today the decision beggars belief. For reasons both personal and professional I've been keen to revisit the win for Southland Shopping Centre and to understand it in the context of its time - instead of viewing it through the lens of today.
"We opted for the retail jewel; an elegant building representing a new way of suburban living. In its original form it represented the culmination of a decade's attempt to perfect an entirely new building type."
Neil Clerehan - RAIA Juror 1969
When Southland Shopping Centre beat the National Gallery of Victoria for the major gong at the 1969 Architecture Awards, it’s fair to say that a few eyebrows were raised. Though an unexpected result at the time, the reaction within the profession was nothing like the indignation that has grown over the years. In 2012 the NGV was recognised with an Enduring Architecture Award in a gesture described as “righting past wrongs”.
With the architectural awards season upon us, I’m keen to revisit one of the more controversial decisions made by the AIA. Did the jury feel compelled to acknowledge the NGV’s cost overruns and dysfunction within the creative team? Maybe it’s fair that as industry professionals our processes should also be up for scrutiny. Or perhaps the 1969 decision sought to recognise a new building typology and the inherent challenges they present.
To be honest, this is personal. The original Southland and its architect are of interest to me, and I recently put pen to paper to flesh out some thoughts. My purpose is not to romanticise suburban ‘big box’ retail, or to suggest that the NGV was unworthy to receive industry recognition. But rather to understand the Awards result in the context of its time instead of viewing it through the lens of today...