I have just come back from the Flannery Centre, and my first impression is: it’s beautiful. The Flannery Centre, as the name suggests, is a centre devoted to Flannery-type things: science, the environment, the future. Its very name is giving the Andrew Bolts of the world the shudders.
As you drive up to it, you see the small windmill, you see the banks of solar panels, you see the pink shades for the new plantings of trees that will surround it.
Inside, it’s a gallery of light; there’s a warm, earthy wall made out of earth; there are stones wrapped stylishly in wire.
It’s not just what it looks like, it’s the smell.
It simply doesn’t have that vaguely toxic smell of brand new things. So even though the place still has that construction area look, it doesn’t have that new-construction, new-car, cheap-furniture-warehouse smell. It smells neutral, natural, pleasant.
It’s the opposite of the thing I mentally call “f*ck you architecture”. Sorry if this seems rude, but every time I see a new example go up somewhere, I feel like someone is giving me the forks. Someone with some money to invest is giving me a bit more ugliness to live with, another depressing bulky good centre full of new things out of crates from China smelling like a chemical factory. I buy things from these centres, by the way – nice big bags of dog food, for example – because these places are so darned drive-in-and-park-easily convenient. But I always feel vaguely depressed about it. There’s this sense that we – the public – are worth nothing more than the sum total of our wallets.
The Flannery Centre, by contrast, calls to something different: its very design and existence is saying that I’m more interesting than my wallet. It says I might want to come here to talk about the state of the world, or learn how to make buildings that are environmentally friendly, or see an art show.
Professor Flannery himself will be here on Friday. The night before that, there’s the launch of the centre’s first art exhibition. I’m going to miss all this because I’ll be in Sydney for two days on secret doco business. But I’m looking forward to getting back there soon.