18 December 2013, Royal Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne, Australia
I am absolutely delighted to be here but I’m also deeply, deeply envious. I’m delighted to be at this graduation ceremony for this faculty, the best university in Australia, in the best city in Australia, in the best state in Australia, in arguably – unarguably – the best country in the world. But I am jealous. I’m jealous because I never got around to attending a graduation ceremony myself. In fact, this is my very first Harry Potter moment. My certificate arrived in a tube courtesy of Australia Post. I’m also jealous because those who are graduating here today are predominantly young. The world is yours, the future is yours – and what we on stage wouldn’t give to swap places with you and do it all again. You are fortunate indeed. It’s my view you’ve had the greatest education you can possibly have.
In saying that, I want to acknowledge the Deputy Chancellor Ross McPherson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Simon Evans, Dean Tom Kvan, the two legends here of my life, Daryl Jackson and Hugh O’Neill, the staff, students, parents and friends – and particularly those graduating. I also acknowledge all of those past and present, including our Indigenous communities, whose love of our land, whose care of our country, whose connection to our State, our city, to this place and to this university have left us with a legacy we should cherish and seek to nurture at every opportunity. What a legacy it is.
You only have to reflect back 160 years ago, when gold was first found, and reflect on those who subsequently came to Melbourne and Victoria from all over the world, every part of the world.
They came with ambition and they came with aspiration. They came with dreams of building businesses and raising families, and thoughts of the future. They had one predominantly, often forgotten, characteristic. They were so invariably young.
For this graduation it’s pertinent to reflect on 160 years ago, when the likes of young Joseph Reed arrived here as a young man. We sit today in part of his extraordinary legacy to our community, the Royal Exhibition Building, now World Heritage listed after just 125 years. A tribute in itself to Joseph Reed, responsible for so much of the great civic legacy of Victoria - Ormond College, parts of the Library, Government House, the Town Hall and so much more.
I think of young Alfred Dunn, who died as an architect in his late 20s in Melbourne, but before then had achieved so much. Such extraordinary buildings as the Auburn Uniting Church Tower and the church buildings around it, and many others. And J J Clark, John James Clark, who arrived here in the 1850s with his parents. He was just 13 years old and he went to work immediately at the Public Works Department as an architect. Just six years later, John James Clark designed the Treasury Building, at the age of 19 – the building at the top of Collins Street.
This is the legacy of our young ancestors and they are the inspiration for you into the future. It’s also the legacy of our multicultural origins. Our multicultural city and our State is something we should treasure as well, and we do. It’s the legacy of the great dreamers, those who came here with that ambition and aspiration, and it’s the legacy of a State that is fundamentally free and outward-looking, growing, clever and a place to dream. Unlike other states it’s a special legacy in Victoria.
You are blessed with having been at this university and having succeeded and graduated from your courses. In particular for me the architecture course at the University of Melbourne has been a life-giving discipline and a course for all.
An architectural education, a built environment education, is a life changing experience. An education in the built environment will equip you for life no matter what you do. Part science, part geology, part history, part art, part philosophy, part theatre, part planning, part law, part sociology, humanity, part wellbeing and dare I say, part politics. I loved and cherished the education I had at the University of Melbourne. I’m ever grateful. Seldom a day goes past without me thinking about it and I treasure that learning.
For you, you face an emergence into the wider world and if can dare offer some advice. I exhort you to find through your studies in the built environment, and architecture in particular, to find your balance, find your love and take the chance to always see the big picture. You will discover, I believe over time, that you have been given a seemingly secret gift. A simple gift. It’s a wisdom of life, the wisdom of the built environment and architecture. It is a gift that few others possess and from time to time you will be surprised, and you will be surprised that others – surprise, surprise – don’t have that same understanding. They are moments of true revelation.
In your life you will accumulate moments of true revelation because in the end, it’s your mission to take those others with you. That gift is simply the ability to orient yourself, orient yourself to the north, to the sun, to the weather, to the seasons, to the light, to the colours, to the patterns, to the land, to the materials, to the clock, to the future, to the people, and to the joy of the built environment. It’s the ability to place yourself in the great game of life. The ability in particular to consciously, knowingly, deliberately and sometimes mischievously, disturb that orientation. That’s the magic of architecture.
Remember, the basics never change. If you don’t use it, you may lose it, but you will never lose it if you keep thinking. When you do have those moments, make sure you stand in the shoes of those others who at the end of the day may not share that understanding, but desperately want to dream too.
If I can make one other observation. Architecture is the quiet art. Its practitioners tend to the quiet and thoughtful, but in this day and age when architecture has become too often just the science of accommodation, the built environment and architecture and the benefits of good design need you to yell. They need you to make a noise. Over the last 20 years in particular the built environment has been shaped, impacted and led more by the cost of construction, accountants and realtors than by planning or design, and that is of no good to anyone in the long term.
So I urge you, speak up, speak up for architecture, speak up for the built environment, speak up for yourselves and aim high, dream. Aim high.
If I can just finish with one small angle. A developer told me last week, when discussing a development and some of its finer points, that they benchmark their properties. They benchmark their projects. They benchmark those projects against other projects which don’t aim high. We had a long discussion about that.
I’d simply say to you don’t aim down, aim up. That is your responsibility as custodians of the built environment and architecture of tomorrow. Aim up, just as those young ancestors of ours aimed up 160 years ago. There’s nothing you can’t do. You’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have the greatest high of all – dreaming, drafting and shaping the living environment of others. Never, ever stop being young at heart. Never let go of the gift. Don’t waste a single moment. Have a ball – and above all congratulations.