Missing Wilko: two campuses, two degrees

Becoming fond of brutalism in lockdown.

Photo: Adam Dimech (Flickr)

If you were to ask me maybe 4 months ago, maybe even 6 weeks ago how the Wilkinson Building made me feel, I’d screw up my face and probably exhale the type of quiet screech you hear when your ears are playing up. But after more than 100 days of lockdown, I suppose I would do almost anything to get back into that concrete jungle.

My disdain from the Wilkinson building was birthed out of my own inability to say goodbye to the beautiful Neoclassical facades of the quadrangle, the fun styling through Courtyard Cafe and Holme Building. When I studied a BA, the stroll through Eastern Avenue from one class to the next, although immensely anxiety-inducing, was all I needed to get my daily 10k steps. 

Now in the on-and-off 20 months I’ve spent as an architecture student, I’ve found myself making any excuse to go onto “main campus”, dreading the harsh incandescent lighting of Homebase and fleeing to the dark depths of the Cellar Theatre. There’s a harsh differentiation between the degrees I was doing, where now as a BDes student I have a cohort and it’s a lot easier to feel as though you belong to something. As a BA student, I was just another student of the faceless masses. I’m very grateful for the friends I have made, and for the 6 months I was able to see them regularly. With any luck, we’ll all be able to do so again soon, even if it means being trapped within a building that screams Brutality.

But while my BA and BDes differ in architectural aesthetic, substantially, the biggest difference is in accessibility and equity, or lack-there-of. In times like lockdown, especially as second and most likely third-year students, we rely on our skills as architects, and not our readily accessible 3D printers, laser-cutters, our computer labs and workshop. Lockdown has been hard for everyone, but I’ve felt the comfort in knowing that the disparity in marks amongst my peers is more dependent on our abilities, and less about our money or steady hands. Unfortunately for many of us, irregardless of degree, being full time students doesn’t always correlate well with working part time.

My tutor says “everything in moderation” as I tell her I want Roman terrazzo walls in my next studio assignment. After our crit I’m whispering to myself “P’s get Degrees”. Ironic isn’t it, when the standard of architecture we are standing in is caked in stucco, built with (unrecyclable) reinforced concrete and stained in bird shit. Scream. Moderation was definitely not on Leslie Wilkinson’s mind.

And look, although walking into the building washes you with stress you didn’t know you had, the building is brimmed with natural light, humbling laughter and the occasional Korean BBQ. The equilibrium between good and bad has epitomised itself within the Wilkinson Building, which a BA could not even dare compete with. It’s in this building where I would pull faces at mates across the void when class was getting a bit repetitive, and when we’d all meet at a certain time to “refill our water bottles” and chat shit.

It’s in the computer labs where I’d panic to print off our panels before our presentation. It’s in the DMaF Lab where we would “solder-on” in our late night classes. It’s in homebase, where we’re all on the brink of tears, staring at their own incredible work while I return to my desk muttering “it’s not much, but it’s honest work”. It’s here where I love going, even if it means closing my eyes until I get inside.

Brutalist architecture is brutal to the eye, but lockdown can change people. A little about my journey from an arts student who would use the neoclassical buildings on the north side of city road to where I am now; just a girl, wondering how we got here.