Project: The Last Laugh

Emerging Architectural Narratives and Heritage in 1970s Melbourne Architecture.

SAHANZ: 5.00pm Tuesday 24th of November 2020

Co-Chairs: Dr. Peter Raisbeck and Dr. Kirsten Day

A meeting of architects in Melbourne at a popular comedy venue in 1978, ended in disarray. It should be no surprise, after all John Pinder’s Collingwood venue, which opened in 1976, was called, ‘The Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant and Zoo’. There were fisticuffs, yelling, hoodlum activity, violence, and a huge amount of drunkenness. People were damaged, some scarred, many heading for a hangover, and others simple rolling their eyes and wondering, ‘Where did that comet come from?” The proposal was to establish an alternative to the conservative RAIA from outside the organisation rather than within. But mayhem developed, probably in part due to there being no set agenda, and the event came to be inscribed in the mythologies of Melbourne architecture and culture as yet another failed uprising by a troublesome underbelly.

This period is important in Australian architecture as Melbourne architects processed the ideals of the failed Whitlam project (1972-75) and assimilated Post-Modern theories from abroad. A number of buildings built in the post 1970 period, reflect these debates and have now gained heritage status. These include Mowbray College (Norman Day), St Michael and St John Catholic Church, Horsham (Greg Burgess) and Church of St Joseph, Mont Albert North (Edmond & Corrigan). More importantly the event points to how Australian architecture of the 1970s shifted after the death of Robin Boyd in 1971 leading towards a new frontier. The meeting at the Last Laugh indicates the emergence in architectural debate of a larrikin culture, and of post-modern architects seeking to counter a patrician and cringe-worthy recent history.

A discussion will pose the counter factual question of what if the event at the Last Laugh had not happened? And what effect that may have had on a future architectural profession in the city? It will seek to explore how this moment foreshadowed the formation of the Half-Time Club, the journal Transition, the developing Melbourne School, and substantial changes to the established profession at that time. Hence, by employing cultural ethnography, the round table will seek to explore how one event came to shape the emergence of architectural theory as a distinct discipline in its own right in Australian architecture at the end of the 1970s. 

We will thus focus on the period between 1971 and 1980 and seek to hear the voices of those people who attended this event and also to encourage contributions from scholars working on the subject of Australian Architecture since 1970.