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‘A gracious and elegant lady doing a man’s job’: Australia’s first woman architect

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Florence Taylor. Image: 

State Library of New South Wales

Florence Taylor was a person of many hats – literally and metaphorically, as authors Robert Freestone and Bronwyn Hanna reveal in their book Florence Taylor’s Hats. She was Australia’s first qualified female architect, as well as a town planning advocate, a writer, editor, publisher and successful businesswoman.

She was also the first Australian woman to qualify as an engineer and reputedly the first Australian woman fly a glider.

Her achievements earned her an OBE in 1939 and a CBE in 1961. She was nominated to become a face of Australia’s new decimal currency in 1965, along with the likes of opera performer Dame Nellie Melba. 

In 2001, at the centenary of Australia’s federation in 2001, she was recognized as one of 250 most notable women in Australian history.

“Florence Taylor was undeniably a woman of extraordinary energy, courage and achievement,” the authors say.

“We offer a particular focus on Florence’s varying contributions to the built environment as a woman within the then highly masculinized 20th century professions of architecture, building, town planning and publishing.”

Florence Taylor’s Hats. Image: 

Halstead Press

Florence Taylor was born in 1879, and in 1899 she enrolled in an architecture course at Sydney Technical College (STC). In 1900 she began working in a clerical position in the Parramatta offices of architect Francis Ernest Stowe.

She attended STC at night time, and although she failed several subjects in her first year and some teachers “never came near as if she was a python,” she was soon receiving good marks and winning awards.

She completed her formal training 1904, becoming the first professionally qualified woman architect in Australia.

From 1900 to 1905 undertook her articles with Edward Skelton Garton and in 1906 she began working for John Burcham Clamp. 

In 1907, she applied to become the first woman member of the New South Wales Institute of Architects, a move that caused much controversy with an apparent majority of members vehemently opposing her admission. A special meeting was held to discuss the matter on 21 March, where Florence’s employer John Clamp gave a speech advocating for Florence, declaring “Why, she can design a place while an ordinary draughtsman is sharpening his pencil!”  

A “barrage of hate” leveled at her, as well as possible threats pertaining to a rumored affair with her former employer Francis Stowe, however, would lead to her withdrawing her nomination. 

“Florence was vulnerable not just because she was a woman, but she was a young, attractive and single woman with little social standing,” write Freestone and Hanna.

“She was a single woman whose sexuality could be constructed as a threat to the morality of the profession.” 

Florence married George Taylor in 1907, subsequently giving up her career as an architect and building a publishing empire with her husband.

In 1920, long after she had ceased working as an architect, the NSW Institute of Architects passed an unanimous motion to accept women members. Florence then became its first woman member. She lambasted the Institute in her oral examination. As her sister Annis Parsons recalled in a 1933 memoir:

“I don’t know why you are subjecting me to this scrutiny now, which is tantamount to persecution. Years ago when I was an orphan with sisters to keep I was denied entry, though I was fully qualified, and at a time when membership would have placed the hallmark upon my architectural reputation. Now it seems nothing to me for I am successful without your help. It does, however, mean something for my sex, which is why I am linking up.” 

Few records remain of her architectural work but what was published was met with disdain and condescension, including in the pages of the institute journal Art and Architecture

George Taylor died in 1928 and Florence was at the helm of their publishing business until her retirement in 1961. She was editor of Building magazine for more than half a century. The business also published Construction, Property Owner (which later became Australian Home and then Commonwealth Home), as well as Harmony, a music magazine. 

The authors of the book note that throughout her career, Florence’s femininity and feminism permeated all of her endeavours. She was a staunch supporter of women and their achievements.

But despite all her achievements, Florence Taylor’s public perception would be eclipsed by her appearance – made all the more distinctive by her “flamboyant hats.” The incessant focus on her sartorial accessories draws parallels to how the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was often talked about for her handbags.

One profile of her written by journalist Ray Castle in the Daily Telegraph (30 December, 1959), could shame even 60 Minutes reporter Charles Wooley and his now infamous “sexist and creepy” interview with New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Castle wrote: “It would be hard to find anyone more feminine than Mrs Florence Mary Taylor. And almost impossible to find any woman with less feminine interests. When I dropped in to see Mrs Florence Taylor on her 80th birthday yesterday, I was struck by her beautiful perfume, her frivolous hat, her soft feminine dress. But immediately she began talking about tunnels, bridges, high density building and car parks.”

The authors of the book described the many articles written about Florence as presenting her as “a gracious and elegant lady doing a ‘man’s job.’”

Even her biographer Kerwin Maegraith noted her “attractiveness.” 

Florence Taylor owned 32 hats which she later donated to the Feminist Club. Freestone and Hanna said, “We see Florence Taylor’s flamboyant hats as providing an eloquent metaphor for her somewhat strident show of femininity in encountering these challenges.” 

“Did her flamboyant femininity work against her credibility as a designer and spokesperson for numerous causes?” the authors asked. “Did her hats somehow block lines of communication, rendering people deaf to what she was trying to say? Was she too easily dismissed as an elitist or an eccentric because of her appearance?”

They conclude: “She was variously a pioneer and a conservative, an egotist and a confidante, a workaholic and a style setter, a ratbag, a philanthropist, a tyrant and a heroine.”

Florence Taylor’s Hats is published by Halstead Press.


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Reviews

The women behind Australia’s built future

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Belinda Koopman, Peter Stutchbury Architecture

Joynton Avenue Creative Centre

In March 2018, Peter Stutchbury Architecture will complete Joynton Avenue Creative Centre, a major project for the City of Sydney, with Belinda Koopman as project architect. The creative centre will house artists studios, jewellery-making workshops, a gallery and community spaces and will transform a three-storey heritage-listed building at the former South Sydney Hospital in Green Square.

The project is characterized by timber-lined archways that act as an extension of the original building’s internal arches. The arches will provide cover over a new outdoor area.

“Our primary intent was to bring a grand and singular gesture to the existing buildings, the civic space and landscape,” said Koopman. “Respect of the original built fabric is remembered and reinterpreted to give a new architectural language. 

“The challenging nature of such a complex and aspirational project is what brings such great rewards. We aimed to create a place of beauty for our site and most importantly a place of creative inspiration for our future artists.”

Koopman also said the project team from the practice and the council were primarily women and reflected on site that “The tables have truly turned and we find women have a welcome and great place in the world of building and architecture.”

The proposed Learning and Teaching Building at Monash University’s Clayton campus, designed by John Wardle Architects. Image: 

Courtesy John Wardle Architects

Meaghan Dwyer.

Meaghan Dwyer, John Wardle Architects

Monash University Learning and Teaching Building

To be completed in mid-2018, the Learning and Teaching Building at Monash University’s Clayton campus in Melbourne’s south east will become a “gateway” to the entrance of the campus, a role assigned to the building by the Clayton Campus Masterplan 2011–2030, which was prepared by MGS Architects

“The Learning and Teaching Building incorporates a horizontal field of spaces set within a broad, low-rise building,” said Meaghan Dwyer. “The learning activities of the interior are, in this way, made visible and accessible to the wider campus and community, rather than removed from the ground in a vertical structure. Streets, courtyards, bridges, balconies and stairs are transformed into ravines, clearings, strands, perches, escarpments and amphitheatres that are choreographed to invent a new landscape of the interior,”

“Higher education in Australia has undergone particularly rapid change over recent years with significant growth in student numbers and a shift to online learning.”

The building is also the physical representation of Monash University’s ‘better learning, better teaching’ strategy, which spaces configured around “pre-class, in-class and post-class learning.”

The 28,980-square-metre building began construction in 2016, with innovations such as the prefabrication of the roof required to meet the tight construction schedule.

Nightingale 1 by Breathe Architecture.
Fairley Batch.
Bonnie Herring.

Bonnie Herring and Fairley Batch, Breathe Architecture

Nightingale 1

The completion of the first Nightingale apartment building in Melbourne’s Brunswick in late 2017 marks the realization of a new method of residential development. “Nightingale 1 is the pioneering apartment project of the Nightingale model, which aims to redefine the traditional economic driven development model with a triple bottom line approach,” said project architect Fairley Batch. 

The project fought a long and hard battle to gain planning permission due to its exclusion of car parking. But it’s also pioneering in many other ways, including becoming the first apartment building in Australia to have its own embedded energy network, which runs only on renewable sources. It’s also designed to be socially and economically sustainable. “It acts as a catalyst for community change,” Batch said.

The Nightingale had its genesis in The Commons apartment project, which is located across the street. Bonnie Herring, project architect of The Commons and project team member for Nightingale 1 said, “Both The Commons and Nightingale 1.0 look to realign the built objectives through design lead, community based, environmentally considerate, and more affordable housing opportunities. It is immensely rewarding to work on apartment projects with such clear priorities – to watch them become catalysts of their own community, and to see them positively influence future projects.” 

Peta Heffernan.

Peta Heffernan, Liminal Studio

The Hedberg, University of Tasmania

A new creative industries and performing arts development for the University of Tasmania in Hobart by Liminal Studio and WOHA is set to become a significant building in the city when it’s completed in 2019. To be named The Hedberg, after the heritage-listed garage building it will occupy, the facility will house the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music and the Creative Exchange Institute.

“The culturally significant project balances the theatrics of the building’s purpose and the sensitivity of place,” said Peta Heffernan.

“The design celebrates the responsibility of being a major public building, yet is respectful of the adjacent residential streetscape, interweaving the urban context and showcasing the heritage fabric within a contemporary framework.” 

The building will “evoke a sense of theatrical activities that occur within through a little flamboyance and shimmer.”

The project also comprises a new building wedged between culturally significant heritage buildings including the Theatre Royal, the oldest operating theatre in Australia.

“Our collaborative and community engagement resulted in unanimous approval for the project’s development application, which is unprecedented,” Heffernan said. 

Northern Beaches Hospital by BVN.
Abbie Galvin.

Abbie Galvin, BVN

Northern Beaches Hospital

The Northern Beaches Hospital will be a major new healthcare facility in Sydney when it opens in late 2018. As Abbie Galvin explains, the hospital building is a “hyper complex system” and the design will aim to “deinstitutionalize the building” and “unlock these mega structures to create genuine, connected, and understandable public space.”

Located in Frenchs Forest, the hospital will be a nine-storey building with a helipad for emergency transport. It will include 14 operating theatres, a 50-space emergency department and 488 beds. It is set to become “an important civic anchor” for the area and aims to create a welcoming environment for patients and staff.

“Hospitals are highly technical and complex buildings, which historically has resulted in anonymous and labyrinthine structures,” Galvin said. “They are becoming increasingly complex in their requirements, with technology, specialization, care models and medical advances driving constant change. At the same time they’re getting bigger – with patient treatment and care occurring on a mega level. NBH is part of the transformation that is occurring in the way hospitals are being considered – moving from machine like buildings to community buildings.”


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Reviews

Living landscapes: Five residential gardens

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1. Charles House garden by Bush Projects

Featuring eclectic combinations of plant species, this garden in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs is an immersive space full of diversity and delight. Too often in landscape architecture the animate nature of plants is forgotten. But here, plant “material” is treated like any other in service of a spatial and textural design intent. More…

2. Fairfield House by Kennedy Nolan and Sam Cox Landscape

Fairfield House by Kennedy Nolan in collaboration with Sam Cox Landscape. Image: 

Derek Swalwell

Winner: 2016 Houses Awards: Outdoor category
A sequence of small and robust interventions connects house to garden to river, allowing the occupant to reconnect to the place in a way that has long been lost. A bushland is re-created in a place that is characteristically a cottage garden – one can wander, bathe, get warm by the fire and float above the river. More…
3. Cubo Rear garden by Phooey Architects and Simon Ellis Landscape Architects

Shortlist: 2014 Houses Awards: Outdoor catgory

Cubo Rear Garden by PHOOEY Architects + Simon Ellis Landscape Architect. Image: 

Peter Bennetts

A small child-friendly garden filled with as many interesting and sustainable features as any large garden. The project applies the surrealist technique of “Cubomania” to catalogue, re-use and re-invent the demolished building materials. A diversity of materials are strategically interwoven to enable function, fun, tranquillity and flexible transition between inside & outside. More…

4. Bungalow Garden Rooms by Myers Ellyett and Dan Young Landscape Architect

Bungalow Garden Rooms: The entry courtyard is a mix of shades of grey and green that highlights various foliage textures, with a ground layer of travertine pavers over sandstone river pebbles. Image: 

Cathy Schusler

A series of diverse, textural and dynamic “garden rooms” are the result of a close collaboration between architect Myers Ellyett and landscape architect Dan Young and celebrate a life lived outdoors. In subtropical Brisbane, the average top temperature in the two coldest months of the year – June and July – is a balmy twenty degrees Celsius. More…

5. Towers Road Residence by TCL

Towers Road Residence by TCL. Image: 

John Gollings

TCL says: The Towers Road garden fosters a ‘sense of embrace’ — a poetic garden of ‘structured chaos.’ This has emerged via a collaborative journey with the architect and client. More…

Residential gardens or landscapes is a category in the annual Houses Awards. The 2018 Awards close at 7am on Friday 23 March. Enter your project here.


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Reviews

‘Eating the whole pig’: Highlights from the 2018 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum

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This year’s Asia Pacific Architecture Forum, running from 10 to 23 March, has offered up a smorgasbord of juicy cuts and sweet morsels of design thinking in the Asia Pacific region. Across a series of lectures, buildings tours, events and exhibitions, the work of architects and designers in the region has been discussed, dissected, divulged, demystified, discarded and disseminated. Inspired by Lot-ek presentation at The Architecture Symposium who described their approach as “skilful butchers” finding ways to facilitate “eating the whole pig,” I set out to devour as much of the program as possible in one weekend.

 Image: 

Ray Cash

The benefit of a program that broadly explores architecture’s role in the opportunities and challenges of the Asian century offers its speakers the opportunity to simply state what they do and how they do it. A notable example of this was when Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano of New York-based Lot-ek captured, in rapid succession, the multitude of ways in which one can operate on an object.

APAP Open School by Lot-ek. Image: 

Kim Myoung-Sik

Tolla said, “You can stack a stack, you can insert an insert, you can tilt a tilt, you can circle a circle, you can lift a lift, you can point a point, you can bundle a bundle, you can crate a crate, you can pile a pile and you can bond a bond. You can stack a bond, you can insert a pile, you can tilt a crate, you can circle a bundle, you can lift a point, you can point a lift, you can slice a circle, you can crate a tilt, you can pile an insert, you can bond a stack. You can also object to an object.

With such a diverse collection of projects and presenters the same themes became apparent, particularly the interpretation of context, design as an act of generosity and the relationship between client and architect.

Context and generosity

Opening The Architecture Symposium, Tokyo-based practice Onishimaki and Hyakudayuki Architects delved into their design position that architecture is a continuous experience from “town to architecture and architecture to town.” By considering the journey one takes through the city, the studio explores how the viewer may come to encounter their built work. This investigation of arrival experience builds upon first seeing the building, where you enter, how you circulate and ultimately, how the architecture connects back to “town.”

Richard Naish introduces the work of New Zealand practice RTA Studio at The Architecture Symposium. Image: 

Ray Cash

Later in the day Richard Naish introduced the work of New Zealand practice RTA Studio, which interprets the historical and cultural context of projects to develop contemporary built responses. Taking references from the geometry of a historical facade, mimicking neighbouring roof forms or orientating towards culturally significant ley lines the architecture becomes an exploration of the familiar.

 Image: 

Ray Cash

In an attempt to understand and respond to the character of Bangkok’s streetscape vernacular, Chatpong “Chat” Chuenrudeemol, director of Chat Architects, introduced what he calls “Bangkok Bastards.” The studio’s research into the streetscape vernacular of Bangkok has resulted in a portfolio of work that one can interpret as architectural activism to preserve the city’s undesirable built identity. This design approach tries to give back to the larger community by offering an evolution of the familiar as an alternative to Westernized built form.

In a world of dichotomy where humanity aims to live on Mars but also builds walls across countries to keep others out, Li Hu considered the opportunity for architecture to embody a sense of hope for the future. The work of Open Architects (China) explores what they define as the essential aims of architecture, turning away from the focus of architecture as image. Hu believes the essential aim of architecture is to respond to human scale, engage the human senses and most importantly lift the human spirit. With these elements at hand, the studio endeavours to provide architectural responses that improve the lives of those that inhabit left, an act of generosity to those they may never meet.

Designers and their clients

Attendees at the 2018 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum. Image: 

Ray Cash

During the Our Houses and Artichoke Night School talks, the focus shifted to the relationship between clients and their designers.

Our Houses facilitated a conversation between architects and their clients introducing Chloe Naughton of Chloe Naughton Architects and her client (and mother) Kerry Naughton-Menzies, as well as Aaron Peters of Vokes and Peters and his client Philippa Morton. With little reservation the discussion focused on the entire process of design, from the initial project meeting through to uncomfortable tender negotiations and completion.

Inverdon House, designed by Naughton, was the outcome of an intergenerational family collaboration, with daughter, mother and grandfather all participating in the final outcome. Once on site, Chloe had moved back to Bowen to learn and participate in the construction with the help of a great builder, contractors and a little help from her grandfather who built many of the custom elements in the project. The outcome is a deeply personal home that is connected to the family’s learned experience while exceeding the Kerry’s ultimate desire for a ‘hose out house’. 

Inverdon House by Chloe Naughton Architects. Image: 

Benjamin Hosking

Artichoke Night School invited interior designers Sarah Consentino and Felicity Slattery of Studio Esteta and Georgia Cannon to discuss the use of colour within their projects. Framed around the question of how a designer decides on the best colour for a space, the conversation quickly shifted to focus on the desires of their clients. The designers said that it was generally easier to propose colour in their commercial work than for private homes. Audience members questioned how the design community could encourage the use of colour in residential projects. with both studios agreeing that understanding your client is most important.

The Asia Pacific Architecture Forum 2018 was made possible with the contribution of dynamic and diverse collaborators who have again provided an experience for the industry and general public to engage with the region’s design generators. The architecture of the Asia Pacific is humble, generous, experimental and continuously exploring its connection to place.

The Asia Pacific Architecture Forum is presented by Architecture Media and the State Library of Queensland.

The Architecture Symposium  2018 was presented by Architecture Media as part of the Design Speaks event series and is supported by principal partner PGH Bricks and Pavers; major partner Planned Cover; supporting partner Allegion; venue partner the State Library of Queensland, accommodation partner The New Inchcolm Hotel and Suites, and university partners the Abedian School of Architecture at Bond University and the School of Architecture at the University of Queensland.


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Game on: The architecture of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

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The 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast will be held across 18 venues, including three new facilities and seven upgraded venues. Ahead of the opening of the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, we take a look at the new and significantly redeveloped sporting facilities that will host more than 6,600 athletes and officials from 71 nations and territories.

Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre by BVN. Image: 

Christopher Frederick Jones

Completed in April 2017, BVN’s new Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre is part of the Gold Coast Sports Precinct in Carrara, which will be the hub of the Games. It is a significant new development in the precinct, masterplanned by BVN, which also comprises the refurbished Carrara Stadium and Carrara Indoor Stadium. The new building consists of two mixed-use halls divided by a “street” and houses 15 multi-sport courts.

“The bold colour and material palette embodies the young, vibrant and confident image of the Gold Coast,” said BVN in a design statement. “The unexpected and surprising arrangement of the facilities provides a facility which is unique and memorable.”

The facility will host badminton, wrestling and table tennis matches during the games but will afterward become home to professional sporting groups, particularly netball and basketball, as well as a major sporting venue for the local community.

Coomera Indoor Sports Centre by BDA Architecture with Peddle Thorp Architects (Melbourne). Image: 

Scott Burrows

Located in the Coomera Sports Park, this new facility will be host to the gymnastics tournament and netball finals during the Commonwealth Games, but also accommodates sports such as volleyball, futsal and basketball. The building comprises eight multi-use sports courts in a shed-like structure that spans 88 metres.

Completed in August 2016, it was awarded Building of the Year at the 2017 Gold Coast/Northern Rivers Regional Architecture Awards. The jury said the project is “a reworking of a small brick bungalow, creating a fine sequence of connected indoor and outdoor spaces. The three connected pavilions intelligently incorporating existing building fabric create open rooms engaged with garden areas while secure from the street.”

Anna Meares Velodrome by Cox Architecture. Image: 

Christopher Frederick Jones

Opened in November 2016, the new Anna Meares Velodrome is Queensland’s first indoor cycling facility. The building is located at the Sleeman Sports Complex in the Brisbane suburb of Chandler and is sited amongst a eucalyptus forest. Its undulating, “Pringle-shaped” roof form is inspired by the dynamics of cycling. The velodrome features a 250-metre timber track, which caters to all types of indoor cycling races.

“The track itself is an amazing piece of joinery, and its craftmanship is an inspiration for the entire building design,” said Cox Architecture director Richard Coulson. Cox Architecture won a design competition in 2013 for the project. 

Gold Coast Hockey Centre by Mode. Image: 

Courtesy Alder Constructions

Gold Coast Hockey Centre – Mode

The upgrade to the Gold Coast Hockey Centre includes an extension to the existing clubhouse that more than doubles its size. It also includes the resurfacing of two synthetic pitches and the replacement of a turf pitch. The building features a public balcony with 200 permanent seats for spectators overlooking the synthetic pitches. The refurbishment also includes a function room, a central atrium, a bar and kitchen, meeting rooms and office spaces, a first aid room and changing rooms. Mode also designed the refurbishments of Nerange Mountain Bike Trails project and the Belmont Shooting Complex.

Broadbeach Bowls Club by Hamilton Hayes Henderson

Broadbeach Bowls Club – Hamilton Hayes Henderson

Upgraded between 2015 and 2016, the Broadbeach Bowls Club now boasts an expanded dining hall, meeting and office room, new commercial kitchen, raised outdoor terraces and improved spectator viewing. Four international competition-standard greens have also been upgraded. Following its completion, the facility was host to the 2016 World Junior Bowls Championships, the 2017 Australian Open of Bowls and will be host to the 2020 World Bowls Championships.

Gold Coast Aquatic Centre by Cox Architecture. Image: 

Christopher Frederick Jones

Gold Coast Aquatic Centre – Cox Architecture

Officially opened in September 2014, the redevelopment of the former Southport Pool, now the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre, was the first venue to be refurbished. “Our strategy for the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre was to bring the main pools outdoors, enhancing the usability, sustainability, and general enjoyment of the outdoor venue,” said Coulson. The facility boasts a new 50-metre competition pool, refurbished lane training and diving pools and a new gymnasium, along with learn-to-swim facilities, a children’s play pool, childcare facilities and function rooms.

The building was awarded Building of the Year and received the People’s Choice Award at the 2015 Gold Coast/Northern Rivers Architecture Awards. “This is a fine piece of public infrastructure sited at the heart of quality waterfront parklands, and incorporates subtropical and urban design principles,” said the jury. “It addresses Commonwealth Games overlay and legacy planning. Its adaptive re-use of the site’s previous Southport Pool, with retention of key elements, builds on the Coasts’ cultural heritage. Key to the ongoing design success of this public facility will be a quality design management process, with respect to evolving programs and spatial requirements.”


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UK Warns Russia Not To Obstruct Investigation In Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack

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Russia must not “yet again” obstruct an urgent investigation into the chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Syria, Downing Street warned today as the UK called for those responsible to be held to account.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister urged Moscow not to thwart the international community as it tries to establish who was culpable for Saturday’s attack, which left at least 60 people dead and 1,000 more injured, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisation (UOSSM) in Syria.

US President Donald Trump described Syria leader Bashar al-Assad as an “animal” after the attack, and warned there would be a “big price to pay” as he also criticised Iran and Russia for backing the Syrian regime.

Israel has been accused of launching a retaliatory attack on a Syrian government airbase, which hit near Homs on Sunday, with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov describing the strike as a “provocation” and a “very dangerous development”. Observers say at least 14 people were killed in the retaliatory strike on the Syrian T-4 air base.

Israel, which has previously hit Syrian targets, has not commented.

Speaking on Monday morning, Downing Street confirmed the UK played no role in the military action, and refused to be drawn on whether the Government would take part in any future bombing campaigns.

The spokesman said: “The reports of a chemical weapons attack are deeply disturbing and its vital that they must be urgently investigated and the international community must respond.

“We are swiftly working with our allies to agree a common position.

“We are one of the countries which called for the emergency security council meeting which will take place later today.”

The spokesman said any investigation must be “resolved as swiftly as possible”, and added: “We would also make the point that Russia must not yet again try to obstruct these investigations.”

Downing Street explained the UK believes Russia tried to “obstruct” investigations into previous chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Theresa May is yet to speak to Trump about the latest attack, but is expected to raise the issue of an international response with the leaders of Sweden and Denmark today during trips to the Scandinavian countries.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, avoided blaming President Assad when asked if he believed the Syrian leader was behind the chemical attack.

Speaking at the launch of Labour’s local election campaign in London, Corbyn said “evidence” needed to be gathered to determine “exactly who delivered that chemical weapon”.

“On the chemical attack, I condemn it absolutely. I condemn the use of chemical or biological weapons in any scenario anywhere in the world,” he said.

“The UN has called for an urgent and rapid inquiry into it and indeed the re-opening of inquiries into previous uses of chemical weapons. The tragedy and the terror of people’s lives in Syria can only end by a political solution.”

He added every country in the region, as well as Russia and the US should come together “to ensure there is a meaningful cease-fire and a political process to bring about a solution to the terror and the tragedy and the conflict that has wasted so many lives in Syria.”

The Syrian government has denied its forces had launched any chemical assault, while Russia at the weekend called the reports fake and warned against military action on the basis of “invented and fabricated excuses”.

The UN Security Council will meet twice on Monday following rival requests by Russia and the United States to discuss the incident, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons chief, Ahmet Uzumcu, has “expressed his grave concern in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack on 7 April in Douma.”

US government sources said Washington’s assessment of the Saturday attack was that chemical weapons were used. The European Union also said evidence pointed to the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces.

A European diplomat said Western allies would work on building a dossier based on photos, videos, witness testimony and satellite images of Syrian flights and helicopters. However gaining access to samples on the ground would be difficult.

UN war crimes investigators had previously documented 33 chemical attacks in Syria, attributing 27 to the Assad government, which has repeatedly denied using the weapons.

On Monday the French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Trump by telephone and the two agreed they would work together to establish clear responsibility for the chemical attack, which Macron’s office said they had agreed to confirm.

Macron said in February “France will strike” in the event of lethal chemical weapon attack on civilians by government forces in Syria. A French defence ministry official said on Monday France did not carry out the air strike on the T-4 base.

The medical relief organisation Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the civil defence service, which operates in rebel-held areas, said in a joint statement that at least 42 people had been killed in the suspected gas attack.

One video shared by activists showed bodies of about a dozen children, women and men, some with foam at the mouth. “Douma city, April 7 … there is a strong smell here,” a voice can be heard saying. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

Last year the United States launched a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to the killing of dozens of civilians in a sarin gas attack in an opposition-held town in northwest Syria. The gas attack was blamed on Assad.

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The Facebook Debacle Proves It’s High Time for Stronger Privacy Laws

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In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica debacle, we’re hearing a lot of new and interesting ideas about how to solve the so-called Facebook problem: Let’s classify Facebook as a monopoly and break it up. Let’s declare it a public utility and regulate it like electricity or phone service. Let’s force Facebook to reveal exactly how its algorithm works so there’s greater transparency and accountability.

WIRED OPINION

ABOUT

Jessica Rich is the vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports and served as the director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection from 2013 to 2017.

The ease with which Cambridge Analytica was able to harvest and exploit Facebook user data is indeed highly disturbing. However, some context and pragmatism are in order. First, Facebook is hardly the only company that develops detailed profiles about consumers and uses them—or allows them to be used—for commercial and political targeting. This has been going on for years, across a multitude of industries. The current scandal merely pulled back the curtain on a common practice that industry doesn’t like to talk about.

Second, the ability of companies to collect, combine, infer, and sell the kind of detailed information that Cambridge Analytica stockpiled has rapidly expanded while Congress has stood idly by and let it happen—if not enabled it. For more than 20 years, many of us who champion consumers have urged Congress to pass a federal law establishing basic privacy rules that all companies must follow, and that all Americans can count on. With each attempt, industry has objected and Congress has retreated, even recently eliminating the federal rules governing broadband privacy.

Today, even as countries across the globe are strengthening their privacy laws to meet the challenges and threats of the digital era, the US remains one of the only countries in the Western world that still lacks even the most basic rules to protect the privacy of its citizens.

Rather than getting caught up in the shock and outrage about Cambridge Analytica, or dreaming up new and creative solutions to clip Facebook’s (and only Facebook’s) wings, let’s focus more broadly on what is one of today’s most important consumer protection issues and finally do what’s been needed for over 20 years: pass a privacy law that gives all consumers the fundamental protections they deserve across the marketplace. This whole mess happened because in the US, the wholesale collection, use, and sharing of data with third parties is largely unregulated, uncontrolled, and conducted in secret.

The consumer harm goes much further than the now-87 million people deceived in this one Facebook incident. It applies to every American who goes online, uses a smartphone, drives in a smart car, uses a smart watch, or relies on other products that may lack the safeguards needed to protect users’ private information and personal security.

Each day, connected devices track our location, our online searches, the friends we contact, the things we buy, and even what we say in the privacy of our homes. Each day, thousands of data brokers sell information about our finances, politics, religion, race, and personal habits to anyone willing to buy it, including scam artists that use the information to trick and defraud us. Medical websites are largely free to sell our private searches about cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression to the highest bidder. And companies are increasingly using data to charge different consumers different prices—including, as Consumer Reports and ProPublica found last year, higher auto insurance prices to consumers living in minority neighborhoods.

And Facebook is hardly the only company guilty of recklessly handling consumers’ personal information. During the last decade, consumers have been victimized by hundreds of data breaches at companies that profit handsomely from consumer data but fail to protect it, including last year’s massive breach at Equifax. It’s not surprising that, last year, nearly 17 million Americans lost $17 billion to identity theft.

This is an issue of personal security and safety. Just as we needed safety laws for seat belts and cigarettes, we need common-sense laws for online privacy.

Here’s a good place to start. Let’s require companies to post clear information about their data practices—no, not buried in privacy policies or Terms of Service, but prominently displayed in a simple, easy-to-understand, and standardized “dashboard” so consumers can compare companies’ practices. Let’s give consumers an easy, consistent way to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to data uses that go beyond the reason they provided it, and ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to having their data shared with third parties like Cambridge Analytica.

Among other things, we need to vastly simplify and standardize the permissions structure that many tech companies use today, which is often misleading and always confusing. Let’s prohibit certain uses of data altogether, like using information about our medical conditions or treatments for marketing. Let’s require companies to secure the consumer data they collect and the devices they sell. And let’s give the Federal Trade Commission—or another agency, if the FTC can’t do it—the strong authority and resources it needs for robust enforcement, including the ability to levy sizable fines for violations.

For too long, companies have profited from consumer data without giving the owners of that data—consumers—the rights, protections, and clear information they deserve. For too long, companies have fostered the specious narrative that collecting and selling consumer data is completely “harmless” because its sole purpose it to tailor advertising and marketing to an individual consumer’s preferences. It’s time to address the real problem by establishing strong standards and accountability—not just for Facebook, but for all companies that collect, use, and profit from our personal information.

WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here.

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Groups Allege YouTube Is Violating Law That Protects Kids

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A coalition of more than 20 child-health, privacy, and consumer groups is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether YouTube is violating a federal law designed to protect children on the internet.

The groups are expected to file a complaint with the FTC on Monday. The relevant federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, requires website operators to obtain parents’ permission when collecting personal data about children younger than 13.

The complaint claims that a significant portion of popular content on YouTube is designed for kids, whose personal information—including IP address, geolocation, and persistent identifiers used to track users across sites—is unlawfully collected by Google and then used to target ads.

The complaint follows reports that some YouTube creators are targeting kids with disturbing videos, including some of kids in abusive situations. On Friday, BuzzFeed reported that the company will offer a safer, human-curated option for YouTube Kids, a version of the site for users under 13.

But the complaint to the FTC argues that most children aren’t watching YouTube Kids, which launched in 2015. They’re watching the same YouTube as the rest of us — and the company is aware of that, says Josh Golin, executive director of the Center of a Commercial Free Childhood, a nonprofit behind the complaint. The company could have moved popular children’s content like Peppa Pig or Sesame Street to YouTube Kids, says Golin, rather than leave videos where “kids are going to be exposed to data collection practices and be one click away from really disturbing content for children.” Human curation may be a good first step, “but changes to the
YouTube Kids app do not absolve Google of its responsibilities to the millions of children that use the main YouTube site,” Golin says.

An ad for Barbie appearing on a child-directed video on YouTube’s mobile app from October 2017.

YouTube

A 2017 survey conducted by a market research firm specializing in children and families called YouTube “the most powerful brand in kids’ lives,” with 80 percent of American kids ages 6 to 12 using YouTube daily. A survey from October by Common Sense, another nonprofit group that signed the complaint, found that 71 percent of parents said their children watched YouTube’s website or app, whereas only 24 percent used the YouTube Kids app.

In a statement, a spokesperson for YouTube said, “While we haven’t received the complaint, protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us. We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve. Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”

YouTube’s terms tell kids under 13 years old not to use the service, so Google could argue that kids are watching with their parents and permission is implied. However anyone can watch videos on YouTube without an account. The complaint points out that kids often watch on a mobile device, likely by themselves. In 2015, the company said it launched YouTube Kids as a mobile app “because of this reality – that we’re all familiar with – 75 percent of kids between birth and the age of 8 have access to a mobile device and more than half of kids prefer to watch content videos on a mobile device or a tablet.” COPPA applies to websites that have “actual knowledge” that they are collecting or maintaining kids’ personal information, even if the collection is unintentional.

The complaint claims that YouTube’s advertising practices suggest that executives know children are watching. For example, Google Preferred, a premium service that helps advertisers place their ads in top videos on YouTube’s main site, includes the category “Parenting & Family,” which features channels like ChuChuTV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Song, which has more than 15 million subscribers.

Targeting kids can be lucrative. The complaint points to a popular YouTube channel called Ryan ToysReview, in which a 6 year old reviews toys. The site, which has more than 20 billion views, generated $11 million in revenue last year, according to Forbes.

Targeting Kids

  • After criticism about advertising to kids, YouTube Kids launched an ad-free version, available to parents, for a monthly subscription.
  • Facebook followed YouTube’s lead, launching an ad-free messaging app for kids as young as 6 years old.
  • Most of the experts who vetted Messenger Kids were paid by Facebook
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