A man of many branches


This time of year when feijoa season comes around I think of one person – Paul Haar from Archie’s Creek – that’s Paul up there.
Each April Paul, who I discovered was also an architect, would drive his Skoda to the Fair Food warehouse filled with boxes of my favourite pale green gritty fruit.
In the early days I always thought Paul was ahead of his time, not because of his building design work, of which I was only vaguely aware, but because he was farming feijoas before anyone else in Victoria.
It’s taken years to appreciate Paul Haar’s contribution to architecture and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it but this year more of Paul Haar’s other career was revealed when he was honoured with a Sustainability Awards Lifetime Achievement for his forty year career at the forefront of sustainable architecture.
Paul’s profile as an architect is so low it’s almost subterranean – despite winning 14 national architecture awards and being made an Honorary Principal Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Paul only had a website made for his architecture practice a few weeks ago!
Yet for all his public invisibility so many people seem to know Paul Haar – be they artists, designers, builders, saw-millers, farmers, permaculturalists or forest ecologists.
And in a similar way Paul is kind of everywhere and nowhere at the same time – he quietly bobs up teaching a class of graduate architects here, writing a magazine article there, connecting this person to that.
Paul seems to gain strength from being a part of what needs to be done – in the eighties he was one of the founding members of CERES and later he went to Far North Queensland to help revitalise a community-driven house-building tradition.
In recent years when he could find no guide for architects and builders to select materials with the lowest ecological impact Paul created Mullum Creek Design Guidelines and made it publicly available.
The same thing happened when he saw there was no outlet for farmers to sell their plantation grown timber.
While delivering feijoas Paul quietly suggested CERES Fair Food should do what we had done with locally grown produce but with farm grown wood.
I’ve never been talked into starting a social enterprise before, especially one I knew nothing about, but it was Paul’s persistent faith in CERES that brought CERES Fair Wood to life and helped it thrive.
I’ve often talked about Joe Garita or CERES’ Eric Bottomley being like the Big Trees of our community – people who anchor social ecosystems around them; providing nourishment, shelter, nesting sites and knowledge for those who come after.
It’s taken a long to time to perceive the many branches of Paul Haar but the longer I know him the more I see the clear outline of a Big Tree.

Words by Chris Ennis

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