Over the last decade the Australian architecture industry has flourished and WAN has been flooded with incredible building designs across the country, both from domestic firms and international practices who have found work there. Sydney is a thriving hub of artistic activity and as such, we have invited local design professionals to share their news and opinion pieces with WAN readers on this Sydney-based Metroblog. If you would like to contribute to the blog, please contact WAN's News Editor Sian Disson at email@example.com with your blog pitch, a short bio and headshot.
- 400m Imperial Tower designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill
- Interview: Jenni Reuter
- Q&A(rchitect): A discussion on how emerging architects see the future of our profession
- Souta de Moura defies critics and accepts Israel’s Wolf Prize
- Israel and the Architectural Narrative
- High-Performance Facades: Performance Attributes – What to Consider & Measure
- Interview: Peter Rich
- The Face of the Future: Façade Engineering and Environmental Performance
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
Weiss/Manfredi (led by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi) – a New York City based multidisciplinary design practice known for their integration of architecture, art, infrastructure, and landscape design – delivered the Utzon Lecture Series Talk, Inhabiting Topography. Weiss/Manfredi has been awarded North America’s ‘Emerging Voices’ by the Architectural League of New York and the New York City AIA Gold Medal of Honor. Opening the talk by acknowledging the debt to Romaldo Giurgola’s scheme for Canberra (gained through Manfredi’s experience at Mitchell/ Girugola in NY), they introduced the key idea underpinning their work: “Sites are not given but made”, topographies are invented to foster public life; and that there is no such thing as the ideal site. The creation of the public realm then goes hand in hand with thinking of systems of drainage and flood patterns or highways and railways, thus giving rise to their approach – infrastructural topography.
Through the presentation of ten projects – Women’s Memorial and Education Centre, Museum of the Earth, Smith College Campus Center, International Retreat, Barnard College Diana Center, Hunters Point South Waterfront Park, Taekwondo Park, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center, Sylvan Grove, Seattle Art Museum: Olympic Sculpture Park – Weiss and Manfredi presented the following approaches to crafting the public realm: Building as landscape and hence consisting of floor plates that slip in and out, over and under, to engage the peripheral vision of occupants; Juxtaposition of interior, exterior spaces, and in between spaces; Façade design that registers on the exterior surface the changing quality of light during the day as well as deflects, transforms, and draws into the interior the light through glass walls, vertical mullions, shaded walkways and skylights; Introduction of a theatrical quality of seeing and being seen as the essence of occupying the landscape of urban life; and Sustainable strategies for combining aesthetic form of the ground and roof cover with its ethical performance by introducing water harvesting and solar panels.
Weiss and Manfredi close the talk by discussing the Seattle Art Museum, which was a complex and dynamic re-crafting of three disconnected sites (industrial site at the water’s edge) through a process of folding back and forth down to the waterfront. The journey through the landscape stitches the fragmented sites together to provide the experience of sculptural art. What comes through very clearly in the presentation of their body of work is the blurring of disciplinary boundaries. Their work is committed to simultaneous agendas of ecology, infrastructure planning, urban design, landscape, architecture, and interior. It is not a box ticking exercise, as all these commitments are filtered through community, identity, and local history, which gives the projects their civic orientation. The experiential dimension of their projects, notes Manfredi, is underpinned by a cinematic quality. This highlights not only the element of surprise and discovery, but also the dynamic, layered, and grafted quality of urban experience. Composed entirely a monochrome palette and forms that hark back to High Modernism, Weiss/Manfredi’s projects are perhaps deliberately low on visual delight, as they provide the backdrop as well as the terrain for the performance of civic life, which is what animates their architecture.
Weiss and Manfredi’s brief but meaningful contribution in Sydney and UNSW is well timed because Sydney (as well as design studios in the city’s various Universities) are engaged with challenges and approaches pertaining to the crafting of public realms, the urgency of which is observable in the development of Central Park, now under construction (www.centralparksydney.com); launch of the Green Square Library & Plaza Design Competition (www.greensquarelibrary.com.au); Design Parramatta, a collaborative project between Parramatta City Council and the NSW Government Architects Office (www.designparramatta.com.au); and more recently, Super Sydney that taps into people’s vision of Sydney from the city’s 41 council areas (www.supersydney.org).
Weiss/Manfredi’s works are published in Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, Weiss/Manfredi: Surface/subsurface (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008); Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, Site specific: The work of Weiss/Manfredi Architects (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000).
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
Walking along the Historic Rocks precinct in Sydney, I was lucky to come across a lovely exhibition titled Architextural, at the Gallery of Arts and Crafts NSW (31 July-19 August 2012). Curated by Mike Ripoll, the exhibition is of jewellery based on architectural inspirations, featuring works by jewellers/artists Carolyn Delzoppo, Val Aked, Ksenija Benko, Beth Spence, Maret Kalmar, Rosanne Antico Hall, Mike Ripoll, Margaret Conway, Robin Phillips, Laura Haszard, June Higgs, and Ruth Kerrison. While the connection between architecture and fashion, and more recently wearable art has preoccupied design publications, jewellery holds a precious position in its relation to architecture. Architects love and wear jewellery as well as partaking in designing and making it. It is the tactility, the craft value, and the alchemical properties of materials afforded by the object that holds the attraction.
The collaboration between Frank Gehry and Tiffanys and Co is well known. Other examples include HK+NP studio, a Vancouver based jewellery design studio that ‘utilizes techniques and forms derived from the architectural backgrounds of the partners, Hiroko Kobayashi and Neil Prakash’ (source) and Sydney-based collaborative, Venerari. What is sometimes absent though is the designer/maker’s commentary of the built world. Ute Decker’s Architectural Jewellery exhibited in the London Festival of Architecture 2012 explores the ‘relation of ethics and aesthetics in artefacts and the built environment’ and the concept of ‘social beauty’ in her work with recycled silver, fair-trade gold, and bio-resin (source). Put in this context, Architextural is a great discovery – perhaps as yet an undiscovered event in Sydney.
Mike Rippol, curator and jeweller, notes that while nature has served as the source of metaphors and inspiration for jewellers/artists, surely the everyday occupation of constructed and interior worlds informs the artistic imaginary. Conversation with Rippol strengthens my initial view on the connections between the disciplines of architecture and jewellery making – both involve careful material selection, precise processes of joining materials with specific chemical properties, and finish. The exhibiting jewellers/artists adopt distinctive approaches that acknowledge international architectural icons, historical buildings, city, room, home, and gardens, as well as narratives and experiences connected to the built environment. Hence, it is not the copying of forms of iconic buildings but the acknowledgement of the unconscious, incidental, trivial, and experiential dimensions of the built environment that informs these jewellers/artists.
Site Lock Up and Wrecking Ball 1 by Kalmar (and number of other pieces, most of which are versions of necklaces) is a re-telling of her partner’s experience of construction sites, as destructive, volatile, and unstable territories. Kalmar’s Birds that Lost their Tree is a story of the removal of the bird’s nest, containing within it a profound commentary on biodiversity. Rippol’s After Mackintosh focuses on the recognisability and scalability of the motif. His Lonely Terrace (in sterling silver, copper, and ebony) is a reflection of the MCA façade as the Fallingwater, a take on the overlapping planes by Frank Lloyd Wright. Other recognizable icons are featured in other works such as the Robin Phillips’s Walt Disney Concert Hall 1, Frank Gehry (sterling silver). Rippol’s City of Man presents the cityscape as overlays as do other works like Laura Haszard’s City. Benko’s Elements are a play on the geometric forms that must be negotiated in architectural compositions containing within it also the element of perspectival distortion. Rippol’s Room with a View is also about forced perspective. My interest in Architextural is underpinned by the spoken and unspoken commentary on the built world by other disciplines and frameworks of imagination and it is really encouraging to discover this hidden body of work.
Additional Sources: Please also read Melissa Cameron, ‘Examining the connections between architecture and jewellery’, Craft Australia Library series: Conference presentations (14 May 2010)
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
The Martian Embassy designed by LAVA (Laboratory for Visionary Architecture, led by Chris Bosse) is the home of the Sydney Story Factory in Redfern Street, Sydney. Led by Catherine Keenan (co-founder and executive director), ‘the Sydney Story Factory is a not-for-profit creative writing centre for young people in inner Sydney. Volunteer tutors help students to write and publish stories. Free programs target young people, from marginalized, Indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds, but are open to everyone. It was inspired by 826 Valencia, a creative writing centre for young people started by novelist Dave Eggers in San Francisco in 2002′ [Press Release]. The concept of the Martian Embassy is possibly informed by the flights of fancy that must underpin the act of transcending reality to enter the realm of imagination and fiction, where the encounter of the new, wonderful, and bizarre suggest endless possibilities.
Largely a pro bono project, the Martian Embassy was a collaboration between LAVA, Will O’Rourke (production), and The Glue Society (creative directors, and an independent creative collective located in Sydney and New York), who developed the Martian concept, involving also Berents Project Management (Project Manager), ARUP (lighting and acoustic design), Redwood Projects (builder), Philips (lighting), Syntec (sound), and Avatar (oils). The ‘kits of parts’ (both material and intellectual) donated generously by the project’s multiple partners is stitched together effortlessly in the creation of an immersive interior that houses the Embassy, the Shop, and the Classroom.
The layout of the Martian Embassy is therefore akin to an ‘intergalactic journey – from the embassy, at the street entrance, to the shop full of red planet traveller essentials, to the classroom. By the time kids reach the writing classes they have forgotten they are in school’. Constructed entirely out of CNC-cut plywood (1,068 pieces), the interior consists of a system of repetitive spatial ribs that undulate in three dimensions to mould a fluid organic space. The spatial distinctions in the Martian Embassy are imperceptible, and the transitions between spaces are indicated subtly by the protrusion of fixed furniture and shelving, which are extensions of the skeletal system of the ribs. The skeletal ribs are not structural in the conventional sense of the word but they are spatio-structural. They structure or organize the occupation of the interior, highlighted also by the lines on the floor that follow the ribs. The three and two dimensional articulation of the fluid geometry prompts the body’s rhythmic movement through space.
The concept of fluid space makes the most of what could have been a narrow, deep, and dark space, devoid of daylight and dynamism. But at the Martian Embassy, the entry through the door in fact leads the eye through the interior to the sunlit backyard. The daylight filtering in is complemented by the changing LED light sequences that make different parts of the ribs glow in different colours at different times. It is as if the interior were suffused with self sustaining life. This demonstrates LAVA’s interest in the synthesis of the organic and the technological. Hence, whilst they claim to derive the concept of the Martian Embassy from the ‘fusion of a whale, a rocket, and a time tunnel’, they also admit indebtedness to the technologies from the ‘yacht and space industry’ for the creation of the timber ribs. The hybrid imagination of LAVA is clearly the perfect conduit for a creative writing centre. LAVA’s expertise in working across scales, materials, typologies, and budgets (from the design of a lamp, a bookshelf, city planning, and towers) also informs the successful conceptualization and execution of the Martian Embassy.
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
TedXSydney commenced in 2010. It is a ‘flagship TEDx event (one of a handful throughout the world that qualify as top tier for TED) that has already established itself as a platform and an ongoing pipeline for the propagation of Australian ideas, innovation & creativity to the widest possible global audience’ (www.tedxsydney.com). TedxSydney 2012, held on Saturday 26th May 2012 at the Carriageworks in Redfern, featured three speakers from the University of Technology Sydney, who delivered two separate talks exploring the connection between design and urbanism.
Anthony Burke (Associate Professor and Head of the School of Architecture, UTS) and Gerard Reinmuth (Director of Architectural Practice TERROIR and Professor School of Architecture, UTS) delivered a talk on the profession and its practice. Burke commenced by challenging the ideal and the unreal image of the architect, positioning her/him in the well within the links inside the network theory rather than above it, asking the audience to embrace disorder and dynamism in creative practice as the reality and the necessity. Burke went on to argue that the architecture is ‘mongrel not a thoroughbred’, suggesting the inevitability of complexity, diversity, and messiness.
This goes against the commonly held notion/image of the architect (Howard Roark in Fountainhead, the movie, 1949) and architecture (image of Villa Savoye, 1928-31, by Le Corbusier as the perfect example of a building standing pristine in its environment). Reinmuth emphasized spatial thinking and intelligence, and quoted Howard Gardener’s inclusion of spatial intelligence as in his list of seven types of intelligence. Burke and Reinmuth maintain that every human being in equipped with this faculty, somehow diminished in capacity in adulthood but incredibly important to reawaken and foster if the design of the built environment were to be removed from the hands of the architects and placed in the custody and care of the people. Yet, Reinmuth notes, the planning of cities is located in the planning laws and documents, and silos of thought, without sophisticated spatial thinking tying it all together.
Tarsha Finney’s (Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture, UTS) talk on multi residential housing highlights the discussion on the spatial knowledge of the city. Finney suggests that cities are fundamentally informed by cellular thinking. They are underpinned by the delineation of separate private and public spaces and a vast amount of resources are required to keep them separate. This is achieved by thinking of the city as a vast ‘net’ that is radically held apart, keeping the ‘fabric’ sparse, flat, and separate. Finney suggests that to be sustainable, we need to undermine separateness, and consider density.
Whilst she acknowledges the current trends in multi residential housing, she suggests radically new ways of conceiving and inhabiting the domestic space, thereby expecting a level of agility in contemporary society. Finney cites examples of apartments that not only have shared laundries and pools, but also libraries that can be booked out by occupants who work from home. She suggests that another way of rethinking the domestic space might be to think of a shared commercial kitchen attached to one’s dining room, to experiment and entertain – a virtual impossibility in a six seater dining space setting.
Finney closes by citing Kings Road House (1921) by Rudolph Schindler – a pinwheel organization shared by two young families that pivots around a central kitchen and a shared guest room. This is a prompt that suggests that rethinking domesticity is crucial to designing sustainable cities, which will not become possible through the consideration of density alone.
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
N is an interdisciplinary curatorial collective founded in 2010 by Sam Spurr, Adrian Lahoud, and David Burns, and recently it has been increasingly visible in leading discussions concerning the intersections between architecture and urbanism with visual and performance arts. Spurr, Lahoud, and Burns are/were academics at the University of Technology Sydney. The interdisciplinarity of the cohort is thus made possible: Spurr is a designer and theorist with interest in performance; Lahoud is an urbanist; and Burns is interested in images and installations. N is therefore interested in the links as well as the gaps between art and architecture, positioned against issues pertaining to the city. Furthermore, the curation is not of objects but of ideas and conversations that are as material as built works. They note on their website the different typologies of conversations as ‘adversarial’, ‘roundtable’, ‘radial’, ‘lecture’, ‘linear’, and ‘studio’, declaring their commitment as follows: “N’s research involves the study of the typologies of conversation and their impact on art, architecture, and design.” Hence, the projects undertaken by N have almost always involved the organization of panel discussions, roundtables, and interviews and talks with and between designers, commentators, and philosophers.
‘How to be a Good Witness’ – the architecture section of the 2011 Prague Quadrennial – explored the productivity of the gap between linguistic practices of interpreting and translating through a range of exhibited works surrounding the concept mapping of the city. Gwangju Design Biennale ‘Networks of Surrender’ 2011 (also curated by Nicole Bearman) highlighted the potency of sharing, blurring of ideas and words as they ‘transform the image of this harbour city from generic postcard perfection to a set of multiplicitous, individual urban narratives’. INDEX Forum 2011 involved Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York and Eva Franch I Gilabert of the Storefront for Art and Architecture. It was a round table conversation on the way cultural events can change a city. N collaborated with Kaldor Public Art Projects on a series of events to coincide with ‘The Dailies’ by Thomas Demand, which attempted to ‘capture everyday moments and objects’. N organized ‘The Doppelgänger Parlour’ and ‘The Mirror Parlour’ events, which included panel discussions, model-making workshops, architectural interventions, and film screenings. More recently, N was commissioned by the Office for Good Design in Melbourne to conduct interviews with local and international designers to explore the connection between design, happiness, community, belonging, and civic wellbeing.
What is really interesting about N is their commitment to conversations rather than objects. As academics and architects/designers, the collaborators undertake a research-practice of a different kind. Burns notes that their ‘sister organization’ is the Office for Good Design and New York based AND AND AND. At least in Sydney, this is as yet an unrecognizable form of practice as it is not predicated by known and codified formal and curatorial strategies and outcomes. The interdisciplinary collective of Spurr, Lahoud, and Burns informs N’s interest in the notions of the untranslatable gaps between language and form, and intellectual space as a shared realm. N is also conscious of building models of engagement that involve wider disciplinary participation. This is informed by their interest in ‘dissonance’ (declared on their website and defined as ‘a simultaneous combination of tones conventionally accepted as being in a state of unrest and needing completion’). N’s involvement in the forthcoming event Audio Architecture (curated by Office for Good Design) will explore the concept of dissonance by ‘designing, installing, and exhibiting site-specific installations in Hamer Hall’.
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
Canadian artist and architect Philip Beesley has contributed to the 18th Biennale of Sydney 2012, the installation Hylozoic Series, an interactive, immersive, and sensory installation at Cockatoo Island. Beesley’s work explores the thresholds between the animate and the inanimate, the natural and the artificial, and the intelligent and the mechanized, working across the disciplines of art and architecture. The installation is underpinned by the philosophy of Hylozoism. Beesley and Jonathan Tyrell explain Hylozoism as the ‘ancient perception of life arising out of material…arising from the chaos–borne quickening of air, water, and stone. Implicit in this way of seeing the world is an oscillation and it might be said a certain ambiguity, between the parts and the whole. Out of this oscillation emerges a spirit that is not fully transcendent of its material origins and yet somehow distinct’ (379).
Physically, the Hylozoic Series consists of ‘hovering filter environments, composed of tiny laser cut acrylic elements’, ‘groves of meshwork’, ‘scented wicks and glands’, ‘delicate glass spines’, ‘seaweed-like filter clusters housing protocell flasks’, and ‘gauze bladders’. Caressing the glass spine makes it vibrate madly, which prompts the feathery wings to raise themselves. As we move on, the proximity sensors illuminate parts of the clusters in response to closeness and movement. Parts of the installation remain inert as they refuse to obey aggressive prompting. The balloon-like elements obviously expand and contract in response to the flow of people through the installation. Beesley and Rachel Armstrong also explain that the flasks and bladders contain protocells (‘chemical models of primitive artificial cells’), which grow due to visitors’ presence. These are imperceptible.
In Hylozoic Ground (2010), Beesley explains: “Akin to the functions of a living system, embedded machine intelligence allows human interaction to trigger breathing, caressing, and swallowing motions and hybrid metabolic exchanges” (13). The composition is therefore a sensorial and charged environment, of ‘exquisitely deliberate weakness’. It is neither living nor inert, but somewhere in the middle (transitional). It is intended as an embodiment of collective or composite identity, emerging out of ‘empathy, and perhaps even a space of desire, between the subject and its milieu’ (380). This sets it apart from what is ordinarily understood as interactive installation, now a well rehearsed genre.
While the Hylozoic Series makes a significant contribution to technical and poetic possibilities in the networked and multi disciplinary fields of ‘sustainable design, geotextiles, material science, environmental engineering, robotics, psychology, and biotechnology’, it is somewhat alienating. There is little chance of understanding the installation without ‘surrendering’ oneself fully to the language of the scholarship surrounding it. Also, the experience was not immersive. This was possibly because the visit to installation was closely managed, visitors told what they could touch and not touch, and told to follow the spatial split in the installation (one part responsive to touch, the other responsive to proximity and motion), thereby making it a disappointing experience and certainly incapable of producing what Beesley notes as the space of desire and empathic affinities. Ironically, the beauty of the installation too was overwhelming. The reliance on the familiar images of hybrid and multiple ecologies – skeletal, feathery, glandular, membranous, winged, mesh, grove like – is too invested in formalism, and hence the visual. For me, this undermined the accentuation of other senses. The Hylozoic Series is no doubt a key feature in the Biennale. It is on display until 16 September 2012. Video available here.
Sources: www.philipbeesleyarchitect.com; Philip Beesley and Jonathan Tyrell, ‘Transitional Fields: Empathy and Affinity’, In (eds) Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster, 18th Biennale of Sydney: All our Relations (Woolloomooloo, NSW: Biennale of Sydney, 2011); Philip Beesley and Rachel Armstrong, ‘Soil and Protoplasm: The Hylozoic Ground Project’, Architectural Design 81, 2 (March/April 2011): 78–89; Philip Beesley, Hayley Isaacs, Pernilla Ohrstedt, Hylozoic Ground: Liminal Responsive Architecture (Ontario: Riverside Architectural Press, 2010).
The culture of debate emerging strongly in Sydney informed the free community discussion held on the 20 June at the City Recital Hall. Titled ‘Urban Conversations: Triumph of the City’, the discussion was a three part event, prompted by Harvard University Professor Edward Glaeser’s talk on the city (based on his recent book, Triumph of the City, Penguin Press 2012) followed by panel discussion and questions from the audience. The panel consisted of NSW Government Architect Peter Poulet, and the Department of Planning & Infrastructure’s Giovanni Cirillo and Norma Shankie-Williams, and Sarah Hill, President, Planning Institute of Australia NSW Division, mediated by ABC’s James O’Loghlin. The event is underpinned by the premise that Sydney’s 4.2 million population is expected to rise to more than 5.6 million by 2031, which will necessitate creative thinking around the provision of social, cultural, physical and economic infrastructure.
Through a historical survey of American cities in the twentieth century, Glaeser explains that infrastructure needs are crucial because every historical city was linked to ports, harbours, waterways, railways, and roads. Glaeser argues the following: cities are humanity’s greatest invention; density is related to income productivity; density fosters proximity, and adjacency which in turn makes possible the collaborative knowledge economy; knowledge economy is the basis of wealth and prosperity; and increasing wealth of cities prompts the questioning of liveability and the benchmarking of liveable cities. Glaeser notes that cities support entrepreneurship and diminish unemployment, providing an antidote to financial crisis (historically and currently) but failure of infrastructure is also what makes cities fail. His talk is interesting because it not only talks up the city, but it also demonstrates the city as simultaneously being the site of failures and successes.
The key topics and instances of city making in the panel discussion included Urban renewal at Green Square, as providing jobs and amenities, and the Eastern Distributor as having re-energized Surry Hills (Cirillo); Revitalization of Darling Harbour (Poulet); Developing Penrith, Parramatta, and Liverpool as mature regional cities distinct from the city along the Harbour (Williams); Need for Leadership in city making and emphasizing the idea of active places and spaces in the city as creating a market to invest in (Hill); Systemic thinking and future planning to design sustainable cities (Glaeser); Engaging the voice of the community for successful urban renewal (Williams); and Greening cities to reduce the heat island effect, increase well being, and tackle urban food production (Poulet).
The panel discussion was a bit haphazard but it was inspiring to see the panel members place emphasis on newness and optimism, and open channels of communication as the fundamentals to addressing urban challenges. The questions from the audience were many and pertinent, with one member in particular questioning the relationship between erosion of psychological wellbeing and cities. Glaeser responded by citing the frequency of youth suicides in country towns as a counterpoint. What was slightly disappointing was the American voice to Australian issues. Whilst Glaeser’s talk was insightful, a complementary insight into Australian cities and/or Sydney was not available.
It is surprising that the event failed to call upon urban sociologists, economists, and thinkers who are able to reveal incisive thinking about Sydney and emerging Australian cities. Also, Glaeser’s raison d’etre of the city is almost too narrowly focused on economy (and not culture, history, or tradition), which is apparent from the sub-title of his book, How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Healthier, and Happier. It privileges a narrow, materialist point of view. Nevertheless, ‘Urban Conversations’ was a valuable and a well attended event, and hopefully not just a one off.
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
Cloudscape – an interactive light architecture installation – was a key feature in the Vivid Sydney Festival 2012 (25 May-11 June). Designed as a destination, a beacon, and a place to meet, the installation was a collaborative effort between Nicolas Thioulouse and Kim Nguyen Ngoc of Woods Bagot, and Michael Day, Frank Maguire, Victoria Bolton, Kristine Deray, with Woods Bagot, sponsored by Built, One Steel, Traxon e-cue, Inlite, Elan Construct, Enstruct, UTS.
Situated at the Sydney Harbour, the installation is a grid covered with hundreds of inflatable silver mylar balloons. The designers explain that during the day, the balloons move with the wind and reflect the weather, transformed at night into an illuminated horizon and canopy. A pro bono installation (at the cost of 30, 000 dollars, not including lights), Cloudscapes was a gift from Woods Bagot and the sponsors, intended to provoke curiosity and interaction amongst the visitors.
Cloudscape is an interesting term as it means that people ‘act’ as clouds ‘casting’ their shadows onto and over the silver balloons that constitute the light installation. They do so through interacting with the installation and with each other. A visitor’s testimonial captures the experience: “The best moment was when we saw people holding hands and forming a small chain under the installation to activate the lights. Then they were moving into a bigger and longer chain, about 30 people, kids and adults, it was a fantastic moment. Strangers holding hands and watching the clouds and the lights. A real moment of collective art.”
The main thing was that it got strangers to interact with each other and hold hands for the briefest time. Cloudscape builds upon Alf (Artificial Light Form) – light installation for Vivid Sydney 2011, designed by Kim Nguyen Ngoc, Victoria Bolton, Catherine Kuok, and Guy Hanson of Woodhead architects, along with Steven Brims of Umow Lai, Osram, Waterman, Philips Dynalite and Powersense. Alf was based on an interest in biodiversity and nature-city interactions, which ‘led to the design of the artificial biomorphic entity that glows when people interact with it and sleeps with a subdued blue pulse when it is solitary’. The provocations for Cloudscape are similar yet different.
Thioulouse highlights the innate and primal desires of a human being, as he notes: “As children we look for anthromorphic forms in the clouds; making sense of the universe by relating to our sense of self”. Similarly, Ngoc calls upon ‘our primal fears and fascination with clouds and thunderstorms’, which underpins the generation of ‘storm of light effects’ by the energy of people. The installation then is a response to these ‘archaic’ human desires.
However, Cloudscape is also a response to the manner in which identities and desires are construed in current times. As the contemporary person is a product of networked and connected thoughts, ideas, and people, Cloudscape fittingly evokes the metaphor of social media, as the direct and indirect alignments between people generate the energy to power the light effects. Ngoc says: “It creates the conditions for new and forgotten types of relationships between people, a sense of communion with climatic elements, by using electronic, photonic, and spatial constructions.” In doing so, Cloudscapes combines the natural, with the technological and the human – a symbol of our hybrid existence. This is what makes the installation meaningful, and not yet another light installation that is merely visually delightful, static, distant, and non-corporeal.
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
The opening of Museum of Contemporary Art Australia annexe by architect Sam Marshall on the 29 March 2012 has met with intense debate and discussion. These debates were tabled in a public forum, Open Conversation, held on 3 May 2012 by Make-Space for Architecture (MS4A) – an independent agency that ‘seeks to challenge and recalibrate normative ideologies found in architecture, design and the built environment of Sydney’. Held at the UTS School of Architecture, and moderated by John de Manincor (UTS and DRAW), Open Conversation included the following panellists: Sam Marshall, Architect, Architect Marshall; Andrew Donaldson, Architect Marshall; Paul Berkemeier, Architect; Philip Cox (AO), Cox Architecture; Elizabeth Farrelly, Opinion Writer for Sydney Morning Herald (SMH); Imogene Tudor, Director, MS4A.
The conversations are prompted by Farelley’s note on the lack of spatial delight as well as clarity of circulation in the building; Andrew Anderson’s observation that the building lacks nuanced and shifting visual qualities; and Philip Cox’s declaration that the building appears to be championing the ‘bland architecture of old with bland architecture of new’. However, they probe additional issues of the architectural brief, the ‘white box’ interior, and the troublingly elusive big idea. However, MCA demands a slower meander to allow a deeper understanding. It delivers the following: a strong and seamless connection from the foreshore to the street; a tortured but fascinating sightline from the entrance through to the foyer to the gallery space on Level 2; beautifully crafted staircases that provide a view of the sandstone walls of the original building; the transparent lift shafts that allow episodic but dramatic views out to the harbour; the plasterboard interior lining which transforms artificial light into a luminous glow that encounters the daylight filtering into the building. The restrained language of the Mordant Wing can be interpreted through the metaphysical lenses of absence and light – approaches that underpin minimalist approaches and that address the issue of spatial delight in a subtle way.
What is interesting about the Open Conversation, however, is not the substance of the conversation, but the manner of its appearance. It was ‘bookended’ by published conversations that closely followed each other. These include two articles in SMH in March 2012: Heath Aston, ‘MCA’s chequered reception’, 04 March and Elizabeth Farrelly, ‘Spatial delight gets lost at MCA’, 27 March; followed closely by three articles in Australian Design Review in May 2012: David Neustein, ‘MCA: Open Conversation or Guarded Debate?’, 04 May; Gerard Reinmuth, ‘Critical Thinking’, 07 May; and Gillian Serisier, ‘Lines of Division: The New MCA in Sydney’, 09 May; tailed by Farrelly, ‘Bold, Frank Criticism Can Only Nourish Architecture’, 10 May, SMH. Neustein’s essay vividly narrates the event, portraying the multiple tones and voices that speak differently and discordantly about the same object – MCA. Reinmuth’s essay questions the manner of critique undertaken by and through this event and the missed opportunities. Seisier’s essay restores the MCA to its rightful glory by providing a fuller understanding of the exhibition spaces. Farelley’s ‘Bold, frank criticism’ recounts the Open Conversation, continuing to defend the critic’s privilege to opinions that must be fearlessly expressed.
Notwithstanding these contributions, the Open Conversation is firstly (and mostly) theatrical. Its boundaries held tightly together (hosted, moderated, and published), and complemented by conversations between the various ‘participants’ (at the table, and off the table through blogs and social media), the Open Conversation calls upon the act of witnessing the occurrence of debate. Secondly, the urgency to settle the meaning of the building counteracts the expectation that proper critique ought to be a sustained activity. It should be capable of maintaining interest as well as energy, without simply providing material for instant consumption. Thirdly, the Open Conversation was shaped by very precise inter- and intra-professional associations and institutional settings. It is but one of the many critical networks existing in Sydney. And finally, even though the debates were undertaken in a public forum, they should not be mistaken as representative of public perspective on the building, as they did not include artists, art critics or writers, curators, visitors, staff, and guides, despite the insistence that the speaking voice of the public is the foundation of good criticism. All in all, the Open Conversation was much needed, as wittingly or unwittingly, it opens up questions about the future and form of architectural criticism in Australia.
Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
The theme of the dwelling is quite fittingly explored by the Historic Houses Trust, Sydney in the Sydney Open Talks: House, from Thursdays 26 April – 14 June 2012. Historically, housing has functioned as the key cultural symbol as well as instrument of colonization, ownership, commodity, belonging, citizenship, and more recently sustainability and compact urbanism. The talk series covers eight typologies, Bungalow, Apartment, Villa, Mansion, Shack, Terrace, Project Home, and Portable Home, covering varied cultural, economic, climatic, and ecological milieus in Sydney, NSW, and Australia.
Dr James Broadbent considers the mythologies surrounding the Bungalow whereas Scott Robertson maps the rise and fall of the Bungalow from its introduction in 1906 to its decline in the 1930s. Dr Caroline Butler-Bowdon considers the tower, the slab, and the walk-up Apartment types in Sydney with Adam Haddow reflecting on the challenges and challenges as well as the rewards for creating ‘new living environments’ that foster compact living in cities. While Scott Carlin locates Sydney’s inheritance of the British suburban Villa as the origin of the ‘love of the quarter acre block and Sydney’s urban sprawl’, Philip Goad uncovers the two kinds of Villas, based on conceptions of the landscape as pastoral and wilderness, arguing that the Villa is a ‘resilient and romantic ideal’. The Mansion is considered historically by Charles Pickett, who observes the ‘Australian desire to dwell in excess’, from colonial to contemporary times. This is complemented by Jonathan Chancellor’s presentation, which notes that the ‘residential monumentalism’ of ‘McMansions’ has failed to gain cultural legitimacy.
The Shack is presented as domestic architecture without architects by Michael Bogle, complemented by Peter Stutchbury’s discussion that regards the shack as the logical response to coastal occupation and economy in Australia. The Terrace, according to Keri Huxley, has changed from its humble beginnings as working class dwellings in the nineteenth century to gentrified commodities in the contemporary Sydney. This is complemented by Hannah Tribe’s presentation of a Victorian, a Federation, and a Georgian terrace, which demonstrates the indivdualization of typologies that appear to have a uniform exterior form. The link between successful Project homes and the involvement of architects and designers with project builders is considered by Dr Judith O’Callaghan. This is accompanied by Tone Wheeler’s discussion of Environa Studio’s projects homes that seek the middle path of negotiating standardized design of the draftsman and the customized design of the architect. The Portable House according to Megan Martin is an outcome of intersecting political, cultural and economic factors, like the colonial expansion, military endeavour, and gold discovery. Sean Godsell imparts political potency to this typology, as projects such as the Bus Shelter House, Park Bench House, and Picnic Table House respond to the urban infrastructure’s resistance to occupation by homeless citizens.
Presented as eight ‘conversations’ between historians, writers, and commentators on the one hand, and architects, policy makers, and property specialists on the other, the talks close the supposed ‘gap’ between theory and history, and the practice and the contemporary, as well as that between the ordinary and the innovative. Even though the talks do not overtly engage social and cultural practices of domesticity (based on ethnicity, gender, and class) focusing exclusively on the object, the dwelling, they generate a great deal of optimism by showcasing the breadth and depth of scholarship and expertise that exists on Housing in Sydney.