Spatial Intelligence and New Domesticities: TEDxSydney 2012

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.

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