Interactive Surfaces and Modelled Environments: Sydney Architecture Festival at Customs House in Sydney

Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent

This year I have had the chance to guest curate Inter-Action – the Sydney Architecture Festival event at Customs House Sydney, opening on 24 October 2012. The exhibition builds upon Customs House’s profile in nurturing explorations in the fields of digital visualization and technologies evidenced in past exhibitions such as Form to Formless, Remodelling Architecture, Transclimatic, and the Green Void, to name just a few. However, Inter-Action is not one but six exhibitions – Hypersurface Architecture [Redux] by Bachelor of Architectural Computing Students and Staff; Sydney from all Angles by Tim Vyse and Sam Westlake of Jane Irwin Landscape Architect; Virtual Warrane II by Brett Leavy; Real/Virtual by Peter Murphy and Real Serious Games; Model City by Frasers Property Australia and Sekisui House Australia, and UTS; and Open Agenda featuring winning proposals by Sibling, Tina Salama, and Robert Beson.

Draft Design of Euphonious Mobius Wall with Customs House in the Background: Rebekah Jo Araullo, University of New South Wales

The focus is on many disciplines (beyond architecture) that contribute to the making of the built realm. These include architecture, performance, art, and installation (Open Agenda, Hypersurface Architecture), architectural computing (Hypersurface Architecture), landscape architecture (Sydney from all Angles), web interface design (Sydney from all Angles), urban design, (Model City), digital visualization, and virtual environments (Virtual Warrane II, Real/Virtual). The curation of the exhibitions needed to attend to the agendas and practices shared by these different disciplines. What emerges as the key strands are: 1) Collaborative creation of knowledge, space, and experience; 2) Response to the city and its urban environment; 3) Crafting spatial and formal representations, both physical and virtual. The six exhibitions engage these strands in distinctive ways.

Hypersurface Architecture [Redux] is the design of an interactive media wall installation (composed of two walls – Halo Wall and the Euphonious Mobius) based on physical pixels, working thereby between the virtual and the real, attempting to generate an ‘infusion of form with media and media with form to work between the two’. The interactive aspect in Sydney from all Angles is achieved by embedding QR codes into a graphic map of Sydney highlighting recently designed key public domains, linked to a website, which allows a continual and democratized engagement with as well as the curation of the experience of the public realm. Virtual Warrane II uses gaming techniques and technologies (complemented by solid archival research) to provide a way of inhabiting the past and participating in the landscapes of the Gadigal people, demonstrating constructed and built occupations prior to and underlying European settlement.

Sydney from All Angles Draft of Graphic Maps: Tim Vyse and Sam Westlake, Jane Irwin Landscape Architect

The theme of modelling is explored further in Real/Virtual which compares miniaturization (city model), wire frame visualization, and stereo videos and panoramas of the city, highlighting technologies of visualization and different ways of creating navigable worlds. Model City is a display of physical models of key public precincts (under construction) in the City of Sydney, and it allows people to interact with the emerging public domains. Open Agenda (initiative of the School of Architecture, UTS) is an ‘annual competition aimed at supporting a new generation of experimental architecture. Open to recent graduates, Open Agenda is focused on developing the possibilities of design research in architecture and the built environment’. The winning entries this year by Sibling, Tina Salama and Robert Beson explore other ways of conceptualizing architecture from participation to performative spatiality to the architectonics of atmosphere.

What started off as a challenge (bearing the risk of becoming eclectic), worked out to be a genuine opportunity. Inter-action sustains the identity of each exhibition, allowing the spatial opportunities inside Customs House to suggest rather than emphasize synergies. In deploying different forms of interactive installations; modelled realities, pasts, and futures; and the speculation of the futures of architectural thinking, Inter-action celebrates the anticipation of the post-disciplinary in architectural thought. This is the emergence of new ways of knowing and doing, which is more than a simple convergence of different disciplinary knowledge systems.

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