Thursday, May 15, 2014

CIVIC DETAILS - THE IMPORTANCE OF LITTLE THINGS

The Master Plan
1950's Brisbane prior to the construction of the cultural cerntre

The image was published to demonstrate the grand idea, a 20-year master plan for the refurbishment/redesign of Robin Gibson’s Brisbane Cultural Centre and its surroundings: see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/water-boarding-place-with-highwayman.html  The proposal looked heroic with its clustering of high-rise buildings, much like Le Corbusier’s 1925 Plan Voisin proposed for the centre of Paris. One wonders how this plan might fit into the broader scheme for what Brisbane might be in twenty years’ time. Although very schematic, the eye was intrigued by the general scope of the illustrated vista and its proposed grandeur, complete with the grouping of the impressive existing buildings and the multiplicity of new towers. Yet, tucked away to the lower left side of the image almost as a dark grey blurr was something far more important. One of Brisbane’s tiny historical relics stands alone, ignored, untouched by the great vision for the future. Why? It must have been noticed for it to have been drawn; but why has no one given it any further thought?







Even though the twenty-year scheme proposes smart covered pedestrian ways on the Victoria Bridge that slide past this lonely arch, no one appears to have given it any consideration at all. Yet, with a link from the pedestrian path on the bridge to this craggy monolith, a small but significant relationship could be established, the place enriched. It is such an easy connection to achieve so simply, allowing folk to stroll off the bridge onto this high, massive abutment to enjoy the feel and the story of the past; yet it has been neglected. Has no one considered what a passerby might think; might feel; might need? It could be that some elegant reshaping of the block into the form of a ziggurat might provide a ramp spiraling around the bold stone walls to provide small lookouts for various city and parkland vistas as well as a casual connection to the riverside areas. Yet, very strangely, this minuscule element in the city means nothing for this plan for a portion of the city that seems to concentrate on its own grandeur and self-importance rather than care for little things. It looks as though not one thought or idea for the next 20 years of Brisbane’s shaping could be given to connecting this isolated block to existing pedestrian thoroughfares.

The eastern abutment from the southern end of old Victoria Bridge

The southern end of old Victoria Bridge. The arch on the right is the one that remains.
Note the plaque on the arch.

The plaque

Old Victoria Bridge



New Victoria Bridge

Old Victoria Bridge, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Bridge,_Brisbane , arched across the river with six steel arched frames standing high on braced steel columns. It was a pretty bridge, compact with welcoming approaches at each end that defined the street space and that for pedestrians. Stone arch abutments framed the walkway entrances on each side. The 72-year-old bridge was demolished in 1969 to accommodate the pressures of Brisbane’s growth. Happily it was replaced with a beautiful concrete structure, an elegant piece of new engineering. With all of this renewal, only one arched abutment of the old bridge was kept. This was the grey blurr illustrated in the grand scheme. Not only was it a piece of the old stone structure, a relic for future memory, but the arch also held a plaque to tell the story of an eleven year old Greek boy who was killed by a parade vehicle in the crowds gathered to celebrate the return of the troops at the end of World War 1: see - http://www.mustdobrisbane.com/visitor-info-arts-culture-history/victoria-bridge-abutment-memorial-south-brisbane  Alas, this stone arch with its curved base wall was left isolated from the new work, as if an exhibit, left stranded on top of a slab, high on new tuff walls that completed the chunky new rock form that had the sad, separate appearance of a mausoleum. The access to this little piece of history was provided by a new, crude steel stair construction that stepped up the outside of this massive form, very awkwardly. The route was totally uninviting to all but the intrepid and determined. It was as if one was asked to climb a small mountain, just to come down again. On arrival at the arched abutment space that now had an uninteresting, clumsy balustrade enclosure, one found oneself almost at the same level as the pedestrian path of the new bridge. Yet there was no straightforward short connection. The link seemed so obvious. The inconvenience was only exacerbated by this ad hoc adjacency.

The old abutment and the new bridge

The awkward stairs and the heavy balustrade increase the sense of isolation of the remnant arch.

From the other viewpoint when walking along the bridge, one was able to see this interesting historic piece and ponder how one might get to it while gazing across this ten-metre void, only to discover that a journey around, down and zigzagged up was required in order to reach what was so close - so near, but so far. Little wonder that this historic space is noted for its emptiness rather than the crowds it attracts. Why does this have to be so, especially when a link was such a clear and simple solution? Both bridge and abutment were begging for a connection that would make matters enjoyable for all pedestrians. It would improve both.


If the cultural centre precinct is to be ‘improved,’ a proposition that itself needs much debate, then this little link would be a great start, an easy beginning that would not change the Gibson vision. Please link this now. It is far more important than the new covered walkways and overhead bridges that the scheme seems to have spent so much time contemplating as part of the big vision. Sadly, it says something about the mind that spent time delivering the grand vision that this little link was just ignored, even when it has been drawn in the scheme. It has been left stranded and isolated when it would have been so easy to join and ramp down to the grassy river’s edge to make it a meaningful part of a wonderful detour.


Architects appear blind to the city’s small wonders and seem keen only to tackle big schemes, when it is the little things that can start being completed now and eventually joined, linked to make a truly beautiful, subtle and caring city, not just ‘MY’ grand scheme. Roger Scruton talks of the process as building for neighbours: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/water-boarding-place-with-highwayman.html  Here a little piece of history has just been left stranded, remote from passersby and easy, ordinary access. Why? Why not notice this tiny gem and do something about it rather than reach for the sky with grand visions that boast too much of their origins? Brisbane has only a very short history, first settled in 1825 to become a penal colony. Why can we not recognise this past and care for it, for those pieces of it that remain; then do this again; and again with other tiny, beautiful examples of caring? Eventually these places might connect and become a great and rich but modest city, not a display centre declaring its and its authors’ genius; their skill and brilliance.




There are few people in the world who would lament the failure of Le Corbusier to redevelop the centre of Paris with his gridded set of high-rise structures. Why does Brisbane now want this? Is this brashness why Brisbane shows such rude disrespect for its important tiny places? We need to rediscover how it is the array of minuscule things in this life that are so very important; the subtle, delicate feelings embodied as place, in place for all to participate in everyday without rowdy exclamation or any declared self-consciousness. A city is not a grand statement; it is a collection of tiny things, very small things that become whole in the accumulation and aggregation of experience. Of course, memory is involved too. We need to design for this circumstance that makes the ordinary become beautifully extraordinary.





see also: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/most-livable-citiy.html

The treatment of this historic remnant reminds one of the 'neutering' of the house at Lund: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/lund-haunting-place-memory.html

NOTE:

The development of the cultural centre significantly changed this area of Brisbane. All of the street-front shops seen in this image on the left and right of the bridge were demolished and replaced with open space, forecourts for the new structures. The Queensland Art Gallery and Museum were built on the left, and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre was built on the right. The art gallery was built first. It moved to this location in 1982. The 'snug' character of the street was changed. The later development of an overhead bridge link and a major bus stop at this location has closed the street in, made it more compact, dense with traffic movements, making the open spaces a welcome retreat from the hectic thoroughfare.


P.S.
7 APRIL 2016
Well, well, well!
Driving through Brisbane yesterday, over the Victoria Bridge on my way home, it was a real surprise to discover that the link from the new bridge to the old abutment has finally been built; and already it is occupied - by a mobile coffee outlet. That such a tiny piece of infrastructure could become the location for such a facility and generate such activity is indicative of the importance of attending to the little things everywhere. City life can truly be enhanced. Now the same approach has to implemented elsewhere, again, and again, and again. Then Brisbane might blossom.
The Wednesday farmers' market at the end of the mall also shows how simple things can enliven place. That a couple of dozen temporary shelters selling food can attract such crowds of people into an otherwise empty space is indicative of the need people have for ordinary events; in this case, the buying of fresh food from the producers.

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