Saturday, February 27, 2016

CATALYSTS, CONNECTIONS AND INTERVENTIONS IN LANDSCAPE


Esbjerg Beach Promenade  Spektrum Arkitekter

Design Stuff to Distract”   Dan Plummer

It was a hot, steamy February Friday, so an afternoon in a cool interior was not a disappointment; but this did not prevent other disappointments at the event – the seminar on landscape design at the Abedian School of Architecture at Bond University in South East Queensland, on the Gold Coast, 19th February 2016. The occasion came with a fancy, 'all-inclusive' title and much hype: Catalysts, Connections and Interventions in Landscape – see: http://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/2016-bond-university-architecture-lecture-series This report came with its own eye-catching headline: Star lineup revealed for first of Bond Uni's architecture lecture series. Unfortunately there were errors in this exaggerated blurb beyond the spelling: it should have been 'line-up.' Educators should know this. It is a concern that such errors occur: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/the-problems-of-gaining-knowledge.html Have folk forgotten about punctuation as well as spelling and simple English grammar? The other problems in this headline seemed to be with the adjectives 'star' and 'architecture.' Who gauged these speakers as 'stars'? Indeed, who or what is a 'star'? - and was the event really about 'architecture'?


Professor Carter

The outcome was that the presenters were not particularly 'starry.' A couple spoke of foreign places with accents, so this does have a cringe factor in Australia; but perhaps this does not make it 'star' material. The subject of the promotion did seem to be clear: the seminar, or was it a lecture or set of talks?, was on 'landscape,' not 'architecture.' Professor Carter noted this as a 'first' in his introduction that was difficult to hear without the benefit of the microphone being switched on. Why does it always seem to happen? Why do organisers not make sure that everything is working properly prior to starting these sessions? It is not as though the occasion was not planned, or that the school is using crude and unreliable technologies, like the amplification systems of old that always appeared to squeal alarmingly with feedback, and the Kodak Carousel slide projectors that seemed to rely on rudimentary mechanisms with basic, recurring problems that frustrated the flow of nearly every presentation.




After being dropped off at the entrance to the university, an awkward busy roundabout/bus stop rather than a public place of some prominence, one began the stroll along the secondary axis to the right. Oddly, this minor thoroughfare seemed to be the primary, practical address, with the other more grand linear vista void thrust under the iconic Arata Isozaki arched building mass, appearing as a mere planning formality, a 'bold' gesture that opens up to a view of a small bridge across nearby water and beyond, to nowhere in particular. Even so, the School of Architecture that is located to the right on the busier, less formal approach to the site, could not be easily accessed from the main entry to the university. There was no subtle welcome for one coming in from the north, no greeting gesture or any pathway to the school. One had to walk past the building to get onto the access ramp pointing south, a detour that made one turn through one hundred and eighty degrees, before one felt that one was on the approach to the 'Sir Peter Cook' building. Was this excursion a planned promenade to display the building's qualities as 'architecture' to their best advantage; or did no one think of those walking in from the main entrance to the university? How can an Australian criticise a building with such credentials? Cringe! - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/pete-dud-on-cringe.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/bond-downpipes.html

Where might a wheelie bin go?

Plan view of the Forum Area
The Grand Canyon? - glazing, glare and ghosting

The foyer was empty; it was only ten minutes prior to the start. The walk up the internal corridor ramp to the western entry - or was it an exit that mirrored the entry? - passed the lower studio areas and the sundry, obviously student displays, and led to the burning, glaring sunlight of the western courtyard space. It was a stark, bland area void of any vegetation, located between the designed 'Sir Cook' building, and the 'un-designed' metal-clad school workshop shed. The thought occurred: which was the more honest building? The place looked like a dead delivery zone, nowhere, instead of an area for people to enjoy, yet it had an identical closure to that of the main entry. Indeed, the cliché Friday sausage sizzle had been set up by the students next to the shady, but much more public main entry on the east, even though it had nothing to do with the public or those attending today's seminar/lecture/talks. Why was the shady pine tree grove that is 'referenced' by the new build not used for the barbecue? The main-door cooking location made one feel like one was visiting the local Bunnings hardware store that has frequent 'sausage sizzle' days to attract tradesmen and promote local charities. How might this reflect on this new school of architecture? - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/what-is-school-of-architecture.html


Approach from south

This building needs a serious post-occupancy evaluation. How will it age? How well does it work? Adjacent to the glass doors in the grand, glazed western wall was a wheelie bin. Had the architects forgotten about trash? Professor Carter had not, but this bin remained in this awkwardly exposed corner position. Adrian Carter mentioned in his opening chat that even though he lived on Currumbin Hill with magnificent water views, he also shared this grand vista with numerous wheelie bins. One wondered: if he is so sensitive to these public eyesores, why does he leave the one next to the western door to be seen by all in the school's circulation corridor? Here one is reminded of the blocked fire exit: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/exploring-definition-edge-condition-of.html



Strolling back to the open Forum Area, one soon became aware that more folk had arrived for the afternoon session, so a seat was taken in anticipation of a start. The normal nuisances were observed yet again as one sat and waited – and waited: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/exploring-definition-edge-condition-of.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/richard-leplastrier-ephemeral.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/the-nordic-architecture-symposium-aalto.html It seems as though things will never change. The one o'clock start became a 1:20pm start, the exact time that the first speaker was scheduled to have finished. Why on earth can events at the Abedian School not start on time? The afternoon eventually began with Kevin O'Brien talking about the aboriginal experience of place, and how he envisages and manages cultural issues. He made a clear point of recognising the original land owners, as politicians do. I never do this, as I take it as read that one is sensitive enough to always be aware that this country was once inhabited by others, at all places and at all times. To declare one's awareness on special occasions seems too much an exaggeration of ME and MY 'special' sensitivity, too much of a display.

Lockhart River retail store

FOL studio and garden

Mr. O'Brien spoke of burning land, how this traditional practice managed flora and fauna. He noted how the first painters illustrated landscapes that looked like mown fields. After twenty years, these areas were forests. His emphasis on the apparent need for fire seemed insensitive to environmentalists who argue that fire destroys flora and fauna – well, those that cannot tolerate such events: a self-evident observation that seems to be dismissed in the burning argument. Just because the aboriginals did it does not make it right. His Lockhart River scheme – a retail store and offices – illustrated his approach to cultural issues: seats were provided around a tree so that all can see others coming and going, and respond appropriately according to the social rules. He noted somewhat mockingly that Project Services wanted this area to be a car park without explaining matters further. Where did the cars go? None were seen. His decorative, 'scarring' fascia fringe, (his decoration was considered to be 'cultural scarring' analogous to that on the bodies of older aboriginals), seemed too close to fashionable laser-cut screens to appear meaningfully 'cultural,' although one can appreciate the effort. His own house suggested how he saw suburban lifestyle – knock down fences, build a bar and a barbecue and solve all problems over a wine. Mmmm; grog and aboriginals is a difficult issue to talk about as a positive approach to problems. His description of and reference to fire and dream-time stories seemed too usefully 'aboriginal' and 'factual' to be sincere, to be genuinely integrated in his work as an emotional necessity, but this can never be truly assessed with such an emotive context. One compares the expression/explanation to the writings of Bill Neijdie (Kakadu Man; About Feeling) and notes a significant difference in sense, content and intent – sagacity: see below.


Gold Coast, Queensland

Gerard McCormick

The second speaker was Gerard McCormick, a local Gold Coast landscape planner from the Cardno office. His firm has done a lot of work for the local Council. Little wonder, after he explained how he 'cleverly' solved the 'open space' problem that was of such a concern to Council officers. His first map of the region illustrated all of the green areas in the area. It was obvious that there were very, very few green spaces. London and Paris would have more open green areas than the Gold Coast. Council officers were rightly worried about future growth, and how this already very low proportion of open space per person would only get increasingly worse. The astonishing solution was not to create more parks and reserves, but to count the beaches, the rivers, the creeks, and the roads as open space! Mr. McCormick called this Green space, Gold space and Blue space. I wonder which colour was attributed to the roads? How much of the Pacific Ocean was measured to get the required number? This seemed to be a great fudge; pure cheek; a real 'engineering' solution to a problem. (Mr. McCormick does work for Cardno!) Why not measure the sky too, as some enjoy this as a recreational space? - (this was the argument for including the other spaces): kites; gliders; aeroplanes; hang gliders; wind surfers; etc. all use and enjoy the air above, while sun bathers enjoy it as a source of warm light? Surely this is a really tricky solution, just too smart; sly; one that only has to do with mathematics and analytical logic: a 'seat-of-the-pants-saving' solution, not one for an improved lived experience? It seems to care nothing for feelings or qualities; merely measurements, calculations and explanatory words, little more. The other planning examples spoken about appeared to prove this to be so. There was a great emphasis on mapping diagrams at a very large scale that used descriptions of possibilities to suggest intimacy: but there seemed to be no fine scale thought here. If landscape planning is not able to offer folk true, real, valued experiences as actual outcomes, it is a waste of time, and should be put in with town planning as a profession that needs to be abolished: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/the-rational-shaping-of-surfaces-town.html None of this augured well for the future of the Gold Coast. It was a very depressing revelation presented boldly and with supreme confidence and certainty: with an almost infallible knowing, the kind one has come to expect from planners who relish their legal authority.


Bangalow play area


The next scheduled speakers were Dan Plummer and Belinda Smith; but he spoke for both, starting his talk by spruiking about the real values of sporting fields as open space. It was all made to sound poetically idyllic: sprawling shadows in empty space where one was able to do anything one wanted, unlike planned play areas. Maybe there was some nostalgia in this talk that skewed these opinions as he illustrated his visions with playing fields in Murwillumbah where he walks his dog; and in Bangalow, where he played soccer as a child; and later cricket as a teenager. This position looked like a load of nonsense, a real worry, as leased open space is different to public open space. It is the difference between corporately managed public space, and public civic space: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/the-victor-gruen-vision-false-hopes-and.html Our experience at Yeronga Park in Brisbane highlights the problems.

Yeronga Park memorial pavilion

Yeronga Park memorial gates (that are rarely closed)

Yeronga Park plan view

Years ago, when involved with the local kindergarten, we had to get a lease number to be able to lodge a building application with the Council. I went into the Council offices one lunchtime, but there was not one person there. So I entered the work area, opened the filing cabinet, found the Yeronga Park file, and jotted down the number. The great surprise was the plan of the park in this file. The park was publicly designated as a memorial park, a memorial to those who had fallen in WW1. It has a small memorial structure in it that becomes the Anzac Day centrepiece; otherwise this little monument is a small, neglected play space that collects rubbish. The plan drawing of the park illustrated all of the leases in the park that one had always supposed was open public space. There was: the kindergarten; the CWA hall; the fire station; the bowls club; the croquet club; the rugby league football club; the blind cricketer's club; the tennis club; the scouts hall; the basket ball club; the local state school; the local public dentistry offices; the local swimming pool; and the meals on wheels kitchen – all on separate leases. One side of this high, quality block of land – this park was not developed on low, flood plains or old refuse tips - had been given over to a strip of houses. Most of what looked like open space in the park was a cluttering of leased areas; some were fenced off. Very little of the park was un-leased open public space; but even this is not considered off limits to further leasing.




One day a few years ago, the leagues club decided it wanted another football field. No, it could not share the second open 'practice' area with the blind cricketer's second pitch; it wanted its own space. The club had chosen an area of the park bounded by mature trees and made a submission to Council. A local group objected, arguing that the new field would require the removal of trees and the loss of more public space. In spite of this, Council approved the proposal: see – http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/will-development-applications-always-be.html So an appeal was lodged. We took the space used by the existing field as an image from Google Earth and superimposed it onto the approved space. It did not fit without removing trees. The appeal went to court. The club and Council lost. This is why one should not get too excited about leased open sports spaces. Inevitably a president or a new management group comes along with the ambition to expand: bigger club house; more fields; larger entertainment rooms; more bars; a bottle shop; more car parking areas; larger facilities; poker machines; etc., etc. This is what happened at Yeronga Park. One has to be wary! This glorification of leased zones is not what it purports to be. It can all go very wrong so easily. Public open space must be public open space, nothing else.


Norries Headland lookout




Chinatown, Southport


Mr. Plummer showed a lookout project his office had completed at Norries Headland - a nice curving timber seat/platform wrapping around a slope. The work displayed a sensitivity not revealed in the Southport Chinatown, another project he has been involved in that is due to open shortly. The bland comment that all such 'cultural' places are false is wrong. Sydney and the Fortitude Valley in Brisbane have Chinatowns that have grown organically out of an ad hoc concentration of places 'eastern.' Just why Southport needs a 'Chinatown' where there seems to be a definite lack of things 'Chinese,' is a concern. One has to be cynical and point out that there are local government elections due next month! The project showed little of the care for place and persons revealed in the lookout. This speaker closed his presentation by again eulogising the open sports fields of his youth, praising them as places that don't need “design stuff to distract.” This gritty, almost bitter critique from a designer? He is not in love with his work, or so it seems. With this attitude, he will only provide fodder for critics who see architects, landscape or otherwise, as a waste of time and money: does he have the same philosophy as the next speaker?

Chernobyl


Sue Anne Ware livened up the audience with a loud, articulate and assured presentation. An American Professor from Newcastle – she had all of the cringe-worthy material needed in Australia! - started by declaring that landscape did not need her or anyone to tell it what to do! It seemed that designers were irrelevant! Landscape could look after itself: it knew best. She illustrated this position with a photograph of Chernobyl, but didn't expand much on the theme. It seemed like a good headline to catch attention, as all of her other examples appeared very structured and well managed. One wondered how a polluted site like Chernobyl could be used as an example of 'valued' landscaping, ad hoc or otherwise. Was she simply trying to tell us that she had been there? Something was askew here. No wonder not much more was said about this concept; but she had wished that she had done the three projects she was to talk about.

The Arboretum, Canberra




Ms Ware moved on to describe a Mediterranean project near Gruissan in southern France – a museum developed on old salt mines and fish ponds. The tide told its story in the salt marshes; and time too. It was interesting, but the project lacked specific detail. Her loud story removed all possibilities of reverie and review to convince one that everything was as she said. A few jokes were used to distract and entertain; perhaps to show that she was an ordinary human? Then the new forests of Canberra were presented: the Arboretum. The idea was 100 forests of 2.5ha each, of single species tree groupings with a couple buildings and an interesting overall pattern – 'a patchwork of trees' that would take generations to mature. In this sense it was bigger than any one individual. The scheme looked pretty; she made it sound impressive. Then she spoke about the Grand Parc des Docks de Saint-Ouen in France: likewise an interesting proposal, truly French, with little plots for all to play and grow in as they might choose, in amongst the open regeneration zone and other recreational spaces. The comment was that this could not happen in Australia, such are our workplace, health and safety rules. It was difficult to get an understanding of the wholeness of these projects, but Ms Ware only had twenty minutes to speak, and time was getting away. At least the Ware images had texts that could be easily read. The previous two speakers showed lettering and some plans that were impossible to decipher.








There were no questions, so the break was taken. It was nearly five to three. The programme had this as a 2:30 – 3:00pm pause. Professor Carter declared that this should be a prompt, six-minute 'get-up-and-move- around' time. At 3:40pm, after coffee, cakes, kisses, hugs, and chats, and continued care-free, relaxed socialising, he started the late-afternoon session. Was he introducing his wife? One was not told. The projects that Marianne Kristensen Carter presented were all 'old' work out of the office of Jeppe Aagaard Andersen of Copenhagen when she worked there. Was this talk merely an opportunity to fill a 'Danish' space in the schedule? It looked as though the last session had been given over to this theme. Maybe something more current might have been useful? The Sydney University campus landscaping dated from 2003/4! It was over ten years old: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/school-of-architecture-hits-wall.html Still, the work was impressive – carefully considered and beautifully detailed; intimate in a civic way. It set an example for the Gold Coast planning authorities: if only - if only they could care!


The other representatives from Denmark rose to speak. Two architects from a practice called Spektrum Arkitekter in Copenhagen. Sofie Willems and Joan Maria Raun Nielsen explained that they had been given a grant from the Danish government to travel and talk about their work. One has to note that if two partners travel to talk, then they really should agree prior to the event just who says what and when. It does not look good for one to butt in to the other's enthusiastic spuiking and ask to speak. This happened twice. One had to forgive the enthusiasm to tell: the work was good, sensitive; with a feeling for place, persons and materials. It highlighted just what was missing with the local landscape planners – feeling for place and the true achievement of everyday quality outcomes, of rich and meaningful experiences. There was no theory or statistics here, just a love of place and people, and an awareness of the beauty of materials and the power of design.

Esbjerg Beach Promenade


A group of colleagues won a competition for a boardwalk. This was the start of Spektrum Arkitekter. As well as the long, timber-clad walkway and ramps over the rocks to the beach, the project proposed tidal poles to mark changes by identifying and defining place and location in the expansive void of sand, sea and horizon. This bold concept grew into many other purposes that allow play, exercise and relaxation – it is a remarkable success. They are true totems.





The project work on the 'unknown' park uses a new, beautifully detailed path to encourage passersby to explore and experience the pace differently, instead of using the area as a shortcut. It is a great example of how design can improve with minimal input; significantly too! The Røsnæs project showed a sensitive understanding and treatment of areas determined to be important in association with the local community. Here places of beauty and significance were identified by the group. At each location there was a subtle intervention to facilitate the full experience of being there. One central building, perhaps it could be called a tourist centre?, had the map model of the peninsular with all locations identified in detail. It made a uniquely special place out of a 25km journey, quietly, with thought, care; humbly, with little, modest but fine-tuned interventions.




One has to comment that if a practice of female architects can achieve such successful, sensitive and responsible outcomes as these, then we need more practices like this one. The work was rich, delicate, responsive, and understanding. It thought about people, and encompassed them as persons, individuals, with feeling. There was no hypothetical nonsense here: just results. If we are unable to achieve good outcomes, then we need to change now, because we will find ourselves bogged down only in theoretical, self-important self-interest. There is no point in defining possibilities if they can and will never be achieved. If we are not willing to act with the best ambitions for others – with respect, then we need to leave the profession if we refuse to change, for staying will only perpetuate the current situation where planners spruik about nothing but their clever interpretative powers, and rave on about outcomes in reports with jargon that 'ticks the right boxes' – a term used by Mr. McCormick in his talk. We must do more than just tick boxes.


What hope is there when all of these planning reports are written with promotional propaganda-like texts saying 'the right thing,' while huge power pylons get installed on the main road - (look along Reedy Creek Road)? Who cares? When one raises this problem that will be there for years and years to come in spite of all the ambitious reports, one is told that this is out of Council's control – that it is the government power supply body installing this infrastructure. One response to a similar criticism from a local councillor was that one could always leave the area if one was unhappy with the Gold Coast!! This is Australia, land of careless, outrageous, Ozzie buffoon: “She'll be roight moite. No worries! F..K off ya smart-arse poofter!” (It should be noted that when the threat of AIDS was in its heyday, in the list of those most likely to contract the disease was 'architects.')

Reedy Creek Road, Burleigh Heads

Reedy Creek Road, Burleigh Heads

This brash attitude needs to change if we are going to have any reasonable future beyond smart words and clever interpretations, like counting beaches and roads. This is simply just too clever: pure nonsense, an irrelevance, when it comes down to experience and place in the ordinary everyday living of life. Does Mr. McCormick count the hoons who do screaming, rubber-burning wheelies etc. nearly every night somewhere on the coast, as being involved in a recreational activity? Does he argue that roads are open space because they are used by joggers? Does he consider their importance in providing access to 'recreational opportunities' to be a reason to include them in the list of valued open spaces? This looks like pure humbug! Nothing else: a typical cynical Gold Coast Council response to a sensitive issue. Why has it been accepted? Has it? With this approach to things, there is little wonder that the nearby World Heritage-listed area, Springbrook, is so neglected, seen only as a tourist location to be serviced by a cable way to attract only more and more visitors.


Springbrook National Park

If the measure cannot be ordinary, everyday experience and its wonderful delight; of changing the way people can experience place, the world and others for the better of all, then we are wasting our time and energy. If nothing came from the Bond seminar but this understanding highlighted by the work of Spektrum Arkitekter, then this is sufficient, as it lies at the core of good design, be this architecture, landscape, planning or simple graphics. The core is love and concern for people – making places, things for people. It was a delight to see someone understand how tiny matters are critical. We need to constantly attend to these infinitesimal parts of our lives and how we interact with these objects and they with us: the light on a pavement; the pattern; the colour; the shadows; the texture – knowing that we are walking. The big reports are generally too broad, schematic; too big to be useful. They usualy just fill up shelves and political gaps and gaffs. Planners need to know this. Planning anything is about “design stuff to distract” in a positive, meaningful way, as all good design should be, and should become, to be an essential part of our world. We need such interventions more than ever.

Esbjerg Beach Promenade

It has always been the case: make a tiny thing beautiful; then another; and another; eventually they will join into a marvellous place – but respect is needed, not the competitive 'MINE is best attitude,' a position that only creates the divisions that we see everywhere. We should always remember the significance, beauty and relevance of small things: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/subtropical-urban-design-forum.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/mottainai-architecture-reduce-reuse.html


After a relaxing cool wine, a cracker and cheese, departure, just prior to the beginning of the panel discussion. Time had got away and one had to leave. The heavy humidity of the day lingered under a full cloud cover. It was still uncomfortable, 'sticky' outside. Maybe one should have lingered for the chat? One might have been able to if the day had been run to schedule.

Folkets Park, Spektrum Arkitekter

THE PROGRAMME




This story e can listen careful
and how you want to feel on your feeling
This story e coming right through your body
e go right down foot and head
fingernail and blood… through the heart
and e can feel it because e’ll come right through
Bill Neidjie


P.S.
It is of interest that the office of Spektrum Arkitekter started with a competition entry. The sad thing in Australia is that it was the submission of a Danish architect's scheme for the Sydney Opera House and the following success of this entry that stifled architectural competitions in this country. It seemed that every government or managing body was concerned that one 'might get an opera house' outcome with an open competition. So, if a competition was to go ahead, it was nearly always by careful invitation. If left open, the winning scheme was always selected with one eye on the architect who was sometimes asked to team up with a more experienced firm if the project was to go ahead! The whole excitement and interest of architectural competitions has been lost. The hope that a great idea could get built again has gone. It seems that we will only get boxes like those of the other Opera House submissions.



One has to add that the Federation Square international competition that did take a risky decision has only added to the concern with competitions. Arguments about shards, changes and the actual built experience of what looked like a grand idea as drawings and 3D images, has made folk more than wary. Instead of the exciting complications of layers and meshes, one sees a clumsily detailed shambles of heavy, awkward steel. The delight in the flimsy elegance, the dance of veils, has gone, to become a ponderous, over-worked Corbusian concrete column and slab structure clad in an ad hoc complexity of varying materials, mostly poorly, roughly detailed. It gives the impression that the intent was well beyond the technical skills of those who had to implement the envisaged concept.



The GOMA building in Brisbane is an example of a 'safe' building being chosen in a competition. The submissions included some exciting proposals that involved the river with a greater intimacy; but these, apparently, seemed too risky. A box with a slightly tilted lid like the Opera House in Copenhagen was selected: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/pairs-3.html Was this an Edison/Swan experience?

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