AILA National Conference -Transform, Brisbane, 2011
Before attending the 2011 AILA National Conference – Transform in Brisbane, I had great ambitions to summarise all the speakers into a series of nice little compact blurbs. However, as we delved deeper and deeper into the conversations about climate change, and various issues relating to design and social injustice I realised, at an event like this (and my first from start to finish) it’s almost impossible to summarise it all. The following is a summary of a few of the key speakers and some of the questions the discussions had me asking.
The Conference was located at the Brisbane Convention Centre, set in the beautiful Southbank parklands. The Southbank beach and the parklands became one of the topics of discussion over the two days, as well as the setting for one of our evening functions.
Have a look at the some of the photos of the beautiful arbor and the fantastic little urban beach:
At the opening of the conference, Sarah Gaventa - formerly from CABE and author of New Public Spaces (2006) - gave several hints to landscape architects: the best public spaces don’t necessarily use the most expensive materials; do we really know what we are designing for? (to make the people happy of course); we should inspire people so they can engage in public space; use public space to advocate the work landscape architects do; and lastly, why don’t we design spaces where the users can take a level of responsibility for their own self. This led me to my first question - how can we convince local authorities and managers of public space that this stance is acceptable?
Stephen Sheppard suggested that landscape architects are good collaborators; practical and good designers; and instrumental in envisaging how the future might look - we all know a thing or two about producing photomontages and engaging visually with our clients. Stephen emphasised the importance of making climate change visible at the local scale. He used predicted sea level rise data, transformed it into a visual photo model, and showed how residential houses within close proximity to the coast would be affected. Using the same photo model, he showed possible solutions and interventions to demonstrate how residential houses could be protected from sea level rise. The message was clear – the impact of showing climate change visually gives people an understanding about an issue that may not necessarily be clear if it were presented as technical data. This personalised education could be what is needed to make true changes where change is needed.
Darryl Low Choy and Greg Grabash, discussed the importance of planning controls and giving the indigenous community a voice when it comes the design and development of public space. In the context of AILA, Darryl suggested that AILA revise the current principles to acknowledge indigenous communities to ensure involvement in stakeholder consultation; write a policy statement on indigenous landscape values; and establish a set of procedures for indigenous stakeholder engagement.
Greg described his work with the indigenous community as a process of facilitation, rather than consultation, the main difference being that facilitation included the community in the entire design process. This led me to ask some difficult questions (all to which I still don’t know the answer): At what point does the landscape architect guide, rather than lead, the design process? How do you cater for the needs of the community, when you obviously can’t cater for all individual needs? Who takes priority? How do you spend time getting to know the communities you are designing for, while still sustaining a business?
The important message I took from this discussion was the power of empowering people and youth to make strategic and design decisions so they can take ownership of some part of public space. As Greg said “ownership is the right to be asked”.
In subsequent discussions, Christine Ten Eyck suggested that arrogance and ego should be removed from design and we need to let go of power; however, we must guide the process to ensure that people, who are willing to share their stories, will be heard.
In terms of public art, projects such as Richard Tipping’s ‘Flood’ were discussed. The piece was very powerful coming from the context of the recent floods.
Richard Brennock also showed public artworks, from throughout the Roma street gardens and other various places. Richard discussed how public artworks help to engage people in public space. In subsequent discussions I had with other landscape architects, we debated on what role the landscape architect has in public art; wondered if landscape architecture is an art on its own; and whether or not landscape architects should be designing ‘public artworks or leaving this up to the practical expertise of a professional artist.
Also using the Roma street example, Mark Fuller from AECOM discussed how Roma Street Parklands was designed to embrace the signs of life; by embracing the aging process - where patterns of use help to tell the story of how public space is used, and enjoyed. How often do we design landscapes to possess the ability to remain beautiful as it grows and evolves? As the signs of age begin to emerge, how often do we seek to hide those visible signs of age? What opportunities are missed when we do so?
If you haven’t been to the Roma Street gardens, next time you’re in Brisbane I suggest making the visit.
Perhaps the most powerful imagery of the conference was the beautiful work of Christine Ten Eyck. I didn’t speak with a single person who couldn’t agree more.
Check out her website for examples – you will notice she even uses Acacia species, indigenous to Australia, as a feature in some of her landscapes!
Christine was a very humble lady, with a passion to make a difference, whose designs demonstrate the word ‘transformative’ perfectly. The spaces she showed were designed with limited budgets, “reusing trash” (as Christine would put it), using plants that survive with little or no care but are still beautiful, and landscapes that evoke the memory of water (or lack thereof). The landscapes were designed to make the best use of water from adjacent buildings and surfaces in ways that are already familiar to us. She said it perfectly – water sensitive design “is not rocket science” and we should be incorporating it into all of our designs.
If I could take one thing from this conference, it is the reminder that when I am sitting at my desk drafting up a design, to stop and ask myself two questions: Why am I designing this? Who is this for? It is a reminder that the landscape architect really does have the power to make a difference. I will take this opportunity to thank AILA and all of the speakers for a great conference. Thank you for continuing to renew my passion. For a more detailed summary of the conference speakers, refer to the AILA website under the Transform Section.