Wednesday, August 31, 2011

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:,or.r_gc.r_pw.&biw=1437&bih=742&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=southbank+park+lands+brisbane&fb=1&gl=au&hq=southbank+park+lands&hnear=0x6b91579aac93d233:0x402a35af3deaf40,Brisbane+QLD&cid=1081606475369026896&ei=4zFeTtCRLabKiALPmPGzBQ&sa=X&oi=local_result&ct=photo-link&cd=1&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQnwIoADAA

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.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Design me a city - Brasilia

Brasilia was designed as a modern 'purpose built' city in response to a design competition in 1957 to develop a geographically central capital for Brasil. The winning entry was designed by Lucio Costa + is based on the ideal of a 'functional city'. Oscar Niemeyer designed many of the iconic buildings for the capital centre. The modernist + highly symbolic architecture, coupled with the almost utopian city design delivers a city that appears strangely out of touch with the scale of the human inhabitants. The city as a whole appears as an overt symbol of political + government power + man vs nature - of course the architecture is beautiful, but it seems somehow alien. Is a design such as this really functional in relation to the daily needs inhabitants + the necessities of everyday life in a city?

Obscenely over-scaled + desolate public open spaces, such as The Square of Three Powers only serve to demonstrate the lack of understanding that many modernist designers of the day had of the essential human dimension that is so vital to the success of urban design, buildings + landscapes everywhere.

Perhaps I'm too critical of what what obviously an innovative + unique design that was a product of an age of design + architectural exploration - only time will reveal the problems of this functional + utopian design.

Image of The Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brasilia from Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Book review: Cities for People

A friend recently leant me a copy of 'Cities for People' an inspiring book written by Danish architect Jan Gehl.

Examining patterns of city life across the world, the book advocates the adoption of intelligent and informed urban design principles - design at the 'human scale' and creating 'life between buildings'. Too often, design professionals seem to live life in the fast lane, designing huge oversized spaces within the urban fabric of our cities in plan view with no thought for the human dimension.

The theory behind this book is extremely insightful and demonstrates Jan Gehl's thoughtful observational approach to urban design and planning. Examples from Copenhagen, Melbourne and Venice are used throughout the book to demonstrate successful city spaces, urban renewal projects and street scape designs. It is a thought provoking read - not only for Urban Designers, but also for Landscape Architects, Architects and Planners.

Earlier this year, Jan Gehl presented some of the ideas from 'Cities for People' as part of The City of Melbourne, Melbourne Conversations lecture series - video of the lecture is available at SlowTV.

Image from Making Cities for People, Gehl Architects blog.

Spread the word - the AILA Fresh blog is back

After a hiatus of a few months, the AILA Fresh blog is back - bringing you FRESH inspiring thoughts and updates on all things related to Landscape Architecture! We have been gathering some interesting new ideas over our break and will be updating the blog regularly with inspirational articles and information about upcoming local events.

We are also currently working on our new AILA Fresh website, so please stay tuned for more information about our new home over the next few months.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tonight: Catherine Mosbach AILA Fresh - Drinks & Discussion

Wednesday October 6th
6:00 - 8:00pm @ The University of Melbourne
Wunderlich Gallery, Ground Floor, Building 133

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Highline

The Highline, New York is a successful example of reclaiming disused industrial land for recreational purposes...especially iconic because it reclaims redundant rail tracks formerly used to transport freight above Manhattan's busy streets. Claiming this elevated land for recreational use has provided the surrounding urban area with a green strip of open space, where the development within the high density ground plane below can not be easily achieved.

Designed by Landscape Architects James Corner Field Operations and Architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, The Highline will form a 1 & 1/2 mile linear public park when completed.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tell me a story...

The ability for surfaces to tell a narrative is often used as a strong feature in landscape designs - there are endless effects to be created by inlaying or embedding objects or other materials, etching, honing or sand blasting surfaces or stenciling designs.

I have recently become interested in the potential of typographic pavements to create interpretive landscape experiences - such as Language of the Birds, located in the historical literary district of North Beach San Francisco, where literature and language forms the focus of a site specific narrative through a striking landscape intervention and art installation. Sculpted books (illuminated at night by solar power) hang suspended like a flock of birds above a concrete surface patterned by a jumble of sand blasted words and phrases from local authors. These words and phrases are inscribed and preserved in the fonts used in their original print media and are in a variety of languages.

There is no definitive message that is preached by this installation, but rather a range of thought provoking experiences and a series of clues that the individual can interpret to create their own understanding of the space and its story.

It is this potential to develop the multi-layering of information, symbolism, site narrative and interpretive elements that can create a site specific design, which is anchored to a unique sense of place, history and environment. Such commonly used surfaces as concrete should be experimented with and more often custom designed with added graphic treatments or unique textures - they shouldn't continue to be generic or unimaginative blanket ground plane treatments.

Image: Language of the Birds, San Francisco by Dorka Kheen & Brian Goggin.
See also: A Flock of Words, Morecambe, England by Why Not Associates and artist Gordon Young

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Go Play Competition entries...

We had some great entries submitted to our recent competition - the winners are to be announced shortly! We were impressed by the creativity and range of ideas that everyone came up with!

Thanks to everyone who entered.

Thanks also to Kate Hudson for the playful lego inspired image (above).

Go Play! Playground Design - Philippa Dunstan

Go Play and Beyond!! - Alvin Lin

Lucerne to Play - Fawn Goodall

Willow Playground - Anna Komorowska and Michal Rokita of Krakow, Poland