Consider two homes. First: House at Hanging Rock. An architect-designed, bespoke home, an aggregate of a family’s choices, reflecting their aspirations, preferences, needs. The occupants exercised choice of home and architecture. Second: my cousin’s office in Frankfurt, Germany. Also architect-designed, and now a makeshift home for Ukrainian families. What was once a desk is now a kitchen, of sorts, for here the occupants have been allocated a home, making do with a given architecture and relying on each other and their things.
Much of my architectural education in the late 1980s focused on a European history. Introduced to some of the twentieth century’s leading lights, I leaned toward Asplund, Häring, Scharoun, Barragán, Melnikov, Shinohara. I felt a humanity, a modesty, at the core of their architectures that I wished to emulate.
“What here?” inevitably leads to “what history?” I cannot contemplate heritage without interrogating our histories, re-evaluating who and what constitutes them. As architects, we’re obliged to re-examine our understanding of emplaced heritage and the ways in which we might productively work with it. A lot of our work involves existing buildings and sensitive cultural contexts. In fact, every project is a heritage project, as we’re always starting from a set of preconditions, occupations, existences, hauntings. This is counter to the modernist preoccupation with tabula rasa. A much richer experience of place is possible through revealing and engaging with the multiple moments of a site’s life.
In 1993, I walked the 80-kilometre Lurujarri Heritage Trail along the coast of north-western Australia, the Country of Paddy Roe, his ancestors and the Goolarabooloo community. It was formative and I learnt two major lessons. The first was about what constitutes architecture. Our camps – an architecture of sorts – allowed me to observe how we form place through our practices and activities. At one camp, alongside paperbarks and a dry riverbed, the women prepared tucker among eskies, fold-up tables and a fire pit within a sandy hollow. When kids ran too close, the women yelled, “Get out of the kitchen!” Of course, this was a kitchen. Architecture without walls.
When I started KTA, in 1994, I had a hunch that practice could rethink certain myths foundational to some of architecture’s most celebrated figures. I thank my RMIT educators for being conscious of these myths and helping our generation to challenge how we conceptualized and talked about space. For example, to question: buildings as supposedly active, in relation to landscapes as passive; the role of “the Architect” as in control, uncompromising, without doubts; and why women were absent – or at least unacknowledged – in architecture’s history.
In our field, legacy is contingent upon leadership. Leadership, to me, is the accommodation of differences, conflicts and contingencies with intent. Leadership is not linear or autonomous, nor is it a single flash of genius by one individual. Rather, it is a flocking, a multiplicity of relations, connections, adjacencies; an openness to the input of others and to the gradual alignment of multiple bodies over the duration of a project toward its eventual coalescence into a coherent form. It is finding a rightness of fit between project variables and spatial model.
The full Melbourne presentation is available on Youtube.