Kerstin Thompson 2023 A.S. Hook Address

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What home?
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.

What here?
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 history?
“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.

What landscape?
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.

What architect?
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.

What legacy?
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.