A quick thought on Landscapes

In John Dixon Hunts’ book Greater Perfections in the chapter ‘Word and Image in the Garden’ he discusses the role of the word and narrative and experience in landscape architecture. In context of narrative, he argues:

“[N]arratives that recount times past do so in the present, which with landscape architecture is intimately linked to the configurations of the site that functions both as setting and presumably as prompt for the narrative to be recounted. Further, the “reader” is thrust into prominence; the narrative of a place relies on the verbal skills of its visitor, who has to infer or “translate” from the given materials, which can never (qua narrative) be as complete as they would be, for instance, on the pages of a novel.”

Thus, the verbal skills of a viewer, reader or visitor in a didactic, narrative designed landscape can never as complete as the reader of a novel. This is because of the “translation” from the abstraction of the inscriptions on the materials of the site, and the site itself. Therefore, for example, a plaque by the ocean may describe the anchorage of a ship in a port two hundred years earlier. The visitor reads the plaque, looks over to the position of anchorage, and is imagines a ship there. The argument put forward by Hunt is that this scenario is not as complete a narrative on the pages of a novel. However, I think there are grounds for a contrary argument. A visitor with verbal skills may have their experienced enhanced by looking out to where the boats set anchor. A purely fictionalised novel has no landscape equivalent to compare the given materials.

Unless of course, Hunt means that a plaque can never be as long or as big as a novel. In which case he is correct. He concludes: “in short, the site qua site may play a greater or lesser role.” When, I think what he means to say is: the abstract site (narrative) within a real landscape may play a greater or lesser role.

Sites within sites, narratives within narratives; the way our minds work and our body moves through a site is immensely complex. There are an infinite amount of impressions, senses, ideas and events that coalesce to complete our understanding of a landscape or site. While historical narratives within sites seek to represent a true interpretation of a sites past, what of the fictional impressions we gain from a site? How does a shift in scale, an imagined people of the past, an animated artefact, the re evaluation of the ugly change the way we read landscapes? Can, or do we reach neutrality by championing the fake and the ugly when best practise seeks to promote the good and feel good?


Ashfield Flats

Im conducting a site analysis of the Ashfield Flats; a wetland near where I grew up. On the 19th of March I walked through the flats with a video camera. You can watch the video here:

And first poem analysis:

Site Visit Ashfield Flats

Part of the river begins here, car carcasses
Filter run-off, houses fenced off
Red tap on top of fire extinguisher.

Buffalo grass covers a culvert
Large concrete block monuments
Pine bollards and a steel gate.

‘No unauthorised vehicles passed this point’
The sign, twenty metres beyond the fence;
Galahs cackle overhead.

As if in distrust of the drain
Houses a but the 100 year flood line
Stink from the drainage block.

A two foot foam toy stealth bomber
Discarded in the buffalo – ‘the F27C
Striker Brushless’ neglected, ignored.

Broken, landlocked like concrete islands
Bark shards and a dying tomato plant
Part of the river begins here.

My body moves expectantly
Barefoot, aware of tiger snakes
A stick wrapped around my ankle.

MWB infrastructure tagged with ‘SK’
As alien as the stand of tapping bamboo
Within phone range, without credit.

Sweet mud smell, the hill you slide down
On tin, the old man keen to shoot to shoo
You away, his property as far as his scope.

To kill the grass they kill the liquid amber
Yellow bamboo pole matresses
The ‘clean fill’ sand will absorb it eventually.

Salt bush tagged pink, ready for pruning
Fifty yards from a fence, ‘our home’
Our ten metre limestone retaining wall.

More graffiti on blocks thick with melaleucas
A safe place to practise, DK in red texta
On paperbarks, more practise.

Rows are rows of planted tulips: a concerted
Effort to pretty the place up, beside long lines
Of blackberry bush, an air conditioner hums.

Water collects here; lentic. Overflowing rubbish
Bins on the driveway, a baby crying
Her life begins here, mosquito coils.

I become impatient, lustful and lacking narrative
I pause on the authorised vehicle track
Parrots squawk, a German Sheppard barks.

Then, evidence of machinery; mown lawn
Drainage swales, designed drains,
Another Main Water Board Block: Stourhead Grotto?

Dead gums, kids playing cricket
Adopting famous players names
Recreating classic moments: the pathetic fallacy?

A netball ring attached to fence
Bark crunching, parrots munching
A train a truck an aeroplane.

A fences, a concrete path
A stream sidled by casuarinas
Hesitate to use the word weed.

A small stand of xanthorrhoeas, cleared
Drain fenced off for important revegetation
Vineless archways.

Dog shit on the side of the path
A few days old
Clear blue sky overhead, hazy at the horizon.

I imagine walking straight the swamp
With a video camera, a document,
Not now – not the right time, never the right time.

Go right, I go left, through the thicket
To much of a sissy I stick to the path
The birds becoming louder.

In imagining the future I left the present
And missed the approach to the foreshore
A flat pyramid of arrow, ground cover.

Velvet pillows jammed in amongst the limestone
Banks – a fisherman’s forgotten seat
Long neck turtles, high tide tomorrow.

A kelpie freaking out over rollerblades
Fallen trees, their rotten roots
Suspended in floating mud. Not a sculpture.

Nor is this paradise, the river, in pieces
Has kept clear, held back proper light
Part of the river begins here.

The DC266 Evenrude outboard dingy
Its fishermen, shiners of the torch
Throw cigarette butts in the water: 18:35pm.

The bridge monument – maximum load limit
Three hundred kilograms
Hugs the bank like Michelangelo’s staircase

The last of the sunlight, duck tracks,
Great Egrets picking at the rushes
Mistook them for a chip wrapper.

Still as salty as the day purchased
At the supermarket:
The Great Egret Supermarket.

I jump off the bridge – heading home
Find a toy walkie talkie, possibly from the stealth bomber:
You used to be able to see the bottom, over.

‘Surprised by the amount of water in here
At this time of year, over.’ No frog noises
So silence. Still, plenty of mossies and guppies, over

‘Copy, over.’ Walk around puddles.
Now it dawns on me —the camps—
We used to see as kids, the piles of rubbish

Buckets, blankets, remnants of small fires
Were aboriginal camps, a midden under my nose.
‘Fucking Hell’ sprayed blue on a she oak, a totem.

Car wrecks half way up the drain
When the water’s high become tip islands
Rusting ruins: they dont make ‘em like they used to.

Clay sediments and oxidise metal mixing:
Follies of the future,
Slowly leaking into the creek.

You can see the wet line on the side
of the drain, the high water water mark
A white horizontal line of phosphate

Part of the river begins here, car carcasses.


2006: Superstudio: an Australia wide student 48 hour competition. Winning design by James Quinton, Julius Welke, and Paul Empson.

Cottesloe Beach Carpark
Finalists must demonstrate an architectural vision for the long term preservation of both the social and environmental fabric of the urban beach. Above all, however, entrants are encouraged to pursue their imaginations, and not only design but imagine proposals which heighten the experience of this threshold between built environment and sea.

Concept: The Involuntary Prisoners of Paradise: Back in the seventies, Rem Koolhaas borrowed an idea (of a linear city running directly through London) from a group of radical Italian Florentine architects called Superstudio. Here in 2006, we borrow from Koolhass’s Exodus or The Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture in our own ‘Superstudio’.

View Pdf here: super Best viewed by View-PageDisplay-Two-up.

Western Arthurs

Hi Everyone,

Early in 2006 I had a life changing adventure through the tassy wilderness. Here is the first part of a two part story. I didnt take a camera, so there are no pictures. But if you do a google image search for the Arthurs or any of the individual peaks names you’ll get a sense of the terrifying majesty of the place. Part two will have pictures.


Two friends and I won a national student architecture competition last year, the prize a trip to Venice for the biennale in November. We organised to stay at Fusina caravan park run by a guy who spends half the year in Perth. Over dinner one night we asked about the closest Palladian villa to check out on our travels.

‘There’s one in town’ he said.

‘What, in Malcontenta?’

‘Yeah its just near the pizza shop’

more here

Polemic on Architecture and Landscape Architecture

The Architecture of Thought: A Naturally Pleonastic and
Bathetic Polemic Against Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Data: the gateway to our own realities; performing the substratum of structure and superstructure of consciousness. The latter is perceived as differential, referential and reflexive. Via procreativity, data provides definitions, boundaries, similarities and differences. Understood visually the latter becomes spatial, that is, architectural. The way architecture is: moment to moment design and redesign of the way we live, chose to live and will live. As Churchill said: we shape our dwellings and then our dwellings shape us. Architecture is therefore substantively real. It is prone to erosion and is developed in the mental both internal and external.

The term architecture is not as encompassing as the term ‘space’. Architecture is a subcategory of the synthetic a priori concept of space. The most fervent designers are most attuned to space. They realise that the built project spells disaster at every juncture. Since space exists virtually within consciousness, any built project means one less possibility, one less paradigm of construction. To take space seriously means to be precious about it. Therefore demolition is an architectural manoeuvre.

Sub-architecture is as numb and nonchalant to temporality as the sub-conscious. Is sub-architecture close to the datascape? If so, is datascape synonymous with bodily sense? Schopenhauer’s Will? The thing in itself? We already know through philosophy that these explanations are inadequate. They merely provide precise momentary explanations. The identification and explanation of suffering, (the corollary of need and desire) may provide a glimpse out of it, but only fleetingly. One type of food will always taste better than another type of food, regardless of its nutritional value.

The program or traditional conception of design in architecture can be viewed as the final symptom of the subarchitecture emerging to the fore. Sub-architecture is blind to the single reification. The single solution is mendacious. Sub-architecture ignores single design solutions. This is in contradistinction to the article of architecture that purports the most appropriate answer. The most suitable solution is that which reflects the code or language of our brains, informed by emotion. That solution may be reached by playing fifty-two pickup with site data/information, despite the stroke of the designer genius.

Design must organically reflect the distilled philological pattern in the brain. Distillation equals poetics nodding ominously to wisdom; the servant of simplicity. Simplicity acts as the foreground to collectivity; the archetype. In mathematical terms; the average interpolation of a number set. Simplicity is also the talented governoress leading the charge to greater, more loaded symbols, representations and therefore new metaphors. Simpli[city] is the arch-enemy of the convolution. But abstraction and compli[city] are also enemies of simplicity. These latter concepts work closer together; testing, interrogating and generally acting critical of poetics and wisdom. In this act, they continuously reexamine simplicity and wisdoms’ timelessness. Here design in the traditional sense, (the individual, muse inspired, artistic innovator) has privileged access to timelessness: sub-architecture. Nevertheless in context of ecological sustainability this is becoming rarer and rarer. There simply is too much information for one single consciousness to process.

Transcendental idealism, manifest by Copernican metaphors, leads to and supports the anthropocentric. Anthropocentricity, in its benign state, seeks to incorporate every datum possible via epistemology. When the threshold of anthropocentricity is penetrated, all new data and information falls either to one side or the other; the anthropocentric or the nonanthropocentric. If no new data is discovered, the knowledge slips unnoticed, untraceable into the ‘thing in itself;’ the unreachable inorganic; phenomena’s nemesis: noumena. It is not that this information is valueless. Instead, our systems, driven by imagination, are not yet ready for this newdata.

New concepts, combined with new experience feed the imagination that culminate in fresh concepts. The system: the architecture of consciousness, stands in perennial attention waiting for these concepts. The irony is that if a system is waiting for new information or is designed so that at some point x in the future it can incorporate new data, it cannot be a system. In other words, a system missing a part of itself, is not a system. This is perhaps the failure of epistemology and architecture. It is definitely the end of the ‘holistic.’ The hermeneutic circle highlights the relationships between the whole and its parts; individual parts of text cannot be understood until the whole is read and vice versa. Mereology and architectonics have close ties here. Mereology is clearly incorrect, because, unless trapped in an Orwellian nightmare, 1+1 can never equal more or less than 2.

Scepticism aside, it is possible to conceive our knowledge as all encompassing. If the non-anthropocentric is inexhaustible then its constitution maintains agnostic attributes. The nonanthropocentric is secure when and where the anthropocentric is also secured.

Our phenomenological disposition invests infallible trust in the validity of the data. The more epistemology fails the less range the anthropocentric can stretch. The world is not defined by the definitions of philology. Language is only one part of reality. Botany and taxonomy examine scientific elements of kingdoms that are not, and cannot be purely human. Furthermore, it performs these feats without appeal to the non-anthropocentric. The latter is acknowledged as part of a wider ecology. It is possible to consider the non-anthropocentric as a part of the spheres of taxonomy, a purely human endeavour.

This may seem harmless and even obvious. But the moment where a part of the organic or inorganic nonanthropocentric is labelled, it falls into the anthropocentric and is swallowed up by the all important, omnipotent attributer of value: language. Define or be defined, so the saying goes. I do not know personally, but have heard, that indigenous Australian cultures either consciously refrain from or feel no compulsion to label what Europeans call ‘land’. (Interestingly, as if in an minimalist art experiment, Eskimos have approximately fifty words for snow.) Architectonically, no label means no existence. No existence equals no value. Without value it eludes that human vacuousness, regulated capitalism. First the name, then the value, then the owner. Obstinantly unidentifiable, the non-anthropocentric has no pecuniary value to us. Anthropocentricity requires less empathy. Here I [cynically] suggest the less empathy, the easier its commodification, the faster its future is secured. Ensuring the existence of rare specimens for the enjoyment of future generations must surely mean an anthropocentric disposition. From a non-anthropocentrical point of view, words like erosion and weathering are meaningless. There is only movement and displacement.

The greatest landscape architects in Australian history have been operating for at least two hundred years. Complete with institution and union support they remorselessly pursued their self-defined brief day and night, year round. In fact they invented and redesigned new machinery in order to apply their program with the greatest efficiency. These holders of the torch commanded grandiose respect via the wealth and prosperity they watered down through communities. These landscape architects still work today, around the clock. They are called farmers and miners. Their architecture can be read in the standard topographic, elevation, sectional diagrams. The main apparent difference between these types of architects and our common understanding of architects is that the great ones swap artistic merit for profit. What these architects do to the landscape is carve their design to the point of ridiculousness; until resources are bereft. Why is nobody suing these people for negligence or accountability? Money. As a colleague once uttered: welcome to the real world.

Nevertheless, the scale of their efforts must be commended. Their cross and inter-disciplinary strength knew no bounds. In a way, members of the Eldorado Exploration Expedition were the first post-post-modern designers. They shared a universal understanding; feeding and supplying the world. They came from all walks of life. More importantly and characteristically, they were able to design the way they designed their design. That is, they were in control of their sub-architecture. They were able to transcend all disciplines. They were not concerned with the application and maintenance of labels and associations. That is, they didn’t care about what architects do and don’t do. They had a job to do.

The Riley Complex

‘The Riley Complex’: A Review of Univeristy of Western Australia’s, University House

“Every advantage so magnificent a site offers shall be the property of the community at large.” Sir John Winthrop Hackett, first chancellor of UWA.


For some people, completion of the new university house situated on Riley Oval may be considered an overwhelming success. The building’s facilities function the way UWA’s Senate originally intended: “they will be quality facilities, both linked to the club facilities for conferences and seminars, but able to be closed off, to keep academic and club activities separate.” Academic and teaching staff, along with their distinguished guests now possess a luxurious and comfortable place to relax and take stock amidst their busy work load. Here I argue that in the case of ‘the Riley Complex’ Hackett’s visions of unification between landscape and architecture have, over time, become unappreciated. The values behind the design for ‘the Riley Complex’ of “individualism” and “separation” are to the detriment of broader community involvement in UWA. In the words of a colleague, the building is a big ‘fuck off’.


Sir John Winthrop Hackett, UWA’s first chancellor argued that construction of a campus advantageous to both research and teaching needed to address and incorporate landscape with architecture. The chosen forty two hectare site for the UWA campus was on the shores of Matilda Bay. A letter written by Hackett addressed to the UWA Senate in 1914 stated that “special attention should be given to the laying out of the land on convenient, wide and spacious lines.” Hackett urged that “no large step should be taken without careful consideration of the needs and opportunities of the position.” He cited the river as the sites greatest asset: “the river front which this beautiful area is favoured can be made one of the rarest attractions offered of any of the universities of Australia.” Over a decade later, Hackett’s visions for the campus were suitably maintained by designer Leslie Wilkinson. Most significantly, Wilkinson understood the value of sustaining a visual and spatial dialogue between the campus and the river.


A slight but integral shift in architectural ideology took place in the post-world-war-two era. The post-war period observed a consultancy, rather than a competition based approach to development. An emphasis on courtyard and quadrangle configurations began the dichotomisation of the close relationship between landscape and architecture. In contrast to earlier methodology (a holistic approach to campus design) microcosmic spaces were created. The result was the emergence of separate and distinguishable spaces. These spaces were not defined by change in planting scheme, but by the new buildings themselves. Consequently, as Christopher Vernon (senior lecturer over at Landscape Architecture) concludes, “this approach incrementally obstructed, if not severed, the visual connection between the university and Matilda Bay.” A definitive, but by no means diabolical change in planning meant that one of the central and overarching ideals of the fore founders of the university had been eroded. The ideological tenet that these architects did not abandon was the notion that the university belonged to the community at large. In 2002, the UWA Senate announced the approval of plans and construction of a new university house under the working title ‘the Riley Complex.’


Championing a return to tradition, design for ‘the Riley Complex’ was put to competition. The winning entry came from Perth architectural firm Donaldson and Warn. Their website slogan states: “by seeing buildings not as monuments, but as natural sensate extensions of the individual, they [the firm] aim to empower people and enliven their environments.” Donaldson and Warn’s primary concern is clearly aimed toward the empowerment of the individual, not the community. Little surprise then that they won considering that the Senate’s visions for the building was to “keep academic and club activities separate” from the rest of the university and community. Both of these resolutions are at a complete impasse with Hackett’s original visions for the university: “every advantage so magnificent a site offers shall be the property of the community at large.” After one century there are bound to be changes in values and attitudes toward a place such as a university campus. It is whimsical to claim that attitudes and values should not change in the face of pertinent contemporary forces.


Nevertheless, any justification for the severance of the first visions for the campus must include and assume confidence in their prophetical values regarding the future. Such counter-utterances tacitly imply flaws in the values and methodology of the past. Therefore the physical manifestation of such a building based on these “individual” and “separate” principles would come to symbolise thinking of the “the community at large” as extraneous and outdated. In effect ‘the Riley Complex’ says ‘fuck you’ to Hackett, ‘fuck off’ to students and ‘suffer in your jocks’ to the community.


UWA’s signature building Winthrop Hall does not represent concepts such as “individual” and “separate”. While maintaining an atmosphere of prestige and excellence, Winthrop Hall stands as an icon of unity and invitation within a city bent on sprawl. Pedestrian access from Stirling highway into Whitfield Court involves a descent to the ground level of the Undercroft. Such a descent suggests a certain level of subservience on the universities part to the greater populus. The Undercroft itself was originally designed as a meeting place for students to engage and argue their ideas. Students were encouraged to fill an important place in the heart of the university.


‘The Riley Complex’ does not represent these endeavours; it merely nods toward Winthrop Hall via cream tinted brick and orange tile roofing. Supporting the design, Vernon concludes that “Geoff Warn’s design for University House strikes a resonant balance between the arguable anonymity of the more formulaic, context-driven design and, at the other extreme, architecture as fashion statement, if not advertisement.” Firstly, the anonymity is not arguable. Through Hackett’s formerly expressed wishes it certainly seems clear and unambiguous to me the parameters and rationale for a formulaic and context-driven design. It is to ensure that views to the river is for the many, not the few. Secondly, the “advertisement” does little to advance the social standing of the university; Winthrop Hall continues to provide this purpose with success. But if Winthrop Hall is considered outdated to this purpose, what kind of ‘fashion statement’ or ‘advertisement’ does the building represent? Where is UWA headed? In a global milieu where universities are forced to become fiscally self-sufficient, UWA decision makers, it must be assumed, are appealing to students who are also financially self-sufficient. For the moment at least, placements are still reserved for the less wealthy. However this ‘fashion statement’ known as ‘the Riley Complex’ basically says that if you’re not wearing a three piece Armani suit; find another university.


The eastern and primary façade of looks more like an army barracks than a meaningful place of conferral. On the main door, wood slats interlock with glass, creating a pill-box like quality. You can imagine erecting an M-60 inside this bad-boy.


Pill Box


But you have to ask yourself: to what end is an internal program of a building so important that the relationship between the internal and external is altered so as to be to the detriment of the users? The architects were so preoccupied with keeping riff-raff out, and out of view that it is at the expense of the patron’s views to the river.

In conclusion, ‘the Riley Complex’ goes against everything that makes UWA a great campus. It is a large step taken without careful consideration of the needs and opportunities of the position at the expense of the community at large. If you agree with me so far, here are some suggestions: write a letter to the Senate detailing your annoyance. While ‘the Riley Complex’ isn’t going to be pulled down anytime soon, it may prevent any elitist buildings planned in the future. Alternatively, if you’re a student and you have 10 minutes to spare go into the café or ballroom and ask for a meal or coffee. You’ll be asked to leave, but hopefully this will have two effects. You might spoil the meals of the snobs that are eating there and you’ll be forcing the staff to fabricate an illegitimate position of power. If they have any moral fibre this will make them distressed, resulting in poor service. Henceforth the building will start running at a loss on top of its $21 million price tag.


More Images:


Riley 03


Riley Complex