When I became editor of Kerb 5, I didn’t anticipate the complications that were to follow. Over a period of time I watched the team decline in numbers. There were many occasions when the construction pit below RMIT Building 8 seemed to be the logical resting place for enormous this issue. This editorial is the final leg of an volume of work, made possible by the friends who have encouraged my commitment right up to the final proof copy.
This series of conversations discusses the diverging planes that embody landscape architecture. These planes incorporate ideas of the global, the local, the indigenous and exotic, the cultural and the natural, and how they manifest a sense of public. The articles describe the diversity of such notions, tracing the significance of Australian identity and sense of place. This in turn suggests that the concepts of identity and place are not finite, but are the changing spaces between the moving planes.
Landscape architects, according to Richard Weller, have failed to utilise the cognition of ‘a sense of place’. Weller argues that this unconscious misreading is signified in the manifestation of ‘Australian identity’ as a fear of difference, a product of our colonial roots that is no longer excusable. Bart Brands observes the diversity and enormity of the Australian landscape and questions the degree to which it is reflected in our Landscape Architecture. Brands suggests that it is this difference that should be amplified to counter a colonial rationale. The essence of Brands’ design work is encapsulated in the world of possibility: ‘possibility’ as part of a design methodology which creates and utilises, choosing not to stagnate in rhetoric. Brands applies traditional landscape practices to a contemporary framework. This enables the significance implicit in a sense of place to be reconfigured where it has been decontextualised. Brands’ framework tests the notion of site analysis and construction through strategies that enable shifts of these planes to occur, free from hierarchy. This strategy emanates from the public realm.
How can a public manufacture site identity? Julian Raxworthy explains how the type of client facilitates a type of public. Capitalising on the client’s wishes makes design possibilities that are site-specific.
The challenge for designers is to utilise the diversity of public interest. Kate Kerkin describes the public and political divisions that occur around a significant indigenous site. They impede a reflection of (indigenous) Australian identity: a robust expression of difference.
Political activism, as discussed by Andrew Saniga and Grant Revel, reflects an indigenous Australian identity. This account of Rottnest Island’s site of repression exemplifies our inability to deal with indigenous issues as designers. Activism apparently decries and resonates repression, where design does not.
The utilisation of politics in design requires precision in the application of strategy. Dutch landscape architects, according to Kirsten Bauer, employ a particular pragmatism that incorporates political process. Australian landscape architecture is too often about creating amenable spaces that do not articulate difference: the sense of identity is vague.
The potential to coalesce a sense of Australian identity exists equally within landscape education and the profession. As Peter Connolly states, this relies on utilising the ‘means at hand’; that it is not something you express but something you draw out. The notion of education provides filters that offer infinite specific strategies. The filtering process entails sifting through the planes for the appropriate fragments.
Richard Weller and Room 4.1.3’s design-in-progress for the National Museum in Canberra reflects a complex interweaving of specific fragments of landscape.
It seems that it is part of the critical Australian landscape architecture culture to respond to design precedents with diatribe. It is not as glamorous to acknowledge what fragments have filtered through to these designs, and how they signify potential.
I suggest this Italo Calvino quote is appropriate for every reader of Kerb -students, academics and professionals in landscape architecture:
“Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice -they won’t hear you otherwise “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!“.. Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat”…
Well, what are you waiting for?…