EveryCity Symposium: Square
The Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Design, UniSA and
The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, UniSA
Friday 22 August 2003
Unedited proceedings transcript
THE CHAIR: Welcome to what they call the Starship Enterprise Room. It doesn’t do all of that stuff that you would hope the Starship Enterprise Room would do but it embraces human thought in the university. I think it is kind of modelled on the sense of the meeting place. Anyway, you will see how it goes this afternoon.
Just to introduce to you a little bit about what this series is about, the EveryCity series started some time ago, I must say, and was conceived of as a series of four discussion pieces looking at the notion of the city, looking at the universal city, every city, but also focusing on some of the key points of urban design and architecture and social interface in the city, so our first one was terrace, which ran some time ago. This one is the square and we are hoping to do edifice and we were doing river but we now are starting to do garden in the future. – so this is the second one of those.
Some of you were at the other one and there are new people in this part as well. So the way that this afternoon works is we have got the people who are in the front row are really called the Panel. They are people who we have been pressured to be here who have some interest or interaction with the notion of Square in the City and also coming from similar and different disciplines as well. We see this as very much a cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary type of program that we are talking about.
We welcome different opinion to arise from this seminar or symposium. So the idea is that our invited guests give us a kind of a presentation and sense of tradition based on some of the thinking and discussions that we have been having about the notion of Square and then we open it up to a kind of a panel comment and discussion session. The audience are involved in this as well. We are happy for interjections, we are happy that this has become the discussion, we are happy that agendas are put on the table.
We are hoping that by taking these and then putting these up on the Hawke website that they will also become the kind of a record of these discussions and decisions. At the end of it there is a compendium – compendium of things about every city and a compendium of things about this city. We hope that there will be agendas set. We hope that there will be points of difference and points of convergence that come out of it and whatever, basically. So as the Chair I will try and make this work a bit, but it can be a bit chaotic as well.
I would like to introduce Peter Davidson who has come over this morning from Melbourne. He is the Director of Lab Architecture Studio, which is based in Melbourne and London, and his most recent project in Australia has been Federation Square. So I might just turn the lights off, which are way over here, and ask Peter to start.
MR DAVIDSON: Thank you, Jenni. I show you this image of Federation Square, not because I want to start and use it as a reference in the discussion, but for a few things: one, it shows that architects have and are prepared to have photographs taken of their buildings with people in and it shows an absolutely excessive moment in the life of a city and, in a strange way, that is it seems to me one of the underlying shadows that runs through is, it provides, it shows an event that nobody plans for and that nobody imagines would occur in that way, but is absolutely critical for a culture’s expression and celebration.
That was the anti-war march in Melbourne that occurred earlier this year and one of the things that was most amazing, apart from being in the middle of that, and having first-hand experience of how this kind of event actually unfolded when you think about it, the way people move, but you don’t think about the way people move like this, one of the most amazing things is that every speaker started their speech – and they were rousing anti-war speeches – each one started with a preface that acknowledged the space and what the space made possible.
So there was an understanding that something in the city was now happening in a different way because of the space that had been made to allow it. Now, the text that Jenni issued and came out of our conversations has been conceived quite specifically not to be architectural or urban design in its nature. I mean in terms of writing, I tried to write something to provoke this discussion, but also is not something rooted in specialist discourse, and if there are bits of it in there that still are I apologise, but I mean the reason is, because I think it is really important that architects and urban designers and landscape architects, in terms of this, there is a tradition of them developing a language with which to talk to each other that does not work when talking to the community.
In a sense I see – I have had this experience in a really profound way during the course of Federation Square where I have actually learned to talk about all of the complex ideas that I’m looking at in architecture in a completely different way and I needed to and it has been a valuable experience. So that is part of why there is both a colloquial and probably different kind of provocative tone.
The other thing is I am an outsider. I come here as an outsider. I know a little bit about the history of Victoria Square but I believe in learned ignorance. I believe that you could have too much information, know too much history, have too much experience and actually not see the wood for the trees, so to speak. Actually you can sometimes be too close to something and actually not see a particular characteristic. So I want to then apportion in terms of some of my observations play on the fact that I am an ignorant outsider and so you are not to indulge me for that.
I also thought it was important to be politely provocative, not rudely provocative. If I step over the line or I have stepped over the line you tell me, please. I have seen, because I’ve been very fortunate in the course of the last Festival and also through the School of Architecture to have been able to be a regular visitor to Adelaide and seeing Victoria Square, used during the Festival of Arts and hearing some of the debates and understanding some of the things that occur in relationship to it and that is why in a way I have raised this issue about is the question really about a square, per se, or is the question here about the sense or longing for a civic identity for Adelaide that is expressed in a single space in which a range of activities can be enacted.
It seems to me more and more I sense this underlying desire for this space and that because Victoria Square is the centre of the centre of the centre of the city there is somehow a sense that that is the place where you would look for it and you look for it and it is not there. It is not there in the same way as in the sense if you take a city like London that has Trafalgar Square – that there is somehow a correlation between that space and the identity of the city. I think it is a reasonable desire for that to happen and I sense in the city, I sense to some degree, that desire for that kind of civic space.
I recognise it because in a sense I have been in a privileged situation in Melbourne of seeing the same desire played out over a much longer period of time and seeing the way all of the views and attitudes to that space were coalesced during the construction of Federation Square and what happened since it opened. It is not a single design; it does not have a single form – it actually has really contradictory over-layerings in it. Some people think what Melbourne needed was another grass park, that that’s what an urban square was. We were of the strong belief that it needed to be an urban space, not a park space, and they are different things.
That may be part of what the issue is at the moment because in Adelaide the squares I think are parks, not squares that have a resonance to deal with civic rights. So they are squares, we recognise them, they are named, they are shaped – all of those things to do with their identity are there, but there is something missing. In a strange way geometry does not guarantee anything. I guess if you have read the text one of the things I am suggesting is that geometry was a clue that was laid here to put you off the scent. It sort of gets in the way of understanding the problem.
It is really I think – it is important to address this issue – I think I am extremely lucky to be able to do this with you today because it is an industry in the United States – what we are doing today has become an industry in the United States. There is an organisation that is called Making Cities Liveable and that is committed to rebuilding the past in order to domesticate the present. It primarily only ever uses historical models and reproduces those as the solution to current urban problems and particularly this is brought into contrast in America where in a sense in most places all evidence of urban life, even as we know it, has been transformed into something else.
So in America where one extreme has occurred a most extreme kind of solution has emerged. For me part of the problem with their approach is that it sees the city as a patient, it does this diagnostic evaluation and it thinks it can prescribe a medicine to make it better. I think the metaphor that is used gets in the way of understanding of the problem. I will probably come back to this again further because the city is not fabric - it does not need to be stitched together; it is not a body - it does not need patching or mending. These metaphors that we use I think partly are part of the problem in the way that we imagine and think about the city and whether it is in public forums or in schools of architecture there is a collection and a body of what I would call perceived ideas and one of them is the city is a fabric and what the city does is need stitching back together using the original sort of thread or cloth to make it whole.
I think that is an idea and an approach to thinking about the city that actually gets in the way of seeing our contemporary position. So that part of this is inevitably, as it always is, connected with language. I said that in a way this re-emerging and constant sort of desire for the city is also a profound effect of globalisation and in Melbourne and in Adelaide I think they are very similar – they did not have these spaces. They weren’t there historically for whatever circumstances to deal with the mercantile and political histories of those cities – those spaces weren’t there as we would like them to have been.
Now, in Melbourne that evidence itself was like a pathological wake and they had two goes at it before Federation Square was commissioned. So I think it is really important to acknowledge that it is not – there is something about our global experience of what cities can be that we project on to our existing cities. There is something here that is not about recovering something that was always there – for whatever reason it wasn’t there – yet there is something that we won’t learn from elsewhere, that we bring in order to fulfil another kind of destiny to our city which is not about its specificity. It is about something that we identify in urban life in other places around the world and want to bring home with us directly.
Now, in one way a square desire is a desire for a space where the identity of the city can be absolutely connected with a space in the city in which certain activities are enacted. This issue about city identity is more significant and more important now than probably it has ever been. The reason for that is because cities are in competition with each other. The sophistication of what happened in Melbourne was I think a very early acknowledgement - and this is not just an Australian competition; this is a global competition – and that cities through all kinds of events and attracting conferences and festivals are actually positioning themselves globally and that these things in terms of arts and culture also have profound economic impacts and they are tied together as an
ecology – these particular issues are tied together.
It is important that that potential of that identity I think be played out. Now, what I think is interesting is the degree to which we find a balance or a certain point to create an absolutely contemporary image for that identity rather than an image that comes from and relates to the past. I think what cities overseas have shown is that you can combine the two. What I think, we have been absolutely shocked in Melbourne to see the degree to which Federation Square has become an image for Melbourne, it is used internationally now in their tourist advertising. It is used as a backdrop in a whole series of documentaries, in television interviews – all kinds of things where it is being formed as an image of the city and an absolutely contemporary image, rather than necessarily relying upon an element of the past or tradition.
Now, irrespective of where the desire comes from, what do those spaces do? I think, and again 18 months ago I would have been speaking primarily from speculation, now I can speak with the authority of short experience, is that they provided places for the possibility of all kinds of events that are both programmed, spontaneous, whether it is to do with sport, celebration, concerts, demonstrations – a whole series of things, particularly the things I showed you, the anti-war march – and that all of these things become critical for the enacting of a civil society, of a culture. So part of that square desire is often, I think, a collective desire for that kind of enactment and activity and what can occur.
As I said, this linking of identity and also I remember when someone described – I think it was William Deane, the previous Governor General, described his job was to represent us to ourselves. I thought that was the most profound understanding of what his role could be and in a way the city square, civic spaces in the city, provide the same role. There is not just an issue about it being an image for representation of a postcard or in television, they are also places I think where the city represents itself to its citizens and I find it both reassuring and also strangely paradoxical that in the digital age, in the age of digital communication, that this keeps coming back and as a profound desire and something that is thought of as being important in our culture.
This scaling, this beautiful fractural scaling from a tourist map, for me in relation to Victoria Square highlights this problem about at the very centre of the city is something that does not look like the centre of the city in terms of all of those projective desires that you would want to be able to enact in that space so part of the question I guess as I raised it is how much of this is to do with Victoria Square, which has become the object on which these things have been projected and how much is it about the desire for that space, and perhaps that space should be elsewhere, perhaps – I use the word that Victoria Square might be pathological, and by that I might mean it might be something that simply cannot be reactivated in the way that is desired.
It is important in urban design terms to recognise that at particular moments parts of cities do become pathological. They actually lose their ability to be reinvented. They lose their ability to be extended and be part of dynamic growth. Another example of this is the Royal Mile at Edinburgh. It cannot be other than what it is. It does not allow itself to positively contribute to the transformation of the city. There is a question for me about whether Victoria Square, as such, is pathological. In a way the one way that you make it not is by embracing the most radical transformation of it and that in a way is a challenge, and I know that this is an issue that is on the table, because for me it is not an issue of spatial decoration; it is an issue of radically transforming that space if you want the image and desire to match the place. It would be undoubtedly the most difficult proposal or way of approaching it to sell to the public, to convince to the public, but I think it would be the one that would create the connection of desire and place underdeveloped.
Now, there is a strange thing I think as well that comes through this reiteration, is that whatever might be said to us by some contemporary architectural theorists, shopping is not enough. The mall is not enough. I a sense when you travel, not just in Australian cities, but see – we are quite privileged now to actually see the second generation that rule these places, the way that they have actually had incredibly short lives in terms of the quality of their architecture and the way that they spatially work and in also places where they are now being taken down.
When there is this transformation that previously occurred in a way it was to pedestrianise. In a sense, the history of what the pedestrian occupation of the city has become in the last 20 years, has its own life and the mall, and I dare say it is the same here with Rundle Mall, is not the kind of space that can accommodate all of those civic desires that would be projected on to it. Now, I have heard here that there is a sort of strange – there is this strange pathology in Adelaide that says all of the cultural buildings are grafted on to the edge of it, they are not something that are within it, that are in the body – the living organs of the city. They are not. They are grafted on to the edge of it and in a strange way this complicates the problem because those buildings strung out along North Terrace are in a configuration that makes it more difficult because they are part of the cultural amenity that could underwrite this civic life in a space and there are enough examples overseas for us to see and identify.
In terms of Federation Square the day that we won the competition was the day that they added the gallery, the Museum of Australian Art – the NGV – that was added on exactly the same day. It wasn’t in our competition entry and I was pleased that they changed it because I think it brought an enormous benefit to our project. It has been open for nine months – Federation Square – and the gallery in nine months has had 1.7 million people through it. It broke the Australian annual attendance record for a museum or a gallery after five months – it broke the annual record. So there is some incredible dynamic that has been unleashed here that has exceeded any of the criterion that was used in the planning and design of our building.
For cost cutting reasons a set of down escalators got taken out of our building because there was only going to be 700,000 people a year moving through it. The number of people that will go through the building in the first year is likely to be three times that and that has an amazing impact on all of the activities in that area. That is about – the responsibility that we had in the designing of the things that were in our scope is to try to understand the impact that we were having in that precinct. It is not something that you can control but it is something you have to be responsible for because the city is like an ecology – putting something like that there is like hopefully putting a positive new species into a habitat. It has a positive effect rather than the cane toad effect that you might get.
Now there is this sort of strange – I think there is no shortage of these civic spaces in Adelaide and in cultural facilities. It is their specific urban configuration that dissolves their collective potential. I think that is a condition. The question is rather than pretend it was like something else it almost requires a new urban example about the way that they might be enacted and have a new – the way that the fantasy might be able to combine with the conditions. I suspect the reason why there has not been able to have been this space today is because some rubber stamps from the urban design play kit have continually attempted to be used to describe what the space might be and they just grab, they don’t fit, they don’t take hold because they are not part of the specific organic, dynamic character of the city.
I am not about implying in models but I am about inventing models that actually connect with the specific urban DNA of this place and what would be involved in doing that? That is really the point I make about learning from the complex self regulating orders of the city. It is to understand the city in a much more dynamic way. I think the discipline of urban planning as it has been played out in the last 30 to 40 years is just insufficient to understand the complexity of the city.
That is why when certain characteristics and descriptions have been made about our Federation Square project we have connected it and always tried to describe it in relationship to chaos theories, in relationship to complexity theories, because these provide us with new models of understanding and I think urban planning needs to be provoked to take on board these qualities because the city is – clearly the discipline has continually failed to really enact with what the dynamics are that occur in the city and cities can be like ecologies – you put a very small, make a minor change to an ecology and it can have a big effect. In a strange way what urban designers always try to do is to create big effects with big introductions rather than understand the subtleties and the complete interrelation of all of the disciplines of economics, of the cultural, of the social together.
Now in the end I think the desire, wherever it might come from, is important and needs to be given expression to. The reason for that is so the future can be enacted. I am somebody who firmly believes that the complexity of the contemporary world is something that cannot be addressed, understood and re-enacted using historical models. When it comes to architecture I give a really answer in relationship to this – why don’t we relate to something that was done in the 18th Century? The 18th Century was a culture that did not think that women should have the right to vote, but thought it was okay for 10 year olds to work down coal mines.
I passionately believe that there is a relationship between a culture, its principles and its architecture. It is a complex dynamic connection but in a strange way we tend to love the old things as somehow being artefacts and forget the culture and all of the values of the culture that generate those things. That is why I am firmly committed to the contemporary because I think our condition is so complex and so unique that existing examples simply fail to respond to the complexity of the situation that we find ourselves in. We need sometimes a longer sense of duration and I think when we look back and look at the way that over the last 20 years certain responses to relationships, to history, have been enacted we see the way that we have fallen out of love with our really simplistic relationships to history because they don’t work.
We make something that looks like it was built 100 years ago and two years later it looks like it was built two years ago. It has much more complex qualities than just the image. This possibility for a culture to re-enact itself, to redescribe itself, to redescribe its relations, is the most important thing I think involved in urban design and architecture. We are making spaces in which things can be enacted. We are not making spaces in which we are prescribing what would happen. We are making spaces and buildings that I think are open and are open to possibility, because it is not for us to decipher those things. Thank you very much.
THE CHAIR: So, those are the intent of the conversation starters and I guess I encourage my panel to think about is maybe some first comments or to bring up some of the points, some of the things that you might have been drawn to, as such. Who would like to start? Anybody who speaks, because we are taping this thing, could you say who you are first?
MR CURTIN: I am ..... Curtin from Planning SA and I am a former inhabitant of Melbourne. Peter, thank you for a passionate presentation that certainly stimulated some interest for me - I won’t go through all my comments now but one question and one comment – firstly, you talked about the value of being an ignorant outsider to Adelaide. I was wondering if you were an ignorant outsider to Melbourne when you created Federation Square.
MR DAVIDSON: I think we were and the observation that we were was made by one of the judges in the competition – Peter Clemenger from the advertising agency – we were the only people that had known something about these urban city problems and made that profound sort of observation, that sometimes you have to be an outsider to reveal something so close hand and get to recognise it. I hope that we were in
Melbourne – I wished that I had registered the expression “Arcades and laneways” when we first used it given the number of times that it is now used in Melbourne to describe the structure of the city. We have been able to replace the grid as the sort of icon of Melbourne with that network of arcades and lanes on the grids.
MR CURTIN: If I may just talk very briefly about some of the history of Melbourne, that relates back to your last comment, because arcades and lanes ..... in Melbourne as well as Federation Square. .....prior to the ‘70s. My understanding, and I don’t quite know the depth of the history but Melbourne in fact had several squares, probably coming from the English tradition of covered markets, for example, the best one – the clearest example is the Eastern Market, which was a in a three-storey arcaded building around a central open space, .....up until its demolition, what became the Southern Cross Hotel, so I think there was a tradition in fact of a central gathering space.
MR DAVIDSON: I am not denying that at all. The fact that it disappeared is a recognition that at a certain point, either a mercantile condition or a cultural condition meant that it wasn’t necessary and I absolutely agree, those spaces have been there. I am sure they also existed in Adelaide, in terms of some of those spaces, but at a certain point it was let go and it is significant when a city does that.
THE CHAIR: This is like a Q&A thing, so anybody can leap in on anybody else’s conversation.
MR KENDALL: Bob Kendall, I would like to take up your last point to paraphrase history and move on to the contemporary - just a little anecdote, I had a period in Paris running a program on educational building and I ran six conferences. One I ran in Bologna, in Florence, and we had a one day seminar at the end of it and we had about 30 people. About 15 of those were French speakers from Brussels and Spain and Italy and France and this presentation by the two American architects about a new way of dividing the school. They started off by saying basically they were saying forget history and reinvent schools.
At the morning tea break the French people there went off into a huddle and basically agreed to walk out. They didn’t negotiate. They just said “We’re not interested in this” and they walked straight out. I guess the point I am making is, and I guess you look at France as a model, but you also look at some pretty nice fine-grained sort of intervention in their history, contemporary intervention in their history. I just wonder whether there is a balance to be struck here of the past and future and actually getting a dynamic and saying look, move forward.
MR DAVIDSON: I haven’t used the word yet – all I suggested was that the contemporary world is so complex that I do not believe that historical models combine into sufficient complexity of form and organisation for the contemporary world. Never would I say forget history but I just - - -
MR KENDALL: I was being a bit provocative, I’m sorry.
MR RUSSELL: Andrew Russell, I was project liaison officer for the Stamp project – recent incarnation..... going to be involved in that as well. I am currently working on an open square, which is a square on the coast, and efforts to marry the difference between the two. Just a couple of observations – firstly, I would like to come back to this notion of a robust framework and square-like grid. I think in Victoria Square the thing that came out of that for me over the whole process was that in some ways it was competition between the street and the square, and the images you have put up, that one behind you at the moment, the UBD view of what Victoria Square is, is very much considering the square as a street in terms of focusing on the roads and the movement pattens through it, not even embracing what it might be ….. so there is certainly is a psychology there, a sort of mentality about all our streets, but Victoria Square in particular, in terms of the notion of street versus square and when should various parts of what a square should be predominant and when should parts of what a street are be predominant as well. That is a comment, more than anything else.
I think for me, I really like your view about the pathological view of the square. It seems to me that hits the hub and that’s the nub of the problem and the nub of where it might go from here and the notion that a radical transformation of some sort in some way is the sort of root of its future. I think in some ways Kevin and I and the team thought about it in that way at the beginning and tried to hence clear our minds of what was there at the moment and think about it in serious terms. I do think a radical transformation is at the heart of its future and I suspect that is going to be a political process as much as it is going to be a design process. Others in the room may want to comment on that as well.
I just want to return finally to this notion of historical precedents and historical models, it seems to me there is something about the notion of what a square is, what the minimum qualifiers are about what a square might be, and that is going to be something to do with its shape and enclosure, and I suppose all those basic urban design things, but it is also going to be about activity and critical mass and different purpose and scales, so I think it would be useful conversation to have maybe in questions further about what those minimum qualifiers are and what the notion of a robust framework is in terms of the square, because it does totally different things, and in that case I think there are historical models that acted in some way to help us frame what this broad base robust framework might be. They may not be exactly what Geoffrey is speaking about today but there are hints in the past about what this robust framework may be like.
MR DAVIDSON: One of the things in our experience of Federation Square – Federation Square was the one part of our project – there was no brief for it. In some ways it reflects the fact that there were too many expectations, there were too many voices, and they couldn’t actually form into a single coherent description of what it was to be. When we have had to describe the precedent, because people presume that everything you do – there must be a precedent, and Federation Square is not the only not flat, not square square, but people – it was shocking how many people did not know about ..... that was entirely shocking to them, that it was medieval, so it was like it was before the world of order.
It is when you look at the competition for Federation Square 95 per cent of the competition entries – that is about 155 – all made the square rectangular in front of the cathedral – every one. It was like that was in the master plan for the competition and that was the gesture. That was insufficient – it was insufficient because it did not acknowledge what the life of that space would need to be. It didn’t acknowledge the activity that would need to take place in it and, paradoxically, those activities preclude trees, as shocking and offensive as it is to a number of people, there is only very few trees in the square and because most of the activity that we looked and investigated the need to take place there would preclude there being trees and it would just interrupt those events.
We had to sort of set up and establish a group and look at all of the kinds of events that would occur, understand what kind of infrastructure that they need, understand how they would be arranged, and test it but in the end, and if you like where precedent does show us is that if you want that activated civic life it has to work for everyday life and special events. It has got to work whether there are two people in it late at night and when there are 50,000 people in it and, take the example of Victoria Square, one café can’t move out here, one café cannot carry the whole of that space and so it is really that notion of an activated edge of a space that provides that everyday bounding that seems to me to be really important.
MR SMITH: Of Carrick Hill and the old Community Theatre, two comments – your comments crystallise thoughts I have had about Adelaide for some time, especially as a former Melburnian I am just astounded that the two previous incarnations of the city square that manifestly did not work. People would actually walk around the edges rather than walk through them.
That civic space has moved one city block and it has been embraced, absolutely embraced – every time that I have visited Federation Square it has been jam packed in all sorts of different ways – the way people gravitated to it for the New Year’s Eve celebration leaving the traditional spot outside the GPO, I just found that transformation extraordinary and I have been trying to think what are the elements that make it that, is it the combination, is it the major public transport hub, with Flinders Street Station. It seems to me to get to your point of the quality of the square, that we have all been
trying – many people have been trying to make Victoria Square be everything that they want for civic life, but it seems to me in Adelaide people have already embraced and adopted different parts of the city and go there for different things and think that what happens in Elder Park with the concerts and picnics and the way people go down to the river there works really well.
If there seems to be some sort of sporting victory people gather outside the balcony of the Town Hall in King William Street. Certain things happen within Rundle Mall. Certain things happen within Rymill Park. Certain things happen in Rundle Street East. Almost nothing happens in Victoria Square unless it is artificially created as it was for the previous Festival. It seems to me perhaps we need to be looking at what things are already beginning to work well in different parts of the city and look at what we can do to enhance those rather than to try and have this absolutely artificial concept in something which may well be the geographic centre of the city but it seems to me is actually not central to any of the ways in which the city is lived in.
THE CHAIR: Kevin, do you want to answer that point?
MR DAVIS: Kevin Davis, it occurred to me quite strongly during the talk, that I really enjoyed, that particularly in the context of Adelaide square is a word we can use – just think about the whole longitude of spaces that do this thing that you referred to, and that is to say reflect ourselves back to ourselves and particularly in Adelaide, as was just described, we have a whole range of vacant squares where that might occur and then we also have this other language problem that you referred to where we have all these things called squares that actually do not fit – what the word square now evokes – and you said they are more like gardens and parks. I tend to agree.
So I think in Adelaide that is a real issue about are the squares actually where the
square-type activity is going to occur and somehow we need to think very carefully about the word and what it actually evokes. But the other thing I was really interested in is this thing about pathology and it seems to me that you are inferring when you referred to the pathology of a place, particularly in Edinburgh, that perhaps it was the strong identity of that place that was the cause of the pathology. I think in Adelaide with our squares that is not the case at all.
There is no identity. But the pathology is more like chronic fatigue syndrome or complete atrophy of never meeting the challenge and the great Light’s Vision, that everybody talks about, which was amazing – the plans he came up with – but the thing about Light’s Plan I think was it was such an incredible challenge. He left the pockets of open space all around the city and the challenge was for succeeding generations to do something that reflected themselves back to themselves, so I agree wholeheartedly about a contemporary response, partly because for me whilst the plan has fantastic heritage value in itself, really what those squares have achieved is simply through having remained in the distance and I don’t see any vision at any time in last 155 years about what those squares could be, including Victoria Square.
QUESTIONER: But there is one thing, I think, and this is the challenge to do with Light’s Plan, that there is such an incredible resource in that – in this place - that is not being currently utilised and if you want to protect it, the city, it will be like turning off the things that give it life because it has this urban structure. It has already become urban rather than suburban. There is a whole potential there for enormous densification, for city life to be enacted and not do it damage. It is robust enough to hold that. One of the problems to do with this is planning – it is a two-fold thing I think – it is the processes of planning and it is the quality of the buildings and the designs. I belong to a discipline that has betrayed what was expected of it, I think.
MS HO: Liz Ho, Hawke Centre, I just wanted to remind people of, I guess, the historical pathology of Victoria Square, and that is that although it was conceived as the heart of Adelaide that was quickly turned over by the fact that horses had to be watered by the Torrens, which is why Rundle Street became the business centre that it was, so it was a practical issue that in fact led that area to become a prominent lively area in the city. I think we shouldn’t forget that. I have got a sort of heritage interest, I guess, which I declare, but I think when you design and plan something as Light did not everything worked, not in the way that perhaps was intended, and I think to some extent we continue to live with that reality, with Victoria Square.
I wanted to probe a bit further and perhaps get you to, as an outsider, to say what would you do with it? If you were faced with having to deal with it at the moment what would your firm recommendation be?
MR DAVIDSON: If you asked as an architect what would you do in this particular situation when someone has worked on it for a long time, and I don’t have a straight forward answer. I don’t work like that. For heaven’s sake it takes time for the things that we work on to emerge.
MS HO: Fair enough.
MR DAVIDSON: If I am going to practise being committed to a way of working with dynamic systems it does involve setting something up and not deciding at day 1 what it is going to be, but actually just letting it evolve and emerge. What I tried to hint at is that it needs to be absolutely radical and it needs to be absolutely contemporary. I know to date a lot of the debate has been about the east-west traffic movement – for me the north-south is the most significant in terms of affecting what can happen in that space, by far.
If you have the east-west – nothing much has changed. If you turn off north-south there is a whole lot of possibility there – either that it is given over or it is space that you build on in the most radical way and that way you provide a way of keeping the heritage – because I am not sure that the heritage buildings around there can be activated in a way that would allow some new dynamic street life to occur there, but you could put it through in another way.
I have got some images of Victoria Square – a little experiment trying to identify Trafalgar Square, Red Square, Tiananmen Square, Victoria Square, Piazza St Marco and Piazza del Campo in Siena – the first two pages came up in the search.
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START OF TAPE 2
I tried to give a broad representation of the kinds of images that it puts forward.
MS HO: So, these are off the website?
MR DAVIDSON: Yes, this is a sort of trawl across the websites, it is what chance puts up when you type in Victoria Square.
MR HO: You haven’t stood in front of our square and said “This is a good shot.”
MR DAVIDSON: No. That is Tiananmen Square. This is Red Square. This is quite amazing because all but empty, as parts of its representation. This is an interesting one. This is Trafalgar Square. For me Trafalgar Square is the one that has a sort of connection in terms of its complication, because Trafalgar Square is a roundabout. I lived in London for 16 years – it is a traffic roundabout. Its civic significance in the city was as a traffic roundabout. It was a place that hasn’t been used – New Year’s Eve it was enacted as a space – but it was one of those places where tourists went to but nobody from London ever went to.
Now what is happening, it has been completely transformed. The northern section in front of the National Gallery, the road is there being closed, and a whole new forecourt that is extending a third of the way across into Trafalgar Square is being constructed. Part of what is happening is the space that existed in front of the Gallery cannot cope with the number of people, so the city is reinventing itself and doing it I think in a radical way, so all of this huge set of steps across here and a forecourt in front of that building, and in a strange way it will look more ….. probably than it ever was, as a space.
MS HO: Any comments?
MS BRINE: Judith Brine – Whitehall is absolutely nothing like Victoria Square. My comment is going to be an academic one. I just wanted to say to me Victoria Square appeared its most full, most occupied and in some sense most ..... on the days that it was occupied by the Pink Ladies, which is the women’s breast cancer group – and there were Pink Ladies spread out all over it. That is the only time I have seen it full. I think that also qualifies for pathological.
You began your talk with a slide full of people and I thought that that would be linked to some idea of what a square did for people in the city not just what people did for the thrill. I am not at all sure that you have not convincingly explained to me what your notion would be of the social function and cultural function of a square, other than just to be there. I thought you might like to explain.
MR DAVIDSON: That is a point. I didn’t go into that kind of detail. Part of the thing that is happening is it allows certain kinds of gatherings that didn’t take place before, in terms of kinds of events, and part of it is actually though I think quite ordinary, in that it has become the meeting place – the meeting under the clock at Flinders Street Railway Station has been replaced by meeting – and there are certain places in Federation Square that have been idiosyncratically named – a few by us and many by other people – they have become places to meet. One is the prom, which is the steps that run out next to what was the western shire. I think it is the possibility of a collective – I mean both in events and in terms of every day life.
For me it has become so self evident that it does something now. I didn’t propose – because I thought your comment about – there are all of these places around the city where these events and activities do take place, and the city is rich with those, yet still the desire continues and for me that is part of the question, is that there is a desire for something that is not been touched.
MS BRINE: It is a desire that has been satisfied for a relatively narrow - except for exceptional circumstances like the war march, it is a relatively narrow part here – many people in Melbourne don’t go to the city centre and in Adelaide there are many many people from the north and south who never visit the centre. I think it is very much concerning perceptions - I wonder if one isn’t in some sense kidding oneself that this is the city centre, but it only is for a relatively small proportion.
MR DAVIDSON: The commercial and retail consultants showed us the demographic material on which they were basing their original advice to our client and to us about how the commercial elements of Federation Square would be developed and you argue exactly right – 10 per cent of the population is what in commercial terms it was aimed at in terms of what kind of tenancies, what kind of food and beverages and services they could offer and it was 10 per cent of the population. I am really proud that that projective democrat – demographic material has been blown out of the water by studies of the people that are coming to Federation Square.
MS BRINE: But as a percentage of the population?
MR DAVIDSON: Tell me the means by which you can accurately calculate it. The demographic – the people that come there do not correspond to their demographic. They were aiming at 10 per cent and probably it is like far gone outside that demographic. I have no idea how you measure the percentage of it.
MS BRINE: No, I don’t. There were studies in Adelaide in certain aspects. At the very most the people – people who were very poor – in the north and south.
MR DAVIDSON: If I take – it is estimated that I think in the first year of Federation Square 60 per cent of all school children in Melbourne will visit it.
MS BRINE: It will be interesting to see the longer term.
QUESTIONER: - - - 100 per cent of school children will visit Victoria Square this year.
MS BRINE: That is not so. Out of a class from Salisbury High that I spoke to a year ago, a class of 45, only two of them had ever been to the city square before and they had been to a skate park, so it is a myth.
QUESTIONER: It is an accident if they have been there.
MR DAVIDSON: The Gilkins latest marketing stuff, they are marketing in outer suburban areas – they are marking inner city bus stops. It is much more complicated than just those simple things because there is a certain quality of life that is recognised as doing something else that suburban culture doesn’t do. When I was an architecture student I wrote my thesis on an issue about nationality and part of what I did was to go back and look at particularly things where questions of urban form were connected to questions of identity.
Some of the material I came across was just frightening about the way that Government policy after the First World War was so directed at anti-urban development and in close suburban and the Institute of Architects own journal – and there is one, I can never forget this – that architects are the generals in the fight against Bolshevism. Urbanism was absolutely equated to Communism and Bolshevism – the fear of the international workers of the world and the absolute necessity to eliminate urbanity wherever you could find it. This was part of the Institute of Architects – it was like in every monthly issue of the magazine.
I think what I find interesting now is the desire for an urbanity in an urbanism that was primarily in our cities suburban and it is not – that suburban model isn’t sustainable I think for all kinds of reasons.
MS BRINE: One more, the last thing, if I can make one last - very strong, the feeling for control but there was some idea that it was controlled society – I would say that the present mode is that there is not a society. I think it is a myth. In most cases it is individual visitation rather than an affirmation of the collective.
MR DAVIDSON: I think there is a difference between the affirmation of a collective and the affirmation of community – I think that is true. I have no desire to try to weld our society into a single community. There are many communities. I belong to two or three different ones and it is that multiple notion of community and a contemporary notion of community rather than a nostalgic one that I think is really important. The day before that march I stood in Federation Square at 6.00 o’clock in the morning with three-and-a-half thousand people from the soccer community. We watched the England v Australia game on the big screen. The next day it was something else.
MS BRINE: When I was there there was practically nobody.
MR DAVIDSON: But it can also – emptiness belongs to spaces as well.
MS ……….: Linda ….. very contemporary art and very contemporary writing and a theory - but I am very interested in notions to help the community ….. of the unknown and how we think through processes and art, and how we can actually work with a kind of speaking, I suppose, a kind of conversation that moves us out of what we already know to kind of try and speak about what we don’t know. I know that is really difficult but I think it is really really necessary, because it has to challenge the identification of identity personalities, and it has to challenge ideas of what community is because we, especially in terms of electronic community – electronic and digital thinking – so I am just interested in your comments about that because you alluded to it before about this - - -
MR DAVIDSON: It is very important to me and I have to pay a debt – I think some of the most significant writings on energy from my point of view – two French writers, one Juan Joi Bataille, who has written about it in the most radical way and the most significant way, and another writer, Maurice Blanchot, who has forever changed the way that you work with energy and for many – let us bring it back to some things that are real in the way that we make decisions in our culture and that is the impoverishment of the way that we deploy what is called community consultation. The processes that I experienced in the course of Federation Square filled me with horror in terms of community consultation. I need not remind you that the toaster at East Circular Quay went through a process of community consultation.
The destruction of the finger wharves in Walsh Bay went through processes of community consultation – the process of community consultation for Federation Square suggested that Federation Square would be a fabulous contribution to the city and that 90 per cent of the people thought it should be in classical style rather than modern style. Honestly, I was always embarrassed the way that these things were framed. I am someone who thinks that there are multiple communities. If we listened to every voice and suggestion that was made to us we could never synthesise a coherent approach from those, yet there is an assumption by people who are opinion makers and particularly in the newspapers in terms of this, that there is one single clear coherent voice, and there isn’t. There is a multitude of voices that are contradictory.
In a strange way I have always proud of the fact that in all of the sort of initial things that were done in terms of votes about Federation square, that only 10 per cent of the people were ever in favour of us at the beginning. I thought that was astounding that so many people would support contemporary architecture. It is completely different now. I mean the degree to which the project is actually embraced by people to me is actually a really important lesson, that something that is contemporary need not be stilted, because the normal reaction is if it is unknown we don’t want it. If it is unknown be against it. Strangely enough now, my experience is that the general public are much more generous in their response to me than the majority of my own profession.
QUESTIONER: I am quite interested in the stranger in my midst or one of your comments, stranger, but I am also quite interested in the idea of being able to welcome other sorts of thinking – that is the strangeness of other sort of thinking and being able to have a welcoming attitude to those other people’s ideas – that is the thinking or rapport that comes from say people like Georgio …..
MR DAVIDSON: I have been in a lot of political trouble in Federation Square over one particular issue so I had a tendency – I actually tended to wind back some of the things – it really shamed me coming back to Australia after a long period away and Kyoto was one. It perplexes me that we can’t sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. I know why. One of the things that has primarily driven it is two aluminium smelters in New South Wales and two aluminium smelters in Victoria that consume 25 per cent of each of those State’s electricity, so that we have got to do the sustainable work with only 75 per cent of what is available to do it with.
QUESTIONER: There is a lot involved in the aluminium industry.
MR DAVIDSON: Yes, but I still think it is possible. When I show the glass atrium at Federation Square that is completely passively cooled and it uses 10 per cent of the energy that electricity – sorry, that conventional air conditioning would use. You can’t believe how hard we had to fight for that. It has a pay-back period of four years. That would be considered like wondrous in the commercial world but in a situation where its lowest capital cost – lowest capital cost – we were never allowed to do ….. we funded it all out of our own pocket on the course of our project so that we could actually understand the context for these things.
I was amazed by it and the other is what happened with the boat people – just horrified me – I felt ashamed. Now it does have an impact in what we do. I am not a politician, so I shouldn’t – I’ve expressed a deeply and heartfelt personal opinion – but what does that mean for what I do? We have always described Federation Square and its relationship to Federation, because we have been continually criticised for not making a project that was either celebratory or representational of the event. We have always described it in these terms: that Federation is a condition, and it is a collective condition, where it allows for difference between each of the components. It shows the way that they can make a coherence together. Now our facades are exactly that – they are completely differentiated right around their circumference. No one section is the same as any other one.
I never normally talk about this. It is one of those things that I don’t think is an architect issue being in a public forum telling people what the significance of your project was for the made it and the way that you would hope that it would provide a projective image, an image on which to imagine something in the future. I would hope that – and I will say what we tried to provide – was something that showed that you could make coherence out of difference. It was something that celebrated difference in a really simple way, both in terms of the facades of the buildings and also of the supply services.
QUESTIONER: Steve ….. Flinders University. It is just I think three observations really because Judith suggested if you take that aerial photograph of Victoria Square at the time of the war march it looked rather splendid – what was interesting about Victoria Square – because that’s where the march started , not finished – it finished on North Terrace – Victoria Square formed the role of a sort of marshalling yard which it is very good for funnelling people around to orderly processions, I think on that last discussion of how you achieve coherence and difference at the same time, I would be interested in hearing from others here more about Victoria Square, that idea in particular about the issues there of dealing with the indigenous people who tend to use the square and the dry zone issues and so on, how those can be – what we have accomplished so far in taking those into account and trying to redesign Victoria Square.
One more point, again in light of your earlier comment, in terms of Adelaide I think many people have acknowledged before this variety of places that are provided, have been planned or spontaneously developed in recent years and different types of activity in the east end and the west end, the riverside, parks and so on, and generally also commented that intensity and the reality that we struggle to support urban life in many of these existing spaces just because there are not enough people who are around to used them, not enough people to make more of them vibrant at the same time. It is rather tiring running around from Gouger Street to Rundle Street trying to keep all these balls in the air at the same time.
Clearly there is no possibility of doing that in Victoria Square as well at the moment. We are beginning to see slowly the legible intensification around Hindmarsh Square and perhaps Hurtle Square – the beginnings of some modest intensification, but that I would suggest is going to be a slow process.
QUESTIONER: Perhaps just to talk a little bit about Victoria Square. One of the I think biggest losses – current demise as a project – demise of a community project is at the heart of what we were doing – and I should say that we had Carl Telfer – both as an urban designer and a person actively involved in the arts and the programs in Victoria linked to that was very important but also had a very important role in terms of the whole Kuarna community and the Kuarna community aspects of what we were doing, but the broader Aboriginal aspects of what we were doing. There were some wonderful themes that came through that process and at the heart of them was the notion of welcoming Kuarna people as custodians of Victoria Square as a sort of an epicentre of that custodianship and the notion of others coming to Victoria Square and welcoming and that broadcast through other cultures as well.
It was quite a strong cultural program that rolled through that and it goes to the heart, in terms of the broad structure of what we were doing. One of those was that the notion of welcoming to a place and defining a new place in the centre of the square and bordering that in a green space – so the notion of green is actually very important – green in a broader cultural sense but also green in terms of plant material. A whole series of cultural themes have rolled through that – both from a structuring of the space and the notion of journey lines that are involved through the design as well, which were metaphors for all the journeys that we go on in our lives – at a cultural level and an individual level as well.
That structure invaded our approach to the design, but in a sense that opportunity to carry that through has been lost for the moment and so the other thing I would say about the scale of Victoria Square is its own issue – not only does it have buildings around the edges which are hard to activate because of their nature, but the actual scale of the square has a series of activated edges which would be very difficult to activate, so part of the notion of having a square within a square was to think about activating the inner square as the square and having a second one around that as well, which was a border, urban space that it was, and it is linked. So there are some wonderful cultural things that drive the structure and they are waiting to take it up again.
QUESTIONER: Peter, I found it interesting – as we went around the table there seemed to be a lot of “c” words coming out and I find that exciting only because they are all about consultation, community, culture, contemporary – but I think the two that you used most and the two that I think are the most provocative are the ones of contradictory and conflict. I think it was interesting listening to you talk when you spoke about the city not being a body which you can fix up or a piece of fabric. You used words like pathology and DNA – so you were in fact using contradictory statements to make the point. I am just wondering whether that is not the real issue about a major space in a city that will always be full of conflict and contradiction and maybe it is for a designers, which most of us tend to be – thinking in most likely in terms of what a square, whether it is Victoria Square or another square should be, is that we start to get a bit too precious about it and this notion of conflict, contradiction – which is very much about contemporary life and you mentioned fracturals and the way things happen in a random fashion which don’t appear systematic but in fact they are very systematic, is the way cities work today.
We have the notion that different things happen in cities – very well in different places. So why not simply identify a need for Adelaide that Victoria Square can in fact fulfil and just try and develop it for that and not for these myriad of other reasons.
QUESTIONER: ….. from the Botanical Gardens ….. I know I can think of the squares that are pretty well without trees and all this talk about activated city life and trees being mutually exclusive.
MR DAVIDSON: I didn’t say that. I meant for certain kinds of events - - -
QUESTIONER: I appreciate that – the squares you showed as your exemplars were often treeless and Federation Square – I guess that is just an issue when you see that reconciliation with the environment through plans as being part of a progressive future or whether you see that in terms of a flexible space. In relation to cultural institutions, I actually think the physical cultural blockade up along North Terrace is really important to Adelaide’s cultural identity and I think that is a good thing.
Where you have been able to integrate the gallery with the square I can see the benefit, but proximity doesn’t seem to help. ….. Park and the Australian Museum seem to contribute nothing to each other. There are just two things I would like to use and one is plants, because I like them and I think there is an issue about a reconciliation with the environment and the other - - -
MR DAVIDSON: I could be rude interrupting, but not plants in vases. There is a more profound issue though in terms of the use of the word green and I think that there is a problem because I think ecology is brown, not green.
QUESTIONER: Absolutely, I agree. It is not green.
MR DAVIDSON: I think they have been inevitably caught up together in terms of the way that they have been used. Originally in Federation Square the winter garden was supposed to be a big greenhouse. It wasn’t an urban space. It was a greenhouse and actually the more that it was tested in terms of the kind of events that would take place there it being a large scale greenhouse those events were mutually exclusive. There are trees in Federation Square. I am actually very proud of those trees because I had to fight for them to be a native tree rather than a European deciduous tree.
But they are in their place – I have lived right through this community consultation, six years ago in Federation Square, should the square be open and paved or should it be green and the answer was it should be green, it should be grass. There is nothing wrong with having an urban space that is predominantly paved. We have a fear – there is a fear of paving. I think trees and landscaping – I have nothing against those, they just weren’t important in terms of the development of Federation Square – and I think that they are seen as somehow being the image of sustainability rather than being its real enactment.
QUESTIONER: Just the other bit on proximity of cultural institutions and factors like that.
MR DAVIDSON: I think that grouping them together actually – in the way that they have in Adelaide – I think is not good for in a sense one kind of diversity that can exist through the city. Whatever the reasons, and I understand there are often banal and mercantile reasons for why things develop as they are, I think it off-tilts things. You look, as you move across the city, and it is sort of like when you get to the other side – for me I don’t think the solution is moving them, I don’t think the solution is a museum of modern art on the other side of the city. In a sense those institutions have been gathered there.
For me the real question is what kind of vision do you need in order to get to where Adelaide could develop to next? I had an experience recently with a man called Ken Dobinson in Sydney. Ken Dobinson used to run the RTA – the Road Transport Authority. He is a born again sustainability advocate. He is rethinking the way that transport is understood and planned. He is doing this independently and he is sort of changing the notion of universal access or movement into the city into a democratisation of access and understands the way that the city – and you can set up other kinds of networks within it – and looking at how far we travel and what kind of means of transport we get to.
One of the most provocative things he said is you cannot plan or forecast to get to the future because all you will do is make like what is possible now come true incrementally. He said what you have got to do is take an almighty step, get there and work out now what do we need to do in order to make this change, ie, you have got to put yourself in the future, describe the conditions that you would want and then back-cast – back-cast the net – try to understand what are the impediments that stop that occurring.
That to me is one of the most amazing things in that way is to actually see the resource that the original city here has with its urban potential and what I don’t know is how many years forward has been made and to understand what it could be and what you need to do to enact that.
QUESTIONER: Jenni, if I could just go back to some earlier themes that were coming through that people are uncomfortable with which is the totality I think of your championing of the contemporary. I certainly agree there needs to be contemporary solutions to contemporary issues in our contemporary society. I don’t necessarily agree though that it always ….. as part of that solution because some of that has actually created some of the very real problems that we are dealing with now and sometimes it has been the wrong solution and if we go back - a couple of very quick Melbourne examples, the site of the first City Square, which manifestly did not work and did not achieve any of the things it set out to do, was an incredibly successful Victoria Arcade which thronged with people for nearly a century – a very successful Cathedral Hotel, which anchored that corner opposite the Town Hall and which linked into the architecture of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The site that you have got now that does work very well – Federation Square – the blot on that landscape was the Gas and Fuel Building which was a contemporary solution to what is seen as the lack of office space in Melbourne after the War that actually was plonked on a very successful public space that went down to the river that was used by a lot of people, but this office building was put in, and that was the contemporary solution which proved not to be a solution. I think there needs to be some sort of balance between taking a contemporary focus and look at how can our contemporary society fully utilise some of the heritage and traditional structures that we already have?
I mean just last night I sat with 1000 other people in an 1863 building, the Adelaide Town Hall, for a perfectly good concert with wonderful acoustics in a building which worked in 1863 and works perfectly well in 2003, but there can be things put into that building that might make it more ecologically sustainable and in terms of energy and things like that, but I don’t believe that there always has to be a total contemporary fix for any of the issues that we are looking at and that was the message I was getting back from Omnicon.
MR DAVIDSON: I am not advocating pulling down old buildings but I am advocating that all we can do is things that are contemporary. I think building things that pretend to look like they were built 100 years ago don’t work, they never work. I think they are culturally bereft to do that. The real issue you raise though is not about the contemporary but is about our processes of discrimination because one of the things for me is the most profound problem that exists in my own discipline, is that the culture in which we put forward and project projects and proposals can’t tell if they are good or bad.
It just doesn’t know. It doesn’t know how to discuss cultural ideas that might exist in literature or might exist in painting or art or in music. When it comes to architecture there is absolutely no way of recognising it. That to me is sort of like it is a real – it is a hard point because there is the question of discrimination because I think with the majority of what the discipline that I produce, or that I belong to produces, is actually not contemporary. It is built now, it is designed now, but it doesn’t mean it is contemporary.
It is actually for me – it is impoverished, so I have a problem with my discipline with regard to this so I am not advocating that everything that is contemporary – but it is really about having a sense of discrimination – having like a positive debate about what are the values that things should have and when it comes to architecture one of the really sad things that his happened is the bottomest bottom line is good enough. We have to I think, and what I hope Federation Square shows, is that if you invest in something that you spend more than the least you can spend you get something that exceeds all your expectations.
How you answer the question of discrimination is a difficult one but it seems to me that a forum like this on a one-way part of the way it does go ahead into the culture but it is important to find a way to recognise issues that we can find a language for in other areas of culture to talk about in terms of architecture.
QUESTIONER: I am a visitor here. I have been here nine months in Adelaide, so I have maybe a different way of looking at the city and I had a discussion - - -
THE CHAIR: You are - - -
QUESTIONER: John Folique from the Hilton, on the Square, and after nine months here I think the city has so much to offer. It is quite amazing. It is close to Wellington’s weather. Where do you have a city with 90 per cent of the time in a year where you have the sun and what surprises me when I came here, it is not an outdoor city. People are indoor rather than outdoor. That is my first impression and while the city is asking for that, asking for – bringing people outside their walls and have kind of interactions and atmosphere was missing. When you come first to Adelaide the first thing you see, you see Victoria Square because that is the route from the airport to the city.
The first time I came here it was a bit raining, on that date, which was maybe the only day of the year and I said “Where are the people?” It was a Saturday afternoon and I saw nobody around. I said where is the centre of the city? They said you are there, the centre of the city, that is your hotel. All right, that is interesting. I think after a few months you can understand better how things work and how people move. Basically, you don’t have a real centre, as you explained, Peter. You have North Terrace but I don’t think North Terrace is a centre because it is a street.
You have King William, which for me is a natural link between Victoria Square and North Terrace and a centre can be much more than just Victoria Square, much more than North Terrace, but can be a real hub of energy. If today we don’t have people come into Victoria Square because there is nothing to see in Victoria Square, so if you create energy into your square I think it is a natural situation there and that location – to create a heart in a city.
We have seen the Tour Down Under, the Classics, every time you have those activities the city comes alive. I think it is a lifestyle we can create here in the community and to create lifestyle you have to allow people to mix with people and if Victoria Square was a great contemporary design which can mix very beautifully with the old design, because they work very well – so mixing has proven that. If you go to the Louvre in Paris you have the old and the new together and they work so well together so it doesn’t matter – contemporary and old works together.
But if you have a nice Victoria Square design we can’t just sit there and say now it is magic, people will come. It doesn’t stop there. You have to bring now creativity in terms of being innovative, allowing people to play music, to sing, or to eat outdoors, to sit on terraces, to create a synergy around the square – the right restaurants, not just a café, but the right restaurants – and suddenly you create life and a lifestyle. So I think the square has a lot to offer as a result of opportunity.
MR DAVIDSON: Recently, wasn’t there a wine centre – it was built on the outskirts. It is the sort of thing you would assume would be meaningful at the centre.
QUESTIONER: It is at the corner of the city.
QUESTIONER: You build the Melbourne Museum on the edge of the city and charge to go in and apparently it is a big flop. Nobody will go there. Nobody will buy tickets.
MR DAVIDSON: They have now made it free - - -
QUESTIONER: Free for children, they originally charged adults $15 a ticket. In their business plan they were going to charge $30 an adult for an institution that was free for 130 years and by its second year – you don’t count the first year because of the novelty factor – their visitation was one third of what they had estimated.
QUESTIONER: It is about two kilometres from the centre of the city.
QUESTIONER: The King William Centre is free, isn’t it, the Australian Gallery?
QUESTIONER: It is not good urbanism.
MR DAVIDSON: In a strange way the Museum, I think, is an example of thinking that the building is enough to do it by itself and actually it is not.
QUESTIONER: No, it changed from the very moment the decision was made to move it from Swanston Street.
MR DAVIDSON: I think it is a situation where nothing will happen until it has been invented and it might require more building, and it sets up a precedent, in what was the park. My paper in some way was a question because it is: is there still a desire for a square or is it a desire for this centre that is missing and is it in Victoria Square or could it be somewhere else? Because everyone seems - a lot of people have confirmed the persistence of the designer.
THE CHAIR: Let is open it, I know there are questions, is there a desire – what is the desire?
QUESTIONER: It wouldn’t be all that high on my current list of priorities. I think any city needs space for big events, whether it be the Tour Down Under or the Pink Ladies or whatever else. I am a bit worried about the space, the way we program these spaces. This could be an indication of the impoverishment of our culture, I suppose, that everything has to be programmed like TV and then we will go to them. But I am interested in how a space like that and people like Kevin have had a go at this and Andrew already conserved both those ceremonial functions and also be an intimate space, so those are the questions I wouldn’t mind pursuing.
But in terms of whether Victoria Square – whether we like the centre because Victoria Square is currently in its current delicate state – I wouldn’t be too concerned about that. There are other more pressing priorities in Adelaide I think.
THE CHAIR: Has anybody else got anything?
QUESTIONER: I suppose I am interested in the idea that anybody believes that they can design anything that would lead to any activity. I would just like – I was going to ask you if you had envisaged what people might do where that was part of what you then used in your design but the only stories I have read of the situations are that people never do what was envisaged and you are lucky if they do something else that it didn’t envisage but quite often they do nothing at all and in terms of Victoria Square I suppose I feel it is more about Victoria Square – it has had some great moments when it has pulled 50,000 people and everybody – is there a time line these things should happen – once 100 years or every Anzac Day or should something, is there some sort of moral need for there to be something happening there every day? I am not sure about that.
MR DAVIDSON: Your question – there are two things. I take the view that there is a desire for something. Everything that is there in the city at the moment is not satisfying. This comes back to your question because it isn’t just about satisfying something ad hoc, it is actually about satisfying something that you can’t account for, that we are not responsible. It is making something that is for the future in the sense it is a responsibility of today and it may well be that this constant nagging desire is actually a manifestation of a need for something else but we can’t be really entirely sure.
Our responsibility is to provide something that in a way would exceed all of the sort of ways you would account for it now and make decisions about the thing. I mentioned before this question of intensification. I’m very keen to see a bigger population for Adelaide and more things happening in Adelaide and I think some of the consequences of that will clearly be a greater sense of urbanity, more things happening almost as a consequence.
I suppose I am less sure that one can contrive that by a design intervention at this stage if the other mechanisms which are necessary to produce that increase in population. I am not sure what the causal relationship is between the design intervention and then what comes after. Matthew ….. this is a question from a long time ago. I think the setting up of the framework of the design was very flexible even though he didn’t know exactly what was going to happen and how it was going to happen. He thought there was going to be a new colony and lots of people coming and so on. He couldn’t see everyone. It sounded like a very flexible structure and there is a whole lot of potentials that he put into that which – some of them have been utilised already and some of them have not. It is worth giving an example – he really never I think found that its function as the whole
city – that is fine, maybe it already is three centuries or four centuries or something where it was more urbanised.
So I think we can afford to be a bit long-sighted there and say let us leave it there in the corner for a while and come back to it later on. I suggest we rename it, call it Victoria Park, do something to make it a better park – at the moment there is lots that can be done to make it a better park and maybe we can activate the effort somewhat and so on. Then let us move our attention somewhere else because there is a lot of the rest of the city that needs attention and I suggest that there is a lot in the activity centre that can make it better.
I designed Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne some time ago and people actually acted as we predicted they would. We put a whole lot more seats in, a whole lot of them sat in Bourke Street Mall, but Rundle Mall, like Bourke Street Mall, I think is limited. Really it is a hallway in the urban area. We need a few more living rooms and so I think the community heart can use a few more squares – living rooms – but they don’t need to be as big as Victoria Square. They can be as big as Hindmarsh Square. They can be much much smaller. But there need to be a few places where people can break away and get out of the traffic stream.
MS BRINE: I see Light’s Plan not only as a framework but also as a strait jacket. I think it is deeply inhibiting to smaller dimensions for doing things.
MR DAVIDSON: It is a strong formal structure.
MS BRINE: It is so strong and so large it is very difficult to do things with it, but I also see equally that Adelaide is still in the grip of a malaise I believe about doing anything for itself at all – I don’t mean Adelaide as a diptych, I mean Adelaide as a society – and it did seem to me that Victoria Square, or indeed North Terrace, are important projects to show Adelaide that it is capable of doing anything whatsoever with self discipline and that is on that basis that our wisdom is about strongly supporting anything at all.
THE CHAIR: Andrew - - -
QUESTIONER: Just a couple of points: one quick point – we’re hung up on the word square.
END OF TAPE 2
START OF TAPE 3
….. enough room and a different type and more room for other tectonic type things that may be successful. To me it is as much about what our larger successful spaces as opposed to a street successful spaces are about and they will take many years to form and some will be like Red Square on a massive scale – because that is right for that particular culture and they will range enormously in scale and Victoria Square as a space will sit somewhere in that continuum and have certain roles – more like Nathan’s view that in 200 years time we might have quite a different view.
I finally come back to Peter’s point, I think what it does mean is it is not going to happen now, in ….. it will – something ….. as with communities, we are happy with ATSIC’s role for the time being and let us move on to something ….. it certainly doesn’t work as anything like a successful public space and we either accept that and move on or deal with it in some way.
MR DAVIDSON: One further connection between Melbourne and Adelaide with regard to this is that Federation Square prior to our project that was built there was - every ten years there was another huge public space projected on to it. I have seen three or four of those subsequent plans that you could only call Stalinist in their scale and scope and it is interesting because in Melbourne this space allowed – it provided the space in which these things could be projected and it was a space in the city but it wasn’t normally part of the city.
Sometimes this happens in cities where they have been destroyed in war where something can get projected in that couldn’t have been possible before. What I think happens here is there is this space in the centre that it keeps getting projected on to yet there is something – and I am relieved that somebody said it and not necessarily me – about the restriction of the plan that something needs at some point to overcome it. I guess one of the things that I hope Federation Square does is it shows that you can be brave. It actually can work.
You have described the principles. They are not like rocket science. We, like everybody else, have learned something about the things that haven’t worked and it is about making sure that those edges are activated. It is about making sure that there is sufficient infrastructure in there to facilitate events but not too much. You wouldn’t believe the number of things that we actually plotted as events to take place in there – literally we would go through all of the enactment in terms of how do you get stuff in, how do you it out, what kind of infrastructure is required from markets to concerts – all of those
things – to make sure that you are enabling with regard to those.
But the most moving shocking things are things you don’t put in – walking through there at midnight and running across a couple making love in one of the sort of – one of the planters. It happens and it is part of the life of the space. I am seeing it built with school kids and having the teacher say to me - we designed these planters that have sections embedded into them and that means that she can sit an entire class in one place. It is contained in sort of half the area of this room. She thought we did it deliberately.
THE CHAIR: Ben.
QUESTIONER: I have got a question but I will just practise it – it’s an observation. I think that whenever five people are interested in urban design and meet in Adelaide there should be a rule that they devote at least 10 minutes to trying to figure out what this malaise that Judith spoken is all about, because I think it is multi-dimensional and it is not just about any one particular thing about Adelaide but I think that it is terribly important that people think about what it is that prevents Adelaide from creating these spaces that we call squares – whether that is a square or whether it is some other shape doesn’t matter – and I think part of it is to do with Light’s Plan, the enormous challenge in it that just hasn’t been met and there is almost a fear of taking it up.
I can’t help reflecting on the fact that in the last 10 years in Adelaide there has almost been a trilogy of failure. Riverbank - ….. Manuel has gone – the project manager,
ex-project manager of Riverbank, God knows what’s going to happen to that or whether it will ever get resurrected – Victoria Square bit the dust a few months ago, and North Terrace – the first stage of which is only a fifth of the total project – who knows whether the rest of it will ever happen, but the bit that is being built now only got built by the absolute skin of its teeth. Thank you very much Judith, because I’m not joking, three months ago it almost got completely canned. So what do you do about this place? It means that three great projects can be done and they don’t just get rethought because maybe they weren’t conceived quite rightly, they just almost get completely canned.
We will come back to that. We will come back to them in 20 years time. But my question is what is it about the procurement process, what is it about the whole structure of Federation Square? I lived in Melbourne from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s. I was there when the Age started a campaign in the early ‘80s saying let’s save the Yarra River. So it has got something to do with the Yarra River because Southbank, the Exhibition Building, Federation Square, Birrarung Marr, and now I there is the Northbank project going on – there is something about turning around and facing a river that has really been fantastic for that city.
Again, I don’t want to create a whole Melbourne-Adelaide thing. That is boring, but Adelaide needs to learn something about getting these projects off the ground. We spend too much time designing them, doing master plans, thinking about them, talking about them.
MR DAVIDSON: I have a friend who is not involved in this discipline. He described it to me as thus – and he lives in the UK – we spend more and more time weighing the pig rather than catching it. The process that exists in our culture about going through the processes of evaluation rather than actually enriching the things that we do and I have experienced that.
I have laid myself bare in a documentary so you can see some of the problems. We were incredibly lucky because somebody who was the head of the office of major projects after a certain point, after we had been appointed, believed in our project and thought it was worthwhile doing whatever he had to do to ensure that it had sufficient funding to be able to be realised and that he wouldn’t make the project fit the budget; he refined the budget to fit the project. That will probably be the only time that ever happens in my life but I am extremely grateful to the man for doing that because he thought it was worthwhile.
QUESTION: It is worth noting that Charles Landry ….. in urban psychology that it is this very process that we are in that we can’t get out of that stops us moving ahead and doing things.
QUESTIONER: I’m feeling very hopeful about Moseley Square, though.
QUESTIONER: I would like to dispute the idea that it is an Adelaide problem though. This is what Peter Sellars talked about with Frank Gehry and him working on the Groningen in Holland and trying to create this entire criss-crossing of culture, of activity and design and the whole of Groningen just throwing up its hands and saying there was no way we would ever have this sort of stuff going on and spitting them out. I suspect that happens much much more frequently ….. than anywhere in the world is actually built.
QUESTIONER: The interesting thing about Groningen though is that it has been documented and the conversations were actually documented and the methods. You can actually see the series. I just wonder what the documentation of Adelaide is.
QUESTION: There are some great things in Groningen that have been built.
QUESTION: I think one of the issues for Adelaide is ….. and that is urban design and public domain. In Melbourne there is obviously a different level of public debate. I think design professionals in Melbourne get involved in the media. They engage – this gentleman here has been engaging pretty solidly for the last few years – whereas here it is sporadic – we had Peter Sellars came in and Charles Landry will do something and another city 2020 plan and all the consultations. Then we had the City as a Stage event last year.
We have enormous gaps in between these events but masses of silence and from my point of view it is partly to do with indulging is secondary in terms of literacy I think and spatial vocabulary. When you do go into a consultation what language do people use to describe what it is that they don’t really understand that a lot of people have written about in theory. But I think there is a real issue in terms of how perhaps a ….. centre can leverage these sorts of pawns out in a more sustainable way into the community so they don’t just get grabs about Victoria Park – it gets beaten up for a while – and move on to Riverside and that gets beaten up for a while and then North Terrace. They are all sort of piecemeal – not sustained, not ordered – that’s just an observation.
MS HO: Perhaps one issue there is that there is a sort of a political side to it. Charles Landry will say that we are very good at visioning and we are absolutely hopeless at implementation and in fact the Hawke Centre is jointly presenting Charles Landry with Adelaide Thinkers in Residence on 5 November. I am going to argue very strongly that Charles should deliver a report card and that that report card I certainly hope is someone who has been exposed to Charles’ views I think now for at least 10 years in Adelaide. I hope that will say something about this hiatus between the visioning and, if you like, the politics of the situation, and the realisation of the vision.
I think as a community we really have to confront why is that happening. Undoubtedly a lot of it has got to do with the tolerance of the budget. That often ends up becoming the political football and yet it is difficult when you look at what Melbourne has achieved culturally over the last 10 years with huge investments but with big returns and, in terms of that competitive city idea, they really – that was graft. It had some pretty severe impacts on areas of the community but in the long term it will deliver. I think the problem in our community seems to be that it becomes a political moment of visioning and saying: Look at us, we are brilliant, we have got this idea. We have got the documentation even and then something stops it.
It may be the change in the political sphere or it may be the budget pressures or whatever but it is something about the courage that is lacking in the community. It is a courage issue and I would really like to endorse what you said, Kevin, about that topic. Perhaps that is something that – without making any promises – the Hawke Centre might try and engage people in discussions about courage, actually, in a broader sense.
MR DAVIDSON: To answer his question before, we came in under one Premier and I just did not realise the degree to which one man had the ability to manage things and affect the way it related to departmental or bureaucratic structures. It is a slight parallel because relative to – people might express particular views about what that appeared to be. I can assure you that from the inside it was completely different to what it was in the way that it was written about and understood through mythology. Though it grieves me to say it, there was more accountability under the Kennett Government. There was more ways that discussion occurred under the Kennett Government than for the last three-and-a-half years of the project.
It might sound shocking but it just was that way but it was structured in a way that was effective and productive rather than in terms of us, in terms of the design profession, enabling us to do our work rather than be managers. It was very – I had these two sort of constellations of the world. It has been surprising to see how different they were in terms of experience. This might shock you. This is the first occasion where I have ever been able to do that and it shocks me in Melbourne that nobody has said to us – we want to talk to you, this is not about getting square with events and making up of things and getting back at things but it is about simply learning from your experience so that it enables us to not screw up next time and to do something in a better way. But there is no feedback – there is no space where that occurs. This is the first time I have actually had the privilege of being able to do that.
QUESTIONER: What I find intriguing here in Adelaide is that there are some things we are doing very very well indeed and we seem to be very good at some of the smaller things. We seem to be very good at some of the streets. There seems to be this constant approach to try and do incredibly almost over-planned huge big projects that never quite got up and the little things work very well – as a resident Hutt Street works perfectly for me - that transformation of Hutt Street into an incredibly friendly vibrant place – full of people all the time, day and night – it works incredibly well, works with the built environment, works with people, traffic flow, all the rest of it. It is the little things that have been added and then added and then added that create this wonderful transformation.
Perhaps we need – the approach we are using manifestly doesn’t seem to be working terribly well - do we perhaps need to be a bit more incremental in the way we go about changing that much? As you said, we can’t seem to get the big vision up for Victoria Square because, quite frankly, no one can really quite agree on what we really do want to have happening in Victoria Square, so why don’t we just make it a bit better than it is now, because it is manifestly not working for anyone or for anything, and try and pick maybe one thing and get it a bit better for that and then there is another bit of the city that needs something – what needs to be done – there is that wonderful design for North Terrace and there are, of course, are real fears ….. we will get a little bit done but maybe it needs to be perhaps a more layered approach in Adelaide rather than the big focus on plonk it down and that is done and then you work on the next bit. You can keep adding layers and layers and layers.
MR DAVIDSON: Incrementalism doesn’t succeed. One needs to deal with contemporary situations – it is not taking one little step but to take a bigger one – because the real danger is that in 10 years’ time you will try to take that big step and because you realise that incrementalism actually won’t be successful - - -
QUESTIONER: Peter, we have a combination though where it is a big leap in one place. So we do another big leap and another thing in another place, rather than trying to do a big leap with everything all in one place. That doesn’t seem to work here in Adelaide for some reason.
QUESTIONER: I have a few thoughts and I tend to agree with Alan. I would cite the Norwood Parade as a fairly political development but I am also wondering if it is the way that Adelaide has developed over the years, is that the city has become so spread out from north to south, and I think you referred to Adelaide as the CBD, that it has become almost irrelevant to the majority of South Australia so, therefore, it is very difficult to engage them in something which is happening in the city and we now see many regional shopping centres – regional centres – are being developed.
They seem to be quite successful for the local community. Young people identify much more with them and you always find a great congregation of young people in these regional centres but it is very difficult for them to find the city relevant and I think also this issue of talking about a square, I think that certainly has certain connotations. Having spent much of my time in Italy there you have the connotation of the piazza, which is the space, it is a gathering space where people come for all sorts of activities and they are not homogenous.
For instance in Rome Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo – they are all very different. There are certain activities – if you go to Piazza Navona you know that is an artists district. You will find people with their easels painting selling paintings. Piazza di Spagna is quite different, but the other thing which John alluded to was the
fact – where are the people? We are such a carcentric city that unless we get people out of their cars and unless you have that critical base of people wanting to move around from place to place – and I agree with what you also said about North Terrace and the concentration of everything on that cultural boulevard, people will go there, they can go to the Museum, the Art Gallery, they can then go to Elder Park, walk down to the Festival Centre, there is going to be a bridge now connecting North Terrace to the river and we are starting to look towards the river as well, so I think it is a very complicated argument that we have got here but I think it is going to be very difficult to engage people because of the fact that we have spread the city out so much and I think it is the planning that has allowed this to happen.
We used to once upon a time have a critical mass in the city centre but that has gone and now, as Judith said, some people have never been to the city or the CBD and they never will – probably in a lifetime they will never come into the city of Adelaide because there is no reason for them to do so.
MR DAVIDSON: But I think on that particular point, it has become an issue in the last month to do with housing affordability and it is going to need a different kind of solution and I have been shocked at the degree to which it is just head in the sand stuff in New South Wales and Victoria about what it really means in terms of the holistic view. Governments cannot keep paying for the infrastructure and we have invested so much money in infrastructure in the existing city that is so under utilised yet the 2030 plan for Melbourne doesn’t really address that and looking at the way that you use that infrastructure.
This issue about those kids out there – where are you going to go? Where is their affordability going to be? That is why – it is incredible to see this same transformation, in the sense of looking at what is happening in London. Twenty years ago when I went there all of the social housing was sold off. It was all privatised. Now what is
happening – there is a whole understanding that a city – there is a holistic system and that people are pushed further and further out and that they actually can’t get to where they are needed to service this organism in terms of its servicing and jobs and so there is now, social housing comes back as affordable housing but anybody that does a development needs to provide a component for affordable housing so that people can actually travel to work and make this organism work, because the organism is breaking down.
For instance, you take the radical step that was made in London to stop – to re-fence it from the point of view of traffic and everybody argued against it. One man fought for it which was the mayor. It has reduced traffic in central London by 30 per cent. It has made the two components of the public transport system – the buses and taxis – work. It has reduced pollution in the city centre. Sometimes you just – you can make incredible changes but I think there is a responsibility to think more than five years into the future.
Part of the problem that we have is the short-termism of Government and the expediency that develops through that. Twenty years ago, and I love to make this comparison because the Parliament House in Canberra or the National Gallery in Victoria – those projects took more than 15 years to build. There was a sense that you were starting something but it was clear that you weren’t going to be around to do it because there was another kind of responsibility.
Yet Federation Square was conceived to be designed and constructed in three years and three months in a sort of parliamentary period and it is just not possible. I think it is one of the things that is unenabling – is the degree to which the expenditure of public money needs to be seen to give tangible electoral results and I have witnessed this at first hand. There is a difference between what I call political decisions and good decisions. We encountered them all of the time on the project. Maybe – how does a society unhinge certain things about its cultural infrastructure and its development in a city from – unhinge it from political decision making? Because I think one of the things that has happened is that they have got too bound up.
MS HO: How far was this Centenary of Federation a galvanising issue in terms of the timing and the time line?
MR DAVIDSON: It was for the conception and commencement or initiation of the project. It was clear one day into the project that it would never make the Centenary of Federation. It was an impossible task because the model of building that was used was a shopping centre. All of the programs, all of the budgets were all produced on entirely the wrong model. In the end – and I love the fact that for the Centenary of Federation people made a great joke about how it wasn’t ready – nobody says anything.
Two years later it doesn’t matter that it was late and it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t built to the original budget. I will give you an example. The original budget would have barely built the art gallery that was added from the day the competition was announced. No-one ever mentions that in the media. It would have barely built that.
QUESTIONER: One point, this notion of Thinker in Residence, I am actually fascinated by the whole concept. It is a wonderful way of getting ideas – but sense it is symbolic of an approach to we want to continue to plan, we want to continue to think, but what I am going to propose is in the next phase a decision maker in residence.
MS HO: Implementers in residence – and have to have strategic perspectives unless they make decisions beyond a political framework and they make decisions and they commit them outside and if we don’t decide in a certain time they will do it for us.
MR DAVIDSON: For instance, I think one of the things that would profoundly affect these things in Australia is to lengthen the period that Governments sit for. It is three years – I am sorry, I think fundamentally in my experience it is the most relative to some of the aspects we have been talking about – the most debilitating thing, because the shortness of that period accentuates the potential of project expediency.
QUESTIONER: The political cycle can work in the opposite way and, for example, Swanston Street happened – Swanston Street Walk happened – because the Kennett Government was in its dying days. It knew it was. Joan Kirner wanted to do something that would have a long lasting effect. She said here is $10 million for the council – and you have something worthwhile doing with it, and the Melbourne City Council had been planning for some time for the Swanston Walk, yes, we have got a great project, we’ll take the money, thank you.
MS HO: Then it didn’t get stopped though?
QUESTIONER: It almost got stopped several times but in the end it didn’t.
QUESTIONER: You can do – I think you need to have both an incremental approach and a strategic long term vision and you need to build up a confidence in the community and the understanding in the community.
THE CHAIR: Kenneth?
QUESTIONER: I was really just introducing yet another dark cloud. I just wanted to remind people that it is not just the political cycle but what has happened with the competition policy in Australia over the last decade is that now almost every CEO in the country and every senior bureaucrat is also on the same contract – time frame – usually three to five years, so what you find is that if you are operating, if you are working on a project which is in the community’s interest in the sense that it is a – a lot of these projects we are talking about go more than three to five years, as Peter has just said, so that you can be in a situation where not only the Government changes but all the CEOs change too and often they then have a corporate restructure and they bring in new directors, so you can find yourself dealing not just with new politicians but a whole team of new people.
Of course the new ones want to champion their project because their contract says it would look better if they deliver something that they ….. rather than the previous person who was on a three year contract delivered.
MS HO: That must give you a warm feeling of still being there. I wonder whether this throws up a question – maybe it should be directed to Vinnie – about bi-partisan charters on major projects. Should we as a community be saying enough is enough. We planned that. It has been thrown out and now there is another plan coming up. Why can’t we as a community have some kind of commitment that lives beyond the political term? I don’t know. It is probably very unrealistic.
MR DAVIDSON: I have an amazing letter that I received from the Premier of Victoria, just basically acknowledging that what they didn’t think would work exceeds anything that they imagined it would do. Publicly to the media they say it wasn’t evident in the plans when we were in Opposition what it was to be. It was all there in the plans.
It is only privately that those kind of things are able to be said and I think it is a shame because it is very difficult as an architect to engender that bipartisanship and I think that is - - -
QUESTIONER: I suppose that comes out – that CEOs who are trusting the people who are experts in areas they have been asked to do designs, architecture, and then trusting them and saying okay, rather than coming halfway and questioning it or changing it without a knowledge of what we are talking about. That is probably it has come back to understand what you were doing – I think in Adelaide I feel like there is a lack of trust – say, in my case you do these things and he is rather than questioning everything - - -
MS HO: I think you are bringing up the point that it is not just large scale projects that actually do have a difficulty. I was thinking of the position of the artist in terms of being able to get work out into the public realm. It is a similar kind of issue.
QUESTIONER: Even when the work is out there and it may have been conceived under all the right intentions and with the right kind of consultation it gets front page press and everyone is down on it and the recent case of Angela Hart’s work in Hurtle Square and that is something that is an ongoing dilemma.
QUESTIONER: We were talking before – all of you I think – overlooking the great enjoyment that everybody gets from getting involved in these things – whether it is arguing the case over Victoria Square or Federation Square or Anton’s work or anything else, it is a part of the life of the city is to feel as though – I can’t say the newspaper does it very well – but to feel as though you are actually engaging in some sort of debate with the designers and so on, as the readers of the newspapers and the reports, is part of that. It is really interesting that there has been this basic thing going on today about the view of the architect which is trust us, let us set this thing out, let us have it as an integrated whole and deliver it to you, and the politicians and the CEOs and the general public all sort of milling around saying is it going to work or is it going to be a disaster and so, to me, that is a lovely natural tension that you would hope always is part of the process. It worked in Federation Square.
MR DAVIDSON: It sells newspapers. I have really deep and profound problems with the way that those things were enacted because we could never give people briefings. They didn’t want to know. Twelve months before September 11 after the Buddhas in Afghanistan were blown up the tabloid newspaper in Melbourne and its key feature writer suggested that the Taliban be brought over and Federation Square be blown up. Not a single bit of irony in that – not a single bit of irony. The campaign that was run by a series of people at that newspaper was just amazing.
I think that there is an issue about the debate and it is actually how do you encourage it because one of the problems with the newspaper – you saw this even in the end with the ABC documentary – the only story is concrete. The thing that for me was the most, the saddest thing in that ABC documentary was that you don’t build a project like Federation Square on concrete – you build it out of the most incredible alliances and friendships and connections that work across the divides, if you like, to make it happen. That is how it happens but it is not a story. For me it is an incredible memory.
QUESTIONER: It seems to me it is the history of architecture almost – is that debate and that conflict. There have been enormous fights over 400 years about buildings in Rome – St Paul’s in London – almost any major project you can name - architects being sacked, committees storming out in protest, public demonstrations, people being burnt in effigy – there has been an extraordinary protest over the years. If anything debate in the 21st Century is not quite as robust as it was in the 19th Century. I am just saying it is part of the human condition. People – we live in a vigorous democracy. People have the right to disagree and they have the right to disagree using any forum that they have available to them and they will do it and if you feel strongly enough about it you respond to that and it may not always be on the terms that any of us wish it to be but you have to deal with the circumstances that are there.
We are not going to have a situation ever where the politicians, who are elected by the people after all, are going to hand over complete control of projects to us. It is never going to happen. It is public money being spent. Of course, there is going to be rigorous debate and a lot of it will be uninformed. A lot of it will be wrong and there will be lies. There will be distortion. We are human beings. That is what happens.
It is the reality of any large project and I think we just have to accept that and deal with it as best we can. But we can’t sit here and say it shouldn’t be like that because I think that’s not going to happen.
MS BRINE: That’s what we need squares for – precisely for a location for dissention.
MR DAVIDSON: I referred in the beginning to this movement called Making Cities Liveable, which is - some of you may know it as an organisation. We were recently invited to present at one of their conferences, which was held in Siena, which was about learning from Siena. We weren’t able to attend but I would like to read you a paragraph that is currently the first paragraph when you open their website:
Since September 11 the goals of the Making Cities Liveable movement are shown to be even more essential. Our goal to strengthen community by creating viable public places for social life in our cities will reduce anonymity and increase grass roots democracy. Our goal to build a compact mixed use physical fabric will strengthen neighbourhoods and create cities of short distances where commuting by foot, bicycle and public transportation becomes possible, thus reducing oil consumption and dependence on Middle Eastern oil. We believe that this is the best way we can use our professional skills to make terrorism less possible in the future.
Now, we might all cringe in relationship to that but the questions about the way that, particularly the acknowledgement of the car and oil consumption – I have been incredibly amused by the contra movement in the US relative to four wheel drive vehicles where now there are more four wheel drives sold in America than sedan cars, and they completely lie outside all of the emission regulations – completely.
So we went through and brought all these things in and then completely undermined it by allowing this exception to now become the rule. This organisation is incredibly powerful. Some of its – I mentioned this in the beginning in terms of – a lot of the paradigms that are currently used to describe the kinds of qualities of urbanism that are desirable all come from some ideas that evolved in Europe in the late ‘70s – and it is traceable back to one or two people. A lot of the language that is in this about cities of short distances all comes from a man called Leon Krier, who is incredibly influential as an urbanist. There is an interesting dilemma because he thinks the only solution lies in reproducing the patterns of the past.
I believe that there is knowledge – that things can find expression in the patterns of the present and of the future, but there is an explicit political description - being a problem with this – and one of the things that living overseas and coming back here has shown me is how protected Australia is to the resonance of some of these things, particularly in terms of energy and energy consumption where energy here is way too cheap and that we produce it using the most polluting brown coal in Western Victoria that you could and facing up and addressing these issues – the issues of our cities being incredibly urbanised but incredibly dispersed, how we make our cities more sustainable, and for me I think one of the most poignant things relative to this question of the square is that it, in a positive way, not in the sort of paranoid ways of this to a degree, but in a positive way, suggests another possibility for sustainability – another kind of space in which we gather.
Someone made a reference before about these suburban shopping centres in the UK – sorry, here. There is now a policy to stop building these in the UK – to stop this form of commercial development, to actually have the vision that says they are going to discriminate and consider the kinds of effects that this kind of development creates and judge them against something as a positive outcome that we want to achieve.
They are not Utopian – they are just to do with qualities of opportunity and I think that it is really important. It is about quality of access to facilities and that is why the existing city in its density does provide an incredible mall – because there is a diversity there that I think encourages an openness towards other people that is really important. Australia is the luckiest country and the way that it conducts some of the public debates – I understand what you said in terms of a condition of our democracy, but it so distorts the issues by thinking that we are threatened. We are the least threatened people in the world.
QUESTIONER: Openness to other people is something you just said, but it was about what Hoff said about trust that made me think about these patterns of the way we go about things, whether we call it – we might call it debate or opposition – but sometimes those patterns actually close down and I am very interested in the fact that you said that until you came here you hadn’t actually worked some of the things about the project because there is a lot to learn through conversation and conversation is where, if it is an openness to others, is where risks can be taken, if the risk is big, to try out new ideas. I’m just really interested in that idea of the patterns that we set down.
MR DAVIDSON: You made the comment about democracy. I think one of the things is we tend to get complacent about whether the conditions for it to be re-enacted, for it to be re-imagined.
QUESTIONER: And the importance of the fact that people rally and debate – dissention.
MR DAVIDSON: I was shocked at even something that was said in the last week about the defeat of the republican question at the Referendum. The republican question wasn’t defeated – a particular form of it was defeated.
MS HO: I think you are actually putting an argument – to give you an example, we poll, we ask a question and normally we – very often we get the negative out of that process. There is an organisation called Deliberation Issues – Deliberations Australia – which has recently been involved in the Constitutional Convention and the principle under which its Director operates – Pam Ryan – is that in order to poll you need a deliberative process so that people actually need to be exposed to deliberation about the issue in quite formal ways, often, in order for the real position to emerge. I think, with all due respect to Tim and the media, the media doesn’t always enable that process to happen in a way that is meaningful for people.
I think we don’t have the squares. We are not moving into the squares, so where do we actually undertake this deliberation? I think it does require an enormous amount of orchestration to really tease out what people’s positions are and they only do it – they only reach that position on the basis of being informed. That is the process that we are really talking about here.
MR DAVIDSON: I don’t think a single outlet of the media is able to do it by itself or can by itself. I think the real issue is about protecting diversity wherever we find it because it is the thing that creates robustness in a city, I think in the media.
QUESTIONER: I just thinking also in terms of congregation, in Birrarung Mar they have reinstated Speakers Corner, I believe, in that park, which is where traditionally Speakers Corner was, and in the new development is Speakers Corner. I was just about to ask does anybody go there and speak?
MR DAVIDSON: I don’t think so.
QUESTIONER: The point is you can reinstate Speakers Corner as a place where people could go and talk and speak and all of that but we’ve moved on. Our moments of where we talk and how we talk and the kind of debate are somewhere else and I suspect that some of what we have been talking about today in terms of square or public space and the opportunity to converse while being in public spaces as well as talking about it – here we are talking public space and we are in the Starship Enterprise, just thinking about the potential for this – for example for Victoria Square or the notion of public space – to allow those conversations to happen. Does that happen?
MR DAVIDSON: Not in that idealised way but it may just be that it satisfies the desire for it to happen. It is like one of those things. It is something that still is there as a potential for that possibility but for me, getting to the question that you asked, there is a really important thing as an architect – as an urban designer, landscape architect – to provide images because I think buildings and spaces are incredibly important collective images. The question is: Are the current buildings and spaces we have sufficient to what we think needs to be imagined upon? I think when all of the buildings that you have are of the late 19th and early 20th Century I think they are insufficient because they tend to be ones that don’t allow difference. They don’t allow space for difference to be imagined on them and that is why I think contemporary buildings do something that those buildings can’t and I think it is important and it is actually – in a strange way it is providing something that sounds more poetic but is really excessive and important that it provides an image that actually people can imagine the future with – those people who are different across the diversity of our culture can identify with. I think contemporary architecture has the capability and responsibility to do that.
THE CHAIR: I am just interested in whether anybody has got something that they burningly want to say about what we have been talking about this afternoon before we finish. Is there something that has not been said?
QUESTIONER: I suppose I have this passion about social literacy and perhaps that it could be taught in schools and urban design could be taught in schools as a cross-disciplinary thematic subject and I am doing it in some schools and it is a project that is going to take centuries to achieve and again in the arts – and I really do believe that people here have the vocabulary and the understanding and interest and desire to be able to talk about it but I tell you 99 per cent of the people don’t. So we end up talking to ourselves.
QUESTIONER: That is a really good point and as early as possible in that process. I think we underestimate the ability of a three or four year old to actually grasp these sorts of concepts. They want to engage – that is their way of understanding the world.
MR DAVIDSON: It sets up another I think inescapable dilemma – it is about finding a language with which to communicate but it is like brain surgery is not like something that everybody needs to know and you have got to be really careful that you do not allow idiosyncrasies – the language, the specialisations, the things that only the discipline knows about – to actually be eliminated from the discipline because those things can’t be communicated.
QUESTIONER: It is more about the why than the reason to do it.
MR DAVIDSON: Yes, but I think you have to be careful that you don’t teach urban design as a course – I absolutely agree on the communication.
QUESTIONER: I think to go back to your original metaphor about the pathology and what the internet has done for people diagnosing themselves on the internet rightly or wrongly, which has had an enormous impact on the medical profession. I think there is potential for it to happen. I know what you are talking about – I guess the deskilling in a sense of designers. In some respects I am encouraging it so that people can actually understand what it is that is being put in front of them better. I am not opening up the debate again, gets back to trust and trust the profession and design group. I guess I take the opposite position.
MR DAVIDSON: But there is something radically happening in the software development. It is probably going to take five to ten years to be emerging but it is more radical than you can imagine – the development of interfaces that allow people much more intuitive and creative engagement. It is a challenge to us as a discipline. It exists now in terms of elements of furniture where people can limit the defined set of parameters – create something which is their own and get it made.
QUESTIONER: It pinpoints the point of engaging – I think that is about the language. We have got to move the language forward and we have got to understand a different way of teaching. You are quite right – it is the way all the labels about urban design language – in that sense, but I don’t think that stops, I think Ken’s point is about engaging with people, particularly at primary level, is really important.
QUESTIONER: We have actually started building models that really clicked. They knew what the space was going to do for them. They understood it, rather than talking about it.
QUESTIONER: Why is this sounding to me like a memory of the arts sciences?
QUESTIONER: Yes, it is all about educational - - -
QUESTIONER: I would just like to pick up on Ken’s point. I think it is a great one.
QUESTIONER: We went to the primary school – I think it is an important level of communication, graphic communication, and understand what sort of composition has been put into urban design.
END OF TAPE 3
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