The Architecture Symposium: A Broader Landscape.

Published 25 November 2022

Written By Jamal Tomkinson

The Architecture Symposium - Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

The Architecture Symposium: A Broader Landscape, curated by Kerstin Thompson and Philip Arnold, featured a comprehensive program over two days that explored architects' approach to and use of landscape in their work. The symposium brought together a diverse group of speakers to investigate how the term ‘landscape’ is employed and how it is influenced by different historical and cultural perspectives. It also aimed to promote ways in which architects can broaden their understanding of landscape to better inform their practice and thus the wider community.

The first day of the symposium was structured into four topic driven sessions, with the first provocateur, Dr Danièle Hromek from Djinjama Indigenous Corporation kicking off “Landscape as belonging” speaking with a powerful message encouraging the audience to consider country with a relationship similar to that of family. The first response was presented by Neeson Murcutt and Neille, talking about their sensitively designed Kamay Botany Bay National Park Masterplan project which marks the land where captain cook first touched. The talk and project highlights important issues related to culture (indigenous, colonial, multicultural) and place (geology, ecology, use and management), both in terms of the past and future. NMN reiterated the notion that design can't undo the damage caused by 250 years of occupation, but it can create a space for dialogue and interpretation.

Kerstin Thompson and Philip Arnold introducing 'A Broader Landscape'

Jane Irwin served as the provocateur for the second session on "Landscape as 'Un/Natural'," raising the question of whether we can truly connect with landscape once it is no longer natural due to human interference. Nicole Larkin presented her research on ocean pools, which she referred to as "at the wilds edge," examining how these pools blur the line between natural and man-made architectural interventions.

The session on "Landscape as Climate” was initiated by Daniel Barber, who urged the speakers to explore the connections between comfort, climate and carbon. Louise Wright of Baracco and Wright opened the presentation with the iconic Garden House project, which features a delicate exterior that examines the bare essentials of a house, and how it can coexist with the landscape rather than being separate from it. Next Graham Burrows of JCBA presented Gillies Hall, a large student accommodation project that was designed using Graham Burrows of JCBA discussed the Gillies Hall student accommodation project, which was designed with a focus on the theme by incorporating mass timber, Passivhaus principles, and user input to create the largest cross-laminated timber (CLT) buildings in Australia. The use of CLT panels reduced the amount of embodied carbon by half compared to traditional concrete construction which prompted the audience to consider using more sustain materials to create a balance between the building and its environmental context.

Kaylie Salvatori of COLA Studio shared a personal reflection on healing Country in urban spaces.

The final session of the day, "Landscape as “Resource,” began with a challenge from provocateur Joan Ockman, who emphasized the responsibility of architecture towards landscapes impacted by material acquisition and disposal. The Spring Bay Mill by Gilby and Brewin was a prime example of inventive revitalization, intentionally allowing time and making the process of healing visible and not only halting a detrimental industry, but also actively working to repair and restore the environment.

It is essential for contemporary architects to engage with the topic of broader landscape to create a uniquely Australian architectural identity that is based on the country's rich land and history. Glenn Murcutt's architectural philosophy and approach to designing in Australia as a person of Anglo-Saxon heritage could serve as an example for architects to follow. Despite not having Aboriginal clients for his early buildings, Murcutt designed them with transparent foundations, emphasizing a genuine and spiritual connection to the land. The metaphorical phrase "leaves of iron" suggests that the buildings gently fell from eucalyptus trees and "touched the earth lightly," connecting the work to both Aboriginal culture and ecological sustainability.

The suburban fringes of the Australian "Broader Landscape" is a topic that was not formally explored, despite being an area where the two intersect most commonly. Architects can have a significant impact on transforming and rethinking the suburbs in Australia to better align with Aboriginal philosophies and be more mindful of the outer rim that intersects the built form and the broader landscape.

The second day of the symposium included a tour of Bundanon Art Bridge and Museum.

In Australia, suburbs are often considered an extension of the city, offering more space and a quieter lifestyle away from the inner city's hustle and bustle. However, these areas often suffer from a lack of diversity, disconnection from nature, and a lack of cultural identity.

Architects can address these issues by drawing inspiration from Aboriginal cultures and philosophies, which have a deep understanding of the relationship between people and the land. Aboriginal cultures have a strong connection to the natural world, seeing the land as a living entity that requires respect and care. Architects can incorporate these ideas into the design of suburban spaces, for instance, by creating spaces that are more connected to nature, using natural materials and incorporating green spaces.

Architects can also aim to create more culturally diverse and inclusive spaces by tapping into the rich cultural heritage of Aboriginal communities. Currently, buildings are often designed in isolation from their surroundings, overlooking the intersection between built form and the broader landscape. To address this issue, architects can design buildings that are more context-responsive, considering the natural features of the landscape, such as topography, vegetation, and waterways. This may be achieved by adopting the philosophy of Murcutt's "to touch the earth lightly" or considering a country as a sister or partner, as Dr. Danièle Hromek suggested.

Architects can foster a more harmonious relationship between people, the built environment, and Aboriginal philosophy by rethinking the design of suburbs, buildings, and their connection to the "Border Landscape." Through this process, they can create spaces that are more connected to nature, culturally diverse, and sustainable, resulting in a style of architecture and philosophy that reflects the rich history of the land and its people.

Kerstin Thompson leading a tour of Bundanon, which started at the Boyd Education Centre by Glenn Murcutt, Wendy Lewin and Reg Lark.

We offer deep respect to the traditional custodians of this land and honour their ancestors who have nurtured and cared for this country for thousands of years. We pay homage to the living cultures, languages, and knowledge systems of the Noongar, Wurundjeri and all Indigenous Australian peoples.