The first Perth Samplings event in AGES was on this week, in the Brass Monkey (quite a neat little space upstairs). It was great to see the event back on and see that the WA Government Architect hasn’t completely abandoned us. (Although since it was the first one since Steve Woodland took over it would have been nice to have a little introduction from him about what his plans are etc…) The subject was FiFo architecture and presented four different views on working up North, including Port Hedland, Karratha, Broome, Kununurra etc. The presenters were Patrick de Villiers, Kieran Wong from CODA, Fiona Hogg from Paradigm and a guy (sorry was too angry to remember his name) from Ashton Raggatt McDougall. Unfortunately, only one proposal, Paradigm’s, actually had any appreciation of the cultural, social and physical context of working in these communities. There were quite a few comments from the presenters which are the kind of things that I think gives architects a bad name. The idea that the sites up there are empty, so the building doesn’t have to have any relationship with the landscape, is really disturbing. No site is ’empty’ and its just lazy not to contemplate the context. I’m pretty sure the idea of an ’empty landscape’ is what got the interloping British into trouble when they arrived in Australia in the first place. It was scary that such little respect was shown to these communities which are real struggling with some big issues of increased population and an uncommitted community which is struggling to engage with the town. Also, the disparaging comments about the locals that all they do is drink and swear just further pushes the barrow that these ‘experts’ have come in from Perth to guide the uncivilised towns-folk. Disappointing…
Patrick de Villliers showed a bit of his research into urban planning issues and how things are not really working in Port Hedland at the moment, particularly South Hedland. He had a fair bit to say and a lot of it made sense – as always there are roadblocks through urban planning decisions and politics. South Hedland was created as a little bit of an experiment with many roundabouts and roads that curl in on themselves, and it quite frankly doesn’t work. So the idea here I suppose is how to rectify some of these issues while still retaining an identify of South Hedland, and not just laying city-style frameworks over the infrastructure that is already there…will be an interesting challenge.
CODA presented two Karratha projects – the Baynton and Bulgarra Community Centres. They made some good points about increasing shade and community access and the ability to use outdoor areas for events. As much as people from ‘down here’ say its too hot and you spend all your time in air-conditioning, there are in fact some great old traditional outdoor events, like the FeNaClING Festival which need better community spaces, so I was happy to see this catered for. Interesting that they didn’t touch on increasing the importance of community and sporting events in these far-North towns. Most of these towns that are suffering through the increase in FiFo workers who don’t financially or socially support the community, need to have spaces where they can encourage social gathering as much as possible (besides the pub!)
Paradigm‘s Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre was inspired and beautiful. The presentation was fantastic too – Fiona explained the process of consultation with the aboriginal client group to achieve a beautifully detailed, environmentally sensitive development to protect and enhance the retention of aboriginal language in the Pilbara. It was great to see her show the sensitivity to the user group and the particular cultural and physical context at the entry to South Hedland. This to me is great architecture – it fits with the place and is about the cultural situation being so full rather than empty.
And so we come to ARM. Now, I’m not really a fan of their recent work, but I’m always willing to hear what people are up to, so I did try to give them a go. But their proposal of the Port Hedland Multi-purpose Recreation Centre was ludicrous. They actually proposed a building to ‘land’ on the empty landscape like a NASA spaceship. It is clad in metal with limited projecting shaded area, that has an applied pattern on its surface that seemingly doesn’t relate to the site, but just ‘looks cool’. The shape and planning doesn’t relate to anything because apparently the site was ’empty’ – there’s no such thing as an empty site! And actually, that site has the government high school right next door, existing sports facilities, a new resort (donger-style) to be built next door – it actually has a fair bit of context. Ad the whole development is bound by a ring road – basically ARM have made a(nother) roundabout, and put all the facilities in the middle of it. Firstly, people in South Hedland hate roundabouts, so why you’d want to build another one I don’t know. Secondly you are mixing kids and cars for the entire perimeter of the building and associated sports oval, including a lovely little children’s playground within metres of the road. Lastly, although the ARM rep insisted that everyone up there drives – what about the kids! Bike riding is actually quite big up there, and since the school is so close by, it would be great to see a development with less emphasis on the car and more on the community advantage that this type of development could have to the local residents. I don’t know how this kind of development gets approval – don’t get me wrong, the building is impressive and has some good concepts internally – I just don’t think its suited to this climatic, visual, social or cultural community. And to me, what is the point of architecture that doesn’t relate to its site?
Oh and finally, what’s with people during question time not actually asking a question but just talking about themselves? I hate that!
Again, this is all just my opinion – feel free to disagree!