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Cities fear-free, organic and symbiotic

[ The University of Melbourne Voice Vol. 6, No. 5  3 May - 13 June 2010 ]

Three University of Melbourne projects from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning are among those set to showcase what they believe may point to the forms of future cities as part of the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale. By David Scott.

In the future, Australian cities will be fear-free. Or at least, Associate Professor Justyna Krakiewicz thinks they have the potential to be so. “A lot of the fear comes from our self-created image of the city, and a lot of what we feel is out of proportion and not substantiated by real events.”

“Fear comes from emptiness, having no one around. As one example, that’s led to an increased fear of being robbed, which has meant we retreat behind ‘higher walls’ and gated communities of the suburbs, in turn helping destroy our city and push us further out.”

“We need to be calling people back to the city, making it an attractive place to be, as it could be fear-free and an exciting place, full of people, full of innovative spaces and activities.”

The idea of a fear-free city is one of seventeen – and one of three from the University of Melbourne – to be presented in the Australian pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale this August to November. Described by some as the Cannes Film Festival of the architecture and design world, this year’s Australian Biennale entries will focus on “Now + When: Designs for Australia’s cities in 2050 and beyond.”

The Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, Professor Tom Kvan collaborated on the Fear-Free City project, as did alumnus Steve Hatzellis and students; Steve Whitford’s project on the Symbiotic City looked at urban design based on continuous networks of land use; and Dr Peter Raisbeck, alongside a number of students and alumni, imagined the Mould City as something more akin to a living organism.

The final 17, selected from almost 130 entries by the curators from the Australian Institute of Architects, will provide a full 3D immersion-based animation of their projects, “similar to Avatar and Alice in Wonderland” says Associate Professor Krakiewicz.

She says freedom of choice and, perhaps more importantly, the perception of being free, plays a big role in how the city is made up, and in turn, mitigating attitudes of a fear-filled city. “At the moment the choice is to hide in the city or live in the suburbs. You really don’t have the choice to live in the city and perceive wide open spaces, enjoy safe places for children and a lack of pollution.”

“Convenience of access is also important. A lot of people like living in the suburbs but still want access to facilities, so such convenience is greatly valued.”

“I think Australia has huge potential, not just Melbourne. In a way it’s such a new country, and I don’t think exciting alternatives exist, so people can start other dreams of how the city should be or manifest their dreams.

“There are no alternatives to our way of life. Unless we start creating them as architects, we will make the same mistakes we’ve made in the past 150 years or more: fearing everything and everybody.”

Dr Raisbeck echoes such thoughts, saying the architecture world was gradually undertaking a shift in attitude. “There’s certainly been a shift in architectural discourse, as young architects realise we do have serious issues to tackle in our cities, and that we need to radically change our thinking.

“I think the Australian pavilion…will set us apart from what people are doing in Europe, America and certainly in Asia. In Australia we have a greater freedom to experiment and speculate, unlike other places which are much more academic. Certainly in architecture, that academicism stymies experimenting.”

Through Colony Collective, Dr Raisbeck and the team did their own experimenting focused on how urban systems could become more organic and biological in the future, hence the title ‘Mould City’.

“Mould is really a play on words,” he says. “Both the idea that mould is something that can grow in your fridge, but is also something that might shape a cast, a cake or even a manufacturing process.

“It’s obvious we need to rethink the way we design our cities. Our cities need to be low-carbon, the opposite to the cities we’ve currently built to this point in time as part of a high-carbon economy. In the future, our cities should be grown and orientated to more organic systems.

“The idea of mould is the idea that the cities would grow and that the architects would become the gardeners. It’s not so much about buildings or doors or windows. It’s more about the patterns of organisation we have in cities, the ethos we have in organising a city, and what those possibilities could entail. Our proposal is future orientated, polemical, and that was important.”

And Dr Raisbeck says the inclusion of the three University-based projects speaks volumes about the work being done across the Faculty. “The fact that we are not an internationally recognised practice, we’re not an office with lots of computers, we’re really just a collective and collaboration of University of Melbourne-aligned people.

“It says volumes about the ideas we produced, and it’s showing that the Faculty in particular is nationally recognised and that we are building a strong architectural culture here.”

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