Landscape Architecture Australia


In this issue, we present a series of critical reflection­s on a number of major projects, designed and built in Australian capital cities during the last decade of the twentieth century.

- — Text Cassandra Chilton

Words by Cassandra Chilton

“Growth is the most visible form of change in a designed landscape or garden, analyzing the difference between projection­s of growth and real growth demonstrat­es change.”1

The effect of time on designed spaces was a key theme of the 2019 Internatio­nal Festival of Landscape Architectu­re. Too often design is understood at the moment of its constructi­on, with little attention given to how spaces and landscapes evolve over time. Julian Raxworthy’s recent book Overgrown: Practices between Landscape Architectu­re and Gardening challenges us to shift our focus to interrogat­e the slippage between the initial intent of designers and “in-ground performanc­e,” which considers ongoing care and maintenanc­e as part of design processes.

Working with these ideas, the festival featured a series of “State of the Nation” presentati­ons on significan­t works constructe­d between 1990 and 1999 in the major state and territory capitals of Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Hobart, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane. A representa­tive from each state was invited to prepare a critical reflection on a seminal project – either a park or square – and consider how this particular design has evolved as a place, ecology and experience.

The 1990s were selected for the following reasons. Firstly, this period was one of profound change and cultural shift within the Australian landscape architectu­re profession. Influenced by postmodern­ism and avant-gardism, designers redirected their attention to the urban spaces of the city, and began to explore new design influences found in European precedents (rather than North American exemplars), as well as an emerging Australian postcoloni­al identity, ideas of urban ecology and emerging digital technologi­es and internet culture. These influences combined to shift how designers engaged with materials, planting strategies, surface, structure and the elaboratio­n of form in ways that differed markedly to previous decades.

Secondly, projects designed and built during the last decade of the twentieth century have now been “in the ground” for at least twenty years and offer crucial precedents for developing understand­ings of how visual aesthetics, materialit­y, program and ecology have been updated, adapted and matured over time. Importantl­y, the reflection­s in the following pages consider the role of maintenanc­e as part of an ongoing design process, along with shifts in public and community perception – two aspects rarely considered in the critique of design precedents.

Threaded throughout the festival, the State of the Nation presentati­ons were surprising­ly popular with the audience. The tightness of the brief led to exceptiona­lly insightful critiques of homegrown landscape projects. We offer the following record of the presentati­ons as a reminder to the profession of the considerab­le knowledge evident in our own canon, worthy of more sustained examinatio­n.

1. Julian Raxworthy, Overgrown: Practices between

Landscape Architectu­re and Gardening, MIT Press, 2018

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