The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1904] I was always told but I never really knew that I lived in this city...


In Bankstown, at Hazims coffee corner, old men with thick moustaches and leathery olive skin sit on up turned milk crates. Mahammod sits half bent over his tiny cup of strong black coffee. He holds this with his left hand as his right is used to take short puffs on his foot high aromatic tobacco Arguile. He pauses to look up at me and asks “so whats your view on Bush and Iraq?”.

Halfway between Bankstown and the CBD in Burwood a local drop in center, begins its monthly MC battle. Nick, originally from Samoa, drenches his mike in saliva “…im the crème of the crop, I don’t listen to slip knot, I listen to hip hop, you and I are like comparing a Connetto to a choc top, a politician to a cop, or what not…”. At his climax his Vietnamese friend Mathew completes a head spin, ending in a freeze, legs and arms contorted. The crowd rises in adulation in a deafening applause.

Under the blue and white flag of their ancestry, Tony and Spiro, Clutch each others shoulders, legs kicking inwards, their backs leaning ever so slightly outwards. They make up a constantly rotating circle of about 20 other men and boys, all part of the Local Hellenic Greek Dance society in Leichardt The seething mass of red and white cloth moves faster and faster, they kick forward, looking straight ahead, bob back down and then turn their head to the right continuing the process over and over again to the beat of the drum and music. Their patriotism is Palpable.

In the Eastern suburbrs, Mr and Mrs Branton leave their Bondi home to travel 30 minutes into the city to take their 9 year old son Nathan to daycare. Their son cups his hands around his eyes as he anxiously tries to get a better look at the workmen repairing a blocked drain at the end of his road. On the way in, they pass an organic food market, The weekend markets at both Bondi and Paddington primary schools, a Busker playing the saxaphone, the end of a Jewish ceremony at the local Hakoah club and a Homeless man with a charcoal colored face, wearing a torn black suit coat and dirty jeans pushing a trolley full of his things. As they pull into a parking spot just outside the centre, Nathan smirks. He has just completed the 2nd level of Donkey Kong on his wireless Play station 2. He remains blissfully ignorant of all that has just passed him and missed.

Meanwhile at the Old Pumping station and water treatment plant in Sydnham, a massive crevasse like structure adjacent to the Railway tracks opens up in front of my eyes. It has four inclined monolithic walls, that each drops almost 5 meters below grade. I watch a Solitary seagull fly over the vandalized “Do not trespass Max fine $500” sign, through a hole gorged in the side of the barbed wire fence and land content in a tiny murky green puddle of water. Everything else at the site remains heavy and still, a swirling and colorful mass of graffiti which reads “killer” covers the entrance to the old caretakers house perched precariously out over the abyss of this now empty and forgotten site.

Three records of time standing still in various sites around Sydney. In their contrast they couldn’t help but express their differences and extreme diversity. To the unimaginative, three polarized worlds, to the thoughtful and creatively inclined, three diverse insights and three striking points of departure.

Sydney is a melting pot of ideologies, cultures and underground alternative movements. There is a plethora of sites, sounds and tastes across the Sydney Metropolis analogous to an equally vast spectrum of varying degrees of family’s socio economic standings.

Of the approximately 4 million inhabitants of Sydney, “one

in every two Sydneysiders today are either first or second generation immigrants” representing over 180 nations, from China to Iran. “Arabic is one of the fastest growing and most widely used languages other than English spoken in Australia”. Testament to this proud diversity, Mosques, temples, churches and synagogues dot the downtown and suburban landscape of Sydney. The North shore and the Eastern suburbs are the highest skilled and paid while the Western and southern western suburbs have the highest concentration of Non English speaking background immigrants as well as the highest rates of unemployment. These facts do not imply positive nor negative connotations but rather explicitly represent the rich pool of stories, experiences, cultures and beliefs that we could potentially draw upon and reveal to the children of Sydney.

It is however, a Sad irony that although in a city of such diversity, coupled with the Australian governments ratification of the UN convention of the Child, that research consistently confirms children remain inherently “bored”, disconnected and unstimulated by their surrounding community.

Kids have 3 main avenues through which they interact with their city; through themselves and friends of similar age, through their Parents or family and through structured programs such as Playgrounds and childcare facilities. These interactions can be as trivial as talking to the local postie or trying to find that four leaf clover, to as organised Political rallies or visiting their local church.

Where kids were once masters of their own dominion, free to explore and be actively involved in civic life their ability to interact, observe and participate with their wider community through these three core avenues has sharply diminished. Dramatic shifts in the economic and social landscape of Australia go far in explaining the roots to these problems.

Most significantly, the 21st Century Western city has betrayed the child’s potentials, in regards to their self-regulation and learning. The child is no longer considered a competent, capable and resourceful citizen of the city but rather a “cute” object and a commodity. “The children’s service industry” implies children are a good, which can be bought and sold. The patronisingly “cute” image of the child is exemplified in the Ann Giddes photographs famous world over. These uninformed, stereotypes filter down into a deficit model (which emphasise the child’s incompetancies opposed to their potential capabilities).

Stranger danger (dramatised in the media) coupled with the increase in and paranoia of, heavy traffic on suburban roads (a 40% increase in Sydney in the last decade alone) has decreased Parents confidence in letting their child/ren interact on their own or with similar aged friends in their wider community. Ironically, parents originally critical of the increase in traffic have themselves become part of the problem, increasingly driving their kids around themselves. Judy Cashmore (child protection expert and associate professor at the University of Sydney) claims Four-year-olds now spend three times as much time in the car as they do walking and subsequently miss out on an array of local experiences as simple, though non the less stimulating as an informal chat with a local neighbour or traffic police.

Children have an increasing inability to interact with their external environment when an equally increasing number of parents provide the sole mode of transport and supervision for their child. Parent/child contact hours during the week and weekend are continuing to decline. The traditional working week is beginning to blur as more parents work unsociable hours (i.e. outside 9am-5pm), only compounded in cases where the parent is under employed (thus working longer even more irregular hours at a time). Women’s participation rate has almost doubled since 1980 to two thirds. Also parents are now working longer and harder than ever before (29.7% worked longer than 44 hours a week in 2003 compared with 27.4% in 1998 and 25.1% in 1988 according to the Australian bureau of statistics). The lives of families seem increasingly rushed further diminishing the chance for any genuine interaction between the child and their community to take place due to an immobility based on a perceived dependency.

I propose reinterpreting the notion of the local park, by reactivating at an appropriate scale, left over and forgotten spaces of Sydney, embedding it with a program that appeals to both parents and children alike and that becomes a locus of grass roots community activity, entertainment and reciprocal education.

The sites I wish to reinterpret are dispersed around Sydney. They reflect a rich industrial and public works program of varying scales and past uses, completed in the last two centuries. They include ex sewers, quarries, bores, aqueducts, tank streams, dams, reservoirs and pumping stations. I propose a vivid precedent at the 8.5 hectare WhiteBayPowerStation that can then spawn at a more appropriate scale and appropriateness of program into the suburbs.

My concept is a more realistic proposal in relation to other attempts at reactivating and reinterpreting underutilised and delapitated sites and playgrounds. The various sites tectonics give rise to greater spontaneous manipulability than the vacant bear lots of the Vest Pocket parks of the 60s and 70s in the USA. Also their program appeals more to the Parents taking the children to the parks and community activating the site than aldo van eycks conversions in the 40s and 50s of houses bombed out during the war.

The facilities provided by the adult in the city, fail to connect the child in time and place to his/her own cultural context. This “one size fits all mentality”, is both easier to manage and administer and simply put more profitable. Planners zone off areas for open and green space, cinemas and malls, as well as childcare facilities and drop in centres, the environments adults perceive as mostly utilised by and illuminating for children.

However research consistently shows children want to partake in and observe the day to day rituals and events of their community. As the 2nd study of the Braybrook site in Melbourne reveals “Even when given the opportunity to create a youth space, young people want to be integrated into community life”. Conveniently in a society characterised by an increasing tendency towards economic rationalism, a diverse mix of uses is actually an economic imperative in order to make the potential site sustainable (socially, economically and environmentally).

My aim is for the sites to become “living spaces that include the perspectives of all who inhabit them”. This principle is at the core of the Reggio Emilia child education phenomenon in Italy. The status quo of children’s learning and play environments is that they do not foster a reciprocal learning environment between teacher and student and the child with their parents and wider community. They also omit trying to interpret a connection between the current sites occupants and its past, present and future uses. I propose opening a three-way dialogue; (at hearlstone), where an unchecked load had dented in the wall at the turn of the century, and a graffiti artist painted in last year and becoming the home for stray pigeons, I propose not covering the façade in a fresh coat of paint nor stuccoed smooth. It could possibly become a backdrop for public play performances in the future and a gritty record of its past, compounded through the polarisation of past and future uses.

Common industry practice has dictated the sale of these industrial estates and their transformation into the playgrounds of the rich, reinforcing the notion that you have to be part of the social elite if one is to remain an active participant in a cities historical fabric. I propose the user pays mentality be scrapped, with the park remaining free for the rest of the society to use day and night.

Because the site will take on these characteristics of a “public good” (free or heavily subsidized) and to ensure its long-term survival, it is integral for a strong relationship (civic, cultural and/or political) to develop between itself and the people visiting it. This will ensure that the site continues to reflect the genius loci of the surrounding suburb and the local kids can partake in authentic interactions with the activities at the site.

In an increasingly globalising world, whereby whole civic, political and economic networks homogonise , strategies will have to be put in place to ensure the long term survival of the grass roots connection so important for an authentic experience for the child in the city at these parks. Successful precedents from around the world prove such techniques are in place and do work. Long term leases and subsidies are given to organizations, which have a proven record of successfully reflecting and strengthening local cultural networks at such significant sites as Granville island in Canada and through the live/work ArtSpace initiative in the US.

The sites I propose reactivating are as rich and varied in their tectonic form as the communities surrounding each site. The Sydenham Pit and Pumping Station is of historic, aesthetic and technical significance. It played an integral role in the stormwater drainage infrastructure built in response to increasing urban expansion since the 1870s. Its scale and labour intensive construction reflects the willingness and abundance of labour during the Great Depression. Pitched dry packed ashlar sandstone walls line the sides of the pit. The pumping house rises on stilts almost 10meters from the base of the pit to grade in the North eastern corner, overhanging it by two meters. It is a dramatic component of the industrial landscape of Sydenham. Its unconventional tectonics, are a vivid landmark which could instigate gathering and exploration. It could become a potential performance, entertainment and learning space that showcase’s the local communities diversity. The surrounding council consists of over 76, 000 residents, of whom 30% are born overseas in a non English speaking country and , and 46% speaking a language other than English at home. The main languages spoken are Greek, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic and Portuguese. It is also home to a significant gay and lesbian and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

Children are the best gauge of determining a program that will draw them to a site.The success of kids in reactivating underutilised spaces cannot be underestimated. In Halle Neustadt (showcased in Venice Biennale in 2004), teens were empowered with the responsiblity of reactivating an 18 storey flat in a city whose population was shrinking. Doors were ripped out and made into a cafe, unused stairs used for extreme BMX riding, rooms were themed. It was so successfull the major stayed twice!It serves as a unique model in collaborative, grassroots design and contextualised learning. Through local architects i propose children equally be empowered to manipulate and investigate their urban environment in and around each site.

I propose that each site take on the qualities of an Adventure playground, a child care centre modelled on Raggio Emilia principles and tectonically be able to incorporate local markets, travelling and local exhibitions, while still allowing unstructured and informal activites such as sitting and talking. The major aim of my intervention is to provide the most unconventional, diverse and theatrical manipulation of space in order to breath new life and pride into these communities, who increasingly look outside of their locality for utility and satisfaction.

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