Thinking About Space: Links and Magic

I spend some part of each week in the Teaching Commons at the University of Canberra.

I meet all sorts of people there.

It is great space for conversation, working collaboratively and working in shared and sometimes noisy space.

Today I had the opportunity to chat with Danny Munnerley about the evolution of the Teaching Commons and its relationship with other spaces on the University campus (including the soon-to-be-completed InSPIRE Centre).

As is often the case our conversation turned to ‘edgelessness’.

Driving home today I listened to two interviews on Radio National’s Artworks program that extended my conversation with Danny about place and space.


In the first interview, Michael Shirrefs spoke with Jacques Martial who, since 2006, has run one of the largest arts precincts in Europe, the Parc de la Villette on the north-east boundary of central Paris. Jacques sees la Villette as a place of links as well as being a designed space. It is a bridge between cultures and on entry you become part of the Parc in a place different from ‘normal life’. In exploring the relationship between space and cultural narrative Jacques discussed the work of the architect of la Villette, Bernard Tschumi, and the philosopher Gilles Deleuze.


In the second interview, Suzanne Donisthorpe talked with Brigita Ozolins about her Reading Room show at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. The Reading Room is:

an immersive, interactive environment about the magic world of books and reading. The gallery walls are painted red and are lined with thousands and thousands of books. There are comfy chairs and couches so you can sit back and listen to over 60 people from all walks of life in Tasmania reading a passage from one of their favourite books, or you can pick up a book and start reading yourself!

Space as Linking and Magic

I have a sense of space as offering filaments of connections to memory and practice.

I like the possibilities for links and magic suggested by Jacques and Brigita.

I wonder what would happen if we had a generation of designs of space for teaching and learning entrusted to performance artists. Brigita’s PhD, for example, has explored how “installations that focus on viewer experience” offer “the possibility of developing new narratives about our relationship to language and knowledge.” Such installations “incorporate already existing materials, cultural signs, objects and ideas associated with institutional practices of collecting, manipulating and disseminating information.”

What a great day of narratives that linked and bridged spaces in Canberra, Paris and Hobart!

Photo Credits

The Mercury, 11 October 2011

Parc de la Villette

Home is where the hut is


Radio National’s Bush Telegraph had a great item yesterday (23 June) on Huts in the Wild.

Greg Muller interviewed Dianne Johnson about her new book on Huts.

Dianne has been interviewed by Radio National’s By Design program too.

In her Bush Telegraph interview, Dianne made some fascinating observations that helped me think further about my changing sense of space and place. She found a great ally in Greg in the interview. He too was passionate about huts.


Amongst the points Dianne made in her interview were:

  • Being “struck dumb” by the beauty of the Waldheim Chalet on Cradle Mountain
  • Huts as liminal spaces  that mediate between the built landscape and nature
  • Huts are spare and sparse: they are not designed as stores (unlike sheds)
  • Huts offer enchantment and are imagined, mindful and slow spaces
  • Huts are creative spaces within which to think and reflect and on some occasions take on demons
  • You must not stay for a long time in huts and avoid Martin Heidegger’s experience of overstaying
  • You are the honoured guest in a hut. It is a place of respect and hospitality.
  • Huts are egalitarian, they are inclusive. Each has its own distinctive portal.
  • Each of us has a sense of our wild spaces and our hard country. These are places of wonderment that energise the spirit.
  • Huts tend to be built in magnificent places.
  • Huts are temporary and  raise issues about preservation. Part of the experience of a hut is its ephemerality … ‘hutness’ is about coming from from the earth and returning to earth.

At the end of the interview Greg asked Dianne if she had a favourite hut. She mentioned Dixons Kingdom Hut.

Place and Space

I have been thinking a lot about space and place. My recent journey started whilst contemplating Everywhen. Developments around Commons spaces at the University of Canberra have accelerated my reflections.

Dianne and Greg have helped me travel further in my thinking. Given the essential characteristics of ‘hutness’ I wonder if I ought to stop thinking about research centres and units and work to develop huts for ideas and practice. It would be wonderful to develop a way of being that stimulated the imagination, enhanced sociability and celebrated liminality.

Such huts would not be places of permanent residence. They would be way stations that had varying configurations of people and ideas that were nourished by the place.

Photo Credits

Wallaces Hut

Davies Run (Tasmanian Huts Preservation Society)

Dixons Kingdom Hut (Tasmanian Huts Preservation Society)

Space and Place


I am becoming more and more interested in space and place.

In this blog I have posted about Hometown Memories, Learning Spaces and the emergence of Canberra Urban Futures.

There are lots of posts too about social ecology including a discussion of Coaches’ Corners.

Last week three programs added to my interest.

Three Programs

Hindsight(17 April) reported on the Northbridge History Project.

The Project has spent the last five years gathering the stories and images of the area, and placing them in an extensive electronic archive that brings to life the experiences of waves of migrants who’ve made Northbridge their home. Sometimes this locality on the other side of the railway line was all they could afford, sometimes it was the first place they saw when they climbed off the train from Fremantle, and sometimes it was the place where they could live alongside people with whom they shared a past, and who spoke the same language.

The Northbridge History Project’s brief is “to capture the history of Northbridge before it is lost and use the history in the revitalisation of the area.”  The Project has a substantial digital archive including oral history some of which was used in the Hindsight program.

Grand Designs repeated its 2009 program on Ben Law’s A Frame house in West Sussex.

It is built almost entirely from the trees in the woods in which it stands. The A-frame is made of trunks, the floor is a wooden platform and there are oak shingles on the roof. It is insulated with recycled newspaper under the floor and barley-straw bales stacked between the frame and the internal studwork. Its walls, covered in lime plaster, are curved in places, where the straw beneath the plaster has been shaped with a chainsaw. The property generates all its electricity (which is then stored in old submarine batteries) from solar panels previously used in the Big Brother house and wind turbines; the taps are fed from a nearby spring.

The third program to catch my ear was Alan Saunders conversation with Graeme Gunn on Radio National’s By Design (20 April). Graeme is the Principal Architect at VicUrban and is the 2011 Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medallist. The announcement of his award noted that:

At a time when we face enormous challenges around the built environment, Graeme Gunn provides an inspirational example of the engaged architect. He has steadfastly pursued his ambition to demonstrate innovative architecture, while at the same time devoting himself to improving the quality of how we live as well as projecting architecture to a broader group of people than would normally afford it.

In his interview with Alan, Graeme discussed his work on the Prahran Market. He noted that “there was open space, protected open space for public use, surrounded by hyperactive and interactive retail use.” He added that “It is a place-making building … I tend to downgrade the buildings and try and work around the space that they supposedly prescribe.”

Space and Place

I luxuriated in the ideas prompted by the three programs. They have added to my interest in space/place relationships triggered of late by thoughts of Dharavi, nomadic behaviour and edgelessness.

I have an opportunity to think about these more next week when I attend a seminar given by Paul Tranter on The speed paradox: transport, time pressure and health.

Paul’s research examines the themes of child-friendly environments, active transport, and healthy and sustainable cities.  He has forged new areas of research by combining hitherto unlinked research topics (e.g. children’s rights and peak oil), or by applying innovative concepts to urban transport studies (e.g. “effective speed”, a concept that considers the total time costs associated with any mode of transport).

I hope to read his book co-authored with Claire Freeman Children and Their Urban Environment (2011) before the seminar.

Photo Credits

Graffiti, Northbrige, Perth

Ben Law

Shopping @market lane