This last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the Deerubbin Architecture Conference, organised by the Architecture Foundation Australia on Milson Island in the Hawkesbury River. The conference takes its name from the aboriginal name for the river, meaning 'deep and wide water', and this attribution to the lands original custodians set a tone for the whole conference, a tone of respect and engagement between those speaking at the conference and those attending it. There were no VIP events that speakers were whisked away to following their presentations, everyone mingles around drinking coffee and enjoying lunch with one another - and this was no lightweight conference either, three packed days of presentations from both internationally and locally acclaimed architects including Peter Stutchbury, Richard Leplastrier and Gabriel Poole. Also in attendance were architecture legends Glenn Murcutt and Juhani Pallasmaa. To top off this first class line up, the conference was held on the beautiful Milson Island, within an architectural gem designed by Sydney Architects Allen Jack+Cottier Architects. As we enjoyed the speakers presentations we also enjoyed the view through the full length low level window to the trees and bush outside as walkers passed by and the occasional brush turkey scratched among the leaves looking for food.
To commence the conference we were treated to a traditional aboriginal welcoming ceremony by Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, an Aboriginal Elder of the Yuin People whose gentle nature and charismatic sense of humour gave a light hearted but deeply respectful start to the conference.
The first speaker of the conference was Lene Tranberg of Lundgaard + Tranberg, a leading architect from Denmark. Lene showed a brief presentation of a handful of her practices projects in Denmark, addressing the theme of the conference, 'hot and cool'. The image below is of the Tietgen Dormitory near the Danish capital, Copenhagen. The building is a circular form with a generous central courtyard where students gather. The interaction between public spaces and the division of private, public and semi-public have been thoughtfully arranged resulting in both a beautiful and functional space for students to live.
After an all too brief exploration of the island the next morning, Saturdays presentations were kicked off by Professor Brit Andresen, the first female recipient of the RAIA Gold Medal. Brit gave an overview of her education and the events and projects that led to her moving to Australia. Brit talked us through a series of beautiful residential projects and their relationship with the environment and climate of tropical Queensland, including the house shown in the image below, Mooloomba House.
Following Brits talk was Chris Major, one half of the Sydney practice Major + Welsh. Chris opened with the practices first commission and followed with a series of projects including a number of award winning projects. The practice was only established in 2004 but since then has been involved in a wide range of innovative projects and has established a reputation for delivering responsive and engaging architecture in the public and private realm. The image below is a commercial redevelopment of the former Rocks Police Station, a delicate adaptive reuse project for this historic police station.
The next talk was from Antoine Perrau, of the French Island in the Indian Ocean, Réunion, an island where the brutal trade winds and heat demand a responsive approach to architecture that Antoine has been perfecting with his practice over the years. Antione not only presented a cross section of his projects on the island but also explained the varying site conditions based on each projects location on the island. To take things one step further, Antoine then broke down the strategies in place to deal with the harsh climatic conditions and how these strategies result in comfortable conditions without the need for air conditioning or other means of active cooling - the product of this is not only sustainable architecture, but an architecture that is 'of place', suited specifically to its conditions as well as its use. The image below is of a Primary School in Saint André.
After lunch, our next speaker was Julie Stout of Mitchell + Stout from New Zealand. Julie took us on a journey of hers and her partners travels on their sailing boat throughout the pacific, showing some of her sketches of the local architecture she encountered on those islands. As the story continued with their return to New Zealand and the projects they began to work on, the influence of the cultures that had encountered in their travels was immediately apparent. Julies buildings expressed a beautiful tactility and used materials that were designed to age and take on a beautiful patina. She also got a some laughs from the audience when she told the story of her husbands aversion to maintaining the plants that grow across the façade of their house, referring to it as 'going to mow the bloody house'. The image below is of an amazing bedroom Julie created at the Waiheke Island House.
The final speaker for the night was one that many had been looking forward to - Gabriel Poole, a Queensland legend, whom hasn't given a public talk in over 20 years. Now in his 80's, Gabriel is well known for his enlightened house designs and innovative use of materials. Along with other distinguished accolades he has received the Robin Boyd Award and the RAIA Gold Medal for his lifetime contribution to Australian Architecture. After a series of presentations of works across his long career, Gabriel concluded with a heartfelt attribution to his wife Lizzy for the support, inspiration and collaboration she has provided him over the years. The crowd gave Gabriel a well-deserved standing ovation to which he said "I'm too old for this - you're all going to make me cry." The image below is of a project from 1996, Lake Weyba House.
On Saturday night we were treated to a BBQ dinner, live blues band and some drinks with speakers, fellow architects, students and all else attending the conference. The next morning was kicked off with a presentation by Ingerid Helsing Almaas, Editor-in-chief of Arkitektur N, the Norwegian Review of Architecture magazine. Ingerid game us a snapshot of Norways beginnings and linked this to how the countries architecture has had to respond to harsh conditions as well as dispelling a few myths about Norwegian architecture. In addition to analysing the challenges that Norwegian architects face in a climate of such extreme cold she also showed a series of beautiful projects from the National Tourist Route project which has seen a number of unique small projects dotted across Norway to provide facilities, viewing platforms and visitors centres along the eighteen tourist routes. To close her talk, Ingerid proposed a challenge to Norweigan architects current approach to keep nature at arms length, something to be viewed as a way of dealing with the harsh conditions, speculating on the possibility of engaging with the environment as a means to deal with the conditions just as the architecture of the tropics often does. The image below is of a work Ingerid showed by Norweigan legend Sverre Fehn.
The final presentation of the conference was presented by architecture greats, Richard Leplastrier and Peter Stutchbury. In the theme of the conference, 'hot and cool', the pair proposed to cut a section through the architectural styles ranging from the Inuit Igloos in the Northern Hemisphere, all the way down to wind battered Southern coast of Tasmania and New Zealand - no small feat in a one hour presentation, yet Richard and Peter (or Rick and Stutch as they are affectionately referred to by those attending) pulled it off flawlessl - A presentation that was informative and evocative, showing both works of traditional architecture such as the Hakka walled villages in China through to their own personal projects such as the Wall House by Peter. The pair seamlessly presented their talk, bouncing ideas off one another as they moved through the slides. An invigorating presentation that was the perfect culmination to a weekend of good people and good architecture all together.
Many thanks to the Architecture Foundation Australia for organising such a great conference and a special mention to Lindsay Johnston, convener, 'creative director' and MC for the weekend. I'll leave you with the words that Gabriel Poole left us with at the end of his presentation: