WALKING | Reading buildings

Posted on 16/01/2010

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The other evening after work John and I decided to go for a walk around the city. We were ‘in town’ to go to the farmers’ market but it wasn’t on, so after dining at a cafe looking across to 1980s concrete carpark we decided to walk and look closely at the city and its new buildings. We wanted to rediscover the city and how it was being ‘recut’ and ‘restitched’. As we walked we were acutely aware of the way the new buildings provided a new frame and points of interest, particularly those with visually exciting facades. However, we were frustrated by a lack of information about those buildings – often billboards and hoardings on construction sites provide information about architects, engineers and project managers. As we walked we were drawn to compare buildings, to identify the best or better streets, to acknowledge the fragments of heritage (seems that in constantly bemoaning the lost heritage, we often don’t celebrate that we have retained e.g. John Mills Himself) and to speculate when this or that building would warrant a facelift. While heritage buildings and sites often carry plaques, our new buildings do not.

Our walking resulted in some knowing of the city, its spaces and its buildings – Albert Street, for example, as been significantly remade over the last decade – but we wanted more information. It’s often difficult to obtain information about buildings beyond the mass or specialist media at key points of the development period, e.g. unveiling plans or openings, or during the life of a building, e.g. falling windows or awards. We live with buildings beyond those peak moments and perhaps there should be other mechanisms of knowing their stories. We wanted to know who created the artworks, designed the buildings and what materials were used. We wanted to know about the buildings’ environmental footprint, whether it had a green roof or green wall. We wanted simple interventions or interfaces, like didactic panels, that would encourage us to appreciate the places, the buildings and the streets in multiplied ways. We hoped for more of a dialogue with the city (as built form/s) that would enhance urban literacy and raise awareness of architecture and city-making.

A proposition: producing didactic panels in whatever material you chose that provide an overview of the buildings, their makers and their relationship to the city. These are produced in A3 format and temporarily adhered to buildings. If you’re worried about your panels being  removed within minutes of being posted, then perhaps you can discussion the matter with the property manager or Brisbane City Council. A mobile platform solution, like an iPhone app, would also be well worth trying.

ps Information on key buildings here: http://www.emporis.com/application/?nav=city&lng=3&id=brisbane-australia

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