MEETING | Designs on suburbia

Posted on 25/10/2010

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This morning John and I met with an architect/designer/artist, Jason Haigh who has established his own design studio by the name of Cloud Dwellers. I met Jason at the Writing Architecture Symposium and, after discovering we are both residents of Aspley in Brisbane’s outer suburbs, have continued a conversation. I was struck by Jason’s appreciation of the post-war character of parts of our suburb. In the leafy streets, post-war weatherboard cottages and bungalows provide for a different kind of sub-tropical living. Many of the houses are open and airy; others have been renovated to cast off their boxiness, gradually embracing the heavy climate. These understated abodes, set on unnecessarily large blocks, are gradually disappearing as they are bought up and replaced with impossibly large dwellings of the McMansion ilk. One such monstrosity occupies the block next to mine. Other blocks are subdivided to accommodate a second house. The area is gradually churning an odd mix of large and small homes.

In my earlier post about Creative Suburbia, I noted the Creative Suburbs research project which is investigating creative enterprise and work in outer suburban areas. During that discussion, a researcher in the audience talked about her own work which has been tracking architects, particularly women with family commitments, who are working from the spare rooms in their suburban homes. The emergence of home-based creative enterprises could warrant further mapping especially where such activities are supported by internet connectivity and informal co-working networks and space. As we meet with Jason in a recently opened coffee shop, we comment on the rareness of participating in local meetings with people who work in the public realm. Jason’s work has a light and airy feel about it, a deep regard for materials and an acute awareness of the connectedness of interior and exterior spaces or public and private spaces and the transitions between them.

Jason talked us through some images of his work and interests. Like us, he has an abiding concern for sociable and sustainable places where people and environment both are afforded dignity and respect. We share an enjoyment of the improvised and impromptu, the small and secret, and the engaged and engaging.  We want to claw back some space for community, for others and for hope in an environment where residents seem unduly anxious about their affluence. So Jason’s hybrid works and projects quietly infiltrate space – not so much as an intervention, a practice that I am weary and sceptical about, but as a treatment that settles into the site and has something to say about its context. They make something of the space, transforming it and offering something else. We’re enjoying the conversation and wondering how and if our shared interests in public space and community might affect some kind of difference.

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