Two scenes from Q-Garland. Click on images to view enlargement. Images: Courtesy of Donovan Hill and Wilson Architects
Presented at the Ideas Festival in 2009, Q-Garland by architects Donovan Hill and Hamilton Wilson posited diverse scenarios for public space. The images both posed and responded to questions about alternatives for the spaces of the cultural precinct in South Brisbane. These speculative propositions considered the nature of the largely dormant and underutilised spaces surrounding the major cultural facilities (in the Millennium Arts Precinct) and along the Brisbane River. Timothy Hill was the principal architect for the State Library of Queensland redevelopment. The design of the library is imbued with an ethos of openness and welcome. Of the building, Hill said “I hope that people can know before they come here that they are welcome, and that it is open-ended about what you do there.”
Hill has a stake in seeing the spaces around the buildings changed or used. Given this, it is fitting that he considers the spaces around the building, recasting them as spaces of interaction and activity. The series of 20 ‘before and after’ images comprising Q-Garland, presented as an installation in the formal and open space of the Millennium Arts Precinct during Brisbane’s Ideas Festival, also sought to raise awareness among visitors and audiences about the importance of public space. The installation also featured 3000 paper flowers, which symbolised the importance of gathering in public space, perhaps also the importance of cultivating an awareness of the civic realm. The project was also presented, perhaps performed, at Pecha Kucha in Brisbane.
Q-Garland installation in situ. Image: Courtesy Donovan Hill and Hamilton Architects
The types of scenarios presented by Q-Garland included child-friendly spaces, urban agriculture, more compact development, including residences, and river leisure. Most of the scenarios involved ‘giving back’ urban space in various ways especially where it seemed underappreciated or used. There’s a recombinant logic in this project that splits and mashes normative urban typologies. Members of the public were invited to indicate their preferred scenarios and make comments at the installation, during which volunteer attendants engaged in conversations to survey the audience about the importance of public space and gather intelligence about community attitudes. During a session at the Unlimited Asia Pacific Design Triennial, Hill reported that there is readiness in the community for urban agriculture and openness to different ways of doing the city to bring life and use back to its public spaces.
While the idea of the architects or artists impression is not new, the project points to the failure of more formal planning and design processes to engage communities and publics in potentiating our city and its public space. Engaging people through creative scenarios in a forum about ideas and sharing is more open ended than the normative urban development and planning consultations. In casting an opportunistic eye over the landscape, these speculations and provocations sparked conversations for exploring alternatives – that most seductive of questions, ‘what if …?’ The most resounding ‘what if…?’ is perhaps the assertion that the precinct, and city generally, can be more of an activated and productive ‘people place’ and less of a formal park setting for buildings.