After two years of planning, the 2015 Australasian Student Architecture Congress was here, with ‘people’ as the theme. Held in Melbourne, it was set to be a great congress. I myself was involved in the organisation of the congress, being on the committee however if I am to be honest I wasn’t much help until a couple months out. Nonetheless, during the congress I did have a role, I took over SONA Australia’s Twitter account and was tasked to live-tweet during the congress. Before I get to the happenings of DAY 1, there was the opening party the night before…
I started work earlier than usual in the hopes I’d be able to knock off earlier, as the opening started at 6:30pm, and I need to go from Melton to Geelong (1hr) than Geelong to Melbourne (1hr by train), however I finished an hour later than hoped. After jumping off the train at Southern Cross, well it was more of a hop, I navigated my way to the venue. There was free wine, beer and soft drink however for those who know me I’m not a wine or beer drinking, even when free so I ordered my usual vodka and lemonade. Caught up with a few people, formally met people who I stalk on social media and after two vodka lemonades I decided to try the free wine. It was good, too good. Hearing stories from past congresses produced quite a few laughs, and just talking inside the dome at the venue was overwhelming at times, damn acoustics.
Loosening up I thought I’d just talk to random people and met people from New Zealand, Tasmania, Sydney and Perth! After some talking and some dancing, the party was winding up but we decided dumplings would be a good idea, We managed to find somewhere that had dumplings (not very hard in Melbourne) and after a couple more drinks I came to the realisation I missed the last train to Geelong for the night. Whoops! Not being someone who begs, too proud for that, I told my fellow congress people I’ll work something out… Just a quick snapshot, from 1am to 8:30am I slept for a total of about 2 hours on various benches outside and possibly 1.5 hours on trains. I did not prepare for this so I just had the clothes I wore to the party which were jeans, shirt, jacket, which in Melbourne during a cold winter’s night is not enough. Fair to say I was cold and was seeking refuge in any fast food place.
Once 8:30am rolled around I had a job to do so I made my way to Day 1’s venue, Deakin Edge at Federation Square. After being briefed, being shown the green room, sitting in the auditorium I realised just how hungover I was. Despite this I was excited for the day ahead
The first session of the congress had Eugenia Lim from Assemble Papers and Jeremy McLeod from Breathe Architecture. If you aren’t familiar, Assemble Papers is “an online publication exploring small footprint living across art, design, architecture, urbanism, the environment and finance.” and Breathe Architecture designed the acclaimed The Commons in Brunswick, needless to say I was looking forward to this.
Eugenia talked about how Assemble Papers came about, and the change in housing that needs to occur. However she stated that this country’s love affair with the traditional Australian dream of the 1/4 acre block, backyard, 4 bedrooms, etc may mean we never fix the housing problem.
Jeremy McLeod talked about The Commons and the shift that is starting to happen with Nightingale projects, making a few remarks about developers which produced a few chuckles from the audience and showed his Triple Bottom approach. This talk also opened us up to how much money is “wasted” in a development from basement construction, to real estate agent fees, marketing and display suites. Take all these out and you save a pretty penny. Go a step further and remove all second bathrooms and laundries from each apartment you gain more space and cheaper apartments.
Monique Woodward from WoodWoodWard led a Q+A session with an audience member asking about the community at The Commons and how did he achieve that. Jeremy responded with the communal laundry on the roof top (and the roof top in general) is how everyone meets each other, as they all need to do their washing.
I probably shouldn’t admit this but Session 2 I started to truly feel the effects of last night, unable to concentrate and even started to nod-off. This was not a reflection on the speakers, this was me with minimal sleep (and the sleep I got was questionable) and hungover.
Once lunch rolled around I used this as the perfect opportunity to consume Red Bull and get some fresh air, then bumped in Michael (the blogger from The Red and Black Architect). I skipped over any food consumption as the two egg and bacon muffins at morning tea seemed to be doing their job and didn’t want to risk too much food.
The third session was another one I was really looking forward to, it was a presentation by architectural photographer John Gollings and then a panel discussion with John Gollings, Peter Bennetts and Shannon McGrath led by Nic Granleese. John Gollings first took us through all the amazing current architects in Melbourne and Australia and then said something that was inspiring but equally terrifying, we are the next generation of architects and we will be taking their spots. He then encouraged us to become boring students but to be crazy (and sex crazed!) and creative people, needless to say the overall talk was inspiring and full of laughs.
The three other photographers joined John Gollings on stage and they first talked among themselves then opened up to the audience for Q+A. It was not without some more inspiring words from the panelist including one from Peter Bennetts who urged us to photograph (and design) to please yourself first, which may seem odd given we’d be working for clients but I then thought “Well if we aren’t pleased with the design, how could we sell it to the client or would we want our name associated it?”. Shannon McGrath talked about the difficulty photographing in schools due to the law and needing consent from everyone appearing in photographs, and John Gollings showing a detachment to the buildings he photographs saying “The building can burn down after I photograph it”. They talked about difficult it can be to get the right shot, whether people or no people is better in photos and I even mustered up a question regarding social media and the role of professional photographers. They are all for social media but they have noticed they sometimes don’t receive credit when others post their photos and most of the time they are happy with just getting credit. This was important to hear as I run the Architecture Victoria Instagram account which is purely photos from others and I always make sure I credit the photographer.
After a short break it was the last session, A Manifesto by Sean Godsell. I’ve heard Sean speak once at Deakin University which was good, and I knew this would the same. Much like at Deakin he opened his presentation up to the audience, giving us control on what projects we wanted to see. An audience member, Ryan, wanted to see an unpublished project resulting in Sean going through his entire presentation slides and making jokes at Ryan’s expense throughout the evening. It was interesting to hear Sean speak, some of the comments he made, telling us he never stops learning. “You’re a student, I’m an student, the only difference is I’ve been a student for longer.” was a standout remark from Sean. He also stated “Good architects always see what they did wrong, not what was right” and how he was his biggest critic, which resonates with me as I tend to critique my work quite hard and always look for what I did wrong rather than the “good” parts of the project. No way am I comparing myself to Sean Godsell but I guess we do share a similar mindset in that regard.
After Sean was more than happy to run slightly over his time, and a closing statement by the MC, the entire congress got up on stage to be photographed by Prop and Pose Co’s Daniel Lawson (which turned out amazing) and that concluded the first day of the congress, but it wasn’t over. The SONA Forum was held at 41x to discuss what was working, what was not, and what they will be tackling next year. One of the main topics discussed was 24hr studio and what could be done there, which I kept quiet about as I had too much to say! Some other small discussions took place and that was the forum over with, I contemplated sticking around for the SONA Cinema but I was exhausted and ready for bed.
I made my way to Southern Cross, jumped on a train back to Geelong, falling asleep in the process. Got home, and slumped into bed, preparing myself for the next day…