After the first day of the congress, I was ready for Round 2, which involved a few speakers and the much anticipated workshops. Having such a huge day previously I slept through my alarms which resulted in missing the train! Sensing a pattern I tried to just relax myself, despite arriving half-an-hour late! Luckily for me the venue, RMIT’s Storey Hall, was fairly easy to get except that I was lugging around a suitcase, having arranged a couch to crash on. Arriving at Storey Hall I was met with the worst possible news, the elevators were broken and I would need to drag my suitcase up the winding (and beautiful) stairs. Sneakily sneaking through the doors, hoping to go unnoticed, I found a spot off to the side, ready to take everything in.

Veronika Valk was speaking when I arrived, talking about her various projects including the one above, the piano stairs [although there were some technical difficulties and the video on the day didn’t work]. She also showed us a book she authored that teaches children about space, and the standard sizing of objects. Autodesk then showed us a quick video which showcased what is possible with their products, and then it was Sandra Manninger to take the stage.

Sandra Manninger

Sandra Manninger

Sandra Manninger talked about her projects, and the use of parametric modeling and computers to generate their forms. She spoke about how technology is nothing to be fearful of, especially in architecture, as they are merely tools. She probably said something that you never hear, whether architects in the past are truthful but she said “A piece of paper is brilliant to communicate my idea fast but the computer challenges me more“. Typically architects shun the computer in all aspects, but she was pretty real here. I could not relate to Sandra’s [or Veronika’s] work and approach to architecture and design, as I haven’t touched parametric modeling yet. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the work that goes into their projects, it’s just not my thing in this point in time. After a short Q&A session, it was time for a quick break which I ended up having a chat to Michael Smith and an old classmate about the speakers.

Paul Pholeros reminding us the "poor people of Nepal" have names

Paul Pholeros reminding us the “poor people of Nepal” have names

Heading back inside I decided this time to source a chair [as opposed to standing off to the side] and was ready to listen to the two Paul’s speak about their work. Paul Pholeros was first up, from HealthHabitat. Paul gave us some big eye-opening figures about housing in Australia in regards to access to a toilet, showering, etc but then followed it up with the improvements that have been made. He got us to play a game based on these figures, where if you picked a house on the grid [eg, B3] and if it ended up with no toilet, well you couldn’t use the toilet for a day… He wasn’t serious about that, I think, I hope. His presentation was mainly based on the toilets they did in Nepal, and was very humble about it. He stated “You can’t take a sexy picture at the end, hard for the magazines.” but he wasn’t concerned about magazines, his organisation was/is doing amazing work. We think “How hard can a toilet design be?” but over there, there is a wealth of challenges and obstacles [sometimes literally] to overcome before a toilet can be designed and built. He also showed us the washing station they are working on, that is designed to wash the face of residents due to the large amount of disease associated with unwashed faces.

Paul Memmott took the stage afterwards where he talked about Aboriginal housing and how the sleeping behaviour of Aboriginals are studied and applied to their designs. This was something I didn’t even think about until then, but it makes sense. He talked about the challenges involved in Aboriginal housing, and the remote communities. After Paul’s presentation, both Paul’s took the stage with Sarah Lynn Rees for a discussion and Q&A. Naturally someone took the opportunity and started their question with “I have a question for Paul…”, which made me happy.

Paul Pholeros during the Q&A told us of the struggles he has faced so far with the Institute of Architects trying to get a statement on the rights of all Australians to decent housing for the last 25 years. He made a very strong statement, and he showed passion for this, which I highly respect. It was then time for lunch, then the workshop!

Presenting a scheme of building over laneways to house 10,000 refugee

Presenting a scheme of building over laneways to house 10,000 refugees. Photo by Prop & Pose Co.

Reluctantly wheeling my suitcase around, as a group we headed for the National Hotel in Richmond to meet Jeremy McLeod for the workshop. The brief for the workshop was to house 10,000 refugees, which wasn’t that unrealistic based on population growth. We were to explore possibilities such as parasitic, fit-out, new, backyard and so on and had roughly 2-3 minutes to brainstorm as pairs, 1-2 minutes to draw a couple diagrams and then we each presented to the group. Some ideas included fitting out trams, taking over dated motorways, building over laneways, building above houses, changing government policies, using vacant office buildings of an evening, acid rain, an app called ‘spooning’, housing with the elderly for mutual benefits, picking up major cities and moving them into central Australia and much more.

'Spooning'. Photo by Fairley Batchi

‘Spooning’. Photo by Fairley Batchi

At the end we focused on one idea each as a pair, looked a bit further into it for 15 minute and presented. Jeremy then wanted us to sticky-tape everything we drew [which we only used a thin and thick pen] to create a giant collage. Exhausted, I just opted to return back to Geelong, so I was carrying around my suitcase for no reason! Well, I ended up with a reason, I was tasked with the VERY important role of guarding our collage until the next day, which was a struggle to fit in the suitcase!

There were other events on the evening, including the Robin Boyd Foundation event at Walsh Street, and drinking afterwards but I had zero energy. However good news, didn’t miss the train back!

Photo by Prop & Pose Co.

Photo by Prop & Pose Co.

Something that Jeremy McLeod said during the workshop that stuck with me, he said “Don’t design something you wouldn’t live in” which is a strong idea. How many architects and/or developers would live in those high-rise apartments? Those poorly built volume-home builder homes? How could I get a client to live in one of my designs if I wouldn’t? If we all started to have this mentality, perhaps our housing wouldn’t be so shit. And one more thing Jeremy said, “We do the obvious” and when you think about it, a lot of the architecture at The Commons just seems so obvious. However, if it’s so obvious, why aren’t all apartments like it? I must admit attending the congress up to this point has opened my eyes up to ideas, mantras and gestures I am so glad I have attended, and feel somewhat sorry for those who didn’t.