The Context: Heron Island. 460km north of Brisbane. 3.6m above sea level. 300m long. 800m wide. 12ha in area.
Heron Island is located on the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef: the largest living structure on the planet. Since the 1950s it has been the site of scientific research and home to Heron Island Research Station, an internationally renowned coral research facility that is the oldest and largest of its kind in the region. The island is particularly significant as it is located on a coral cay containing over 70% of the total biodiversity of the Reef.
Over the last 6 months the Great Barrier Reef has suffered the worst coral bleaching on record with more than 1000km of the reef affected. This event has refocused the debate in Australia as to how to respond to the threat of climate change and exposed the ongoing tension between competing national and global economic, environmental and political interests. The history of Heron Island reflects this conflict. It housed a turtle cannery and fisheries in the early 20th century and now provides eco-tourism, education and research services.
While architectural practice often relegates sustainable design to a pragmatic search for material and energy efficiency, this studio seeks to interrogate and pursue environmental design as a political and cultural act. Heron Island is perhaps a metaphor for our planet – a place of increasingly limited resources and ecological sensitivity that demands we carefully consider our context and poses the challenge: where to from here?
The Brief: Working in groups of 3 or 4, students will conduct a site visit and analysis in week one with the view to create a new master plan for the island. We will be discussing with the Research Station managers their plans for self-sustainability via solar power, replacement of existing building stock and the development of a new Interpretive Centre (the program for this is yet to be determined but will form part of the project)
For the remainder of semester students will pursue individual architecture projects coordinated in relation to their group’s master plan, which will include key facilities and accommodation requirements laid out in the program.
Students will be able to engage in a range of thematic, conceptual, technical and programmatic topics as they see fit. Key questions of the studio could be: What are the technological issues on an of f-the-grid site with no access to gas, sewerage or waste disposal? How can we design in a way that is both ecologically sensitive and culturally robust? What are the political and social dimensions of an architectural practice dedicated to sustainable design? How does the threat of climate change impact our approach as architects?
The Travel: This is a travelling studio, with a visit to Heron Island planned for the end of week one (shouldn’t all architectural design studios begin with a stay on a remote trop ical island!). This will allow students to thoroughly document the site(s), interrogate the various ideas behind the studio and experience firsthand the facilities and natural environment of the reef.
The trip will run from Saturday 30th July to Wednesday 3rd August.
Students will be housed within the Research Station and have access to their facilities, including computer room, library and seminar rooms.
Bookings have already been made for studio group, with plane tickets, boat travel to and from the island, accommodation and meals provided. The total cost is expected to be around $950.
The Program: The adjacent list details the existing program, which has the potential to be altered or re-imagined in relation to the group’s conceptual or programmatic design objectives. Further information will be gathered during the site visit in week one, including current floor areas, potential gap s in the program and existing conditions of facilities.
The Schedule: Classes will run from 2.30pm onwards on Wednesdays.
The group master plan submission will be due in week 3. By mid-semester students should have a preliminary architecture scheme that plugs into the broader master plan with a fully resolved architectural design project by semesters end.