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Monash Art Design & Architecture

Monash University

Monash Art Design & Architecture

...a design studio with Ross Brewin & Laura Harper on Wednesdays

In the context of the increasing urbanisation of our world, it is important to consider the corresponding and counter issues facing regional areas beyond the city. In what ways can architecture contribute to the recognition, revitalisation and resilience of regional towns and places?

Regional areas have particular attributes that mean they are suited to experimentation and innovation; including abundant and accessible natural resources, ample space, lower costs, geographical separation, dark skies, left over things (such as mining infrastructure), and an engrained can-do attitude.

This design studio pursues the idea that regional towns and places have the potential to be framed as ongoing outposts for groundbreaking ideas and inventions. The studio will think about this from an historical perspective and consider how this attitude / idea could be used in thinking about the sustainable futures of regional towns and places. The studio will use the regional Victorian town of Stawell as the site to explore the potential for this idea and the role of architectural design within this.

Stawell was originally born out of the 1858 gold rush and has been associated with this industry ever since. Now with the imminent closure of the largest underground gold mine and the subsequent loss of hundreds of jobs and associated foot-traffic through the town, the council is looking for new ways to generate economic activity in the area.

One idea for this is the soon-to-be-constructed Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory (SUPL). The SUPL facility will be built inside the former gold mine tunnels, utilizing the existing infrastructure to build a laboratory to search for Dark Matter some 850m under ground, where it is relatively free from atmospheric ‘noise’. The SUPL project is an interesting contemporary case study in the potential for groundbreaking research and ideas to take place and affect a regional township.

The studio, supported by the North Grampians Shire Council will explore the siting and programmatic potential for a SUPL visitors centre. The studio will think about how this new facility not only supports the public communication of this groundbreaking research but might also itself be a kind of physical armature for the testing and development of possible groundbreaking architectural ideas and approaches. Extending the thematic of Groundbreaking even further will be a literal consideration of where and how to ‘break ground’ for the project.

Regional towns often rely on industries which relate to the natural resources and characteristics of their geographic location. In Stawell these have included over time gold-mining, brickmaking, quarrying of sandstone, steel engineering (associated with the goldfields), wind farming, tourism and now scientific research which each draw on resources specific to the geology, climate and physical context of Stawell. All these industries affect the built environment – where buildings are located, how the town is organized, what buildings are made from and what kind of buildings are constructed. This studio will study the industries and natural resources which make Stawell specific, consider how these have influenced the urban environment in the past, and experiment with how they could be used deliberately used to make interesting architecture which is specific to Stawell.

In parallel to site and urban research, the studio will undertake a series of small esquisses exploring materials (including gold, clay, sandstone, crushed quartz and steel) as well as innovative technologies from the past, present and possible future for Stawell (including mining and quartz crushing machinery, wrought-iron and steel manufacturing, robotic stone carving and milling, 3D printing of stone rubble, clay and metals). The esquisses will be used to build up a catalogue of Stawell specific parts and methods to be used for architectural propositions on the various possible SUPL visitors centre sites.

NOTE: Students will be expected to make a number of organised and self-guided trips to Stawell (approx 3.5 hours drive from Melbourne)

ARC 4002 + 5002

Monash University
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