Kurilpa Derby

Last Sunday the annual Kurilpa Derby set off down Boundary Street in West End:
https://www.facebook.com/events/boundary-st-west-end-qld-4101-australia/kurilpa-derby-2019/668061670324179/

A few of the folks from Modifyre’s Rapid Art Deployment (RAD) team put together a float for the occasion - the High Rise Cult: a brand new lifestyle concept for the compact city-dweller.

Drawing inspiration from West End’s colourful, eclectic, and charming traditional houses, this stack of milk crates offers a golden opportunity for the savvy investor. But they went quick. The team of real estate agents-cum-construction managers managed to shift all the units whilst maximising spatial efficiency, by measuring up prospective buyers amongst the onlookers in street-side bars and cafés. A well-placed BURN Arts micro-grant facilitated the purchase of emergency blankets to create fresh gold flags for the occasion.

Working bees for the High Rise Cult took place over three weeks leading up to the event. Most of the work happened underneath a rented house just off Boundary Street. In typical Brisbane fashion, the space was temporarily transformed into an artisan workshop, with masters in the crafts of cardboard and masking tape, spray paint and markers, bamboo and emergency blankets, milk crates and plywood coming together to share their skills. The work often went late into the night, with meals and beers galvanising a small but dedicated community around the growing tower.

Late night work proceeds underneath 46 Russell St while dinner is prepared upstairs.

Late night work proceeds underneath 46 Russell St while dinner is prepared upstairs.

So compelling was the result of this labour - and the pitch of the sales team - that the tower was deemed by the Derby judges to be deserving of the ‘best float’ award. Lead Developer, and designer of the milk crate tower, Stirling Blacket proudly accepted the award from Councillor Matik on behalf of the team.

The irony wasn’t lost on Councillor Sri, who duly elicited a well-timed boo from the crowd. However, there doesn’t seem to have been a hint of irony for the editors of Westender magazine when they used images of the Cult to illustrate Michael Major’s step-by-step guide to place-branding…

https://westender.com.au/change-is-happening-for-west-end-how-can-we-protect-its-essence-and-character/

Lead Developer Stirling receives the award for best float on behalf of the RAD team.

Lead Developer Stirling receives the award for best float on behalf of the RAD team.

I eventually joined in the fun waving a gold flag atop the Wonky Queenslander - staking a claim for the weirdos…

I eventually joined in the fun waving a gold flag atop the Wonky Queenslander - staking a claim for the weirdos…

Building the infrastructure to build a structure

The first few days onsite at Yelarbon were spent unloading and constructing the basic infrastructure to allow the larger builds to proceed. This included the crew kitchen, workshop and storage areas; marking out the main access routes and camping areas; shade structures at the build locations, and of course a portaloo - though in previous years this has only arrived after a few days onsite, so to have it from the beginning was considered something of a luxury! Next up was power and lighting, a site office, and a dining space.

The event site was marked out using a laser measure from a fixed set-out point indicated on the hand-drawn site plans shown below. These plans were then used by the Dept of Infrastructure and Construction (DIC) to lay out the key infrastructure starting with the crew compound and working outwards. Drawn by the event Town Planner and architectural graduate Stirling Blacket, the site layout was established through a community design process over the course of several months leading up to the event. The key considerations were local Indigenous land use and mythology, soil conditions, existing burn scars from previous year’s events, traffic management and minimising vehicle impact, noise mitigation for neighbouring graziers, and the creation of effective civic spaces.

25 June: The first structure goes up on site - a 12x8m marquee, soon to become the crew kitchen, tool storage and workshop.

26 June: shade structures are erected at the build sites, some 500m from the crew compound, affording the Temple and Bug crews (and their tools!) some protection from the elements - primarily sun and dust - in the days ahead.

The author (left) giving Tom Brown (middle), effigy lead, a hand getting some additional shade up in the wind, while Jorja Christensen - a blow-in from Perth - gets the tool table set up for the day.

The author (left) giving Tom Brown (middle), effigy lead, a hand getting some additional shade up in the wind, while Jorja Christensen - a blow-in from Perth - gets the tool table set up for the day.

It’s a long walk back to camp if you’ve forgotten your tool bag - the view back towards the crew compound from the Effigy site (300m away). Keeping builds on schedule is an ongoing challenge - a couple of forgetful moments due to dehydration and fatigue and the short Winter days can very easily slip away.

It’s a long walk back to camp if you’ve forgotten your tool bag - the view back towards the crew compound from the Effigy site (300m away). Keeping builds on schedule is an ongoing challenge - a couple of forgetful moments due to dehydration and fatigue and the short Winter days can very easily slip away.

Winter warm up

Over a month since returning from site, I am finally finding the energy to pick up the pieces from the Temple project. Despite having undertaken many such projects in the past, the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion post-event still took me by surprise. After three weeks living and working in our temporary encampment in Yelarbon State Forest, inhaling dust and sleeping on a drought-stricken winter paddock, it was perhaps predictable that I would be an easy target for the ‘Ekka Flu’.

This week in Brisbane is the Royal Exhibition - better known as ‘The Ekka’ - an event that brings visitors from all over the state, along with particularly bitter westerly winds and an invasion of fresh microbes. Shortly after giving a Friday afternoon presentation on the Temple project at m3 architecture, a design practice based in Red Hill, I fell ill and spent a week staring at the ceiling of our rented accommodation, unable to get out of bed.

In any case, I am more or less recovered now and playing some serious catchup on fieldwork and documentation. In the following posts I will try to quickly summarise the activity of the previous few weeks.

First up - it’s time for the build crew’s morning stretches:

IMAGES: Modifyre veteran, former Temple and FLAME (fire safety) lead, and Kung Fu enthusiast Andy Price helps the crew to warm up on the first morning of the build.

Temple Project - Workshop #2

This weekend the Temple project continued apace, with the design process quickly morphing into a 1:1 modelling exercise. I say modelling because we erected a structure of 6m in one afternoon as “proof of concept”, only to dismantle it again the following afternoon during a typically sudden and absurdly heavy Queensland rainstorm.

A stack of Aussie hardwoods - a bit of work to de-nail, but otherwise in good condition.

A stack of Aussie hardwoods - a bit of work to de-nail, but otherwise in good condition.

FRIDAY:
In between conference sessions, much of the day was spent on the phone to timber suppliers and scrap dealers trying to source suitable framing timber for the main structure. I put together a quick concept ‘pitch’ document to send out to various potential donors.

We eventually located a selection of recycled hardwoods underneath the house of an event attendee - perfect for the superstructure - but had to settle for a purchase of pine for the platform cassettes.

SATURDAY:

We quickly fabricated the deck framing - and tested the set up by putting them together. It was encouraging to see the structure remain standing under the weight of several grown men, particularly given that our volunteer insurance didn’t cover them on a temporary structure not built to code.

SUNDAY:

Started putting down decking on the floor cassettes before disassembling the structure in order to prepare for flatpack and transport. The day was cut short by a rainstorm that left the crew soaked - although it was probably the most efficient team work I’ve seen from them to date!

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MONDAY:

Met with the RAD team - performance, sound, lighting and fire - to discuss plans for the burn ceremony. We used plans to draw out possible approaches to coordinating various proposed elements including instrumental performance, crowd singing / humming, smoke emitters, costumes, and the strategy for lighting the piece. Often people who have lost loved ones in the last year are invited to light the structure.

Afterwards I headed back over to EBBC to look through the shed there and retrieve some of my old hand tools and ended spending an hour sorting through a box of assorted fixings - we shouldn’t have to purchase any more for the project I reckon.

Options for cladding patterns & materials.

Options for cladding patterns & materials.

TUESDAY (today):

We finished decking four of the six cassettes - the remaining two will be done in-situ, as they are too heavy to manoeuvre into place without heavy lifting equipment.

Meanwhile, the design itself continues to develop and be refined as the build progresses. Discussion moved today onto cladding materials and patterns. We confirmed collection of flitches (bark offcuts - mill waste material) with the local hardwood mill in Inglewood (for the price of a carton of beer) next week. At the same time, we are discussing strategies for safely burning the structure so that it falls in a predictable way - an interesting fire engineering experiment.

The latest computer model

The latest computer model

Civic engagement

I met this morning with Pia Robinson, a visual artist, and Urban Designer with Brisbane City Council’s Public Art division. The discussion roamed far and wide: the challenges of promoting engagement around and through visual arts; equality of access to arts and culture and what that really means; the limitations of planning-led approaches to culture and the exciting possibilities of culture-led approaches to planning.

I talked through some of my ideas around the “infrastructures of ritual”, using the visual aid of drawings and images generated during the Pilot Study. The idea seems to offer fertile grounds for productive discussion. Pia gave me an overview of the various Council programmes she is involved with - the Outdoor Galleries, the Indigenous Art Programme, City of Lights, the River Art Framework, Curio-City, Botanica - and also explained the interface between the Public Art team and the Creative Communities team.

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The Outdoor Galleries and associated laneway activations have been a particular focus over the past two years. We took a quick walk around some of the key locations: Burnett Lane, the King George Square carpark, Edward Street. Activations at each location are facilitated by an ‘infrastructural’ addition - light box galleries, glass vitrines, or street lighting for example - however, Pia made the point that the infrastructure alone was not enough to stimulate engagement on the part of the public or the average passer-by. She noted that the most engagement typically happens whenever there is some direct human contact or interaction as part of an artwork or activation - artist talks and public forums, walking tours, involvement in fabrication and making - in other words, shared participation.

Pia also noted the significance of access in determining the degree to which particular publics can engage with these kinds of activities - communities that are disadvantaged in terms of education, health, or financial security may not be able to readily access the city centre or the inner suburbs, where much of Council’s cultural activity is focused. Hence the dual importance of Council programmes aimed at outlying or marginalised suburbs, alongside improved and more affordable public transport options for those suburbs - a policy framework and an infrastructure to enable it.

It remains to be seen exactly what kind of engagement I will have with Council through the fieldwork - whether observation or participation. However, there is certainly some more fruitful discussion to come.

Temple Project - Workshop #1

This weekend I helped to kick start the Temple, a large-scale effigy built by BURN Arts Inc as part of Modifyre, an annual arts festival held in Inglewood, Qld - three and a half hours west of Brisbane. https://www.modifyre.org/

FRIDAY evening we had a get together for the volunteer build team and key representatives from other event teams including the Power Rangers (onsite power & lighting), FLAME (fire safety), DIC (Dept of Infrastructure and Construction), MAD (Modifyre Art Department), and RAD (Rapid Art Deployment), each of whom has input to various aspects of the final design.

SATURDAY was spent de-nailing, preparing and sorting salvaged timber - mostly from pallets and roadside scavenging - and evaluating what could be used for which parts of the structure. It was decided that considerably more material with a known structural performance would be required, and that the overall design had to be simplified to allow for easier assembly offsite - otherwise, virtually all the structural materials would be sourced from the hardwood mill in Inglewood, necessitating the crew travelling to site much earlier.

SUNDAY there was more material prep while we re-worked the concept model into something more achievable in the timeframe / budget.

Deliberating over the design of the Temple

Deliberating over the design of the Temple

Taking its initial cue from the work of David Best (first at the Burning Man festival in Nevada and subsequently around the world - https://davidbesttemples.org/), the Modifyre Temple is built each year by a team of volunteers over the course of just one month leading up to the event.

The Temple is a kind of monument to transience. It goes from conception to construction to conflagration in less than six months. During the week of the event (3-9 July), it serves as a repository for mementos and memorials to lost loved ones - a kind of vessel for personal and collective grief. At the event’s closing, the piece is then ceremonially burned as a symbolic gesture of release and catharsis. Often the fire is lit by participants who have lost friends or family in the last twelve months.

The first piece of this year’s Temple is assembled at HSBNE: a template for the six floor cassettes that will form a series of ascending viewing platforms.

The first piece of this year’s Temple is assembled at HSBNE: a template for the six floor cassettes that will form a series of ascending viewing platforms.

Since March I have been mentoring the project lead Leonor (pictured above) in the delivery of the Temple, primarily via Skype and email. Leo is a graduate architect, but has never been to Modifyre nor led a team on a project of this scale. As such, I was asked to advise her on the design of the structure such that it is:

a) easy and quick to build, but still engaging for a team with widely varying levels of experience - from the carpenter with 30+ years experience to the first-time wood-worker;

b) feasible with primarily found / salvaged / recycled materials - and conceptually flexible enough to allow for the eventuality that some materials won’t be forthcoming;

c) cheap - BURN Arts runs its events on a shoe string - the overall project budget for materials & transport is just $1000; and

d) transportable in components using only pickup trucks and a 10’x6’ trailer.

In helping Leo to navigate these considerable design constraints, I have sought to connect her with the people and resources in Brisbane and Inglewood that she needs to realise the project - in particular:

  • Carpentry & general construction expertise

  • Structural engineering & timber design - for fire & live loads / climbability

  • Material suppliers - demolition yards, recycling yards, timber mills

  • Transport suppliers - folks in the community who might have utes, trailers or trucks available

  • Collaborators for illumination, sound, etc

The result has been a rapid design development process involving many different perspectives and culminating in a schematic design that appears to meet all requirements. Although the real test is when we actually try to build it..!

I am treating the process of collaborating on this project as a 1:1 design test within the framework of my own research. By documenting in detail the collective, often improvised, and intuitive process by which this project is designed and delivered by a community of volunteers, I aim to describe one version of this “infrastructure” by which we manifest ritual through architectural means.

The next workshops are this coming weekend. Ahead of that we’ll be drawing up the current schematic in greater detail in order to get specific quantities of fixings, put out feelers for specific material donations, confirm our onsite tooling requirements, and lock in logistics and transport.

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I scream

On Friday I swung by West End to check the progress of West Village - a major masterplan development that was the subject of considerable controversy around its DA approval and subsequent call-in.

West Village was subject of my first case study, examining the aspirational ‘world-class city’ aesthetic and its influence on local planning procedures. After chatting with Dr. Kelly Greenop at the UQ School of Architecture this morning, it seems it continues to be a source of inspiration for theorists and commentators here - her second year architecture students are looking at “The Common” - West Village’s centrepiece - as an interesting example of privately curated open space in the city.

Phase two of West Village well underway. View from Mollison Street.

Phase two of West Village well underway. View from Mollison Street.

The unequivocally aspirational construction site hoarding.

The unequivocally aspirational construction site hoarding.

Evidence of the popular Boundary Street Markets that occupied the Absoe site prior to redevelopment

Evidence of the popular Boundary Street Markets that occupied the Absoe site prior to redevelopment

Day one

Day one in Brisbane. Awoke to subtropical foliage outside the window.
The mid-winter here is the same as the Cambridge summer - 20 degrees and clear skies - just with days half the length.

Schedule for the day:

9:30am - Community forum “the Future of East Brisbane” organised by a local Neighbourhood Watch Group
4pm - meeting with Kath Quigley, CEO and Artistic Director of Backbone, a youth arts organisation, to discuss concept design proposals for East Brisbane Bowls Club
6pm - drop in to BURN Arts, Inc management committee meeting
6:30pm - Brisbane Free University Radical Reading Group.

Jet lag en route.

A patch of rainforest out the back of our temporary accommodation on Highgate Hill.

A patch of rainforest out the back of our temporary accommodation on Highgate Hill.