The UQ Architecture lecture series under the theme of In-terre-vention hosted Amalie Wright — registered architect and landscape architect; the director of Brisbane-based landscape architectural practice, Landscapology; and the President of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architect (AILA) Queensland.
Janina Gosseye, curator of the lecture series, introduced Wright’s lecture entitled Big plans for Small Creek which literally and figuratively addressed this year’s theme of working with the earth and the natural environment.
As a research landscape architect, I had mixed feelings about what to expect from the lecture on the Small Creek project. Part of me wanted to scrutinise great material, considering examples like this are rare in Australia; described in Amalie Wright’s words as “…is not typical, once-in-a-lifetime project.” The other part was telling me not to expect seeing the project’s intricacies in a public lecture.
One thing I definitely did not anticipate was the witty style of Wright’s speech, using the project as a rhetorical tool to impart several messages about water-related issues that spanned time and space, drawing upon history and geography.
While I respect a witty presentation, I am also critical if the style dominates the content, and risks important information not being delivered, especially if the focus is on an emerging area in Australian landscape architecture, and the purpose is to genuinely increase precedent projects across Australia.
What was atypical and unique about this project that excited everyone? The answer was hidden in Wright’s presentation.
The term Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) was coined in Australia some thirty years ago. So why are recent projects, like Small Creek, perceived as a new intervention despite the fact that precedent projects have become common around the world? Clearly, naturalising former creeks has not been the main scope of WSUD practitioners throughout those years. Although the WSUD toolbox and green infrastructure inventory have been intensively used by landscape architects, a genuine urban ecological design approach embracing and connecting social, environmental and economic potentials has not been fully articulated.
WSUD practice, although it refers to Urban Design, still endures primarily as a water science and engineering discipline. To date, it has tended to focus on quick fixes focusing on the science and technology side of projects, neglecting the spatial components and underestimating the realities of the site, which is the scope of landscape architecture.
In this respect, the Small Creek project is aspirational and ticks many of the boxes — presenting a genuine collaboration between water engineer, architect, landscape architect, local council and community.