What modality do you use to view the world around you?


Clad in Turquoise : Madam Butterfly or an Iridescent Dragonfly?

Whilst spending the 2015 Christmas period in Melbourne I was delighted to squeeze in the opportunity to photograph a residence that was recently acquired by two mid-century lovers of design in my family “J & D”.Leawarra 24Dec15-6353-Pano

Located in the leafy foothills of the Dandenong Ranges at Heathmont, the 3-bedroom house was completed in 1956 during the Post War housing boom by the government war homes services. Bought third-hand in 2015 (and very luckily so as the previous owners subdivided the block and were going to knock it over) the old girl is need of some TLC, but her new owners fell in love with the classic mid-century styling that still shines through, showing off a striking butterfly roof-line and standout exterior turquoise colour scheme that adorns its vertical weatherboard cladding, making the house look somewhat like an iridescent dragonfly perched high upon its allotment.Leawarra 24Dec15-6365-Pano

The new owners loved that they had bought an original mid-century home that still retained many unique features such as: the distinctive vertical ship-lapped pine boards that clad the exterior and line part of the interior; the large floor-to-ceiling plane glass windows that provide pleasing expanses of light in the study and lounge areas; and the quirky but very functional top-hung awning windows well-placed above and below the large windows to cleverly provide controlled ventilation through the house.

Leawarra 24Dec15-6398

The living areas are spacious and have a natural airy feel to them which invites one to lounge around and casually relax. The owners are gradually collecting beautiful modernist design classics to furnish their abode and Danish designed side-boards, drinks cabinets and a Ray Eames lounge chair are notable. The native timber hardwood floors have weathered time well and add a warm honey-coloured glow to the living and dining areas.

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The polished corkwood floor in the entrance immediately transports you to a past era, your arrival confirmed by the multicoloured Ray Eames designed “atomic” hat rack on the pine board walls sporting a 1960’s inspired “Mad Man” hat.Leawarra 24Dec15-6413-Edit

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The house is arranged as two pavilions (housing bedrooms in one and living, dining & study areas in the other) linked by a utilitarian arm housing kitchen, bathroom, toilet and connecting hallway. “J” thinks that this works very well as “The living area is separated from the bedrooms but still very much visually connected via the glass hallway. We could very happily host kiddies in one end and adults in the other!”Leawarra 24Dec15-6400

Although having funky looking cupboards featuring in part some novel sideways-sliding doors, the kitchen area is relatively small by today’s modern living standards and J & D have plans to lovingly rework it along with some reordering of the bathroom and perhaps extend the spare room.Leawarra 24Dec15-6442-Pano

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The bedrooms also feature favourite mid-century furniture pieces that are proudly displayed beneath windows that have a calming garden outlook.

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Madam Butterfly is well placed in Heathmont as it is home to many Post War era residences and a range of mixed architectural styles including 1950s, 1960s, 1970s-1980s and 1980s-1990s buildings that are generally single storey and made up of a mix of weatherboard and brick veneer exteriors. Although a handful of houses can be classed as modernist or international in style (along the designs of Marcel Breuer, Harry Seidler and Frank Lloyd Wright), most are representative of a ” austere post war” style of a simple dwelling design, comprising flat or low slung gable roof forms, built of lightweight timber framed construction without decorative ornamentation.  Notable architects active in Heathmont during the 1950s – 1960s include David Caldwell and Patrick & Chancellor.

Following WWII increased car ownership as well as residential lot subdivision became major drivers of growth in Heathmont. In 20 July 1956, The Argus newspaper featured a property guide article that extolled the new “Inner Dandenong Suburbs” with:

“Heathmont the first station beyond Ringwood, is rapidly becoming a show residential suburb,with many good examples of modern domestic architecture. In this attractive area, home sites in picked positions, on made roads, near the station, sell from £700 each.” “Builders are erecting timber homes with two bedrooms to sell from £3,250, and with three bedrooms from £3,600.”

At the time is was noted that besides having attractive house sites with favourable views the establishment of large factories in the neighbouring Bayswater area by Dunlops and British Nylon promised employment opportunities and a secure income to buy a house.

The favourable views of yesteryear are still to had, but with the advent of time they have been rendered ever more sylvan with the growth of established gardens, making the “turquoise dragonfly” feel very home indeed!Leawarra 24Dec15-6360

I am sure that over the next few years that this home will be lovingly restored to its former mid-century glory, making the decision in choosing the moniker of a turquoise-coloured  “Madam Butterfly” or “Iridescent Dragonfly” all the harder to choose.




Tales out of a box – A “Six-20 Popular Brownie” box!


Well after two separate visits to a pop-up shop of “odds and ends” in Paddington, Brisbane, I relented and bought a little “Six-20 Popular” Brownie camera earlier this month, only because the seller dropped the price from $30 to $20 without any prompting.

“A bargain!” I thought, especially as I ended up finding a roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan 620 film sitting inside it when I curiously peered inside the entrails of the camera to check it’s condition!!!

 You can see it right here!


H’mm what were the chances of this film not being fogged or at the worst being completely exposed?! Well, considering that the film roll was still in place and it held out the promise of being a neat time capsule of images, I decided to send the film off for processing last week.

Camera Research

Whilst waiting for the week to pass by, I researched the camera on the “The Brownie Camera Page” which is the bee’s knees of information on Brownie Box Cameras and found out the following:

  • It was made by Kodak in England during 1939 – 1943, (certainly placing it in the ‘vintage’ category)
  • It is one of a very large succession of Kodak “Box”-shaped Brownie cameras,
  • It is encased in a grained black leatherette covered card body,
  • It has two reflecting mirror finders (although I can barely see through them due to built up dust and moth cases) – one used for portrait and the other for landscape compositions,
  • It used 620-sized roll film, which gave 8 exposures per roll, each 2 1/4″ x 3 1/4 inches in dimension. Nice one – except that 620 film is no-longer made!


I also managed to find some digitised copies of the manual:

620 Popluar Brownie

Self-evidently very simple in design and use, it has:

  • an exposure lever to take snapshots;
  • a “time” lever to keep the shutter open for longer time periods;
  • a positive meniscus glass lens;
  • two catches that hold the body together; and
  • a simple spring-loaded single shutter.

It is not able to focus, has no aperture, only has a single-speed shutter, can not be mounted on a tripod, and has  an approximate worth of US$15-$25 (so I did get a bargain!). I also found out that 120 film has the same negative size as the 620 film is still available (in production since 1902!). It can be used in the Brownie if it is respooled onto the 620-sized spool – in a dark room or a light-proof film changing bag.


The Moment of Truth

So last Monday, after collecting the developed negative and CD onto which the images were scanned, I received a nice surprise when I looked at the CD contents on my computer screen to reveal – 6 well-exposed black & white shots!

Here they are:

Box Brownie Aug15-collage_Vsml

First up I must confess that the images do not belong to another lost Vivian Maier collection. Although the images are well exposed they are grainy and a bit fuzzy (some out-of-focus and/or movement blur is apparent) and besides that, the Rolleiflex series camera Maier used 120 roll film, not 620.

However, the following details could be made out:

  •  2x images of a  bridge over water  with cars crossing it;
  •  An out of focus image of a seated woman with wind blowing her dress;
  •  A mid-century-looking building with letters “RSSAILA” painted on a wall of it, and “PT. Augusta Sub Branch” signage atop the building;
  •  A street scene with “E.H Jones & Son” sign visible below a balcony with parked cars;
  •  Street scene with a 2-storey classical building with street signage “YOUNG & GORDO…” with cars parked out in the street on a bright sunny day.

Enlarging the images on the computer screen, enlisting the help of my keen-eyed daughter and performing a bit of Google sleuthing, we were able to fathom that all the photos were taken in Port Augusta, South Australia some time in the 1950’s – 1960’s.

Cold Case Detective Work

Here is the list of evidence we used to reach our conclusion.

      1. RSSAILA = “Returned Soldier’s Sailor’s and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia“, Port Augusta Sub Branch Augusta, South Australia.

There is a RSL Port Augusta sub branch building currently standing at 17 Fulham Rd, but it is a modern brick building. The original building is pictured as being located on a corner (an a neighbouring block on the corner of Fulham Rd and the Augusta Princess Highway stands empty). Was this the original site of the RSSAILA or was it located elsewhere in Port Augusta? An inquiry to the RSL has been made to verify this.

Box Brownie Aug15-0004

2. Young & Gordon store, 7 – 11 Commercial Road, Port Augusta

The inscription: “Bignell & Young Importers Establish’d 1867[ii]” is still visible on the central pediment of the building which is of Italianate architectural style, with the façade decorated with Corinthian columns. Full plate glass windows were used on the frontage of both the upper and ground floors – hence the use of blinds to keep out the sun (they are drawn down in the image below).

Box Brownie Aug15-0006

Parked out the front of this building are two FJ Holden sedans[i] which were produced in Australia from 1953 to 1957 dating this image to the late ’50’s to mid ’60’s.

As you can see from the two views outside the store today, that the building is still in good condition, although the upper storey looks vacant (look carefully and you’ll see that the blinds are open and tattered).

Young-Gordon view 1 Fully grown gum trees stand at the front of the pale-pink painted building (now occupied by “Target”), but the white painted water hydrant is still stands on the street (behind the second white car in the above image).

Young-Gordon view 2

The single storey building also used to be Young & Gordon’s store in days past, but not any longer.

Young-gordon view3

Young & Gordon Ltd Store Port Augusta –  note no urns/vases along the parapet.

[Source SA Memory – State Library of South Australia: Image BRG 209/37/8)

Young and Gordon was an influential business and well-known department store located in Port Augusta. Considered to be the biggest department store outside of Adelaide its origins began when storekeeper Francis Bignell took over the Port Augusta drapery business of Tassie & Co. in 1867, and later entered a partnership with Thomas Young (1844-1913) as “Bignell & Young”, merchants and forwarding agents, also actively trading in drapery, groceries and hardware through northern South Australia. The partnership was dissolved in 1881 when Bignell retired.

Young then entered into a new partnership with Robert Gordon, trading as “Young and Gordon”. They sold drapery, millinery, dressmaking, tailoring, clothing, footware, grocery, produce, ironmongery, glassware, earthernware, wine and spirits[vii].

Young-gordon sign1

A typical Young & Gordon Advertising banner c.1909 [Source:Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta[iv]]

The business became Young & Gordon Ltd., in 1920. Descendants of Thomas Young managed the business in succession: O.J. Young (1884-1956) then Peter Young (d.1987).

Young-gordon view4

View c.1909 of the Young & Gordon building (with urns atop the parapet) [Source: Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta[iii]] The horse-drawn carts outnumbered the cars then.


Young-gordon card1

A coloured lithograph showing a view along Commercial Road with the premises of Young & Gordon on the right.c.1897.

[Source: ‘Port Augusta and Quorn Dispatch’[v].]

Young-gordon view5

View of the “Young & Gordon (late Bignell & Young) store” c1885State Library of South Australia Pictorial Collection Image No. B 7907.[vi]

 The firm continued to grow despite economic hard times including drought and depression. The firm and store existed for well over a century before selling in 1980 to Demasius Limited[viii].

Thomas Young

Mr Thomas Young one of the founders (c.1909)[Image source [Source: ‘Port Augusta and Quorn Dispatch[ix]]


3. 20 Commercial Road Building, Port Augusta

Taken on a bright sunny day, close to midday with cars parked in the street and a few people moving along it.

Box Brownie Aug15-0005

View to the southeast along 20 Commercial Road with prominent “EH Jones & Sons” sign (who were manufacturers of shoes and handbags, c 1950’s). Note the dark-coloured drainpipe and drainpipe header (top left). A fence sign ending in “..HISKY” suggests the word “Whisky” and the photo was taken at some elevation above the road surface.

20 Commercial Rd View 1

Almost the same view today (but from street level), showing the same two-storey building with painted masonry walls with green iron latticework on the balcony. Amazingly the drainpipe and drainpipe header (top centre left)  are still present but are now painted cream. The once straight and linear road kerbs have been reshaped to make speed-reducing curves and parking bays in the distance.

Built mid/late 1800’s this commercial premises has passed through a number of owners, and now houses Ozzies and Wendy’s food businesses [x]

20 Commercial Rd View 2


4. Commercial Road Vista (various buildings & views)

A mixed combo view looking to the southeast along Commercial Street! I created this using a bit of photoshop ingenuity to join the two B&W images.

In the foreground 20 Commercial Road is on the left and the 2-storey Young & Gordon building is on the right. In the centre of the image, on the right-hand side of the street, are a few buildings and shop fronts that are still recognisable today.

Box Brownie Aug15-0006-2


Commercial Rd shops

In the middle distance on the right a couple of 2-storey white-painted buildings with shop fronts on the ground floor still exist at 31 & 33 Commercial Rd.

The next photo is taken of buildings slightly to the right and adjacent of the pale blue building above.

Symons shop

A c.1909 view of shops located between the pale blue shop (previous picture) and the double storey Young & Gordon Building showing W.Symons General Drapery & Importer Shop now the Port Augusta Newsagency at 19 Commercial Rd . [Image Source: Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta [xi]]

Further down the street a 2-storey building with a return verandah and balcony can be made out. It is the Flinders Hotel at 39 Commercial Road (on the corner with Chapel St).

Hotel Flinders view 1

Flinders Hotel, now surrounded by gum trees

This pub building was known as s Mackay’s when it was opened in June 1878[xii]. The name of the hotel changed in 1879 to the Flinders Family Hotel and later to the Hotel Flinders.

Hotel Flinders view 2

A 1909 view of an unpainted version of “The Flinders” Hotel showing its stone structure [Image Source: Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta [xiii]]

In 1909 the proprietress was a Mrs Mullen and “The Flinders” as it was then known,  was a hotel furnished with several pianos, two billiard tables and lit with acetylene gas  lamps. No wonder it was “A Favourite with Travellers”!


A Verandah With a View 

So where was the elevated vantage point that our unknown photographer used to capture the view of Commercial Street? In the approximate location where the photo was taken currently sits the contemporary single storey pub, the  “Tassie Tavern”.

It was built in 2009 on the site of the former Exchange Hotel (at 12 Commercial Street), which previusly was a 2-storey stone building with return verandah running along El Alamein Rd (formerly Tassie Street) and wrapping around the corner into Commercial Street, the place for a photographer to be, out of the heat of the midday sun!


Exchange hotel cornerA verandah with a view. A corner view of the Exchange Hotel from El Alamein Rd with Commercial Rd on the right. (Photo taken 18/08/1998 by Jon Graham).

Originally the pub was known as Payne’s Tavern then in 1879 as Taylor’s Hotel, and renamed Exchange in 1914. The original location of the hotel can be seen in the left hand image below and probably best explains the “(W)..HISKY” sign on the fence photographed in the the B&W view of the Building of 20 Commercial St.

Commercial St Aerial

Two aerial views of Commercial Street (centre) and El Alamein Rd (at bottom)

Left Image  May 2007 ; Right image October 2009


Red dot – Exchange Hotel (left) now Tassie Tavern (right)

Orange dot – Ozzies & Wendy’s building at 20 Commercial Rd

Pink Dot – Young & Gordon Building (now a Target store) at 13 Commercial Rd

Blue dot  – Pt. Augusta Newsagency (formerly W. Symons store) at 17 Commercial Rd

Pale Blue dot – pale blue shop front at 27 Commercial Rd

Green dot – Two 2-storey buildings at 31 & 33 Commercial Rd

Yellow-orange dot – Flinders Hotel at 39 Commercial Rd

5. “Old” Great Western Bridge

Built in 1926 of timber with steel beams and the deck surfaced with asphalt, the “Old” Great Western Bridge opened on 6 July 1927[xiv] replacing a punt and ferry service[xv]. It served as a vehicular crossing that linked the east and west sides of the Spencer Gulf until it was replaced by a newer concrete bridge in the 1970’s.

It now functions as a pedestrian bridge for access and recreational use. During its time it was important in carrying both water pipe and electricity lines to Port Augusta from Whyalla.


Box Brownie Aug15-0002Box Brownie Aug15-0001

Compare our photographer’s views of the bridge (in these two images) with the postcard below. You can just see a jetty on the left, cars on the bridge and the low tide which is well out.


Great western bridge card

A postcard view of Great Western Bridge[xvi] and jetty built in 1878[xvii] on east side of the Gulf and viewed viewed from the south.

 Great western bridge aerial

Oblique aerial view to the north of the New Great Western Bridge and the older timber bridge to the north indicating the likely position of where the B&W images above were taken (close to where the jetty meets the eastern shore).

Note the Jetty to the south which appears in the postcard and on the very left edge of the composited box brownie image below is marked in both with red circle. The blue and purple dots correspond with those shown in the composite of the original black and white images below to give a sense of orientation.

Great western bridge composit

Great western bridge south

A view of the Old Western Bridge from the northwest shore looking back toward Port Augusta with cars travelling over the the “New” Great Western concrete bridge visible in the background.

6. Mystery woman

So we are left with an anonymous woman who looks to be relaxed with her eyes closed and enjoying the gusts of wind billowing her dress. She sits partly shaded on a wooden bench in front of a brick structure (park hut or enclosure) and in the background, vehicles can be seen with an intervening piece of dry flat ground with patchy grass cover.

I don’t know where this image was taken. Possibly somewhere along the banks of the Spencer Gulf, perhaps in a park on a sunny Sunday enjoying a weekend break. Was she a local, was she visiting?

Box Brownie Aug15-0003

I think I’ll take leave of her here in her relaxed, right-of-centre pose. Why bother her with questions of “Who?”, “What?” and “Where?” now?

I mean, would she be able to answer:

  1. Why did 60 or so years intervene before this roll of film was developed?
  2. Why were only 6-images taken and not the full roll of 8 exposures? [Was the photographer unhappy with a set of prints received while shooting this roll and simply gave up?]
  3. How did a camera ostensibly originating from Port Augusta come to rest in a pop-up shop in Paddington Brisbane?
  4. Who owned the camera?
  5. What happened to the owner of the camera?



[i] Holden FJ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden_FJ accessed 17th August 2015.

[ii] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey.  PA4: Fosseys (Former Bignell and Young Store) pg 17.  Port Augusta City Council 2009.  http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.

[iii] Robertson, J. Edward (1909). Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta : the seaside resort of South Australia. Adelaide J. Edward Robertson http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/209992534

[iv] Robertson, J. Edward (1909). Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta : the seaside resort of South Australia. Adelaide J. Edward Robertson http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/209992534

[v] Commercial Road, Port Augusts. Rider & Mercer lithographers, 1892 State Library of South Australia Pictorial Collection Image No. B 9293/28 http://www.catalog.slsa.sa.gov.au/record=b2113883~S1 accessed 17th August 2015.

[vi] Young & Gordon premises at Port Augusta. c.1885. State Library of South Australia Pictorial Collection Image No. B 7907. http://images.slsa.sa.gov.au/mpcimg/08000/B7907.htm accessed 17th August 2015.

[vii] Young & Gordon premises at Port Augusta. c.1885. State Library of South Australia Image No. B 7907, Catalogue entry http://www.catalog.slsa.sa.gov.au/record=b2038616~S1

[viii] Port Augusta Then and Now. Photographs of Young and Gordon’s store. On SA Memory South Australia: past and present, for the future. State Library of South Australia http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?c=5856 accessed 17th August 2015.

[ix] Robertson, J. Edward (1909). Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta : the seaside resort of South Australia. Adelaide J. Edward Robertson http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/209992534

[x] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey.  PA5: Shops (Ozzies & Wendys) pg 21.  Port Augusta City Council 2009.  http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.

[xi] Robertson, J. Edward (1909). Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta : the seaside resort of South Australia. Adelaide J. Edward Robertson http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/209992534

[xii] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey.  PA8: Hotel Flinders pg 27.  Port Augusta City Council 2009.  http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.

[xiii] Robertson, J. Edward (1909). Prosperous Quorn and Port Augusta : the seaside resort of South Australia. Adelaide J. Edward Robertson http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/209992534

[xiv] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey.  PA2: ‘Old’ Great Western Bridge pg 11.  Port Augusta City Council 2009.  http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.

[xv] EXTENSIVE REPAIRS TO BRIDGE. (1936, August 21).Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved August 17, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95891812

[xvi] http://www.quicksales.com.au/ad/vintage-unused-murray-views-no-7-great-western-bridge-port-augusta-south-australia-postcard-13-8cm-x-8-3cm/11240305 accessed 17th August 2015.

[xvii] Port Augusta – Local Heritage Survey.  PA3: Jetty pg 14.  Port Augusta City Council 2009.  http://www.portaugusta.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/REPA4794HeritageSurvey.pdf accessed 17th August 2015.



A Vaudeville Act in Yellow

Some old Queenslander-style houses in Brisbane are pretty amazing showcases of self expression.

I like this one for its audacious splash of canary yellow colour. Punctuated with a bit of turquoise and the odd spot of rusty metal hues it is bordered by a dark lime green band. Perhaps it is a satire on traditionalist colour schemata? The traditional vase of faux plastic roses are a nice nostalgic touch, a nod to the past.




All the corrugated iron sheets and timbers get the same treatment here; no favouritism in the setting of this stage!


However a peek through the corrugated curtain leads one’s eye behind the scenes to spot the odd errant outlier in the colour regime.







 An exercise in mixed media cleverly using a juxtaposition of cubic and linear  elements delivers a punch-line where horizontality meets verticality & rectilinear timber meets curvilinear iron!

YellowPaddo-4967A “Mark” & “Jamie” have left their secret mark by the back gate. Does this signpost a rear entry where you can meet a couple of “scratchy” vaudevillian artists who lie in wait behind the barbed wire for a potentially “captive” audience?

Architectural Activism : Simple & effective responses to building a sustainable world.

Many architects work with aid organisations or by themselves to provide sustainable and positive solutions to ecological and/or social problems. There is strong interest and activity by architects  in the related areas of sustainability, community resilience, social design and activism. Climate change, population growth, war,  poverty, disease and massive human migration shifts have affected some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. Some project examples include safe permanent/temporary shelters, access to basic sanitation and clean water supplies.

Through a travelling exhibition, ‘People Building Better Cities’, that visited my city during September – October 2014, I became aware of other varied architect-led initiatives engaging with disadvantaged communities worldwide. There are many architectural groups (like Community Architects Network) and community led grassroots groups and networks (e.g. ‘Asian Coalition for Housing Rights’) located at many places around the world, all working to address local issues to create resilient, equitable, inclusive and sustainable communities, towns and cities that are variably free of disease, war, poverty, housing shortages, unsanitary water sources, drugs and crime and have adequate waste disposal, education and health facilities, to name a few of the issues that make communities vulnerable.

There appears to be increasing pushback to architecture in which ‘appearance’ or ‘aesthetics’ have been valued over purpose and pressing social requirements, and which has resulted from a lack of consultation with and participation from the affected communities. As concluded in The Environment & Urbanization report:

 ‘The work of community architects in Asia has shown that professionals should stop making all the design decisions and instead, should take on the role of helping translate people’s own ideas for transforming their houses and communities into drawings and models that the wider society can understand.”

An example of an architect who is working on helping his fellow man is Nigerian  architect, Kunlé Adeyemi, who is the principal of NLÉ which is a practice that specifically applies its architecture, design and urbanism practice to rapidly developing cities in developing countries.

Floating primary school: At the waterside slum of Makoko, near Lagos, Nigeria,by Kunlé Adeyemi. The design was conceived following discussions with the local community. Source The Guardian|The Observer Sunday 10 August 2014.

One project that has received broad attention is his prototype, ‘Makoko Floating School’ [Links #1, #2 & #3] in which he attempts to address the physical and social needs of the Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront Community, in the waterside slum of Makoko, near Lagos, Nigeria, who are faced with constant climate change induced pressures of flooding and the problems of building on unstable marshland; (100,000 people in Makoko live in housing that is built on stilts). After talking with the community about these issues he came up with the elegantly simple solution of building a floating primary school using simple technology and community collaboration.

The conceived 3-level structure is basically a timber A-frame 10m high, set on a square 10m x 10m base that is buoyed by a bed of 16 recycled blue 215Litre plastic barrels. This floating structure has a low centre of gravity and is stable enough to support 100 adults even in stormy weather. As it is a floating structure is can adapt to varying water levels and storm surges.

Peak hour : floating school. Source: http://www.nleworks.com

The lower level is purposed as a play area for school pupils (and also as a community space after school hours). The second level is a classroom space (large enough to cater for 60 – 100 pupils), and a workshop is on the 3rd and topmost level. The 200m long building is made up of 16 pyramidal modules that can be joined together. The school was also being used by the community as a social, cultural and economic centre.

Prototype floating structure for the lagoon community of Makoko. Image source: Architecture AU 31Oct 2014

The materials for the base and A-frame were sourced from locally sourced timber and bamboo and the structure was constructed by local builders (thus addressing local sustainability and social employment concerns). The building has also kept to the principles of sustainable development and is designed to reduce its carbon footprint by using renewable energy, recycle organic waste as well as harvesting its own rainwater.

Makoko Floating School : Concept schematic. Source: http://www.nleworks.com

Kunlé Adeyemi is also applying this concept to other areas such as the slums of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where residents are threatened with displacement through government run urban renewal projects. As a solution he hopes that a city of floating homes can be constructed that would provide safe housing for residents while allowing them to remain within their water-based community.

I take my hat off to this architect!



Way-finding? Not!

Alexandra Lange posted an interesting article about “Architecture Without Signs” in which she questions why architecture needs wayfinding signage?

oroton tiffline

Follow the arrows

She argues that “… architecture needs to work without words. The building should point your way to its entrance without an arrow.” An interesting concept for architecture that has been built with this in mind, but more difficult for historical structures that do not have this design element built in, or if their space is not legible in the first instance! So supplemental graphics are always going to be a required visual element but hopefully not to the extent where they create distracting “visual noise”.

Indeed finding a portal to a public building like an art gallery can sometimes be a bit problematic, especially if a building is approached by other more circuitous routes (e.g. from a train station or errant/random car park). Also how does wayfinding work for those who are visually-challenged? Perhaps different (audio?) design approaches are required?

Entrance, Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY

Of course as a reader observed, “Bathroom wayfinding is the most important.” which suggests, that in an emergency, you don’t want to second guess your exit strategy.

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age

The Barbican Art Gallery in London is currently showcasing a landmark exhibition of eighteen outstanding photographers covering the time period from the 1930s to the present day who have influenced the way we view  20th and 21st century architecture on a global stage.

It investigates why architects, such as Charles and Ray Eames and Le Corbusier, used the power of the photographic image to promote their vision of Modernist architecture. Images range from skyscrapers in New York, decaying colonial structures in the Congo,  glamorous post-war suburban homes of California, to the modern towers of Venezuela.

Fengjie III (Monument to Progress and Prosperity), Chonqing Municipality, 2007 Picture credits © Nadav Kander. Courtesy Flowers Gallery.

Featuring over 250 works by:

photographers: Berenice Abbott / Iwan Baan / Bernd and Hilla Becher / Hélène Binet / Walker Evans / Luigi Ghirri / Andreas Gursky / Lucien Hervé / Nadav Kander / Luisa Lambri / Simon Norfolk / Bas Princen / Ed Ruscha / Stephen Shore / Julius Shulman / Thomas Struth / Hiroshi Sugimoto / Guy Tillim;


architects: Le Corbusier / Frank Lloyd Wright / Minoru Yamasaki / Luis Barragán / Aldo Rossi / Pierre Koenig / Charles and Ray Eames / Daniel Libeskind.

This exhibition highlights the power of photography to reveal hidden truths in our society. The exhibition runs until  11 January 2015.

While you are there you may as well take advantage of the Architecture Tour of the Barbican Centre a unique brutalist architectural endeavour.

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A “wasted” opportunity?

It’s that time of year when people are placing large unwanted household items (or ”waste”) out in front of their residences in preparation for the annual Brisbane City Council kerbside collection.

Indeed “one person’s waste” can be “another’s treasure” and quite often I spotted people placing a pre-loved set of golf clubs, children’s bike,  or old washing machine in their boot or on the back of a van. Curious as to what was appearing on the kerbs in my immediate neighbourhood, I  scouted around and documented what was being placed in front of people’s homes to see if there was a pattern of disposal occurring.

This is what I found:

KerbsideCollection Oct14-8423KerbsideCollection Oct14-8429 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8431 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8432 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8435KerbsideCollection Oct14-8437KerbsideCollection Oct14-8436 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8439 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8443 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8444 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8451KerbsideCollection Oct14-8450KerbsideCollection Oct14-8457 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8456KerbsideCollection Oct14-8461 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8422Random to organised placement of :

  • Furniture (desks, lounges, couches, indoor chairs garden patio chairs & tables, shelving, drawers, cabinets, TVs, bed mattresses, foam bedding, blankets, cupboards, cushions, light stands, kitchen benchtops, dressers)
  • Timber (structural house framing & weatherboards & VJ’s; toolboxes, doors, windows, glass panes, fence posts, fence palings, garden edging & retaining walls, pallets)
  • Garden equipment (hose reels, hoses, rakes, camping chairs, tarpaulins, gumboots)
  • Metal items (clothes racks, 44-gallon drums, iron trunk, Toolboxes, wire fencing, BBQs,  sheet metal, drain pipes, washing drying racks)
  • Cardboard box and styrofoam box packaging (from electrical goods like computers, stoves, fridges etc)
  • Kids toys (games, play yard equipment like swings basket ball rings and back boards, shell-shaped paddle pools/sandpits, radio controlled cars, table soccer, hula-hoops )
  • Electronic waste / e-waste (computer towers, monitors, & circuit boards, vacuum cleaners, Sound system speakers, oil heaters, faxes, printers, fridge)
  • Sport items (gym equipment, gold clubs & bags, bicycles, boogie board)
  • Plastic (waste and laundry baskets, milk crates, plastic pallets, storage boxes, buckets & pails)
  • Baby equipment ( prams, baby playpen, cot)
  • General household goods (mop, books, video cassettes, CDs, DVDs, photo albums, magazines, CD rack, photo frames, window blinds, suitcases)
  • and many more other items!

In general where items were broken, they could be repaired. Where they were worn, parts could be replaced. Where they were obsolete,thay could re-purposed. If used passed on or reused.

Our council website states what can and can not be placed out for kerbside collection and many of the above items do not comply. I made a telephone enquiry to the council officesto  learn that it that there are several contractors who participate in the kerbside collection who specialise in reclamation of metal waste, furniture, and  household goods (which are cleaned up and resold at Council “Tip Shops” which is heartening) and also white good items (e.g. fridges, washing machines).

However there is a lot of material that still ends up as landfill meaning on many cases that they become a lost resource. Considering that the council has a Towards Zero Waste strategy to reduce waste going to landfill using the waste reduction hierarchy of avoidance>reduce>reuse>recycle>disposal, it is surprising that there is no mention of upcycling, which is the process of converting old or discarded  materials or useless waste products into new materials or products that maintains or increases its value by being more useful, of  better quality, or having a different and more valuable purpose. This is not only an important waste reduction link, but also a critical finite resource consumption-reducing link that is a natural addition to recycling.  Through upcycling, new products are created from waste streams that have a higher value than if they were just disposed to landfill. For example, by reclaiming metals and constructing or refashioning something new from them, obviates the need of mining new metal from the earth thus reducing fuel/energy consumption and environmental impact. Tyres can be refashioned into water buckets, plant pots or sandals!  Creative reuse has become very popular amongst arts & crafts and homeware & gift suppliers. Others are taking this further by using upcycled products with a net-positive design approach.

In fact many of the items listed above would be seen as a resource boon to those living in developing countries where reclamation, re-use, jury-rigging and repurposing mwaste materials can be critical for providing shelter and housing, an income, or reducing urban pollution. For more info see Junkyard Planet and ideas/inspiration here.

So if you no longer have a use for something, don’t throw it, get it repaired, repurpose it, pass it on, recycle it, or upcycle it!


 Postscript 6th November 2014

It was disturbing to witness the council refuse truck arrive on the day of the kerbside collection in my street. During the short 30 minutes it took for them to “clean up” the street, I observed the council workers place the kerbside items into the compactor hopper of the garbage truck, hydraulically crush the items to fit into the truck, and then drive off (ultimately to the landfill site to dispose of their load of “rubbish”).

A wasted opportunity… !

Architecture Through the Lens – Emergent Thoughts

“What does it take to be an emerging architectural photographer? How does one create a difference in a competitive world where just about everything seems to have been done?!

The explosive evolution of digital photography has resulted in massive daily streams of image content being generated and loaded onto electronic media (and viewed on social networks like Instagram and on-line blogs). In light of this how can your photographic craft be seen as different to other practitioners? In the digital age the architectural photography market is complex and very competitive as it has become accessible for both amateurs and non-professional photographers to enter and post their efforts. However the need for strong photographs that capture the architects ideas and designs in an accurate and truthful way is still a prime requirement.

I was told at college to keep shooting images in order to develop my own ‘style’. This mantra was repeated by the professional architectural photographers I have met and talked to. Even when a photographer is meeting the specifics of a particular shooting brief for an architect, each one of their final images are a very individual expression of how they have viewed, interpreted and responded to the built structure. Therefore when benchmarking yourself against established talent you should be wary of replicating/copying how they shoot… especially if they are a group of people all shooting and doing post-processing in a similar fashion (as this can be generally part of a passing ‘fad’). No two photographers share the exactly the same eyes and visual perception of the world around them and this can work to your advantage. You need to develop your own visual language and shooting methodology that marries with your visual perception whilst meeting the goals of your client and placing your personal visual stamp in crafting an image. This places you in control of how much you want to be one of the pack, an early adaptor/follower, or a leader/innovator whose work may have greater appeal.

Digital technology is enabling architectural photography in some respects – especially by making people more aware and appreciative of it.  Many people shoot architecture with the convenience of smartphones and entry- to enthusiast-level digital cameras. This has meant that many more people across the world are being exposed to more interesting architecture and design than they could ever have hoped to visit in person. However, although the amateur or enthusiast can capture an image of a building or built space, you still need high-end specialist camera technology to record architecture in a precise manner to correctly capture an undistorted or ‘true’ image. This is required to produce an authentic narrative to relate that image to another part of a building that is being photographed. It is important to engage the viewers’ attention as well as visually guide them so that they learn the story of the building and its purpose.

As an architectural photographer you are challenged to achieve the aim of visually encoding and translating the visual power and character of a constructed place (its form, structure, mass, space, temporality) into an image that becomes a unique and memorable viewing experience for every individual who apprehends it.  Some might think this experience could be problematic, as how does any one individual perceive a place or space they encounter? This uncertainty can be turned to a positive experience with unknown outcomes as potentially every person’s experience of space can be unique depending on what they do in it and how they interact with it. As Peter Gössel[i]  writes, architecture “…is so much a part of our daily reality that the whole of our activity in perceived space is also activity formed in space…”.

If “Architects”, as Steven Holl[ii] puts it, “are sculptors of space using light as a medium”, does it follow that the architectural photographer (or “one who paints with light”), is to just take a photograph in order to ‘document’ the built space? I think that is it too simplistic a notion and that there is more to it than simply “documentation”. Although there are particular details an architect wants visually documented in their brief, an aspirational goal to have is to capture how people ‘feel’ as they move through, perceive and interact with a space or built structure. This is regardless of whether the audience is the general public (in the case of a public or monumental space), or the client who has commissioned the architect. When you take an image you can use your perception of a place to convey a sense of temporality (i.e. time of day, seasonality, or evoke a past or future) that may be related to in the same way by other people or the architect, or, it can create a new and fresh dialogue due to differences in your existential orientation.

So why not try to capture the phenomenology of a built place in your image? Can you make it show how receptive people are to space, light and time, how they qualitatively perceive depth of line and space, and how a person might move through or utilize a space? Does it convey what senses are used (i.e. visual, tactile, olfactory and aural) to form an emotive reaction to the 3-dimensional presence of a building?  For example how might you or any other individual, use sensory perception to process the elements of light (colour, natural/artificial; muted/intense, cold/warm, soft/harsh); mass (i.e. feeling of solidity, strength and substance); and materiality (i.e. the use of certain building products, say steel or concrete versus timber) and imbue these in an image?

Can your image show or evoke memories of what tactile experiences someone encounters as their hand touches or brushes past a rough unfinished concrete surface, a smooth cool granite bench, or a sculpted and polished plastic panel? Can you recall the sensation of when your feet made contact with smooth timbered/glazed tiled/ plush carpeted flooring, or the coolness of a shady alcove in a building you have visited and are now viewing an image of? When an image of a place is viewed, what acoustic memories are triggered? Are they clear-sounding laughter; quiet conversation; the muted contemplative sound of a water feature; incessantly loud and reverberating talk of people in a crowded atrium, or passing traffic noise?

In my visual craft I am always seeking ways to develop a language that is fractal (endlessly scalable), exploring various size dimensions (from site, building, room, person, furniture and accessory, down to smaller ornamental scales). Of course the aim is also to show the built structure in relation to its site, that is a given at a larger scale. But you also need to understand the context and reasons why an architect has designed a structure in a place the way he/she has in order to visually convey their narrative of place.


Fractal knot: “Not seeing the sign for the font!” (Image by Issy D., Sep 2013)

Is there an architectonic or stereotomic typology the architect is espousing, are they sympathetic to a particular facet of local geographic, geotechnical, landscape, climatic conditions or historical event/context? These are important aspects that can be subtle and elusive. Sometimes making the viewer privy to these via an image can make for an enriching experience. If it is a public or monumental space, does the architectural design reflect the mores of society, is it welcoming and does it invite interaction or contemplation? Is it impersonal but have a utilitarian function, does it excite and attract positive energy, or is its function more as a sanity-saving refuge from the relentless drive of a city?

People say a career in professional architectural photography is difficult, (others say it’s easy). Because it is a new adventure that I have only relatively recently embarked on, I am fuelled with the desire to make arresting visual images of the built environment set in a world that we humans are continually modifying. I am excited at the prospect of working at odd hours to capture the quality, direction and intensity of light playing over a building at the right moment; like playing hide-and-seek there is anticipation of what you expect to see, as well as an element of surprise (or horror) at what results (depending upon whether site or weather conditions have changed prior to a shoot).

As a photographer the goal is to use your eyes (as a lens) and brain (as an adaptable and ever-learning image processor) to produce a unique ‘way of seeing’ that is aided by the appropriate technology. Remember, like the architect who is in the business of ‘making’, the photographer is also challenged in making something from architecture – a visual narrative using the photographic image.

To me architectural photography is a language that visually communicates to people as much as possible about conceptual ideas to the dimensions and quality of a built space, helping them better understand and appreciate architecture.



[1] Gössel, Peter ‘What is Modern Architecture?’ In: Modern Architecture A- L Taschen (Pub.) Vol 1, 303pp.

[2] Holl, Steven. 2012 AIA Gold Medal – Steven Holl AFIA New York City. http://youtu.be/RMt8hJM1TlQ Accessed 5 July 2014.

Picture of The Week 09-05-2014

Cool landscape architecture!

Picture of The Week 09-05-2014.

“Turkey-tecture” – Postscriptum

Aah how the world continues to surprise me!

A walk around UQ campus on Wednesday not only showed me other areas of brush turkey activity:


“Bark chip transfer zone” (between the UQ Staff & Graduates Club and the Zelman Cowan Building).

but also  updated me on how quickly the world of Turkey-tecture can change:


A newly clean-swept pathway between the Brush turkey nest on the Great Court (left) and the old Radon Lab in Alumni Court (right).

However, off-campus a truly heartening sign that man is on the Brush turkey’s side, is the sighting of several mounds of fresh bark chips that have recently been deposited by the city council in Acacia Park (off Carmody Road adjacent to UQ campus):


Bark chip building materials – ripe for the taking by aspiring Turkey-tects!

Perhaps this is “bait” ploy by UQ administration to lure “recidivist” Turkey-tects off the campus?

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