LATE LAST year I visited the coastal town of Bermagui, New South Wales. It was a dip in Blue Pool, the town’s swimming hole, which kicked off the thinking for this issue of Architect Victoria. Blue Pool is much like any other sea bath in Australia: two small pools carved from rock, a bench to dump your towels, a shower block. It is as no-nonsense as the leathery locals that carve up the lap pool’s waters every morning.
All around me were suggestions of the relationship between the human body and architecture. Here, the thin edge of concrete pool is all that separates tiny bodies from the enormity of the Pacific Ocean beyond. It acts as a frame that both allows us to safely occupy this liminal edge, and serves to magnify the wildness of the sea’s water. Waves crash against the pool walls and smack you in the face. Children hurl themselves from a height into the water. They seek exhilaration and freedom while their parents predict injuries and hospital visits. Scum, seaweed and sea creatures feel slimy underfoot. For those that can, the act of floating allows our bodies to resist gravity and move in ways that defy age, injury or disability.
Outside the water, people of all shapes and sizes strip off, some eager to catch the sun, others desperate to protect themselves against it. The town’s fitness group moves up, down and around the site, running, lifting, heaving and breathing…
I REMEMBER an event last year that stirred a deep intrigue in me. I was one among many at a protest on the steps of the State Library. All around me, the body of people was swelling and shifting and it was difficult to see the characteristic steps and landscaped lawns that usually stippled the space. The buildings that usually framed this urban green became irrelevant to my immediate locus, it was the body of the man in front, or the woman beside me that were themselves defining the space. The intricate pockets of space between people became a poché.
Afterward, I thought about this experience in many ways, and returning to the same place to find it bare strengthened my most stirring observation. The definers of the forecourt – the colonnade, the podium and the steps up from the public realm – had vanished during that clustered moment of demonstration. The body of people had dynamically redefined the extents of the space through occupation, even for just a moment.
So, what did all this mean? The corollary was that I had unpacked a new frame through which I could regard space, with all its dynamic physical and cultural layers intact – an inclusive, appreciative way of looking at architecture.
Body and building have a fundamental, elastic relationship. Architecture either coerces or supports the mind and body into a particular set of actions. In response, our bodies make their own impressions on the built environment. This is why we see ‘architecture’ not as a noun, and passive, but as a verb. At every meeting of skin, muscle, tissue with timber, concrete, brick, the relationship is redefined. One will mould and the other will be moulded. An ever present tension exists.
Architects have methods of representing this relationship. We rely on a language of CAD block entourages, Metric Handbook diagrams, and the Modular man to describe and prescribe scale, proportion, human occupation and ergonomics. But all of these often relay an aloof set of relationships and a standardised view of the human form. At the outset of our investigation we wished to explore beyond this rather dispassionate understanding. Our interests lay in the ‘imperfect’ body and how it moves through space. We wanted to explore the city as a playground and a stage. We wondered how designers could encourage inclusive participation, and we were equally interested to hear the interrogations of subversives and non-architects. Thus, we invited a broad gamut of contributors to draw on their own experience and practice and examine the way our bodies (mis)behave in space.
Investigating the issue through the lenses of play, performance, aesthetics materiality, technology, interactivity, urban planning, health and wellbeing revealed a recurring theme: the individual’s envelope. Our personal understanding of our occupation of the built environment, beyond the physical, is laminated by intrinsic cultural, social, psychological and mental influences that exert an influence on the way we inhabit space, and as architects, the objectives of our design processes. Consequently, each of the different lenses demonstrates a unique sensitivity about the human experience of space. By layering these readings of space throughout this issue, we paradoxically begin to unpack the complexity of body/building.
We would like to thank our writers Phillip Adams, Alysia Bennett, Kirsty Bennett, Matthew Bird, James Fletcher, Amy Han, Josh McCallum, Yvonne Meng, Katie O’Brien, Colby Vexler, Jenny Underwood and Leanne Zilka for their passionate and lively contributions and a particular thanks to Matthew Bird and Phillip Adams for supplying the cover image.