The panel was asked, ‘What do you think heritage concerns and constraints are of increasing or decreasing importance in the current architectural landscape?’
Ashley Dennis says, as an architect working primarily in Sydney, I find the colonial Heritage fabric is the prevalent urban generating system as I know it. Historic fabric – laneways, sandstone podiums, planned parks – create a formal stability/hierarchy or framework for the city to evolve.
Other ‘blank canvas’ cities, seemingly developed from scratch in a short period of time and reflecting a single generation of designers, defined by gridded street patterns, are often described as soulless. Many cities with long histories (European, African, Middle Eastern, Asian) have developed more organically around social/commercial activities. Human habitation of natural landscapes (Indigenous use) usually forms around natural resources and the spiritual significance of the land. Vibrancy is missing from modern planned cities, which are more of a social experiment than urban planning process.
Can architectural intervention and reinterpretation in the historic fabric be seen more as an opportunity than a constraint? From my experience and observation, yes. A constraints driven approach to architecture, whether these be Heritage, environmental, physical or control-based constraints, helps inform and validate a design process and it is through creative interpretation of the ‘rules’ that unique and contextually specific outcomes emerge. There is certainly greater opportunity for Australia’s architectural landscape to tap into our Indigenous Heritage/knowledge, native conditions and landscapes, materials, typologies, meaning and importance of place.
There should be more concern around losing this identity and knowledge from our design vocabulary completely. For such a physically diverse landscape, our architectural landscape between cities and suburbs is relatively common and represents a borrowed language.
It’s also interesting that there isn’t such concern about or attachment to programmatic Heritage as there is to the bricks and mortar. So when does the history of ‘place’ become more important than the physical structure? Certainly in the case of the Sirius building in Sydney we see a strong Heritage concern for both the social role the building has played, as well as the iconic nature of the building itself.
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This article first appeared in Architectural Review magazine #158