Designer and PhD candidate, Jonathan Kopinski placed his researcher’s cap firmly on his head when he visited SLQ’s repository as part of Design Finds.
Design Finds is an APDL program which allows designers to dig through SLQ’s library collection to see what inspires them. Learn more about Jonathan’s experience using the collection and the creative response generated from his ‘dig’.
What was your approach to finding objects in the SLQ collections?
Initially I decided to make use of the online catalogue to browse a range of collections that are available for viewing digitally. In many ways, SLQ’s librarians have already done a wonderful job of digitally curating the best of the collection. This is how I came across the Bruce Pascoe photo of an Expo ‘88 street lamp. It looked almost like some long lost relic from a radical Italian design collective that one might find in the pages of an old Domus magazine. It was this photo that prompted me to focus on postmodernist design and debate in Brisbane during the 1980s. This meant I had a specific focus to carry out my onsite searches in the library’s physical collections.
Were there any unexpected surprises in your dealings with the SLQ collections?
One thing that struck me was the relatively small amount of architectural material from the postmodern era. Queensland mid-century modernism has been all the rage over the last decade, and is incredibly well represented in the collections with the entire design works of key architects available for viewing.
The postmodern era is the opposite. I really had to plumb the depths of the archives to find the very few hidden treasures. It seems a real shame given this era was crucial to the emergence of a ‘Brisbane’ architecture that moved beyond modernist mimicry. In many ways, it was a period when a critical relationship between form and place and architecture and the city began to emerge. It would be great to see this collection grow. I know for a fact that there are some incredible works out there tucked away in rarely opened private drawing cabinets – works which would be much better utilised and appreciated in the SLQ collection.
Why did you choose the five objects that you selected?
To me, the five objects represent the key themes behind architectural thought during Brisbane’s postmodern era. Wendy Rogers’s beautiful City for Sale film sets the scene of 1980s Brisbane and its relationship with loss and the developer’s wrecking ball. Peter Cook’s Tower Projects and Hockings, Keniger and Roehrs’s Urban Architecture for Brisbane both represent the power of the hypothetical design project to frame critical architectural discourse during this same period. The TAS Journal and, in particular, the Expo ‘88 pavilion drawings by Denton Corker Marshall illustrate the period’s experimentation with architectural drawing as a technique to explore playful spatial form. Finally, Noel Pascoe’s Collection of Images from Expo 88 represents a kind of climax to the era with the transition of postmodernism from a critical discourse to a populist phantasmagoria of aesthetics. From here, architects would take a more solemn turn towards the sober poetics of critical regionalism still dominant today.
What is one lesson or insight that you learned as a part of your investigative process?
Widening a search can be very useful. I came across the TAS Journal almost by accident when entering Architecture and Australia as search terms and narrowing the dates to the 1980s. It can be a time consuming process but often you are rewarded with finding some real diamonds in the rough.
How was your creative response inspired by the five objects that you found?
I was very much intrigued by the way the hypothetical projects in Tower Projects and Urban Architecture for Brisbane acted as architectural provocations. In a way, they illustrate the project of postmodernism in Brisbane by acknowledging that the city is not a static object but a site of constant change. While accepting that the new must be built over the old, the postmodernists also saw that the act of erasure could provide the means for a critical reconstruction of the city; that is, one in which a collective memory of past and place could be made inherent in the new.
In response I decided to build an installation imagining a hypothetical apotheosis of the postmodernist project: an idealised ‘Brisbane’ emerging from the tabula rasa of the Dean Brothers. The result is an endless field of archetypal architectural form, one in which tin pyramid roofs mix with classical orders, Spanish stairs, civic-scaled undercrofts and cross-braced timber towers in a crescendo of collective memory.
Why did you decide upon this particular outcome for your creative response?
Postmodernist projects such as Cook’s Tower Projects or Hockings’ placement of Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore in the middle of Edward Street took explicit risks in conveying their theoretical provocations. There is a certain charm in how they teeter on the verge of the ridiculous. In a way, this architectural humour disarms the viewer, drawing them in to look a little closer at the project’s real intent.
My response seeks to do the same. By reconstructing Brisbane as a postmodernist ideal, it aims to prompt the viewer to imagine their own idea of what the city might become.
Was the approach of finding inspiration from the past similar to how you currently work or different?
Looking into the local postmodern era illustrated how architecture can be engagingly controversial. I don’t see many architects working this way today. My own view is that most of us are incredibly narrowly focused in the pursuit of refined craft and materiality and are utterly uninterested in what the city might become. Where are the counter-proposals that make a mockery of the many controversial developments taking place today? I think we have much to learn from these postmodern examples in order for architecture to test boundaries and opinions once again.
How did that affect your outcome?
Well I don’t mind if people love or hate the outcome. I just hope that it is somewhat engaging in elucidating a response from people viewing it.
Would you look to use a similar approach again in the future?
Of course! Having the chance to wade through SLQ’s collection has confirmed that architectural history is not just a set of works to be objectified and cooed over. Instead, they are imbued with memories of discourse and debate that we can, in turn, measure our own reflection against.
This article is based on Design Finds which was presented by Chloe Naughton and Jonathan Kopinski on 23 March as part of the 2017 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum.