Owning the public realm


While architecture is not the most penetrable of subjects ­– nor architects the most casual of conversationalists – it is an area that has much to offer in the way of social, political and environmental commentary. And ‘archibabble’ aside, anyone can interact with it – in a multitude of ways.

From radio shows and downloadable podcasts, to walking–and–talking architectural tours, scratch the surface and you’ll find members of the architecture and design community actively facilitating an open conversation around the buildings, streetscapes and spaces we inhabit.

Sydney architect, Eoghan Lewis, is the talented researcher, narrator and intrepid tour-leader behind a series of architectural adventures known as Sydney Architecture Walks (SAW). To attend one of his architectural walks is akin to opening a colourful storybook and stepping between the pages.

SAW started as a research project for Lewis, who is both a practicing architect, teacher, and director of Supple Design studio in Sydney. “I felt there was no real story about [Sydney] city or urbanity, so I started this little research project called SAW,” says Lewis.[1]

SAW's Eoghan Lewis

SAW’s Eoghan Lewis

“The inspiration for the tours and in particular the idea that the city acts as sign or signifier of a bunch of ideas simmering quietly beneath the surface was Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.”[2]

Lewis is a consummate storyteller and so well researched on his subjects that a simple question, any question – ‘Who designed the Sydney Opera House?’ for example – will prompt all manner of stories and factual revelations.

His walks are there for anybody who is curious to learn about the city. Frequented by intrepid locals, students, international visitors and the occasional architect, the tours are advertised by word of mouth. For those in the know, you can traverse the city with 4 different tours by foot, or pedal through Redfern, Waterloo, Chippendale and Surry Hills to uncover “architectural gems hidden in back lanes”.[3]

The research involved in curating these tours not only feeds back into Lewis’s own architectural projects, it fuels a continuing conversation around Sydney and its cultural and urban landscape. And it’s not all sugar coated: “They’re quite critical and political [discussions] and don’t hold any punches,” says Lewis.[4]

Feeding the airwaves with their own brand of archi-socio discourse is The Architects program on Melbourne’s 3RRR community radio station. Co-presenter and architect Stuart Harrison set up the show in 2004 with Simon Knott and Rory Hyde, before joining up with like-minded colleague Christine Phillips. “We all see a strong public role for architecture,” he says.

Setting up the show, he says, came with a simple aim: “To take architecture to a wider audience, to explain how architecture comes about, to remove an elitist perception of design professionals.”

Christine Phillips and Rory Hyde moving aerial for The Architects radio program

Christine Phillips and Rory Hyde moving aerial for The Architects radio program

“I think the more engagement the better,” says Harrison of the weekly show that attracts an audience of both industry professionals and the wider public.“The links between good design and wellbeing are proven now – it’s a good story as a profession we have to tell; if we tell it the right way.

“I think we need to remind everyone their opinion is important and they have ownership of the public realm.” Making those conversations accessibility, Harrison says: “That’s one thing we try to get right in terms of balance –not dumbing down, but explaining jargon, ideas, processes.”

Architecture on the air

Architecture on the air

Like Lewis’ Sydney Architecture Walks, The Architects program also feeds back into Harrison’s own practice.“It has made me a better communicator,” he says.“Many of the people I meet in day-to-day life form a network of guests and information we draw upon for the show’s content.”

Conversational Fillers

Capturing first hand the stories of Australia’s leading architects and designers are programs such as the Audio Design Museum, produced by Object: Australian Design Centre, and The Sound of Buildings.

These are two downloadable audio programs, both highly accessible in their conversational interview style; they successfully unravel the mystery surrounding some of Australia’s most iconic landmarks – from popular suburbs and museums right through to sports stadiums, historical sites and more.

The Audio Design Museum and The Sound of Buildings are available via iTunes as apps or podcasts. Download them to your personal mobile device and tap in for some inspirational storytelling.

[1]DQ’s Top Ten Forces and Faces in Design 2012, DQ magazine, Issue 45 (April 2012)

[2]DQ’s Top Ten Forces and Faces in Design 2012, DQ magazine, Issue 45 (April 2012)

[3]DQ’s Top Ten Forces and Faces in Design 2012, DQ magazine, Issue 45 (April 2012)

[4]DQ’s Top Ten Forces and Faces in Design 2012, DQ magazine, Issue 45 (April 2012)