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Stephanie Pahnis

The Carlton National Assembly

RMIT University Master of Architecture Graduate Project 2019

Supervisor: Michael Spooner

I would like to start by acknowledging the Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung peoples of the Kulin nation as the traditional custodians of the land where this thesis was conducted. I would also like to pay respect to Elders, past, present, and emerging and I extend this respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people throughout Australia.

This project imagines a present reality into the distant future. Its potential may start now, but the conclusion will infinitely remain uncertain. It has arisen from the passing of the 2018 Victorian treaty advancement commission. A reaction to the 2017 Uluru Statement of the Heart. Representing the national indigenous consensus for a voice in the Australian constitution. This was denied and ultimately dismissed by parliament at a federal level. However, Victoria has progressively started this process with the first law passed within the whole of Australia towards a path to Treaty.

The project speculates on the infrastructures required overtime, for the uncertain process of negotiating treaty between the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and Victorian Parliament to occur within a modern context. The project is bound by the objectives of the Victorian treaty commission and considers its effects within a much larger political framework while ultimately having to confine within a commonwealth, democratic refrain.

This is the first time in Australian History that we as a collective nation recognise and acknowledge this sovereignty within our constitution. Highlighting just one of the many flaws of discrimination embedded into Australia’s constitution.  The architecture of this project aims to manifest the challenge and constant negotiation of the law in the event of establishing treaty. In parallel to the architecture of Parliament.

The project entitled The Carlton National Assembly claims a national condition within a local context, and that architecture is an instrument that can give substance to the recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty throughout Australia.

The site of the project is located down the road from the current Victorian Treaty Office in Carlton.  It is positioned on the same prominent political axis of the Shrine of remembrance and the William Barak building on Swanston Street. The first treaty written by John Batman upon the colonisation of Melbourne was also written in North Melbourne but was denied by the NSW government. The Corkman Pub was built shortly after in 1858, and was known as the local meeting spot for lawyers. On this site lies a stagnant pile of ruins, a site uninhabited, of the thousands of bricks that once was one of the oldest standing colonial pubs in Melbourne. This site captures the very essence of the insolvency of the law and questions the value we place on our colonial histories. The site is an important provocation in its unique historical condition and conceives this as a monument.

While located at the fringe – the project has an important civic impact within the CBD through the Swanston St vantage point. This ultimately determined the assertion of a tower, within the compact site while maintaining a relative scale to the surrounding developing context.

The first act into the project solidifies this ruin and rather than rebuilding. The site became the point for the architecture to establish itself within a larger precinct at the scale of the city of Melbourne. The project starts through a series of small scale informal objects that re-claim land throughout the city in adjacent to important sites including Parliament House, the Royal Exhibition Building, and Batman’s Hill.

Parliament house is built on the site of the traditional ceremonial ground and meeting place for the five Aboriginal tribes of the Port Phillip region known as the Kulin Nation. Yet ultimately there is little inclusion of an aboriginal voice in Parliament.

The project is implicated through time aligned to the narrative of establishing treaty through the incessant negotiation of two sovereign parties. This is explored in the design of the building overtime in parallel with Victorian Democratic process. The final outcome is unknown and is only revealed through the constant occupation and re-occupation of the architecture at different stages of its resolution. The project is a result of the constant fossilisation, erasure, amendment and extension of architecture at different points in time throughout the buildings occupation. The final project is speculated to be a result of this process. Each new addition must negotiate with the prior condition. In an academic context achieving this outcome has been through the critique, amendment and fossilisation of prior building iterations. Spatially this has translated in the slippages of floor plates, spatial misalignments, negotiation of light, and the adaptation of program to suit new requirements.

This incessant process can be summarised through three major conditions of the project at different points through time: The Treaty Advocacy precinct, The Shed and The Carlton National Assembly, which is the final architectural outcome achieved only through the conglomeration of these prior parts.

The Advocacy precinct began through the fossilisation of the ruin of the Corkman. It forms a public space, an unintentional monument and a mixed use pavilion that centres the node to the site within the scale of the city.   The informal objects that form the precinct is gestured in a similar style of occupation as the political activist group that formed the aboriginal tent embassy on public land next to parliament house in Canberra in the 1970s. Through this long term occupation, the group were granted legal rights to that land.

The aboriginal tent embassy is an important indication of the power of collective activism, which realises that the needs of the community are not always met by government. The tent embassy suggests a politics of ‘re-occupation’. It provided a strong impact on the philosophy of land ownership, through an ad hoc, informal spatio-temporal occupation that lasted decades.

The objects seen here are the strategy in which the project reclaims itself beyond the colonial prescription of the site boundary and defines a new territory within the city. This begins to set up a framework for the objectives of the project to disrupt the everyday public realm and highlights the political aspirations of the project to be about the collective.

The second strategy that strengthened this condition was the co-opting of the language of construction and coded ground markings as a way of adopting an existing condition to blend into the surrounding context.  As if to challenge the authority imposed to the built environment. The remnants of this is most articulate through the site plan, highlighting the slippages of occupation beyond the prescribed boundary of the site.

The first assertion of the architecture in the second stage was an act of premature gratification.

Where the scale and impact of the entire project is established through the construction of a shed at the height of the architectures final condition. This was to identify the density of program it will harbour– as propagated by the act of establishing treaty. The procurement model implies the profound sense of urgency. Architecture is constantly confined to economic refrains, and in this instance especially within a pursuit that the government does not fully support. It is a fragile pursuit and architecture plays an important role in providing substance.

The condition of the shed is then fossilised into architecture. This can be read as one layer that is then negotiated with the future additions of program. More formalised functions are introduced that become embedded into the skin of the façade. You can most clearly see the remnant of this condition in the skin of the shed within this perspective section through the negotiation of light within the embedded programs. This has created slippages and protrusions beyond the fossilised façade. And create carefully nuanced lighting conditions within the interior spaces.

The programs align itself to the types of repercussions of establishing treaty – in adjacent to the functions of parliament.

The architecture aims to offer a balance of prescriptive space in terms of function while providing adaptability and diversity based upon the occupation over immediate and distant time frames.

I’ve focused on resolving the key public programmatic functions within the large scale proposal the public pavilion of the ground, the plenary hall or formalised advocacy precinct, the constitutional library and the final negotiation chamber.

The approach is a satirical critique of the colonial, commonwealth style systems that condition and shape our built environment and politics. The formal architecture of Parliament has been studied to inform the outcome of the project that deconstructs the static, ordered and classical expression of Melbourne and Canberra’s Parliament. This has been translated in the project within a number of conditions.

XML’s study of the parliaments of the United Nations – highlight how the senate chambers are maintained within 5 distinct typologies that have remained static throughout history despite contemporary shifts.

The essence of treaty is upon the basis of ensuring all Indigenous clans within Victoria are given a voice. Where this process currently stands – 12 of the 38 language groups in Victoria are not legally registered within an Australian legal framework. This has caused concern against the importance of all voices heard within the process – in which there has been a focus on the design to exert its function back into the public arena.

The final Negotiation Chamber – that aims to house the diverse 38 clan groups within Victoria with 76 allocated seats for both genders. The chamber itself aims to deconstruct the distribution of power within dominant spatial arrangements of the Australian style ‘horseshoe’ senate chambers. That reinforces a commonwealth style hierarchical democracy. The colour of the negotiation chamber imposes as the house of senates in parliament.

The disruption of stasis and order occurs by providing an informal and adaptable style of planning aimed to facilitate the space for disagreement and chaos within an equally distributed playing field.

There is a public circulation Gallery that provides an alternative route to the lift and stair core that wrap through the key public programs in emphasising the role of the collective. The galleries being the most transparent public component have a dominant presence on the façade which you can see in the yellow protrusions.

The Library can act as a component for a re-telling of past histories and future narratives. Representing the diversity in language groups and cultures within Victoria, it can enable people to re-connect, learn and interrogate Australia’s history.

The Plenary Hall offers an extension to the treaty advocacy precinct with a theatre and spaces for diverse assemblies. The gallery on the façade was occupied at an earlier stage of the project as the initial negotiation chamber, which has been re-purposed as the public gallery and intimate working spaces adjacent to the theatre.

Spaces aim to provide for particular functions but with a focus on the fluidity of space and adaptability of smaller programmatic requirements, so they are able to be re-used and re-purposed for diverse occupation needs.

The core and circulation strategy follows the planning of many of Richard Rogers’s tower proposals, that locate the toilets, stair and lift core outside of the buildings floor plate to optimise space within the tight footprint.

The floor plans of the programs I have focused on aim to represent the narrative of the incessant negotiation of the architectural fossilisation through time. They aim to represent an archaeological condition in the idea of architecture fixed, re-written and coming to be.

The project explores architectures role of both challenging and embodying power and the consequent social and cultural effects it can have. Things can be written and unwritten. Architecture has a profound role of embodying and distributing power. In this case the architecture of parliament has been both challenged and adapted to give substance to the sovereignty of aboriginal Victorians There is a certain frustration to the narrative, which ultimately marks the urgency of the path to treaty – and the reality of a government that prioritises 50 million dollars towards a Botany Bay redevelopment instead of establishing treaties with Australia’s first nation’s peoples.

The architecture is staged as a series of infrastructures that arrive immediately at a solution. There is no negotiation. The negotiation happens after. The conclusions we make at each stage are re-evaluated, amended, and adapted; Each stage is a recognition of our fallibility, our obligation to keep trying, and the depth of architecture to commit to the community it harbours.

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