RMIT University Master of Architecture Graduate Project 2021
Supervisor: Michael Spooner
The Fitzroy Gardens awaits the return of objects collected, stolen, forgotten, doubted, or misunderstood. The garden is marked by mislaid artefacts: a home from elsewhere, the memory of plaster replicas, infrastructure never realised, and the Indigenous landscape that once was. The garden describes the problem of repatriated objects that can find no end point to their journey, unable to recover a home, and that maintain in perpetuity what is lost.
A collection of buildings, held within this troubled landscape., are dedicated to a storeroom holding an infinite sum of cultural narratives, an archive awaiting the returning gifts, an institution that preserves and develops cultural integrity, and a display of catalogues of the imagination. The architecture of each building was an attempt to return what was forgotten, to hold the sum of all the artefacts, so that they may lie in repose against one another.
This project is caught in the memory of a tiny island between Croatia, Italy and Australia. On the fridge in my grandmother’s kitchen hangs a supermarket list which exposes the difficulty of finding yourself between homes: “bata za kek, kokenac, natmeg, raz, sesmi sid”
This story began on my first visit to the land of my heritage on a tiny island caught between Croatia and Italy known as Vis. My grandparents were brought up learning a dialect not only caught between Italian and Croatian but also the Croatian dialects of Komiški and Viški, towns just 8 km apart.
In their 20s they travelled by boat to Melbourne in the hope of setting up a new life in a foreign culture, learning the language through spoken word and assumed spelling. 60 years later they find themselves speaking a language of ‘broken English’ – not quite Croatian or English – a hybrid but that remains understood in both languages.
This idea is illustrated by the artefact of a shopping list and close inspection of the language in the item ‘Bata za Kek’. Bata referring to the English ‘butter’, Za referring to the Croatian ‘for’, and Kek becoming a hybrid of the two languages taking the K from the Croatian kolač and the sound of ‘cake’ in English
The project began with a potentially endless shopping list of people, communities, objects and artefacts that can be described through their location between place, language, identity and, custodianship.
The most pointed was the Gweagal Shield dropped by Indigenous Australians confronted by Captain Cook’s armed landing part at Botany Bay. The shield is held by the British Museum on public display, but with limited investment in describing its importance or how the single bullet hole that punctuates the surface heralded the violent colonisation of Australia and the (still ongoing) destruction of Indigenous life. The shield is an example of the continuing call for the return of artefacts and remains, held by colonial institutions, back into the custodianship of Indigenous people. The most poignant are of course cultural artefacts located somewhere else, but their circumstance of loss and unrecorded attribution mean they are unable to be claimed by their original owner, or return ‘home’ to a custodian.
The research also considered how an artefacts difficult frame of reference could be upheld rather than resolved. A Melbourne example was the ostracized public sculpture by Robert Swann ‘Vault’ that is perpetually held back from its returned to Melbourne City Square. Instead it emerges everywhere else, the yellow paint and folded planes an identity that proliferates amongst the city in other forms.
The difficulty of repatriation is highlighted by objects that may remain unclaimed, in the potential and overwhelming number of objects that could be housed, and in the impossibility of every object finding a rightful custodian.
The project realised a collection of buildings brought together in an existing garden that could await the return of objects that have been collected, stolen, forgotten, doubted or misunderstood. The method of curating lists begin to situate the objects within a world where they will not be restored to place or purpose. The individual buildings and their programs were conceived by evaluating specific object narratives through architectural form, the relationship to their surrounding landscapes, and their situation in a garden.
THE GARDEN AND LANDSCACPE
Fitzroy Gardens is selected as a platform for this project to contend with the impossible list of artefacts and objects that may never return home. The garden is marked by its own mislaid artefacts: a home from elsewhere, the memory of plaster replicas, infrastructure never realised, and the Indigenous landscape that once was. The garden is thus home to and implicated in the problem of repatriation and restoration.
Such an example is illustrated by the building known as Cook’s Cottage. Built but never used, instead packed up brick-by-brick and reclaimed by a wealthy Melbournian to represent the colonisation of Victoria. The cottage as it stands describes an abundance of miss interpretations of history. The legacy of this building’s difficult narrative can be carried through and showcased through describing the difficulty rather than its current cosey homely visual suggests. The building is symbolic of the myths and over simplified one-sided accounts of history which it educates to its visitors. But what if the public landmark signified a stronger collective native of history. Unveiling a more truthful account through displaying the difficulty of the narrative. Captain Cook never actually landed in Melbourne but rather a place in East Gippsland known as Hick’s Point.
An attempt was also made to recover a landscape through the overlaying of phantom landscapes : the original bluestone ballast that composes Melbourne rising through the sandy ground surrounded by both manicured and naturally growing grass and the recovered fragments of carparks drawn to the site by way of a lost sculpture. Further landscapes retreat or peel away revealing an impossible terrain underneath. A decisive axis east-west describes the proposed infrastructure that was never realised. The picturesque makes itself known.
Particular moments of the list are highlighted through a series of Centres each upholding a function that frames the narrative of the artefacts and objects that cannot be repatriated.
1 Centre for Upholding the Infinity of Colonisation
The first building is a Centre for Upholding the Infinity of Colonisation by drawing together collective narratives of cultural property. The building is described by the absence of a past one – the original garden kiosk that burnt down, and the existence of the present new kiosk – and curates a phenomenological experience to describe the difficulty of the two. The original garden kiosk is present through an absented relief that forms the interior qualities of the building creating spatial voids that disrupt the order of categorised shelving.
The interior is drawn-out through shelving that exposes objects, that would otherwise become hidden within the confines of a category , to all other objects in the interior. The voids allow the reading of objects against another across the spatial arrangements of the archive.
Surrounding the building is a landscape that is another attempt to recover the original garden kiosk. The landscape recalls key features of the kiosk’s façade imagining them as fossils in the ground. The archaeological facade is expressed out from the building and is used to push against the existing garden’s landscape suggesting a desire to confront the potential of an ever expanding collection of artefacts.
2. Centre for Proliferating Cultural Integrity
The second building a Centre for Proliferating Cultural Integrity, a collaboration with educational institutions that consider the temporal account of culture in order to conserve materials that assume cultural integrity. The building repeats elements of the original Cook’s Cottage, multiplying the cottage’s original proportions in plan. At a crucial moment the cottage is thrown open as though viewed in a Claude Glass.
The institution maintains its relevance by offering temporary residency, a satirical reflection upon the narrative of Cook’s Cottage picked up, transported and relocated, with no ties to a particular place or orientation.
The landscape attempts to recover this narrative, leaving the imprint of the original cottage tipped over to its side now bordered by an outline of the coastline Cook was known to have come ashore carved into the garden landscape. The garden path forces visitors to experience both =. As the carved border travels through the landscape it leads the eye back onto the distant original cottage.
3. Centre for Catalogues of the Imagination
The third building a Centre for Catalogues of the Imagination and is the location for what will inevitably remain incomplete collections.
The building mirrors the moorish-style conservatory that occupies this corner of the garden. An imprint of its original fan staircase is concertinaed into a façade to compose a grand but blind public entrance. The final steps confront a replica model of the original conservatory and conceal the intended private entrance for the conservator and curator. Concealed around a corner lies a shear wall with an imprint of the original doors allowing the public entrance behind it.
On ground level the public engage with the implied ruins of the original conservatory. On the upper gallery the conservator preserves any building fragments within a mesh encasement This work is overseen by the gallery curator who occupies the top most level and is in charge of the categories. The walls that enclose the gallery document in relief the original conservatory elevation, and that continue as imaginative interpretations to form the balustrade.
Future expansion is implied through the continuation of the building’s columns beyond its exterior walls. Across a expanded landscape the intersecting lines of the construction grid recover a piece of the indigenous landscape, while others return the garden plinths that once held plaster statues. Others suggest a column as the first step to the proposed buildings expansion.
4. Centre Awaiting the Return of Gifts
The forth building is a Centre Awaiting the Return of Gifts that operates in collaboration with the Australian Government’s Office for the Arts ‘Cultural Gifts Program’ which offers tax incentives to encourage people to donate cultural items and return them to Australian public collections.
The building reflects on past wrongs through an expanded silhouette of the Indigenous scarred tree in the garden. Repeated reference to the original conservator’s cottage are made in the window treatment. The interiors capture the qualities of the original tree canopy through voids and cut-out ornamentation. The building offers public engagement through its courtyard.
The project is not resolving the repatriation of objects but interrogates how the difficulty of repatriation and restoration could be claimed in architecture. This project was sparked through my journey drawn back to that tiny island of Vis as I grew up in in Australia learning of its culture through the stories from my grandmother who had lived there over half a century ago. In her words I found myself not entirely Croatian or Australian but rather identifying with somewhere that sits somewhere else. The project was an attempt to maintain this elsewhere .