arch-peace editorials

30 June 2017

Shelter: The inconographic nature of temporary structures

In his most recent work, 'Refuge' Melbourne artist Kevin Chin explores the iconographic nature of temporary structures. His images are a reminder that we should not underestimate the role temporary structures play in our society. We asked Kevin what he thought temporary structures symbolise about our current world.

Rain Hail Shine, 2017, oil on Italian linen, 163 x 238 cm. Image: Kevin Chin.

'Refuge’ was a year in the making, and comprises five large-scale oil paintings. I had been reading widely about the global migrant crisis, and this mass media imagery was in my consciousness while developing the compositions. I restaged what became like symbols that I found kept repeating, and that resonated – like temporary shelter structures, children in queues, and domestic refuge.

By recreating these potent icons and rearranging their context, they’ve been translated away from specific world events, and into universal aspects of the human condition, we can all relate to – themes of journey, transition and sanctuary.

The temporary structures depicted in these paintings are used to speak of a broader sense of transience and instability. This reflects a global sense of insecurity, in the context of the US election of Trump, the resurgence of political parties like One Nation in Australia, and continuing debate around who belongs and who doesn’t. In this way, I believe temporary structures say more about our current society than permanent structures – about uncertainty, that things are constantly being re-evaluated and in a state of flux.

The theme of shelter in the paintings touches on the basic human need we all share, to feel secure and protected. My aim is to subtly reference these issues in a way that’s gentle, that makes you want to look closer, and then ask more about what’s going on. I hope to turn these issues into universal themes that we can all relate to, and thereby create a compassionate response.

Sheltered, 2017, oil on Italian linen, 97 x 142 cm. Image: Kevin Chin.

Pilgrimage, oil on Italian linen, 132 x 198cm. Image: Kevin Chin.

See ‘Refuge' by Kevin Chin from 1 July - 22 July 2017 at This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery, 108–110 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

In 2017 Kevin Chin was awarded a globally competitive residency at Teton Artlab USA. His international exhibiting profile also includes 2014 solo exhibitions at Art Stage Singapore, and Youkobo Art Space Tokyo, for which he was awarded an Ian Potter Cultural Trust Grant. He is the recipient of multiple grants from the Australia Council, City of Melbourne, and National Association for the Visual Arts. 

Visit Kevin's website to find out more about his work.

26 September 2016

Stories From the STREAT

Recently, Architects for Peace met a team of creative people working to empower homeless young people in Melbourne through the sharing of stories. Read on to learn more about the STREAT Stories Mapping Project.

City streets are shared by people from all works of life; from different places, cultures and backgrounds. In our everyday lives we tend to live in our own little worlds. Our journeys around cities are filled with our own memories and thoughts. We see the city through a lens that is clouded with our own histories and world views. We rarely get a chance to think about the city from the perspective of others.

The STREAT Stories Mapping Project provides us with a chance to view new perspectives. It allows us to see the city through a different lens- that of the young people who call the city streets home. They have a very different view of the city to most others, and see the streets from a different angle and at all times of the day. Viewing the city through their lens, we can learn a lot. Not only about our city, but about the lives and experience of others. The project builds compassion through understanding. It provides the broader Melbourne community with an idea of what it feels like to be homeless and disadvantaged in one of the world’s most 'liveable' cities.

STREAT is a much loved Melbourne based social enterprise that provides homeless and disadvantaged young people with life skills, training and work experience. STREAT operates a number of city cafes, and recently unveiled 66 Cromwell St, Collingwood, which incorporates youth spaces, a bakery, roastery and cafe to showcase the teams cooking and coffee making skills. Founded by CEO Bec Scott and Kate Barrelle in 2009, STREAT has trained and supported hundreds of young people. For this project, STREAT collaborated with the non/fictionLab in RMIT's School of Media and Communication and artist Alex Hotchin.

Stayci Taylor and Francesca Rendle-Short  from non/fictionLab have contributed the following words about the project and the process of collaboration:

"At the end of 2015, STREAT collaborated with RMIT University’s non/fictionLab and designer Alex Hotchin to empower the disadvantaged youth participating in STREAT’s programs to tell their own stories. The resulting #STREATstories Story Mapping Project connects homeless youth with other members of their communities. Working from the idea that we all share the same city, the project invites communities to tell their shared stories. 

The first of many planned creations was the Christmas wrapping paper, created from the stories of homeless youth, Indigenous collaborators, participants in STREAT events and shoppers at Melbourne Central. The map was distributed as wrapping paper at Melbourne Central in the busy 2015 holiday season, and supplies ran out several times. 

After an initial period of coming together and brainstorming, Alex Hotchin began the map-drafting process, while stories came in from STREAT participants and events, within which RMIT’s Stayci Taylor ran writing workshops. In October 2015, the non/fictionLab hosted the first official meeting of the blended team of STREAT, RMIT and independent representatives.  Those present included: designer Alex, STREAT CEO Rebecca Scott, Jarryd Williams (STREAT’s General Manager of Youth Programs) and non/fictionLab co-director Francesca Rendle-Short. From here stories were collated for incorporation into Alex’ evolving design. Out of this meeting came other exciting developments, including the inclusion of hashtags to link those experiencing the map to longer versions of the stories, as well as to songs composed from the stories and recorded (#STREATbeats). 

The text comes from the writers’ direct experience of the city.  While some of the text is quite literal in its placement, some invites the reader to enjoy the unexpected context.  Landmarks take subtly new forms as inspired by the imaginative interpretations of some of the writers. One-line snippets from stories run along city streets. Longer stories sit in blocks on the grid. An acknowledgement of country floats through the Yarra. The collaboration with Alex and STREAT aligns with the aims and objectives of the non/fictionLab, which is engaged in creative fieldwork, critical perspectives and imaginative inquiry".

The STREAT Stories Mapping project is an inspiring example of how we can share urban stories. Building shared understanding is a key part of creating strong, connected and inclusive communities.

To learn more about the organisations involved in the STREAT Stories Mapping project, follow the links at the end of this post. We also encourage you to visit #STREATbeats and listen to some of the youth stories that have been turned into songs.

Gathering stories from the STREAT. ©RMITnon/fictionlab

STREAT Stories Map.  ©AlexHotchin

STREAT Stories Map.  ©AlexHotchin

STREAT map christmas gift wrap. ©RMITnon/fictionlab.

non/fiction lab team members Stacyi Taylor and Francesa Rendle-Short. ©RMITnon/fictionlab.

STREAT map christmas gift wrap. ©RMITnon/fictionlab.

STREAT Stories Project Team:

STREAT is a social enterprise helping homeless youth to have a stable self, stable job and stable home. Through its six hospitality businesses in Melbourne STREAT provides young people with supported pathways to employment – including assistance finding stable housing, vocational skills, improved mental health and well-being.

RMIT non/fictionLab is a research centre that critically explores and articulates the value of creative work as a playful vessel for the imagination. This thinking through making can show people who they are and how they are implicated in the lives of others. Non/fiction lab builds and supports laboratories of practice around matters of social, political, cultural and environmental concern. They work in partnership with fellow scholars, writers and artists, and with industries and communities, local and international. The team for this project includes Dr Michelle Aung Thin, Kat Clarke, Dr Melody Ellis, Dr Francesca Rendle-Short, Dr Ronnie Scott and Stayci Taylor. 

Alex Hotchin is an illustrator, creator, map maker and adventurer. Working across a variety of media, she creates work based on the principals of story telling by capturing detailed moments in multi-layered narratives.  She has a particular interest in the art of map making, and uses this medium to tell stories about the inherent subjectivity of experiencing a place.  Her maps have been exhibited in New York, Istanbul and Melbourne.

21 September 2016

Representing Peace: Can peace be set in stone?

Today is the International Day of Peace, a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace around the world. What are some different ideas of peace? How is it represented in urban spaces?  
In considering these questions we turn to Paul Gough, who gives an interesting narrative of the changing nature of peace monuments over time. 

‘I thought we had quite enough memorials that seemed to revive the war spirit rather than to consider peace, which is, after all, the aim and end of every great struggle’. 

So reflected the sculptor Adrian Jones as he prepared to cast the symbolic figure of ‘Peace’ for the Uxbridge war memorial in 1924. For artists working in the classical style, ‘Peace’ usually took the conventional form of a female figure holding aloft an olive branch, palm frond, or occasionally, a dove. ‘Peace’ was rarely a solo act. Invariably she was a junior partner to the more strident figure of ‘Victory’, and always located at a lower point on the pedestal arrangement.

In Colchester where the citizens raised £7,500 to erect a five metre high war memorial of Portland stone, the figure of ‘Peace’ rests at ground level and is overshadowed by an massive winged figure of ‘Victory’, in her right hand a sword representing ‘the Cross of Sacrifice and Sword of Devotion’ and in her left hand a laurel wreath – the classical emblem of Victory. During the ‘monumental era’ of the 1920’s the representation of‘ Peace’ was riddled with ambiguity. For example, the ‘Peace’ figure atop the Thornton Memorial, near Bradford, holds a wreath in each hand, offering us a perplexing choice between olive leaves of peace or victorious laurels. The popular inscription Invicta Pax could mean ‘undefeated in war’, ‘undefeated by death’, or even ‘peace to the undefeated’. Few, if any, memorials celebrated peace in its own right. British memorial sculpture implied that ‘Peace’ was the consequence of ‘Victory’, not an ideal worth promoting as a separate or distinct entity. Only the keenest horticultural eye might be able to tell the difference between an emblem of peace - the olive - and those of victory, the laurel.

Not until after the Second World War do we find public artworks exclusively intended to promulgate the ideas of peace. Often prompted by a fear of the consequences of nuclear proliferation, the most memorable artworks are located in such blitzed cities as Dresden, Coventry and Nagasaki. As a designated ‘peace city’, Hiroshima functions simultaneously as a reliquary, a funerary site, a civilian battlefield, and as a locus of political and social debate. Invariably, most ‘peace memorials’ have taken the form of designed landscapes, preserved ruins and counter-monuments. As a communal and collective act, gardening became the favoured rhetoric of peace, resulting in the 1970s in a network of local, national and international peace gardens and peace parks. They served various functions: in Central America they were created as ‘cordons sanitaire’ to help promote trans-national co-operation, in the Middle East ‘peace parks’ have been created as de-militarised buffer zones between warring factions. In central Africa they have been created to erase recent military turmoil and to protect bio-diversity. Perhaps Ken Livingstone’s greatest legacy will be the network of peace gardens in London planted to symbolize the GLC stance on anti-nuclear proliferation.

Perhaps the most recent, and infamous, act of activist – or guerilla -  gardening took place during the May Day marches through central London. Protesting against globalism, capitalism and war, marchers not only attempted to reclaim official spaces of state, but to stain it with irreverent markers, of which the most memorable is the green ‘mohican’ placed on the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square.  It was not the disfiguration of a state icon that was held to be most heinous, rather that it should be done with dug-up turf, a material normally associated with manicured lawn, horticultural order, and the ‘green coverlet’ of official commemoration. Compare this irreverent, but rather witty, action with the state-condoned act of mass tribute during the grieving for Princess Diana, with its floral aneurysm bursting out of St James Palace – a triumph of cellophane wrapping and recreational grief.

Where ‘peace monuments’ do exist, they are often presented as fluid, open-ended artworks that require active co-operation from the public. A peace cairn in County Donegal, Eire, for example, consists of a mound of hand-sized stones individually contributed by pilgrims wishing to create a ‘permanent monument to peace’ which is, in fact, in a constant state of change. Such a ‘monument’ seems to suggest that if ‘peace’ cannot be represented because it lacks the necessary rhetorical language, it might be promoted by continuous public involvement. After all, a peace cairn symbolises, at one level, the laying down of ‘arms’ but also the need for maintenance, commitment and persistent effort.

Peace is most often represented aesthetically and polemically as transient, dialectic and fluid. It is rarely state-sponsored and eschews the plinth and the plaza. It has also reclaimed the temporal, as well as the spatial. Bristol-based web artists Annie Lovejoy and Mac Dunlop have extended the domain of peace into the fourth dimension; their web project The Numbers and the Names refers to the global impact of September 11th. Words drawn from Dunlop’s poems float on a colourless screen, creating an orbital movement circling a void. The words appear in an order generated according to an inverse reading of the viewers’ IP address and, significantly, those of previous visitors to the web site. By using the mouse, the orbit of words – celebrated, wind, bomb, missing - can be slowed down or re-orbited, but they cannot be stopped altogether. As a virtual monument, The Numbers collates a record of mourners rather than a conventional listing of the dead; it is endlessly iterative and inclusive in a way that extends our understanding of the memorial act. In its refreshing simplicity, the anti-rhetoric of peace has moved some way from angel’s wings and ambiguous laurel wreaths.

Original publication details: Paul Gough, ‘Can peace be set in stone?’ from the Times Higher Education, 4th April 2003, pp. 18-19.

Paul Gough is Pro Vice-Chancellor and Vice President, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University. Paul's research interests lie in the iconography of commemoration, the cultural geographies of battlefields, and the representation of peace and conflict. Visit Places of Peace to explore some of his work in these areas. Learn more about Paul through his RMIT staff profile: Professor Paul Gough.

21 August 2016

Designing the Temporary

Continuing on the topic of home; Tahj Rosmarin discusses his proposal for the creation of a new typology of temporary asylum seeker housing in the Netherlands.

The phases and processes of constructing a village using scaffolding houses. ©TahjRosmarin
Earlier this year, in late February, I was lucky enough to be shortlisted in a Dutch design competition that called for the design of new housing solutions for asylum seekers in the Netherlands. The competition, organised by the COA (abbreviation for the ‘Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers’) in collaboration with Government Architect Floris Alkemade, attempted to provide creative alternatives to current typologies for temporary housing. The competition was set up with the intention of developing a prototype that could be implemented across current refugee centres in the Netherlands.

In 2015, the Netherlands had an unprecedented number of incoming refugees, which placed huge pressure on its existing asylum seeker reception infrastructure. According to the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, 58,000 asylum seekers entered the Netherlands in 2015, with most of the population originating from Syria (a total of 27,000 people). As such, the competition appealed to designers- asking them to offer new possibilities in the way that asylum seekers could be housed.

My initial entry into the competition involved a material that is typically seen as an industrial building system: scaffolding. The proposal saw the huge potential that the system had in providing a flexible structural system for temporary and modular housing. Scaffolding is a system that is able to be assembled extremely quickly, be dis-assembled, be self-built and be incrementally added upon. From the very start of the process, it was my clear intention that the system of scaffolding could be used in a way that encouraged user-participation in all stages of the process. Refugees themselves would be able to build their own houses- with the possibility to appropriate and incrementally extend upon the dwelling as needed after the initial construction phase.

The design consisted of three simple elements: scaffolding, facade and roof panels and a ‘Smart Module’. These standardised and modular elements combined to create a house that was flexible, lightweight and easily assembled. The first element involved using a standardised scaffolding system (Layher’s AllRound SteigerSysteem®) to create 3 x 3 metre scaffolding modules. These ‘modules’ were designed in a way that encouraged incremental growth; they could be attached and dis-assembled extremely easily. An outer, transparent skin protected the whole house from the heavy Dutch rain, while still ensuring that the structural simplicity of the scaffolding was not hidden. The interior cladding of the house was left up to the user: offering a range of materials varying from cardboard to timber to polycarbonate. The final component of the design was a ‘Smart Module’- consisting of a pre-fabricated bathroom and kitchen unit. This unit acted as the spatial and functional ‘core’ of the house (a reference to B.V Doshi’s ‘Core Plus’ concept)- containing all the necessary electrical, sewerage and hydraulic components needed. The house itself aimed to be completely self-sufficient: generating electricity from the solar panels on its roof, collecting rainwater, and providing opportunity for urban agriculture. Prefabricated bathroom units were equipped with water saving toilets and showers, minimising the usage of water and electricity. Self-sufficiency ensured that the environmental footprint of the house was extremely minimal: it did not produce a lot of waste or consume excessive energy.

The biggest challenge when designing for a temporary use, was ensuring that once assembled, the houses could create a positive urban environment. In order to solve the complexities of bridging a formal urban structure with a participatory project, the system of a ’Tartan Grid’ was used. This ‘Tartan Grid’ was used as an urban tool to cater for the varying needs and demands of the incoming participants. Within an 11.5 metre grid, refugees were able to freely decide upon the placement of their own dwelling. Within this boundary, an offset of 2 metres ensured that the streetscape was always protected. The flexibility of the ‘Tartan Grid’ allows for each urban layout to be specific to its site and surroundings, but more importantly to the needs of each particular household. After testing the variety of design responses, it was discovered, that this ‘Tartan Grid’ almost simulated the spatial qualities of informal urban settlements, while still using a formal architectural language. It became clear that the spaces between the buildings became the most spatially vibrant- a phenomenon which is often the case in informal settlements.

The temporary nature of the project allowed for it be envisaged on a variety of sites within the city. The houses could be used to extend the capacity of existing refugee facilities. They could also be placed within open agricultural land, but also upon vacant urban blocks. Urban and semi-urban locations, where direct contact between newcomers and established immigrants and locals, were ideal sites as they provided many opportunities for social integration. The flexible tectonic nature of the system also meant that the houses could be used within existing abandoned buildings, such as factories or office towers. Besides housing, the potential of the scaffolding system also suggested potential in the creation of public or community buildings. These buildings could be built by the community and for the community- a social exercise in citizen collaboration.

In true Dutch fashion, the project was dissected and analysed by a range of professionals (including engineers and scaffolding fabricators), all to ensure that it was build-able and practically applicable. The whole experience was truly immersive, and as a soon to be graduate architect, I am grateful for the opportunity it allowed for me to further develop my own architectural thought processes. The project highlighted the complex design issues that arise when one tries to incorporate elements of informal architecture within a formal design framework. Despite this, it has allowed me to see the potential of an alternative model of architecture- one that combines the potential of the formal in exhibiting order and creating the boundaries of space, with the social conscious and humility of the informal in allowing the individual to play an equal role in the creation of his/her built environment. The challenge of merging these two approaches begins with the de-stigmatisation of informality as negative, whilst simultaneously re-thinking the regulatory control that formal systems enforce.

Project team
Tahj Rosmarin- Exchange student TU Delft, University of Melbourne
Bas Gremmen and Jos Lafeber - TU Delft
Doron Rosmarin - Parvenu Architectural
Ad van Meer - Layher Scaffolding
Mischa Andjelic - IMd Ingenieurs
Niek Brand - myCUBY


Left: Construction axonometric. Right: Floor plan of singular unit. ©TahjRosmarin

Tahj Rosmarin is a graduate of the Bachelor of Architectural Design from the University of Queensland and a current student of the Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, recently completing an exchange semester at TU Delft in the Netherlands. Since graduating in 2012, Tahj has gained experience working on a varied collection of design proposals; ranging from small- scale residential projects, to large scale urban design work. Through his many architectural and travel experiences abroad, Tahj has become keenly involved in the idea of a bottom up and participatory based architecture. He has recently been shortlisted in a nationwide Dutch competition, A Home Away from Home, run by the Chief Government Architect, and was named a Special Mention in an international design competition, Shelter Global Dencity. To find out more about Tahj visit: