Dialogue

As a creative research laboratory, Material Thinking takes seriously its responsibility to communicate its practice-based discoveries to peer communities.

Many of its projects are publicly funded; additionally, its work is embedded in professional practice and peer-reviewed academic culture. Material Thinking argues that the best urban outcomes are likely to be the result of informed exchange based on access to best practice case studies.

 
 

Meeting Place: the human encounter and the challenge of coexistence (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013)

A revolution in social relations makes the old meeting place at the heart of democratic life melt into air. The social media promote meeting everywhere. Where sociability is oversignified, the romantic (and Christian) theme of encounter rediscovers its moral, political – and erotic - significance. These developments have profound implications for public architecture, urban dramaturgy and, indeed, the politics and practice of living together.

The work of encounter informs such diverse fields as human geography, mass psychology, anthropology but its labour to improvise stable relational ecologies remains a kind of dark matter, assumed but not explained. Drawing extensively on practical place-making projects in Central Australia, The Meeting Place stages a meeting between these different disciplinary perspectives with a view to understanding the dynamics of encounter that meeting places incorporate (or, usually, repress). It shows that ‘living together’ involves strategies for ‘drawing apart’, a discovery of immense importance as global urbanisation threatens to engulf the natural environment in disaster.

Ideally, the reader of Meeting Place is able to see through master plans and the overly-predictive theatrical scenarios dear to planners and recognise the self-organising powers of communities liberated when the constructive influence of Public Eros is involved in building multicultural cohesion and wellbeing.

 

Places Made After Their Stories: design and the art of choreotopography (Perth: UWAP, 2015)

Using ‘worked examples’ derived from Material Thinking’s own practice, this 2015 publication a critical and creative response to the discourse of master planning. It reports on landscape design, civic space programs and urban revitalisation projects in Darwin (Zipcode and the State Square redevelopment proposal), in Victoria (the Point Nepean/Quarantine Station Redevelopment project, the Library/Council Offices and Harmony Square engagement in Dandenong), in Perth (Yagan Square), as well as giving an account of the double award winning Fertile Ground landscape design project at the Darlington Campus of the University of Sydney.

 

In this book derives insights about the nature of places and their production are derived from the situation of their production, one that is generally under the jurisdiction of political agendas and circumscribed by functionalist criteria prescribed by government urban planning agencies. The political, and highly politicized, context of the studies published here creates a robust obstacle to speculative reflection. A starting point is that the term place is, as it circulates in planning literature, complicit in the devitalisation it seeks to redress.

Until our architecture and planning schools develop a philosophical and historical comprehension of what places can be, their graduates will continue to operate with wildly anachronistic and attenuated place lexicons.

Places Made After Their Stories is also valuable for its first announcement, and discussion, of Material Thinking’s calling card the ‘creative template.’ The poetic ambition of the ‘creative template’ is evident in the following passage:

A creative template is a technique for holding things apart together: in an urban context it enables us to see the public space as immanent, self-organising. In terms of heritage, it isolates the through lines or principles of change that materialize at certain times and places … The creative template uses analogical thinking. It invites participants to encounter familiar concepts and images afresh. It perceives a resemblance between human gestures, movements and even anatomy and the ‘giant body’ of the urban space. It extrapolates from humanly scaled evidence of convergence distribution patterns relevant to the arrangement of objects and bodies in space

 

Signature (Melbourne: Lyon housemuseum, 2019)

Signature collects into a single publication eight of Paul Carter’s most significant public space inscriptions: ‘Tracks’ (Adelaide, North Terrace, 2002),’ Zipcode’ (Darwin, Smith Street East, 2011), ‘Nearamnew’ (Melbourne, Federation Square, 203) ‘Relay’ (Sydney, Olympic Park, Homebush Bay) ‘Golden Grove’ (Sydney, University of Sydney, 2008), ‘Alterations’ (Dandenong, Harmony Square, 2013), ‘Rival Channels’ (Brisbane, 180 Brisbane, 2015) ‘Mystic Edge’ (Perth, Scarborough Beach, 2018).

For the first time these typographical artworks distributed across ground surfaces and walls in public spaces can be grasped as poems, as significant ‘concrete poems’ in a literary sense. To achieve this translation from pavement to book, the texts have been entirely reset to bring out the originality of their phrasing, rhythmic patterning and formal arrangements. Sean Hogan (Trampoline) has found a graphic through line that articulates the evolutionary arc inscribed in the texts, whilst allowing the individual poems to flourish freely on the page.

About this arc, the Introduction states: ‘An arc of prayer describes Signature, the precarity of the stranger struggling to negotiate the protocols of entry, to annex his future to a foreign past, to name the gods whose will lies buried in the ground. Composed over twenty five years, the public inscriptions put into this book also stage a return: at the beginning is a mumbled, stumbling overhearing of the Kaurna account of colonisation, its prophecy and actualisation; at the conclusion is a child’s version of ‘Welcome to Country,’ faithfully discussed and realised in English and Nyungar.’

 

Turbulence: climate change and the design of complexity (Sydney: Puncher & Wattmann, 2015) 

In the text that follows Paul Carter positions the idea of turbulence as a means by which to understand multi-factorial complex change. He suggests turbulence does not have a single meaning, placing it in relationship to cultural shifts, scientific endeavour, political economy and importantly, a consideration of design.

Climate change and the design of complexity also describes an interdisciplinary project. It acts as a diary of sorts – a documentation if you like of various ‘thought-paths’ of iterations of the project. While turbulence is introduced as a way to respond to climate change, at its heart lies the broader philosophical proposition of turbulence as a concept to navigate and explicate complexity. It also maps Carter’s ongoing interests in the politics and poetics of space, place making, the dramaturgy and choreography of encounter, the constitution and formation of public space, the importance of sense-making to meaning and ‘dark writing.’

 

Neglected Dimensions: rough sketches for public space (publishing details to come, 2019

A collection of Paul’s sketches produced in his various roles as design research leader, community stakeholder facilitator, landscape design collaborator and public artist, Neglected Dimensions makes the case for process drawings that follow the line of thought rather than pre-box ideas of place into buildable representations.

As Paul notes in his accompanying essay, itself a major contribution to rethinking the role of drawing in place making, the alignment of drawing and tracking lets us document kinetic dimensions of space, and in particular, the dynamics of the meeting place: ‘A new patchwork composition of planes, energetic frequencies, inclinations, revolutions and revelations visualises the production of space dramaturgically, as a feedback loop between the pen that draws (or the subject that passes through) and the immediate environment.’

Neglected Dimensions is a collaboration with noted designer and Tomato co-founder, John Warwicker.