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future city

where there’s a will there’s a when

mariam arcilla: now and when: australian urbanism

Mariam Arcilla is a cultural developer, curator and co-director of rabbit + cocoon multi-arts hub. Previously she was co-director of 19 KAREN Contemporary Artspace and tinygold artist-run initiative. She holds an Honours Degree and Bachelor of Creative Arts Degree at Griffith University and lives and works on the Gold Coast.

The Oceanic City, Arup, team members Alanna Howe, Alexander Hesp The Oceanic City, Arup, team members Alanna Howe, Alexander Hesp
image FloodSlicer

NOW and WHEN is creatively directed by John Gollings and Ivan Rijavec, realised in 3D by Floodslicer and commissioned by Janet Holmes à Court. Launching at last year’s prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale, the show attracted an impressive 93,000 attendees. The Gold Coast is Australia’s sixth fastest growing city. It is also a metropolis that, in voraciously re-imagining its urban character, also serves to delete whatever is left of its architectural heritage. This is where Now and When makes its Australian debut.

Entering Gold Coast City Gallery, the venue for the show, I immediately feel transported into an otherworldly environment. The cavernous, infinity-like darkness of the space is startling. I find myself transfixed by the way-finding lines that slash across the black-coated walls and onto the floor and glow blaze-orange under ultraviolet lighting. Like traffic cones, they direct me to a stack of hollowed-out orange cubes. Fashioned into a dense cluster, not unlike a downtown city, these cubes tower at varied heights and remind me of the skeletal histories of past buildings, or templates of a future metropolis. Or perhaps they represent the void between people who reside in high-rises, disengaged from the bustling congregation of the ground below. A great screen commands the middle of the space, and 3D glasses (made especially for the show) vine down from the ceiling. I take my place in a scatter of stools and prepare for the eye-ride.

Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia, NOW Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia, NOW
photo John Gollings

The short film starts with prototypical photographs of contemporary Australian landscapes, as documented by John Gollings. Here, vastly deserted mining craters of the western outback are contrasted with the high density eastern cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Surfers Paradise. Ninety three percent of Australia’s population is crammed onto the whiskers of the coastline, or the upward heave of concrete and lights. At the same time, it’s alarming to see colossal craters drilled into Newman and Kalgoorlie to become cityscapes in the distant future.


WHEN features 17 immersive, at times overwhelming, multi-dimensional explorations of future cityscapes. Selected from a nationwide competition, various designers and architects aimed to challenge conventions, and liberate themselves from notions of ‘safe’ design.

Multiplicity, John Wardle Architects and
Stefano Boscutti, WHEN Multiplicity, John Wardle Architects and
Stefano Boscutti, WHEN
image FoodSlicer
At the recent Excellence in Architecture forum, Michael Harrison from City of Sydney asked: “Are cities a kind of grand accident, or can human will be exercised effectively so that city form is a true expression of our highest aspirations?” Aspiration is indeed what comes to mind when viewing snippets of an idealistic, harmonious future. Among the highlights: In Multiplicity (John Wardle Architects and Stefano Boscuitti) Melbourne does not expand further inland, rather it grows up and down. Airspace is utilised to intersect a ‘floating city’ with the existing ‘underground’ metropolis. Featured on this edition’s cover, Mould City (Colony Collective, Melbourne School of Design) explores what Rijavec calls “metropolitan Darwinism,” re-conditioning mould to turn it from a decaying organism into an active harnessing source. The ongoing migration problem in Australia is resolved through gigantic residential biomimetic water-pods in The Ocean City (Arup).


Recently, film critic Robert Ebert chastised 3D films as a waste of filmic experience and an excuse to hike up movie prices. However, I believe that in the circle of architecture, 3D is king. This show portrayed architecture as having the ability to visually stimulate, augment and enchant, to convince audiences they are, for a moment, immersed in another dimension. Urban planners will use this new form of 3D to translate concepts and multifaceted visual narratives, and flattened drawings and models will come to life as environments and encounters.

sound & interactivity

The show’s soundtrack, engineered by T4K, enhances this suspension of disbelief. The score for NOW sounds foreboding, sometimes urgent—often the bass rumbles at my feet, leaving my stool slightly vibrating. I am later told by a gallery staff member that the positioning of the sound system just behind the audience was an intentional request by the Creative Directors. In contrast, WHEN is meditatively ambient, heightening the utopian imagery of a fearless and environment-friendly future city. I stay for repeated viewings, and notice that while a few visitors complain of the sound being too loud, a group of children appears to relish this environment. Their shoulders jump slightly at the sharp, cacophonous parts and they harmoniously ‘whoosh’ around the swirl-sounding scenery of Saturation City (McGauran). Children also seem to sit very close to the projection screens—not so different from watching television up close—but without the restraints of two-dimensional TV screens. This multi-layered experience means they too can be part of the action. The kids start clawing their hands in the air and like cats about to scratch, they ‘catch’ the enormous jelly-fish-like hydro-turbines of The Ocean City and duck down as the glass-like, multi-polar structures of Survival and Resilience pierce the air (BKK Architects, Village Well, Charter Keck Cramer and Daniel Piker).


Displayed alongside the film is Then and Now: The Surfers Paradise Re-photography Project, a comparative 2D photographic study of Surfers Paradise from 1973 to present day 2011. I am astounded to see just how much this city is alien to its vintage evidence. As John Gollings laments (Sara Hicks, “A 3D Revolution in Architectural Photography”, ABC Radio 2011), “The problem is there is not a single building left in the photographs that I shot and they’ve moved the road alignments...I want people to understand what’s been lost and what’s been gained by these direct comparisons.” Out on the foyer, Revisiting the City—Naples by Donna Marcus sees an assemblage of aluminium kitchenware depicting the civic uniformity of grid cities. (See Editorial page.)

the 3D book

NOW and WHEN is a blockbuster exhibition supported by a limited edition 3D book, a short documentary and two mini-exhibitions as well as forums and workshops. However, unlike traditional shows seen at much larger, institutional galleries—whereby pre-digested mainstream works from overseas ‘star’ artists are imported—NOW and WHEN is proudly an Australian production, one of fierce creative foresight and technological vigour. And while the urban fabric explored is uniquely Australian, the issues it raises are felt globally.

To encapsulate the experience, the book comes with complimentary 3D paper glasses bringing to life the NOW pages. Like the film, the pages are split between the insipid mining fields and the luminous, dusk-shot city lights. When a colleague perused the 3D sections she shrieked, “This book is giving me vertigo!” She shut the book, thus flattening the pointy skyscrapers that, for a moment, seem to dart off the paper.

And this is inherently what exhibitions should be about, eliciting reaction and pushing boundaries. As an avid exhibition-goer, I feel that NOW and WHEN is one of the most striking shows I have seen in a long while. Someone asked me, “What is an architectural showcase doing in a contemporary art gallery?” There is a saying that an artist can create a square wheel, but an architect must make theirs round. Through NOW and WHEN architects become artists by harnessing creative inceptions to build cities and streetscapes that supersede realistic notions and constraints. This entertaining and spectacular program achieves its aim to create instant impact, to make those wheels square and to leave an impression long after the glasses are taken off.

NOW and WHEN originally appeared in the Australian Pavilion, Venice for the 12th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, 2010, and is now showing at the Seoul Museum of Art, from April 25-June 26. Versions of the exhibition will appear at Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design, Sydney, July 2-Sept 25 and Ballarat International Foto Biennale, Aug 20-Sept 18.

Australian Institute of Architects, NOW and WHEN: Australian Urbanism, creative directors John Gollings, Ivan Rijavec, 3D visualisation Floodslicer; Gold Coast City Art Gallery, March 26-May 1,

Mariam Arcilla is a cultural developer, curator and co-director of rabbit + cocoon multi-arts hub. Previously she was co-director of 19 KAREN Contemporary Artspace and tinygold artist-run initiative. She holds an Honours Degree and Bachelor of Creative Arts Degree at Griffith University and lives and works on the Gold Coast.

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. 5

© Mariam Arcilla; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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