Not Quite Square: alternative architecture

Not Quite Square: alternative architecture


Take me back to 1973 and the time around this festival. Why did people want to escape the cities? Disillusionment and
desire and and pragmatics, like as a cross-section of the community
particularly young people who were disillusioned with the way society was
going. Now we’ve had the Vietnam War, they felt that society was too money-driven
and conservative and so on. So they desired to live in other ways and where
are you going to do that? Well the pragmatics came in, in that the northern
rivers and the dairy industry had fallen over. Banana plantations had fallen over, the land was was cheap and then the Aquarius festival happened and it kind
of catalysed it. And that’s when, Carly, you decided to stay is that right?
Oh security in numbers of course we are moved to the same region. Lee, what was
the motivation? Though I mean from your perspective, I suppose as a historian in
this aspect to build their own houses. What was the genesis for the growth of
these sort of self building communities? For some it was about that,
living communally. So that’s where the multiple occupancies emerged because people were wanting to experiment with collective forms of living that they
weren’t able to do elsewhere and also more of an emphasis for other people was
just to live autonomously to not be systems dependent to be off the grid and
to be more sustainable although the word wouldn’t have been used so much at that
point. And was there a significant building experience at that time, do you
think Lee? Again it was a real range because some some of the people that
went up there were architecture dropouts trained as architects or architecture
students. Others were completely naive, so you had a real range of
experiences. OK, what were the sorts of structures that we could see in this
area? Initially lots of tents and caravans and pole structures and so on
moving into when people started to build themselves more permanent homes the
domes mud brick housing stabilized earth the domes often very concrete
timber a lot of timber that was taken from site early experiments in recycling
and salvaging although the salvaging of whole buildings that were then
recomposed and reassembled as houses alright you’re living in a dome which
you built in at this time as well what does your dome look like it’s a ferrous
image shell it’s on top of a cliff it’s it’s in turpentine forest older
turpentine forest it doesn’t have a road it’s invisible from the air so it’s
using a site that was of no value which is something we’ve learnt possibly from
Sydney don’t do anything on valuable real estate and also we’re trying to
keep off agricultural land because we didn’t have much of it it was a very
steep an infertile valley and gardens were precious and why build a dome what
was the motivation for that for you ah in a forest things fall down from above
it’s strong and it doesn’t burn terribly well because it’s a cement she’ll also I
didn’t need to know much building so you built this yourself everybody built
everybody’s house in the particular region I’ll decide I was influenced by
several people from the rush cutter Bay cruising Yacht Club actually it was that
all because i had the yachting experience got intriguing experience and
furosemide hull experience okay quite a fashion at that time oh and what about
for you because i know that you are an architect and you moved to this area in
the late 1970s as well we actually loved the rain forest area and we seriously I
wanted to learn how to design passive solar buildings for the subtropics you
can extend the range that lee talks about from just disillusioned and drop
out it actually extends to people who were altruistic and believed in
designing better cities we were working in sydney on the glebe during the
Whitlam years we’re actually trying to create functional communities and we’re
very serious about it it wasn’t just sex drugs and roll we’re actually trying to
build a future for our children did you think that you were doing something very
different though at the yes of course but our experience
included living in melanesia Polynesia and you Guinea Indonesian Co building
wedding houses in Vanuatu and documenting that as a research thing so
architecture is a very broad range and and our influence was with indigenous
people and it moved us away from mainstream North Sydney architecture
practice how did the community get together did everybody drag without
serious now at each other 10 20 people would get together and polls were very
accessible in a lot of durable hardwoods so starting your network with your
neighbors and a big day would be arranged and everyone would come with
their gear and knock a few chickens on the head and few beers and in a day
you’d have the structure would be up with 20 people it’s sort of like a barn
raising how long did it take to build your dome carhartt took about a year of
meshing and weaving of the steel and then a great big spaghetti day happened
and 18 people turned up through 10 tons of mortar all over it and and it’s there
standing today yes for some the dome had it that space had a spiritual content to
it there was a space of the universe in a less spiritual way it was also just it
wasn’t square you know someone actually not square here quite literally not
square but also not square in the sense of being too conservative so for some
people if you were going to move into this area and do things differently you
didn’t want to just build yourself an a-frame chalet but also it was the the
lectures and and the work of buckminster for only is it time in a day with him in
1970 at Sydney Uni and he was inspirational so he blew our socks off
here is a 2 year old with a bullet bald head and he just spoke like a machine
gun and we were hung onto every word it was just amazing his concept of minimal
space great yogurt spaces yeah meditation it’s a good way but each
house that you assisted with you helped build you learn more and more so you
shared building techniques you shared ideas how did those ideas get shared
around collie what was straight experience of seeing
we’ll build things and get things right and get things wrong and you know
participatory design academically where you collaborate and you do experiential
learning and you and you learn on the job even if you think your professional
and you’ve got knowledge you actually have to start again and work with the
materials at hand because we used mostly recycled and on-site materials so we
were actually experimenting with local materials on site materials rather than
going like now going to a big warehouse and getting a semi loaded materials
describe your home Owen well the river house is an octagon with the mezzanine
and the roof were actually experimented with shingles in a forest that had fire
hazard and we ended up learning how to do ferro concrete very well we helped
other people learn how to do cuz it you could mold the gutters and shapes and it
was free form you couldn’t experiment with the experiment on the dunny you
know and then you work on the house and we experiment on ourselves and then
other people so it was all experimental and it was lovely to be able to work in
the round and off outside of adequate what about the reactions from the local
community what was happening there at the time oh it’s a nightmare harassed by
well terrified of the police and the council the corporate body was trying to
get everybody to make things as low-key as possible so as not to draw fire we
had demolitions and we had in major police invasions and it was all quite
nasty and what about things like even getting the power on and plumbing and
for it to always stand yeah okay building inspectors and planners I’ve
got on very well with them because essentially you needed to deal with
structure safety and health and if you get that well detailed and well they
actually like the fact that you were innovative the area that was difficult
was proving to them that dry composting toilets and reed beds and water
management systems that weren’t traditional
were healthy and we had to prove that so we set precedence there and they thought
you could only do that on 100 acres in the bush if they built well they
actually are sustainable well I came to the project because I had been doing
work on like his alternative architectural practices contemporary
alternative architecture practices and realizing that this stuff had been
happening at our own doorstep in the 60s and into the 70s the more that I
researched the more interesting i found the material and the more admiration I
came to have for the people that actually did it required so much
dedication so much time and effort and these people were really here kind of
path breaking in terms of sustainable building practices defining moment was
trekking up the side of the hill barefoot through the mud to reach
Carly’s dome which was our first visit that’s pretty special it’s certainly
worth a look at and I do thank my guests for joining me here on by design it’s
wonderful to meet you lease tickles her win favor and Carly McLaughlin thank you
so much for coming in and dropping by thanks for thank you are in your world unfolding

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