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Junk Tectonics and Feral Communities
Joanne Choueiri in conversation with Amelia Griffin-Tovey on the unexpected ecologies of the golf club.

The Architecture Australia (AA) Prize for Unbuilt Work, initiated by publishing and event company Architecture Media, celebrates and platforms works of speculative architecture and their essential role in challenging the discipline. Speculative projects like those of Superstudio, Archigram, Reyner Benham, and Lebbeus Woods, to name just a few, have been central to the field in questioning architecture's power to create spaces that acted as social and economic critiques of the happenings of their time. The prizes over the years were awarded to proposals with various themes; while some became built works, others were noted as works of social commentary. The prize in 2023 was awarded to Amelia Griffin-Tovey for her work titled: "Junk Tectonics, Feral Communities: The Metamorphosis of the Mildura Golf Club."

The project — sited in regional Victoria, Australia — proposes the growing-together of existing ecologies, emergent communities, and discarded junk to create structures that promote ecological rebirth. In this interview, graduate architect Amelia Griffin-Tovey reflects on the process and motivations behind her project and the complex historical, social, theoretical, and ecological layers that it combines.

JOANNE CHOUEIRI Your project is situated in the Mildura Golf Club in regional Victoria, Australia. Given the agricultural and technical specificities of a golf course, what prompted your interest in the site?

AMELIA GRIFFIN-TOVEY The project began from my own emotional aversion to the sheer number of golf courses (45) along the Murray River, a river unrecognisable from its pre-colonial state and currently in deep ecological crisis following the implementation of large-scale built interventions that facilitate irrigation. I later found out that this irrigation system has not only established vast expanses of agricultural lands, but it also provides water for many of these golf courses to upkeep their green lawns (and they need a huge amount of water).

I was interested in how extractive thinking governs the value of attributes of regional space and creates a way of viewing regional landscapes in terms of how they can be manipulated to garner profit.

I was interested in how extractive thinking governs the value of attributes of regional space and creates a way of viewing regional landscapes in terms of how they can be manipulated to garner profit. Alongside this, I was also reading a lot of feminist theory, which extended this thought into understanding the human and more-than-human hierarchies created by the extraction process.

Mildura became the perfect grounds to test this thinking, with its establishment reliant on large-scale irrigation and the transformation of red-soiled arid lands into fruitful agricultural plains and lush green golf courses. The extractive hierarchy became apparent, with aspects of the landscape being depleted, diminished, favoured, or excluded. Through this lens, the Mildura Golf Club became a site where human and more-than-human oppressions coalesce, with a backdrop of water shortage, ecological crisis, and dramatic transformation.

The Mildura Golf Club became a site where human and more-than-human oppressions coalesce, with a backdrop of water shortage, ecological crisis, and dramatic transformation.

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JC The golf course is presented as a superimposed landscape that ultimately erases past Aboriginal histories and colonial exploitation of the land. What problems does this typology encompass, specifically in the context of regional Australia?

AGT The golf course in regional Australia represents a superimposition of a colonial ideal, a landscape reminiscent of the rolling hills and green grasses typical of Scotland and the wider UK (which is where golf originated). Golf lovers will often profess that the sport garners a connection to nature. Still, that connection depends on a human relationship with ecologies that seeks to “tame”, control and erase endemic ecologies — and one which comes at the cost of massive water consumption.

The golf course in regional Australia represents a superimposition of a colonial ideal, a landscape reminiscent of the rolling hills and green grasses typical of Scotland and the wider UK.

Each golf course varies in its actual physical accessibility, and many have astronomical membership fees, which creates social exclusion; others are open to public use (whilst still charging a fee). But even within a range of physical accessibility, the culture surrounding golf is predominantly controlled by the wealthy white man. The sport involves socioeconomic, gendered and racial barriers and prohibits using golf courses for other community activities. I found, through looking at Mildura Golf Club's newsletters and rule books, that the sport itself plays within a range of binaries — human/nature, man/woman, member/non-member — through things like dress codes, members' privileges, men’s and women's days, and gendered teeing-off points.

The sport involves socioeconomic, gendered and racial barriers and prohibits using golf courses for other community activities.

The golf course becomes a space catering recreation to narrow social groups whilst excluding large expanses of land from communities and native ecologies, sucking up large sums of water, and implementing unreconstructed paternalistic social and gender hierarchies.

JC The project is inspired by feminist ecological thought. Can you elaborate further on this concept and how it guided the project's design?

AGT Feminist ecological theories provided me with a lens to understand the golf course as a space that excludes selected groups of both human and more-than-human; it excludes ecologies and communities in equal measure. This entanglement of oppression is linked to large-scale global economic and political movements.

It was essential to see that geological transformation has happened not at the hands of humans, but at the hands of humans with power.

I was also heavily informed by the term “Capitalocene”, coined by Donna Haraway, to foreground the changed geological landscape of the Anthropocene at the hands of Capitalism, thereby linking the social and environmental oppression of the current moment. It was essential to see that geological transformation has happened not at the hands of humans, but at the hands of humans with power. This also sparked a linking of the golf course with an adjacent landfill site, as I felt these landscapes were juxtaposed on a spectrum of human value and care.

Overall, feminist ecological thinking informed my proposal of a radical and critical metamorphosis of the site.

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JC One area of the project uses junk as its primary material, as a sort of archaeology of the site. What is junk in this case, and how has it been used before? Can you share some references or case studies?

AGT The Mildura Golf Course happens to be adjacent to a landfill site, presenting an opportunity to subvert perceptions and materials at opposite ends of the spectrum of 'favouring and discarding' that I had identified within the region.

To translate the cross-disciplinary concepts of extraction and feminist ecology into an architectural response, I enacted my design terminology, allowing me to absorb some of the conceptual thinking in physical form. In this sense, 'junk tectonics' became an architectural device that allowed me to simultaneously address theoretical concepts and small-scale, tactile moments in the design. I define junk tectonics as when 'that which is usually useless or discarded becomes a fundamental architectural component, subverting the hierarchical outcomes of extractive processes'.

'Junk tectonics' became an architectural device that allowed me to simultaneously address theoretical concepts and small-scale, tactile moments in the design.

I conducted this thesis during the 2021-long lockdown, so I could not physically visit the site. This meant I had to employ some imagination and make educated assumptions to fill in the gaps of a richness that would have been gained from making site visits. So in terms of choosing junk for materiality, it was either imagined detritus from a disused golf course — golf clubs, golf balls, golf buggy parts — or junk that is most commonly found as litter and in landfill sites: plastic water bottles, aluminium cans, supermarket bags, and PVC pipes.

The project still bears traces of its past, subverting existing refuse as material to aid the expression of the hybridity present in the new proposal; it is not rewilded to its pre-colonial form but is rather a cyborg of its past lives.

JC How does the project engage with feral communities?

AGT The concept of 'feral communities' implies spontaneous or organic communities, which might evolve through the transformative intervention of the new 'clubhouse' upon the site of the existing one. They might grow once the hierarchical, exclusionary aspects of the space have been dissolved and replaced with spaces that encourage entanglement, inclusion and symbiosis between all human and more-than-human beings.

The project implements space for humans and other ecologies through programs like a plant nursery, feral garden cinema, community living room, and a BYO bar. These spaces aim to overthrow the binaries of the existing site, blurring indoor and outdoor; implementing access, user control, entanglement and encouraging symbiotic relationships between users. New activities and community investment are encouraged on-site, within new arid-appropriate sports spaces and through the cyclical collection of junk to maintain the building. Through programme, composition and materiality, novel and feral communities may grow and thrive.

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JC Through a staged approach, the project aims to create an ecological rebirth and revaluation of the golf course typology. The AA Jury commented that the project communicates "a sensitivity and seriousness toward the pursuit of architecture as an agent of activism". How is your project a change agent, how might your research be implemented to question other typologies of the built environment, such as parks that thrive from resource extraction?

AGT The project is an agent for change in its all-encompassing subversive thinking; it intervenes in and through the landscape, compositional architecture, program and spatial organisation, materiality, and through language and graphic expression. It reimagines what might be if crises prompted radical responses to current conditions.

I see the project as a potential framework for response to multiple spaces which fall into categories of exclusionary landholdings; a whole range of spaces that transform endemic landscapes through extractive practices. I wanted to prompt thinking like 'How can we dissolve the inaccessibility of spaces?' or 'How can we reevaluate the consumption of non-essential extractive practices in the face of shortage?'

'How can we reevaluate the consumption of non-essential extractive practices in the face of shortage?'

In the case of a park, the site tends to be publicly accessible and essentially free of prescribed programmes, but the species planted in these spaces are often not endemic, requiring extensive care and water. I think in the context of the contemporary crisis brought about by climate change, drastic rethinking needs to take place about land and resource allocation; non-essential extractive practices should be reconsidered.

JC How do you envision your project evolving in the future?

AGT I have no real expectations for where the project might go, but I am very passionate about it and would love to see it develop into the built environment. I can see concepts of the project being applied to many other spatial typologies, and I hope to broaden its ideas along those lines. For now, I am still enjoying reading and finding works along the same lines of theory and research that the project involved, and I hope to continue to enrich and widen my knowledge.

Bio

Amelia Griffin-Tovey is a recent Master of Architecture graduate at the Melbourne School of Design, where she was supported by many talented tutors and peers in developing a personal design methodology that is site-considered and material-driven, seeking human-scaled detail over spectacle. Following an internship at Nic Brunsdon Architects in 2019, she joined Broached Commissions, using her architectural skills in public and applied arts. Her time at Broached Commissions has exercised various skills, including design, project management, and architectural services, and has seen her work with some of Australia’s leading artists.

Joanne Choueiri (1986) is a researcher, architect, and artist from Beirut, Lebanon, based in Brisbane, Australia. Her interest in memory, space, politics, and the archive has motivated her various works. Influenced by her context, particularly the Civil War, she recognised the importance of uncovering different facets of the past in an undocumented setting. Based on deeply rooted archival research, Choueiri mixes the architectural language of drawings and models with photography and media installation, producing stories of spaces. By exploring different scales of the city - the house, the building, the square- and their memory, she continuously seeks to create and recreate the archive, exposing aural and visual narratives from different contexts. As part of her PhD, she created a living archive commemorating demolished buildings in Beirut and Brisbane and the holes they leave behind – physical and psychological traces.

Interviewer
Published
20 Oct 2023
Reading time
12 minutes
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