Archive 2012

Travel: AAA Volunteer Ben Gerstel in NT

I was lucky enough this school holidays to experience the Northern Territory in its many permutations. After flying into Darwin from Sydney (when you could fly over many countries in Europe) 4.5 hours later, I am still in Australia.

We arrived in Darwin on Territory Day which meant you could buy firecrackers and fireworks and pretty much let them off anywhere. This is definitely not a “nanny state”!

Darwin has been rebuilt twice, firstly after being bombed by the Japanese in WW2 and then after Cyclone Tracy in 1974. I guess there was no time to have an urban design competition as the residents needed housing quickly. The art gallery and museum in Darwin has a very informative display on Cyclone Tracy (as well as aboriginal art and the obligatory crocodile display).

The first part of this sojourn to the north was a 4WD camping tour through Litchfield Park, Kakadu and Kathreen Gorge. It was magnificent! Mother Nature has left us with wonderfully clean and clear water holes and waterfalls for swimming in. We visited many of these with the next one being better than the last. However, you really have to work (meaning lots of walking and climbing over rocks) to get the satisfaction of these places and scenery, as they really are off the beaten track.

Of course we did a river cruise to see crocodiles in their natural habit which was scary. They really know how to camouflage themselves. Along with these prehistoric beasts, we saw a plethora of bird life and very large water lilies.

Other highlights were aboriginal rock paintings at Ubirr and its surrounding landscapes of wetlands, grasslands, mangroves, woodlands. This is one of the best sites for aboriginal art in the Kakadu area.
After Kakadu, we flew to Alice Springs. We went to the School of the Air which was fascinating as it is still functioning. Each child who is taught by this school is funded by the Government. The students get a computer set up to communicate with the teacher who could be hundreds of kilometers away. I was impressed by this.


From Alice, we drove to King’s Canyon. 476 kilometers later, we arrived at the Kings Canyon Resort. Kings Canyon is the canyon you see at the end of the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. If you remember, this is where the 3 actors climb up the canyon in all their finery. The circular walk around the canyon takes about 3.5 hours which is spectacular, even though there are no safety rails anywhere to stop you falling into the canyon.

Our last stop was Uluru and Kata Tjuta (another 441 kilometres away). Philip Cox who was the architect who designed the resort, Yulara there. He did a very fine job indeed. It is over 30 years old now and with the mature vegetation, looks as if it has always been there. The composition of the architectural forms, the paint colours and the landscape, create a homogenous whole.

Of course we went to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). I had a misconception that Uluru would be in a desert landscape of red sand and no vegetation like Broken Hill but I was wrong. This is a semi – arid landscape as there was an abundance of vegetation.

Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are truly amazing. You cannot grasp their size until you are standing right beside these geological masterpieces. Out of respect to the aboriginals, we did not climb the rock.

As everyone tells you, you have to watch a sunrise and sunset to see the colours change on these rocks, the clouds and the sky. All very beautiful (but very cold).


Another thing which surprised me was the sorry book at the cultural centre near Uluru. This is a book where people who took a small rock as a souvenir from this area when they visited it, could return it to the centre and make their apologies. One must remember that parts of the territory are very spiritual still to the aboriginals and us white people have to respect that. We are a very lucky country and…………....
So to me, the advertisement for the Northern Territory, “You never never know if you never never go” was very appropriate!

Article: Ben Gerstel
Images: Ben Gerstel

Quotas? Boards & Gender Diversity PCA Lunchtime Talk


Quotas? Boards and Gender Diversity still splits the community of ambitious – and hopeful – women in the property industry aiming faster, higher and stronger. They were also  the title of the Property Council of Australia (PCA)’s August lunch attended by 900 or so nattily dressed women, average age late 20s to early 40s, mainly from contractors, lawyers, engineers, local councils and state government, property managers and the occasional architecture firm.

The panellists’ pedigree was right for the task – to discuss the pros and cons of these measures of achievement and, after all the years of trying, how likely they were to help the “pipeline at senior management level” alongside increasing productivity and participation to raise those darned, stubborn statistics. At 11 per cent, women in the construction industry have the lowest percentage of any sector, and the number of women on boards continues to flounder below 5 per cent.

Maria Atkinson, among other things now director of the Global Foundation, is against quotas for their suspected tokenism, for detracting from women getting there by their own means (and being able to define where the elusive there is), and for potentially interfering with the work of the few enlightened organisations promoting women anyway.

Founding chair of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, Carol Schwartz (and former PCA chair), is likewise critical of this approach instead talking about the need for paradigm shifts, stereotype changes and removal of entrenched policies and practices. She is worried that we will still be discussing this subject in 20 years time, just as we were 20 years ago.

Professor Peter Shergold, Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, and Dr John Mulcahy of Mirvac and Coffey, were into job re-designs, and developing portfolios to give you the career you want. Mulcahy – unusually for him, he said – is in favour of legislation with quotas, indicating measures, being more exacting than the more aspirational targets. Perhaps aspirations are more realistic at the moment.

They all agreed the time has come for no more pussy-footing. They also believed that one of the unequal ground rules is that women are judged on performance while men’s potential gets the nod.  Getting women on boards and in decision-making positions might be a business priority, as equity players have said, but the worry is that we will keep going round in circles in that eternal quest for board representation. Perhaps we need to recognise women’s talent and contribution and influence in different ways, giving more credence, for example, to running your own business or practice – or multifarious life – and consolidating apparently minor day-to-day decisions that can still impact in a major, if not board representative, way.

Editors Note: The Property Council of Australia - Women In Property lunch was held on Wednesday 1 August 2012. For more information about the PCA go to:

Article: Deborah Singerman
Image: Property Council of Australia Women In Property Flier

Women: Take On Design Talks Series Concludes

August saw the conclusion of the Australian Architecture Association’s special talks series, Women: Take On Design at Object: Australian Centre for Design in Surry Hills. Over four weeks, five inspiring speakers have presented their views on and approaches to design, and how design can exert a positive influence on the world around us.

1209b3Talk 3 took place on Wednesday 1 August and presented design from an alternative perspective, how designed spaces can facilitate learning environments in an arts institution. The presenter on the evening was Heather Whitely Robertson the current Head of Creative Learning at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).

Having joined the MCA in 2011 after working in arts and designs institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A London), Open House London, The Tate Modern (London) and the National Gallery of Victoria, Heather has been instrumental in driving the strategic development of programs that creatively reject traditional pedagogy by embracing the flexibility of the design of spaces within the new MCA wing and remodelled spaces of the existing institution.

Her talk presented an overview of the changes that have taken place as a result of the MCA’s redevelopment. For the first time ever the MCA has dedicated learning spaces for their programs that encourage greater accessibility to and an appreciation for contemporary arts.

Forty percent of the new extension is dedicated to the institutions new National Centre for Creative Learning. In association, remodelled exhibition space within the existing building, have been designed specifically to encourage visitors to reflect, question and explore their own responses to artworks. The MCA now also has permanent exhibition space for its permanent collection.

It was very interesting to hear about how all aspects of design, from the building down to it’s interpretive panels, digital leaning resources and innovative programs, can contribute positively to the overall experience of the general public. Ultimately the architecture and design were driven by an ethos based on current ideas about life long learning and the creation of experiential environments. Heather’s presentation, fun interactive activity and thoughtful responses to audience questions were an inspiration. Participants of the talk came away with a better understanding that learning does not begin or end in the institution, it continues well after you’ve stepped out the ‘doors’.



The final in the series, Talk 4, took place on Wednesday 8 August and was presented by Annalisa Capurro. As a professional interior designer, design educator, writer, and conference presenter, Annalisa has a strong appreciation for and understanding of the importance of design history.


Annalisa began her talk by explaining how she first became involved in the movement to protect the underappreciated and undervalued cultural resources of the past 50 years. When she moved to Sydney from Melbourne she became involved with the Art Deco Society of NSW and the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) 20th Century Heritage Committee. During her tenure with these organisations she became increasingly aware of how the cultural value of a surprising number of award winning buildings and everyday examples of twentieth century modernism, have been disregarded and demolished.

Using the annual Palm Springs Modernism Week as a case study, Annalisa highlighted how public support and action by a collective of passionate individuals can result in the effective conservation of cultural artefacts. For Palm Springs and other cities following their example, retaining items for historical value also has a social and monetary value in the generation of cultural tourism.

Drawing parallels to Australia, Annalisa then went on to discuss the significance of homegrown modernist design and the growing movement to conserve buildings that through their thoughtful design, retain relevance to our contemporary lifestyle.

Annalisa regards herself to be honoured to own and be the custodian of a modernist house in original condition. Designed and built in 1956 by Russell Jack (founding partner of the architectural firm Allen Jack and Cottier) and Pamela Jack (who was also an architect in Sydney), this residence was designed to raise their family in and was built on a very tight budget. In 1957 it won the prestigious Sulman Award for Architecture. The house is a testament to fact that good design retains its relevance, that bigger is not better and that cost effective housing can also be comfortable and a space of beauty.


Participants took away from Annalisa Capurro’s talk an appreciation for how conservation is all about saving those buildings we both love and sometimes hate passionately! Design is informed by and encapsulates our cultural values at a particular time. If we don’t appreciate its value we lose a slice of our history.

The Australian Architecture Association would like to extend our thanks to both Heather and Annalisa for getting us to think about and discuss design and it’s relevance to us all. We would also like to thank again our previous speakers, Caroline Pidcock, Lucy Humphries and Claire McCaughan. A special mention must also be made about the tireless and supportive staff at Object: Australian Centre for Design, Andrew Marston of eClassroom, Annette Dearing and the stupendous volunteers for the AAA! To all involved in this project, without your support, time, and efforts this series of talks would not have evolved.

  • Article & Images: Vanessa Couzens

Women: Take on Design Talk Series - Talk 4 by Annalisa Capurro

annalisaThe Women: Take On Design talks series at Object: Australian Centre for Design, concludes this week with a presentation by Australian Architecture Association volunteer, Annalisa Capurro.

Annalisa is an interior designer, design educator and writer, who is passionate about mid-twentieth century modernist design. As an advocate for the preservation of Australia's unique design history, she regularly presents to audiences both within Australia and at overseas conferences.

Places are filling fast for the talk, book your ticket now!

AAA Black Talk: Ken Yeang


1208G1Dr Ken Yeang is the Chairman and Design Director of Llewelyn Davies Yeang (UK) and principal of its sister company Hamzah & Yeang (Malaysia), an international architecture firm.

Dr Yeang is best known for his signature deep green architecture and masterplans and has completed over 200 built projects. He is regarded as the inventor of the ‘bioclimatic skyscraper'. His research and design work have been published in several authoriative books - the latest being ‘'Ecoarchitecture - the work of Ken Yeang''.

He is a recipient of the Gold Medal from the Malaysian Institute of Architects, a distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois and has received a doctorate from Cambridge Unviersity (UK) on ecological design.

One of Hamzah & Yeang's most notable buildings - Solaris, a cutting-edge energy efficient building in Singapore has just been shortlisted in the UK by RIBA for this year's RIBA Lubetkin Prize, winner to be announced in October 2012.

He will be in Sydney on Thursday 25 October and in Melbourne on Friday 26 October 2012.

Book now!

Sydney Venue Sponsor


Sydney Talk is a Sydney Architecture Festival Event


Media Partner