The Reef Co-op is a geopolitical catalyst that inserts itself at the nexus of nature, politics and industry on the Great Barrier Reef. It is an “organism” which feeds off the existing flows of water, waste, power and resources, and reinvents the existing system by proposing alternative modes of inhabitation.
The project targets two main groups of human actors: displaced workers and backpackers. The Yarwun region hosts blue stone mines that have closed, leaving their abandoned quarries along with a multitude of displaced workers. Also, Backpackers (as both producers and consumers) play a key role in the Co-op. Forced to undertake 3 months of labor as part of Australia’s visa program, they move throughout the Co-operative’s ecosystems, becoming students of the system and its agents as they filter back into society at large.
Reef Co-op creates a new level of interrelation between humans, non-humans and industry in an attempt to reduce current conflicts of interest between economic gain and environmental conservation.
What would you say was your most important tool when developing the project?
Whether or not you could describe this as a tool, the experience of visiting Gladstone Harbour and Heron Island on the Southern Reef was invaluable. Understanding the complexities and contradictions of the region; the declining mining industry, the LNG boom and dredging of the harbour, the local relationships to the Reef and the threatened coral ecosystems. Without this understanding and research, it would have been difficult to grasp the intricacies of the context and its relationship to the pervasive imaginaries of the Reef in contemporary Australia.
When working towards a digital archive, how did the very identity of this inform the type of data and how this was recorded and transcribed?
The challenge was to compile the data-heavy analysis of the Great Barrier Reef into a more digestible format without being overly reductive. As an initial and wide-panning research process, the goal was to develop a foundational understanding amongst the studio of the intricacies of the region from the human scale through to the global scale. Where possible, the copious amounts of available raw data were analysed through a spatial lens. Mapping and linework illustrations became the preferred modes of transcribing the data, allowing the studio to reference the archive and read relationships between the four key research areas: the Reef as a productive site, the Reef as a reproductive site, the Reef as a geographical site and the Reef as a virtual site.
How important was the drawing as medium through which to discuss the project as a team and with your tutor? Would you have wanted to explore other mediums?
The section and plan were the primary mediums through which we explored the project. Constant iterations of these documents allowed us to test how our ideas related to the political and social workings of the Co-op might be realised architecturally. Only later in the process did we begin to experiment with physical models which allowed us to test tectonically how flows and relationships between the elements and actors might be better articulated and understood. In hindsight, the model could would have been a useful medium to bring earlier into the process to become a generative tool.
How did you approach the 6 A1 panel, what were the biggest challenges when confronting a format this big and with strict requirements?
Due to the complexity of the project, 6 A1 panels seemed more a constraint in size rather than an excess. The challenge in this case was to describe the architectural, social and political aspects of the project concisely and to clearly establish the links between these elements through the medium of drawing. In this sense, the constraint of 6 panels was helpful. The motivation of the representation was to tell a story, to elucidate how a reinvented political system could operate, through an architecture and with the variety of human and non-human actors involved.
What is your take on the relevance of a Manifesto in contemporary culture?
If anything, this project has revealed to us the irrelevance of the heroic Manifesto in contemporary culture. The project, though a model for a new way of living, is extremely site, timeandcontextspecific.WithouttheReef,backpackers,thelocalminerpopulationandcurrent climate and eco-systemic concerns, the project would lose its meaning. We believe more in a pluralism of ideas rather than a singular approach which, too often, fails to account for the complexities of the contemporary. We have seen throughout history that every Manifesto has a point of failure, in an age of such rapid change, this is only exacerbated. Of course, one could say this is a manifesto in itself.
When selecting the words through which to articulate and present your work, what relationships do these hold to the drawings?
The sequence of drawings was designed to read as a graphic narrative of the Reef Co-op. As the project was as much architectural as it was political and social, narrative was an incredibly important facet of the proposal. The words were thus specifically curated to align with each portion of the drawing set in order to simultaneously reveal the link between the ephemeral and tangible constructions of the project. Writing has since become an extremely important part of our research into the Great Barrier Reef region, allowing us to unpack the complexities of the region with far greater depth, in particular, the relationship between its contemporary imaginary and its architecture.
How important were discussions with professionals from other backgrounds for the development of the project and what is the future of architecture as a multidisciplinary practice?
The very title, ‘architect’ implies the coordination of a multidisciplinary team. This was only too relevant in the Reef Co-op project which required research into processes traditionally foreign to the architectural field. The studio commenced with 3 weeks of broad research into areas ranging from the minute scale of coral reproduction to the global scale of extraction, shipping and mining. Collaboration with professionals from other disciplines was fundamental to develop the foundational level of understanding that would allow us to approach the project with the level of sophistication that it required.
Furthermore, the multidisciplinary approach to the studio facilitated a positive exchange of dialogue and concerns between the scientific and architectural disciplines which are too often isolated from one another and too often lack a mutual understanding. We found, across the fields with which we interacted, a surprising level of interest and a willingness to engage with the work. Architecture’s struggle to establish its relevance as a discipline would most certainly benefit from a greater pursuit of multidisciplinary practice.
How and to what extent has this studio and its methodology influenced how you will operate as an architect?
The lasting influence of this studio for us has been an understanding of the importance of research in architecture and the development of an understanding of the complex set of interrelationships that define any moment, site or project. The Great Barrier Reef has recently been a region of intense global interest. The methodology of the studio has allowed us to dig deeper,beyondtheveilofmass-information,tounpackthekeymomentsandcontradictionsthat haveinturnfuelledthedevelopmentoftheproject.Finally,thisstudiohasdeeplyinfluencedour approach to representation and communication, demonstrating the limits of big-data and the powerofnarrativeincommunicatingwithandengagingamulti-disciplinaryaudience.