Working Holiday Urbanism in Australia

Project

It’s time for Australia to acknowledge the importance of Working Holiday Makers (WHM) as an indispensable part of society. The Working Holiday Visa has existed as a formula to attract ‘young and healthy’ workers from a curated selection of countries which has facilitated a stable flow of unstable workforce to the industries of hospitality and farming. Their impact on the economy is significant but nevertheless, the Working Holiday Citizens of Australia face multiple forms of precariousness during their stay. Australia must recognise the ‘value’ of its Working Holidays Community beyond their productive input, and celebrate their current and potential contribution to a more rigorous and honest commitment with its multicultural project.

The Working Holiday Urbanism needs to be understood as a so far invisible city model with a crucial role within the Australian community. It is an urban structure defined by an unstable, transitional, multi-scale and trans-territorial urban fabric. My design is a multi-scale attempt to imagine and propose alternative scenarios that, celebrating the rich input of Working Holiday Makers to the cultural and socioeconomic structures of Australia, provides them with a strong sense of autonomy challenging any form of potential exercise of assimilation.

The Moree’s precinct is located in the former place of Moree’s Oval, an extensive land area destined to the development of local farmer fairs and popular events. The first intention is the insertion of an Oval Fortress, a monumental inhabited wall that surrounds the fairs and events precinct and hosts private domestic areas and programs. Attached to the interior surface of the loop, a scaffold infrastructure holds platforms at multiple levels. All of them interconnected by stairs and elevators, hosting shared domestic activities. The Precinct is at the same time, a house for 2000 WHU members, a multifunctional public infrastructure, and an events precinct. If the inhabited ring hosts activities like sleeping, sexual encounters, religious rituals and hygiene within a labyrinth of pods, the scaffold platforms on the inside host multiple forms of shared domestic spaces.

The central ‘Agora‘ serves as an events precinct for the town (keeping its original program), and festival ground for the precinct. Creating their rituals, the community hosts a quarterly festival to welcome new arrivals and to celebrate the beginning of new harvesting seasons. It attracts travellers from surrounding areas, tourists and locals that are welcome to join the festivities.

Moree’s Oval precinct is a monument, an act of refusal, an appropriation of aboriginal and farmers land by a new form of a settler. However, the preservation of previous public programs in the ‘Agora’, forces a space of encounter between the multiple forms of otherness that configure the underestimated complexity of Australian’s so-called Outback. The final agenda behind the project is to give visibility and agency to the WHU members through concentrating them in a high-density precinct equipped with shared high-quality spaces and intentionally placed in a dominant position of the festival and events precinct. Moree’s Working Holiday fortress is a permanent festival that ultimately celebrates Australian Multiculturalism.

Interview

What prompted the project and the interest in the phenomenon?

Being a migrant in Australia on a temporary visa myself, the topic always concerned me personally. I came first as a tourist, then returned as a student and now being back again as a Working Holiday Maker (WHM), I am well aware of the precariousness many part-time citizens face. Whereas the Skilled Working Visa got abolished in 2017 and people around me that were affected had to leave the country immediately, short-term visas expanded: the Seasonal Worker Programme and especially the Working Holiday Visa were aligned with economic needs in order so fill labour shortages and create a stable flow of unstable workforce rather than serving its original purpose of a ‘cultural exchange’. The impact of seasonal workers on the economy is now so important that any attempt from previous governments to reduce the flow of foreign labour to the Australian market has faced the straight opposition of farmer lobbies. Yet, they are the vulnerable actors in the system who are not recognised beyond their productive input and acknowledged as an important part of Australia’s multicultural society.

What tools and means did you use to research the condition?

While my own experiences as a backpacker, short-term visa holder and WHM influenced my research, I started a comprehensive information catalogue that compiled topical newspaper articles, interviews with fellow WHM and social and economic research studies that helped me to clarify the key issues. Facebook groups were a crucial part for understanding the Working Holiday network as one large dynamic transitional and trans-territorial fabric of flows and incredibly extensive digital exchange that finally led to my hypothesis of the Working Holiday Urbanism as an invisible city model within the Australian community. To get an understanding of the scale, I analysed temporary architecture forms that serve the purpose of inhabiting a large amount of people for a limited time such as Refugee Camps, military barracks, mining towns and short- term accommodations. The idea of an “Absolute Architecture” derived by Pier Vittorio Aureli’s book of the same name that inspired me to a radical gesture. To understand Australia’s cultural and political motivations, it was essential to fully comprehend the continent’s history of colonisation, genocide of the indigenous population, cotton slavery of Pacific Islanders and in general its visa timeline.

Could you expand on the precincts as autonomous architectural fortresses and monuments?

My design is a multi-scale attempt to imagine and propose alternative scenarios that celebrate the rich input of WHM to the cultural and socioeconomic structures of Australia and provide them with a strong sense of autonomy challenging any form of potential exercise of assimilation. My Working Holiday City is an archipelago of immunological spatial precincts. Every precinct is an autonomous architectural fortress and a monument to the significant otherness represented by the presence of WHM. Far from the apparent attempt for independence, each precinct is a spatial defence of threatened cultural vibrancy and forms of diversity. Every precinct responds with autonomy to their closest urban and cultural environment. The objective is the creation of urban milestones with a robust heterotopic negation that is assimilated within the fabric but not related to a self-enclosement. In fact, the negation of the existing is a strategy that achieves the symbolic presence of WHM in the city and institutionalises them through space. The central ‘Agora’ of my precinct still invites to public events of the city to be ‘generously’ hosted by the Working Holiday community.

How do you envision these precincts overlaying to the existing urban layer? Would these be integrated or exist as true islands?

The idea of separated parts links the possibility of an absolute architecture to the idea of the archipelago. Every precinct acts as a parallel state within the state and, an island within the Working Holiday Archipelago. But instead of isolating the inhabitants, the hypothesis behind this architectural and territorial operation is that, if managed with a proper propagandistic strategy, the archipelago will attract WHM and tourists as well as cultural events and additional economies to infra-populated regions of Australia. The preservation of previous public programs in the now called ‘Agora’, forces a space of encounter between the multiple forms of otherness that configure the underestimated complexity of Australian’s so-called Outback. Rather than autonomous, self-enclosed bubbles they are actually overlaid on, coexisting, or even merging with residential communities.

What are the dangers of segregations as these?

The oval form represents an archetypal form of an enclosed space. But the self-enclosing works as a necessary act of emancipation of the precarious circumstances WHM are extradited. It is not a ghetto, but a project that concentrates a vibrant community that moves an important volume of capital and culture across regional Australia. It’s works as a social condenser. Same as the Greek ‘polis’ (the archetype of archipelago cities) my precincts emerge from a preexisting community and focus on giving them a space to equally coexist in a geographically framed district. My precincts are acts of refusal to participate in the socio-spatial logic of regional towns that segregates, disperses and atomises bodies across territory.

What informed and defined the architecture of the oval wall?

Moree’s precinct is located in the former place of Moree’s Showground, an extensive land area destined to local farmer fairs and popular events. Given its shape, the first intention is the insertion of an Oval Fortress, a monumental inhabited wall that surrounds the fairs and events precinct and hosts private domestic areas and programs. Inside, the individually sized flat-share pockets float like islands within the wall. They form a second level archipelago and serve the privacy needs of each: Housing 18-30 year young WHM from 58 different counties, cultural systems, beliefs and world views, the accommodations reflect this diversity through a typology of rooms and apartments. The semi-private spaces in between leave room for storage, informal reunions between room neighbours or gardening and offer new forms of domesticity.

How does this architecture relate to that of the other precincts?

Every precinct is a monument, a fortress, an absolute architecture that gives visibility and agency to the WHM through concentrating them in high-density precincts equipped with shared high-quality spaces and intentionally placed in dominant positions of the backpacker epicentres. The absolute megastructure precincts question the visa regulations and demand policy changes through their alien form and deliberate disintegration into the context.

What prompted the use of the plan as main tool through which you explore and reveal the design?

The plan is a privileged view: an orthogonal projection of a three dimensional object whose exactitude fascinates me. The process of drawing requires as much imagination and reflection as it does to read it.
In my project I considered the plan the most powerful tool to show the contrast between the inhabited wall, the private ‘pockets’, and the communal spaces such as infrastructural kitchens and nightclub sized living rooms, that articulate the shared space with the strategic placement of re-scaled and re-programmed furniture divisions. The plan demonstrates the scale of the houses, the private and the public spaces that operate between the individual space, the living rooms and the public infrastructure. Significant references that centre the architectural plan, constantly inspired me and led to my representation decisions were John Hejduk’s plans of the Diamond Houses, Archizoom’s No Stop City, Aldo Rossi’s Plan of a Foundry, Dogma’s A Simple Heart and Rem Koolhaas’ Exodus.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

In my view, the Architect’s strongest tool is the capacity to imagine the relations between space and society. There has been a long history of architects speculating on utopian relations between space, political and cultural imaginaries. We are facing an important crisis of the imagination that is leading our societies to react to the uncertainty of a future challenged by climate change and general scarcity with neo-nationalist (lack of) ambitions.

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