D_Lab centre for design practice research

rmit school of architecture + design

These projects are the outcomes of an ongoing design research laboratory undertaken within d_Lab, a centre for design practice research in the School of Architecture & Design at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. The laboratory, based on a mix of integrated teaching activities including design studios and their dissemination into exhibitions, workshops and public symposia in collaboration with local stakeholders, is focused on the rehabilitation of urban, landscape, social and economic environments of the West Wimmera region, in the state of Victoria, Australia, approximately 400 kilometres west of Melbourne. The projects are closely integrated with the long term visions of Habitat 141 towards the restoration of green connectivity along the 141st meridian of longitude between Victoria and South Australia, from the Southern Ocean to the Murray River and some rangelands further north in the New South Wales. The West Wimmera region is part of this vaste landscape project, approximately comprised between the Grampians, Lower Glenelg National Park and Little Desert National Park. Habitat 141 visions envisage to link these areas of indigenous vegetation to more regions further north, extending over 700 kilometres through Wyperfeld National, the Big Desert Wilderness and Murray-Sunset National parks.

Focused on the regeneration of towns in decline in the West Wimmera region, these projects test strategies for spaces capable of accommodating sustainable economies, and related specific programs, that are integrated with activities involved with the rehabilitation of, and care for, their surrounding natural environments. The projects address local cultural and social conditions, proposing alternative productive spaces and landscapes for shared programs; they rethink urban design from an ecologically empathetic position, speculating on topics such as ‘distributed systems’ and ‘local networks’ as a new paradigm by which urban designers increasingly reconsider the provision of critical resources like food, energy, and transport, as well as integration between open and built space as a relevant strategy for the production of resilient urban environments.

In speculating on how and where people live, work, produce their food, share community activities, participate into the world from their specific places and how these solutions interact with natural and social environments, these projects question conventional urban planning modes and propose instead combinations of sustainable social and environmental solutions. Investigating correlation of activities and synergy between dispersed and yet integrated spaces, and encouraging active reciprocal interrelation between indoor and outdoor spaces, these projects put forward ideas of resilient environments and sustainable lives/economies that relevantly address the size and character of these rural towns - environments in which the sense of sharing and collaboration among the various community groups is historically and typically stronger than in larger urban contexts. Informed by spaces that can be shared or used in flexible and polyvalent ways, the proposals for the towns and surrounding territories envisioned by these projects - Apsley, Edenhope, Goroke, Mitre, Natimuk - address urban sustainability and resilience by also minimising built footprint on the ground and rather encouraging reuse of existing buildings and infrastructures, and the activation of open space through a range of various productive modes: from localised organic food production, to flower farming; from the production, storage and distribution of green energies, to land regeneration and the spreading out of ‘urban bush’ that can be potentially related to sport events, alternative commercial enterprises, environmental education programs, entertainment, art and more empathetic activities associated to the field of ecotourism among others.