The Lab: If you were to live here...

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Monday 25 August 2014
Louise Pether

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A year ago this month the 5th Auckland Triennial, If you were to live here… closed after receiving the highest Triennial attendance to date of 90,000 visitors to its nine sites. All venues were free for the first time, which had a significant impact on attendance.

An electrifying component of the Triennial was The Lab, located in the Chartwell Gallery on the top floor of Auckland Art Gallery. An initiative of curator, Hou Hanru, who described it as ‘the brain’ of the Triennial, The Lab included an open laboratory space for interactions and dialogue between local and international communities of creators.

This month a beautiful publication, The Lab: If you were to live here… was launched at the Gallery co-published with the University of Auckland (RRP $30 available from the Gallery shop).

The Lab was a design-based trans-disciplinary laboratory offering a unique opportunity to develop Auckland’s architectural culture. A joint project between the architecture and spatial design/visual arts faculties of AUT, The University of Auckland and UNITEC, this laboratory unfolded throughout the Triennial as a series of rolling workshops, lectures, exhibitions and a roster of related events – including lectures by international guests Teddy Cruz (Estudio Cruz) and Bijoy Jain (Studio Mumbai).

The Lab’s role was to act as an intellectual catalyst considering the questions: What role do the creative disciplines play in developing the urban realm? How might they bring about a different quality of life? How might we live here, ‘better’?

Placing these speculations within our broader urban culture, The Lab sought to ignite ongoing thinking, discussion and action within our cities.

The Lab space was designed by Mike Davis, as part of his PhD research, with Sara Lee and Sasha Milojevic of the School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland, creating a flexible framework to purposefully, and economically, enable the exhibition of 5 distinct projects, yet giving a coherent memory and relationship between the projects; and relating two sites - the ‘operations’ or exhibition space and reference library. The exhibition design is a finalist in the 2014 Best Awards. This physical space was supported by the design team of INDEX, Jonty Valentine and Amy Yalland, and their risograph printer, who produced signage systems, event sheets on demand, produced one-off artworks and manually updated the wall panels. INDEX also designed and produced The Lab book.

Hou had expressed a desire that the work of the Triennial would leave a physical legacy or evidence of transformation in Auckland.

Kathy Waghorn, editor of The Lab publication, recalled at the book launch a number of changes and successes that had arisen out of the Lab projects:

Project 1: Muddy Urbanism, led by Kathy Waghorn and Teddy Cruz, culminated in a publication and two subsequent exhibitions – one in West Auckland, the other at Woodbury University Gallery in Los Angeles – and discussions held in The Lab with city councillors and local board representative has led to the establishment of a new trust to take on the task of developing the ‘muddy’ environment of the Whau River.

Project 2: led by emerging architect Sarosh Mulla. During the project he gave a lecture on a speculative idea for a ‘Welcome Shelter’ at the Longbush Ecosanctuary in Gisborne. The Welcome Shelter will be built before the end of the year – through the commitment of Triennial patron, Chartwell Trust, alongside 5 other financial partners and many volunteers.

Project 3: led by Carin Wilson and Rau Hoskins of UNITEC’s Te Hononga Centre for Māori Architecture and Appropriate Technologies built a Paparewa on the Auckland waterfront during 2013’s Matariki, providing a ‘real-world’ encounter and dialogue between the city, the people, and the 19 Tāmaki iwi as to the ways the tribes will reposition themselves in term of their kaitiaki roles and begin to assert their identity in the physical environment. This giant structure gained the attention of the city and has assisted much needed korero around the representation and visibility (or lack of) mana whenua in our city, and confidence that future projects will build on this kaupapa (agenda).

Project 4: AUT brought together 80 thinkers, collaborators, makers and designers to re-think the role of ‘the social’ and the ‘public’ as real spaces of conscious exchange and encounter to engender imagination and community values, through 34 projects staged over 21 days. This event has led to further projects of event based and social participatory practices including a symposium Engaging Publics/Public Engagement, 13 September, co-hosted with the Gallery.

Project 5: led by Andrew Barrie, with exhibition design by Melanie Pau, sought to address the impact of the Christchurch earthquake – using church facilities as a case study to reconsider how their land and facilities might better serve contemporary needs. During the exhibition, students presented their ideas to various Bishops, priests, representatives of parish councils, and congregation members. Following the Triennial, they continued to work with several parishes moving through the rebuilding process, eventually leading to Andrew being commissioned to design a multi-million dollar complex to replace the quake destroyed facilities of the Oxford Street Baptist Church in Christchurch.