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Tabula Rasa

tabula rasa: tabyool raaz /

noun (pl. tabulae rasae /tabyoolee raazee/)

1 an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals.

2 the human mind, especially at birth, viewed as having no innate ideas.

ORIGIN Latin, ‘scraped tablet’, i.e. a tablet with the writing erased.

‘A Clean Slate’

Is it possible to imagine Brisbane as a vision spectacular? With recently completed new regional and CBD masterplans, is there anything more that could be added to the debate on the future of our city and region? A group of architects, artists, urban designers, planners and students, under the auspices of the Brisbane Development Association, met for a day and a night to explore whether it could.

The workshop was called Tabula Rasa which in Latin means a clean slate: an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals. The aim was to re-imagine Brisbane in the 21st Century as a brand new city. It is the first instance that we know of where it was used to rethink a city.

There was no limit set on how imaginative the visions of the city could be. Should Brisbane be a lineal city or a concentric one? Should it embrace the Brisbane River or Moreton Bay? Where should the CBD go? Should there be satellite centres?

Four teams of 10 people were guided by recognised leaders in their field including Michael Rayner and Patrick Ness (architects), Steve Calhoun (urban designer from Melbourne) James Coutts (planner) and Andrew Wilson (lecturer with QUT).

The event was generously funded and supported by the Brisbane City Council and South Bank Corporation.

The process was rewarding and the results were creative and insightful.

While there was much competition between the teams there was strong agreement on the need for sustainability and protecting the environment.

Steve Calhoun’s team thought that Brisbane suffered from “beach envy” .They saw Brisbane and the Gold and Sunshine coasts as three densely developed separate centres divided by a green belt. They advocated better connections (with river trams) from the city to the islands in Moreton Bay. They liked the Brisbane CBD where it is now but want it more residential. Their city had a multinodal form, with each node having its own character based on its setting, its connections and its walkability. Calhoun believes that Brisbane can become more densely developed without losing its unique charm.

They saw their city as metaphor for the house, with the river the front yard, its banks the verandah, its core areas the living rooms and its linkages the hallways. In this metaphor residential areas represent the bedrooms and the natural environment the backyard.

The Rayner/Ness team looked at the city whole, and the city centre.

The ‘city whole’ idea is that people in Brisbane want at least two or three types of settings to live in – urban environment with water, urban environment with landscape, or water with landscape. These combinations define Brisbane differently from other cities

They identified future growth areas based upon lifestyle quality, linked to new transport rather the present growth around existing transport nodes. They also looked at reclaiming the “lost” land in the city centre that was presently ignored or under utilised. The Rayner/Ness team agreed that the CBD is well-positioned, but thought that the Valley will eventually be its logical extension.

James Coutts’ team explored the idea of a city of villages. They thought that the present organic radial nature of Brisbane demonstrated it was basically unplanned, with its radial traffic arteries fast becoming clogged. They liked the idea of a landscape modified city (like Canberra) with growth restricted to urban corridors and responsive to the local setting. They called it a bush/river/bay Brisbane. They saw the bay or the river as something to be actively used with multiple crossing points and connections with the bay.

Andrew Wilson’s QUT team examined Brisbane’s enchantment. They saw the need to re-engage with the personality of Brisbane and embrace it in all respects, “even the campy and kitschy stuff”. To achieve this they saw the need for catalyst projects in the city.

They identified three types of project, one related to the undeveloped land, the second to the river and the third to the CBD and the outer suburbs. While some of their solutions were whimsical such as enormous pineapple tops in the CBD, the overall message was serious: to reinvigorate the sense of place of Brisbane and its suburbs by connecting the two.

They also saw the river as something to use intensively – like a highway - and to have river markets, park and green spaces next to the river and actively engaging with it.

The lessons learned from this creative exercise are strong:

1. the need to protect our green spaces

2. the need to better use and engage our river

3. the need to connect with all parts of the city

4. the need to preserve the character of this place.

Only by doing this can we achieve the “vision spectacular in grace”.

Posters illustrating all of the concepts will can be viewed HERE (4MB)