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Right Wolf Prix in workshop mode.

Prix, Boyer, Perella, Yeang, Acconci: UNSW’s ‘Flashpoint 99’ student conference drew international stars
and hundreds of workshoppers to Sydney in July. Delegate Callantha Brigham reports.

Top right Christine Boyer and a delegate. Bottom right Stephen Perella with delegates.

Attended by over 900 delegates from seven countries, Flashpoint 99was a brief yet brilliant surge of light on the student landscape. Like its predecessor, morphe:nineteen 97 at Deakin University, Flashpoint was a student-organised week of intensive learning; leading delegates through numerous lectures, more than 100 workshops and social events both on and off the UNSW campus.
The conference theme—to explore notions of territory and their demarcations on the body and landscape—was offered to 10 keynote speakers: Vito Acconci, Professor M. Christine Boyer, Erick Van Egeraat, Richard Goodwin, Stephen Perella, Professor Wolf D. Prix of Coop Himmelblau, Dr Michael Tawa, Mark Wasiuta (Diller + Scofidio), James Wines and Dr Ken Yeang, as well as other Australian speakers.
Although the onus had been placed on the keynotes to directly address these notions, the majority of speeches, with the marked exception of Michael Tawa’s, only lightly touched on them. The disembodied nature of Tawa’s talk formed an interesting counterpoint to the rest of the conference: speakers by and large came as entities unto
themselves, allowing their status to formalise the event while focusing on architectural issues of their interest. However three distinct, if informal, themes did emerge: the relationship between digital media and architecture; the future of ecologically sustainable design; and the relationship of public art to architecture and the body. Though somewhat sardonically dubbed ‘Super’ Stephen by Wolf Prix, Stephen Perella led the discussion on digital media and the necessity of its consideration in the contemporary condition of architecture. While most of the panel baulked at his attempts to nominate responses to this condition as being ‘hypersurface’ architecture, much of the work of other speakers embodied hypersurface characteristics—from Diller + Scofidio’s reconfiguration of spatial experience into the viewing of televised imagery, to Wolf Prix’s projected environment in the UFA Cinema Complex in Dresden. The architectural imperative of ecologically sustainable design was another hotly contested issue throughout the event. Initially raised by James Wines, (whilst heavily promoting his latest book), the simplicity and reductivity of Wines’ understanding of regional values and the environment appeared in stark contrast to the thoroughness of the practice of Ken Yeang. One of the highlights of the conference, Yeang’s talk also succeeded in engendering a lively questions and answers session. Yeang admitted that skyscrapers were not the most sustainable of building types, yet proclaimed this ample reason for attempting to improve their environmental efficacy. Because skyscrapers are an inevitable reality of the modern city, architects should not ignore the type: “It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it.”
Vito Acconci and Richard Goodwin both explored the interactivities between contemporary understandings of architecture, public art and the body. Despite vast differences in the budget and scale of works, the concerns of these artists/architects seemed to reverberate quite strongly.
Because the nature of the conference provided such a ‘flashpoint’ in itself, it becomes difficult to differentiate between highlights. The quality and intensity of the architectural discourse, the opportunity to meet and work with students from other countries, the ability to meet later on to share a beer or the dance floor; is difficult to replicate in any normal situation. Yet many students testify to having learnt more in this week of sessions than in the rest of their architectural education. This is a point to keep in mind whilst deciding whether or not to attend the conference at Auckland University in 2001.
Callantha Brigham is a fifth year student at the University of NSW



Published online: 1 Sep 1999


Architecture Australia, September 1999

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