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Angelina Russo

Presentation by Professor Angelina Russo - part of Australians dream of speed

Thank you so much to Kirsten and to Daniel for organising today and to Naomi, Noellen and Janet for bringing this fantastic range of books. Steven and I in fact met on the web. A couple of years ago I started to develop a range of hi vis cycle wear, knit and crochet, and put up a blog and found that Steven was also speaking about cycle spaces and was an architect. As a designer, it was very interesting to find someone who I could talk to about the impact of cycling on our cities but also how design could be used as a mechanism for developing new typologies for our cities.

As a result, we have formalised that relationship over a series of talks and are preparing for a discovery grant application in February of next year, as well as having written a number of abstracts and papers for next year for the Velo-City and Museums Australia conferences. Today we are going to talk about a bit of that research and, as you can see, Steven has very generously prepared some models to illustrate some of the ideas that have been coming out of those discussions.

As a way of starting - [image shown of online booking ad for V8 race] - Australians love speed. We love it. We will pay for it. We will pay for the opportunity to sit and be hot and sweaty in fast cars that will give us - what does it feel? - the excitement and the G force of the V8 performance. It’s a very Australian way of approaching mobility. Yet for the most part this is actually the reality of our mobility, and in some places in the world this is the reality of the mobility.

This is a shot taken in 2010 just outside of Beijing where there was a 100-kilometre, 12-day traffic jam. 

For 12 days, people say, on that freeway. It’s an extraordinary idea - just horrific. Yet at the very same time, the reason that I even saw that was that it was on the news in China - I was in Shanghai for Expo 2010.

This was in the Pudong area which had literally just been rebuilt and I was told that no heavy traffic was allowed into Shanghai during the three or four months of the expo in Shanghai. Whilst these brand spanking new roads and elevated walkways had been built, there was no real sense of exactly how congested they would be.

But what I did discover was that the real mobility of Shanghai was absolutely still there: the elevated walkways that had been built to allow people to walk were actually lined all the way underneath with bikes. I thought that was quite beautiful.

Shanghai, as I said, was basically rebuilt for Expo including eight new train lines not just platforms but complete lines in the period of about five years, which in itself is also an extraordinary thing.  

What I find very interesting about this shot is that it is so reminiscent of this one [image shown] with the idea of the elevated walkway - in this case this is a shot from Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s film in the 1930s, which imagined a future city where, in Fritz Lang’s future, the workers lived underground and the elite lived above ground. 

Throughout science fiction and throughout architectural history as a result we have seen a number of different imaginings of our cities. 

[image shown of front cover of City of the Future] On the right Frank R Paul’s City of the Future cover illustration which, to be honest, when I see this image always reminds me of the new structures in Shanghai. And to the left is the aerial city [image shown of Bettman Aerial City, c 1890, The Bettman Archives] which you will be pleased to know, although it is quite difficult to see, that right in the centre it says ‘museum’. I take great delight in that image because it suggests that culture sits absolutely at the centre of the imaginings of our new cities.

[image shown of publicity image for Byrrh, 1943] On the left-hand side we have an image from the development of the fast rail system in France in the 1940s. I find it interesting because today when we talk about fast rail and we talk about new forms of transport, it’s tremendously pedestrian, yet the image on the left really offers a kind of imagining, if you like, of what a future transport system might be. And similarly on the right-hand side [image shown from The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, a Walt Disney production, 1933] is an image from the 1930s of what a future worker might be in. To be honest, I think that’s what I feel like most days.

And of course these imaginings eventually found their way into our cities. The C grand building on the right-hand side in New York, a very famous piece of architecture, really epitomised the idea of that typology with people living in the sky and the mobility, the car parking and the like sitting underground; and to the left the first of those kind of prototypes of those new environments in Dessau through the Bauhaus.

In the 1970s we left it to the Italians to find a way of imagining the new city, and this was the radical architecture of Superstudio and Archizoom in particular - the idea of the ten cities. What they were doing was not offering a genuine proposition for what future cities would look like but rather a series of propositions for what events and activities occurred within cities and how they might be imagined as a utopian image.

[image shown - Superstudio, 1971] To the right, the City of Order taking on everything that the Bauhaus taught us about materiality, order and construction; and, to the left, the City of Brains.

So Archizoom really - what was also very interesting about them was not only did they re-imagine a utopia and a series of cities through their architecture but very much their urban forms arose out of the consumer market and not planning. They were very influenced by dress design, which they signified in that particularly Italian way as a branch of urban design. They were looking very much at experiments with collective culture. I guess that’s what we are trying to capture in some ways with the work that we are doing, this sense that how do you re-imagine a city.

This is a shot from a cycling tour that I ran in Sydney just recently. It’s a series of tours that I run with my colleague - on the right-hand side there - Gilbert Grace who is an artist and runs Art Cycle Sydney. It’s a series of tours that we have been doing for a number of years where we take people to cultural institutions and to cultural sites throughout Sydney and basically reintroduce them to the city through bikes.

Recently we wrote an article for The Conversation where we were talking about what re-imagining Australia by bike might look like. We talked about bike races such as L’Eroica in Italy, which is essentially a bike race that has been established to promote the conservation of the white gravel roads in the Tuscan hills and has taken on a kind of cult status, if you like. With L’Eroica you can only enter the 200-kilometre cycle on a bike that is pre-1980s; you find much in the way of leather cycling shoes and woollen jumpers; and of course when you get to the top of the hill there aren’t any energy packs. There’s food, there’s wine, there’s coffee - a very beautiful thing. In this article we were saying what might an Australian imaginary look like? This is a beautiful shot from Tasmania.

And what might it look like if we were thinking about a place like Canberra where we have not just extraordinary landscape but a series of really quite beautiful civic buildings. How might we re-imagine that? On that note I am going to pass over to Dr Steven to talk to us about that re-imagining.