(06) THE FATE OF THE DESIGN CULTURE OF SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE WAS DETERMINED IN THE LATE MESOZOIC
by Louisa King

The truth about cities and their processors of production is that they go on at varying speeds, some slow and some fast, slow is not better than fast, likewise large not better than small. They are both fast and slow, small and big, all at once. Any phenomenon, such as that of twin cities, discussed through purely ‘cultural’ terms is perhaps an excessive exercise, I will, therefore, demonstrate the opposite. What is interesting, however, about landscape formations and intellectual formations is that history stands as a backdrop through which both emerge.




Essential to understanding the ‘potential’ relationship between Landscape Architecture in Sydney and Melbourne cities is the Lachlan Fold Belt - the remains of an ancient ocean crust which became lodged underneath their bedrocks during the Cambrian Period, it strains and pulls the two cities back and forth against each other. At the time of the Mesozoic, located at either end of the Fold Belt lay two almost identical river estuaries, places some now call Melbourne and Sydney. At this time, the Gondwanan excursion (the Australian plate setting the Pacific plate adrift) produced a cataclysmic, elastic movement which propelled the river estuary of Sydney hundreds of meters into the sky. The effect of this turbulence is Sydney Harbor (Ria) and everything that this brings (an accelerated housing market, social and economic inequity, sublime landscape, inability to survey, congregate and sustain communication both visual and verbal. The effect of which is that Sydney looks infinitely outwards from her multiple vantage points rendering the city without a strong identity, design or otherwise.

The very same telluric forces that furnish Sydney's terrain reached south along the fold belt bearing down upon the sister estuary in Melbourne. The ground folded and collapsed, twisting the strata like layers of wet cloth. Melbourne was left a soggy wet ‘sunk land’, a relatively flat expanse, economically unproductive and visually unremarkable to western aesthetic sensibilities, but easy to survey and grid, left spatially democratised and culturally transversal. Melbourne looks inwards, is self-referential and recursive in the making of her cultural projects.

Landscapes construct the social and cultural terrain of a city; the scale and depth of this co-formation run deep through both cities. What caused one city to rise, caused the other to fall and formations made geologically, can be mirrored culturally. The challenge for a discourse of Landscape in Australia is to arrive at a robust self-determined intellectual body which is as entangled as the complex-political geologies through which we emerge.


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