Before I start this article, I have a confession to make. Shaneen Fantin and I have known each other since February 1989. We met as part of a first year architecture student gathering at Brisbane’s Tower Mill on Gregory Terrace. In 1991 I left with a Bachelor of Design Studies, while Shaneen stayed on to gain her Bachelor of Architecture in 1994 and PhD in 2003 from the University of Queensland.
Since then, Shaneen’s career has seen her working with Indigenous groups, primarily in Australia, as a program manager with Arup and the Queensland State Government and now in Cairns running POD – People Oriented Design – with business partner and fellow architect Belinda Allwood.
Shaneen describes herself as a designer, writer and innovator, with specialist expertise in housing and health projects, community engagement and design participation. It’s no surprise to me that the bundle of determined energy I met in our undergraduate degree – almost 30 years ago – is now Chair of the FNQ committee of the Australian Institute of Architects.
She’s also an Adjunct Associate Professor at Queensland and James Cook Universities, and a member of International Association for Public Participation. Her doctoral thesis examines the relationship between design and culture in Aboriginal housing.
Shaneen has applied her research knowledge to over a dozen Indigenous housing and health projects in Queensland, the Northern Territory, New South Wales, South Australia and Canada. A regular contributor to Architecture Australia and Houses and Sanctuary, I interviewed Shaneen in March 2017 about POD’s workshop The Least House Necessary™.
When did you start thinking about developing The Least House Necessary?
It began in 2011 and was the culmination of several things. I’d just come back from the Northern Territory where I’d been working and doing research remotely with Indigenous people. My work meant long stints away, living with communities where I learned to live more simply – in essence, to value people over stuff.
I find that interesting because in 2011 I was in San Francisco. At a cafe one day I struck up a conversation with a guy wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with two words: Less Stuff.
Yes, I always felt like there were too many possessions in my life whenever I came back from my times away. And I had this feeling over and over again. At the time, my partner and I had two small children and lived in a tiny workers cottage – about ninety square metres. It was our home for almost seven years.
How was that experience?
It was fantastic. It was a great house, easy to look after with a great connection to the backyard. I was never stressed and it felt beautiful and comfortable.
You mentioned a culmination of things creating the spark for the workshop. Can you expand on that?
Sure. In 2011, I was invited to speak at International Women’s Day, and the theme was Women with a Plan. I chose to speak about dwelling and housing, examining aboriginal and ethno-architecture along with contemporary dwellings.
Were you aware of the tiny house movement at the time?
I was aware of the emergence of the micro-house movement, watching from afar and curious about it. I didn’t, and don’t, necessarily agree with it. However, I definitely support the concept and the philosophy of simpler living.
What is it that disturbs you about these houses?
I don’t think they’re for everyone. In a micro-house you have to be very careful with your physical movements and very mindful. If you’re like me, you’d be running into, and falling over, things all the time.
Tell me how you set out to create The Least House Necessary.
The Least House Necessary is a facilitated workshop that invites people to consider their housing needs based on some key principles:
We design activities to help participants explore and challenge themselves about how important each principle is to them personally. Questions around comfort and privacy are always interesting, the challenge being, can you have both without creating a sealed building envelope.
We’ve talked about how dwellings have changed over time. Even the word ‘dwelling’ takes you back to a simpler time. What’s your take on that?
If you go back prior to the 1950s we’re talking about very different perceptions of privacy and security. In the workshop we take time to explore older house designs in particular – to find out what it meant to inhabit a house then, without air conditioning and three bathrooms.
In some ways, there was more flexibility in terms of how the rooms could be used, whereas now, every room has a designated use. As an example, a media room can’t easily become a dining room in current speculative housing layouts.
What else do you ask people to consider?
We ask them to undertake a behavioural analysis of the activities that take place in their homes. That includes things like sleeping and preparing food. At the same time, we remind them to take into account security and weather control. We ask them to prioritise what’s most important, from a secure internal environment to a more outdoor life with a focus on the garden, for example.
You’ve explained you then move this exercise from an individual to a group focus. Only this time you ask people to actually build a model house with materials you provide. I imagine that’s been interesting at times.
It’s been very interesting. It’s when you realise that people want so many different things from a house. It’s also when some of the participants themselves realise they may have been putting appliances and technology ahead of the relationship between the house and the garden. It certainly helps them think about space, and how spaces help create relationships, both with the land and between people – families in particular.
Often when people are looking to buy, build or renovate they’re drawn to a host of pre-conceptions about the best kitchen and bathroom, for example. They can be too easily consumed by all this amazing over-cooked imagery! (pun intended, well it is now)
It sounds like a lot of work and some of these questions sound like they could be from an info-mercial…
Haha. The workshop does have its ‘pressure cooker’ moments, and certainly runs at a fast pace, but it’s designed to be fun and energetic. People don’t think enough about what makes them happy as humans; is it really the 42-inch screen and leather lounge or how their kitchen interacts with their garden? We surprise them sometimes because what we’re actually asking them to consider is whether they’re investing in their happiness or a perception of success.
It’s important to keep in mind we’re not saying that what you end up with can’t be something beautiful. You can have something simple, and beautiful that’s also not massive and over-scaled – a place that meets your needs as a collection of people.
Volume, light, texture and people make a house a home, and there’s not much choice about any of these in a ‘spec’ home.
What plans are in place for you to help multiply The Least House Necessary?
We’ve run quite a number of workshops in Cairns and the far north. Our approach is to partner with regional or shire councils and other organisations and share our knowledge along the way. This has proven very successful in the past. In March this year, we held our first workshop in Brisbane through The State Library of Queensland as part of the 2017 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum.
People Oriented Design (POD) was established in Cairns, North Queensland in February 2009. It’s since grown into a thriving architecture business. POD’s two business partners, Shaneen Fantin and Belinda Allwood, are both registered architects in Queensland and descendants of local families.
Shaneen and Belinda have a great appreciation and passion for the landscape, climate and people of northern Australia. Prior to creating POD, each worked for more than 15 years as associates, senior architects, and project managers for a variety of local, national and international firms including Arup, Peddle Thorp Architects, Opus and Troppo Architects.
Describing POD as a multidisciplinary practice, Shaneen says their work involves: 70 per cent architecture – residential, community, health and education projects; 30 per cent consulting; community engagement and project management.
Shaneen and Belinda
With 20 years experience working with indigenous organisations Shaneen has a uniquely holistic view of Australian architecture. Along with her business acumen, Shaneen describes business partner Belinda as an incredible craftswoman and maker of things – from chairs and furniture to boats!
Shaneen’s just finished co-authoring a chapter of The International Handbook of Contemporary Architecture, an invitation that goes out to just 40 authors globally. Her co-author is local Elder Gudjugudju Fourmile.
Robyn Ross has a ‘thing’ about eyes, and paints them in all their intensity and beauty. In her current exhibition The Female Gaze, she plays with the way the masculine and feminine are categorised in life and depicted in art.
Her three works exploit the power of ‘the gaze’, both upon – and emanating from – her subjects, both male and female.
While adept across a number of artistic styles and mediums, Robyn loves portraiture. Her celebrity portraits include Russell Crowe, Sir Tim Rice, Bette Midler, Gordon Ramsay and Harry Connick Jr.
I caught up with Robyn in early September to ask her about ‘those eyes’ and just why she paints…
She recalls being inspired by one of her teachers at the age of 14. Laughing, she adds, “it was the only thing I won awards for in high school. I was always drawing faces; painting faces.”
“And I’ve just always been attracted by eyes. I think they tell so much about someone. When I’m working with my subject, I ask them not to smile because that makes their eyes squint. Your eyes can say more with a thought than a smile.”
Asked to describe her own work and what inspires her, the immediate response is “faces, colours and atmosphere – an atmosphere in a room of people, where there’s good tension, excitement or apprehension.”
“I want to engage the viewer. To do that, I love to have an extra layer for people to see. I seek to find an intensity, to show people how I see my subject, and the eyes are always the most expressive part of someone’s face.”
“That’s why I’m attracted to portrait painting. I like to meet people to get a sense of their personality. That’s not something you can get from a photo. I need to feel their essence.”
Talking specifically about the images in The Female Gaze, the conversation again returns to eyes. “In this series, the whole idea is the focus of the eyes,” Robyn explains. “The eyes tell you that it’s a face, but then I’ve played with the way the faces and the personalities are perceived, based on their sex.”
During our interview, Robyn reveals she’s inspired by Gustav Klimt. Her art practice is “very much about creating a mixture of both the real and unreal.” In this case, “unrealistic shapes around realistic faces.”
“I take an original idea, but the idea evolves as the painting progresses. Here, I’m challenging and augmenting traditional beliefs of masculine and feminine stereotypes.”
Past President of Portrait Artists Australia, Robyn has been Arts Ambassador for The Sir David Martin Foundation since 2012. Her international exhibitions include the Australian Embassy Washington, Invited Guest Artist at Biennale Izmir Turkey, Florence Biennale, Goethe Institute Germany and ART Monaco 2014.
Parsa exhibited with GkJE as part this year’s Head on Photo Festival. Now based in Sydney, he was born in northern Iran, in Lahijan. Completing film and media studies, while honing his skills in the field of TV Production, his fine art photography focuses on the ethereal, whimsical utilising painterly techniques.
Take a look at some of his latest images and get inspired.
Blog Image : “Running to the Light”
© Parsa Jamalpour, 2015
From In Her Dream
Head On, 2016
An Interview with Photographer, Katherine Millard.
Katherine Millard loves walking, and just as well, because her photography relies on her ability to focus in on the everyday in urban environments. I was lucky enough to interview Katherine during her exhibition with GkJE Galleries at Sydney’s Canvas Bar.
She tells me, “it began with a Tumblr blog while in New York during 2009, walking around with a small pocket camera, I was posting the images to my blog.” This first photographic excursion has since evolved into the I Was Out Walking series, encompassing various famous capitals.
“I was always interested in photography,” Katherine says, “I remember being obsessed with the family camera as a child, taking photos of family and everything. There must be endless strips of film somewhere with everything macro in the world on it,” she laughs.
“I loved collecting cameras too, and recall one Christmas – I think I was 12 or 13 – my dad had bought me a bunch of old cameras, and it was one of the best presents I’ve ever received.”
I ask her about how she finds or collects her images. “I don’t like putting the camera in someone’s face, the shots are more spontaneous – quiet, but quite vibrant – streetlife, the buildings behind, a poster stuck on a poster, stuck on a poster nearby.
“In Paris there were more people, and they stood out to me more. I find there are always things that quintessentially speak of the place I’m in; like the architecture, the energy of the people going about their daily lives, people typical of where I am.”
She cites the New York and Paris experiences as being very different, with her shift to mobile photography and deliberate ways of walking. “ I’d take a different path every morning, choose a different metro station to find a new place and walk back home from there.”
And how did these casual walks turn into a formal exhibition? “I moved over to Instagram, it was then people started liking and commenting on my work, and so I kept going. That’s actually how I came to exhibit as part of the 2016 Head On Photo Festival, because a lot of people said you should exhibit these photos. In the end this series of people just emerged.”
Katherine tells me she’s taken photographs every day for the past seven years or more. When asked about her photography practice, vibrancy comes to the fore again.
“I like the scenes to be vibrant and vivid, I’ve been known to turn greens pink and pinks green, reverse the saturation, create some quite extreme contrasts, like a green sky and all-pink wasteland near a housing project outside New York. I like the warmth these intense colors and contrasts bring to the images.”
It’s been a long journey into the formal process of photographic exhibitions, but I get the strong sense Katherine Millard and her work will be with us for some time. She’s currently planning a Sydney series and looking ahead to Shanghai and another European destination. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @iwasoutwalking, and see photographs from her Paris series at GkJE Galleries until 21 July 2016.
Blog Image : Rue De Castiglione © Katherine Millard, 2013
Katherine was interviewed by Geoff
“Silverwater Park” – © Chris Round
“This image is part of a new series investigating the surreal, colourful and sometimes unintentionally compelling forms of contemporary urban environments.
“Sometimes through planning and sometimes through sheer coincidence these spaces offer an array of arresting subject matter that uncovers our rather bizarre and erratic relationship with the ever-evolving 21st century urban landscape.”
Talking about his work, Chris says, “[my photographs] reflect the likely influence my UK upbringing has had on my photographic practice in Australia.
“The Australian landscape is more associated with sun-bleached paddocks and blue skies, but my approach has been to seek out the softer light of overcast days.
“The muted colours produced are not those of faded photographs, but of a sun-bleached landscape now under a temporary grey-sky reprieve.
“This unexpected approach to Australian light was never deliberate, but crept in to my work over a few years and is surely influenced by my being a dual citizen of the UK and Australia.
Having spent an almost equal amount of time in each country, perhaps I am trying to find an evenly balanced sense of place through my photographs, an equal division within each image: an Australian scene with an ‘English’ sky.
“Consequently I ask myself this: The longer I live here in Australia will the pendulum of belonging eventually swing in favour of my adopted land, or will I always be ‘in two places?”
— Chris Round, June 2016