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Translating the contemporary ruin

Part 2 Dissertation 2004
Amelia Holliday
University of New South Wales Sydney Australia
This dissertation investigates the possibilities for an architectural response to a ruined site. Mt Stromlo, located 15 minutes from the centre of Canberra, is the site of the Australian National Observatory, which was mostly destroyed by the bushfires of January 2003. A methodology of translation is investigated in relation to projected future uses of the site, and in relation to the remnants on the site that provide an echo of the catastrophic event.

Translation is considered as way of illuminating an original through the production of something new. To effect a translation, the existing site at Mt Stromlo is overlayed with a conceptual grid through which its remnant qualities are mapped and ordered. Possible new programs are then considered in relation to the possibilities thrown up by this mapping. These possibilities relate to themes of distance, connection, history and time. These themes lead to a series of theoretical diversions which feed back into the consideration of the site, producing a layered analysis.

The dissertation draws on a variety of sources: actual experiences and recordings of the site, readings of selected theoretical texts, analysis of architectural and landscape precedents, analysis of commissioned feasibility studies of the site, and a documentation of projected program requirements for the site. While existing as a stand-alone investigation of a site in all its material and conceptual complexity, the dissertation also prepares the way for a graduation design project for the Mt Stromlo Obervatory.

Amelia Holliday


This dissertation is exemplary in the way it unfolds as a journey through ideas of translation, and a specific site with a catastrophic recent history. Unlike many dissertations that theorise design strategies, Amelia Holliday’s work does not separate theory from the particular complex material and spatial conditions where it is put to work. The result is a complex weave between intense site and program mapping, precedent studies, and nuanced readings of carefully chosen theoretical texts. This weave is beautifully produced as a dialogue between images and text, both of which put into play objective and subjective positionings of the author.

2004
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