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    Time, space and existence: Venice Architecture Biennale exhibitor and architect Chris Elliott

    Stephanie McDonald

    Chris Elliott, director of Chris Elliott Architects, established his own practice in 1992.

    His work includes residential, public and commercial projects, with a special interest in larger scale architectural and urban design.

    Elliott is participating in the exhibition ‘Time Space Existence’ at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.

    Architecture and Design spoke to him about the exhibition, what time means to him and ‘anti-projects’.

    Can you tell A&D about the Time Space Existence exhibition?

    The exhibition Time Space Existence is a part of the Venice Architecture Biennale, which runs from May 28 to November 27. There are two Australian architectural practices represented.

    For our exhibit I have taken the three commonly understood elements of ‘time’ – past, present and future – as a device to frame a sample of three of our activities in recent years. So the work on show includes:

    * present: Seacliff House

    * future: a theoretical design for a very tall green apartment building in Sydney

    * past: my involvement in an ‘anti-project’, the community-based advocacy for the preservation of Waverley Cemetery in Sydney

    What does the past, present and future mean to you?

    For me the legacy from the past is not only important but essential in creating the richness of the urban and built environment that we find around us. The best cities result from the layering of different eras in time, with the best and most authentic characteristic of each era surviving while the rest is washed away by time. The best cities gradually evolve into a magnificent artwork.

    How has the past influenced your current work?

    I'm fascinated by much of what I see from the past. But also those futuristic concepts from the past – for example, the futurist and constructivist concepts formulated by architects such as Sant Elia and Leonidov. Although most of their ideas were not built, they still have proved to be enormously influential on the course of 20th century architecture.

    In our own work we often have to evaluate and make a judgment on fabric and remnants from the past – if it has value then we try to incorporate it, like the underground rock and the old stone fence in Seacliff House. Sadly though, sometimes it’s just not worth it and things have to go.  

    What challenges do you think the industry will have to grapple with in the future?

    As humans we enjoy the luxury of being able to reflect on our own existence. We can also reflect on the existence of other plants and animals and the need to do so has become more important than ever before.

    To me it seems essential that we limit the growth of our cities and other settlements so that we can enable all of the other species to survive alongside us. Part of the challenge is how to manage cities that are growing in population without also expanding in size.

    CEA has worked on many competitions over the years exploring different ways of dealing with this problem. The most recent is the Evolo high-rise skyscraper competition entry that we’ve included in this exhibition. We want to try to recreate some of the romance of high-rise living. I believe that vertical living can be exciting and adventurous, even heroic, and we are keen to imagine a future in which this is part of the mix.

    I’ve no doubt that these ideas will often not be popular and in fact in most locations people are likely to fight tooth and nail to prevent them. But the city has always been a battleground of ideas and competing interests so this is to be expected.

    Can you tell A&D about your 'anti-project' in Sydney?

     The “anti-project” is a protest against some ideas that were being promulgated to modernise and commercialise Waverley Cemetery. I joined the local action group “Residents for Waverley Cemetery” that was fighting these plans. We argued that the cemetery should be heritage listed and left alone.

    What prompted you to get involved in it?

    I don't normally get involved in small local protests but the more I saw of what was being proposed the more alarmed I became. It’s a beautiful and quiet place with an extraordinary union of landscape and human-made artifacts. It is littered with poignant messages from the past and sodden with meaning. I’ve always loved the place so I started to get involved and then I joined them. I’m pleased to say that our efforts over the last two years have led to the council changing its plans. Our group has also gained State Heritage listing for the site.

    What's coming up for you in the next 12 months?

    Well, we have three houses currently under construction, a few projects on the drawing board and we continue to develop city concepts for architectural competitions. I enjoy this process as a way to explore and develop new ideas for city living. Also, I am hoping to see the next step in Waverley Cemetery’s preservation – Waverley Council has recently applied for National Heritage Listing.

    Most exciting though is that I'm off to Venice for the preview and opening of the biennale! 

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