Shared Artefacts – Uluru.

7th – 10th SEPTEMBER.
These collected posts are from the team. Starting with the most recent post at the top, scroll down to take part in the ongoing conversation.

EJ Uluru Retreat.

 – Rene.

Having just returned from our Edmiston Jones Retreat to Uluru (and Kata Tjuta), a longing for the land has reawakened within me. People say what a special place Uluru is, but it is only when you are there in the looming presence of the great rock do you fully appreciate the sacred spirit of the place. The magic is real . . . . and alive.

For the retreat workshops we worked in groups, our team “Gamaradas – the indigenous word for ‘friends’ in our local Dharawal language.” Gamarada team topics included People and Art in the context of Culture and Place …”A conscious footprint”.

We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to do many activities. Standouts for me were the Uluru Sunrise and Guided Tour, Dot Painting, Night at Field of Light and the Valley of the Winds Walk at Kata Tjuta.

Standing in the fresh morning air watching the sun move over the land and illuminating the red oxidised rock was an awe-inspiring experience. The land and the animals spring to life before your eyes. Our tour guide Jess, took us to some sacred places around the base of Uluru and told us of the Dreamtime Stories. Last time I was there I had not done any guided tours. I feel like my knowledge of Uluru is so much richer for the stories and information the tours provided.

The Dot Painting Workshop was fun and rich with information. We learnt about the symbols and what they reflect in the Creation Time stories.

I have a new appreciation for the Indigenous style of art. Dot Painting was much more skilful than I realised. Having a better understanding of the art, I found it enjoyable trying to read the story being told in the paintings. It was interesting seeing what everyone had created with their own dot-artwork. Seeing them all together collectively was impressive.

The award-winning installation ‘Field of Light’ by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro was a breathtaking phenomenon. The scale of the installation is certainly impressive with more than 50,000 slender stems crowned with radiant hand-blown frosted-glass spheres spanning over an area of seven football fields. From the dune tops, we watched as the ‘Field of Light’ came to life under the setting sun. Walking paths led us down to the immense installation, situated at the base of sand dunes with the silhouette of Uluru in the backdrop. As far as the eye could see the field is awash with the dazzling colour of the globes as their colour ebbs and flows under the clear sky and brilliant stars.

Our team workshop was a rather fitting topic as I reflected on my own return journey to Uluru and Kata Tjuta. As I was doing the Valley of the Winds Walk at Kata Tjuta, I realised that seven years prior I was walking the very same path, wearing the very same shoes . . . yet I did not feel like the very same person.

My physical footprint to Uluru and Kata Tjuta was the same, however, my consciousness has grown.

Thanks EJ for this memorable experience!


Manifest for Innocent Thinking.

 – Lucia.

Do you remember the days, as a child, when the only thing you had to worry about was playing and having fun? Looking back, in retrospect, it can seem like time has stolen our hopes, dreams and memories. If we are not careful, time can erode our primigenial personalities and make us lose sense of why we do things or think in a certain way. It is very easy to get carried away with the flow of life and forget who we really are.

When I was young, I used to imagine I could see animals in the stuccoed walls, quite recognisable forms in clouds, and routine objects with a face and a smile everywhere. I also used to invent conversations between Playmobil characters (usually between the animals as well). Very often I used to picture how my room could be in different places, in or out of my house: in a wardrobe, in the roof, in the garden, in the tree, under the house, in a bathroom…etc.

At our recent retreat to Uluru, we were made to understand that the Australian Indigenous culture believes in stories, such as Kunia the snake, whereby they see symbols materialised as rocks and other sacred elements.
Nowadays, although I try to keep the imaginative part of my mind alive, sometimes it feels like life goes very fast and we need to remember to stop and catch ourselves again.

For example, how many times, when on the way to school or traveling for holidays, looking through the window of the car, have I passed under a bridge?
I have been always astonished by their structure and powerful shape and wonder why they are treated as residual space.

Think about how many holes, gaps, curves, hiding corners, slopes, slides, elevated platforms, columns, nooks, caves, recesses and wires there are. Spaces which give us millions of inspirational possibilities, even more as architects, and especially in these times where architecture is still mostly focussed on new construction. In fact, projects which somehow recover a forgotten part of the city usually are the most accepted by its residents and have the greatest engagement with local communities.

Recently, I read an article about someone who has built one my childhood dreams, probably the same dream of many children: A little hidden refuge out of nowhere, under a bridge of which no one knows about.

The Spanish designer and self-taught craftsman, Fernando Abellanas, has built a piece of parasitic architecture hanging under a bridge in Valencia.
Abellanas says he wasn’t looking for “a feeling of total silence or peace, but rather that sensation you get as a kid of being able to sit and peek at what’s happening around you without being seen – be it in a cabin or a cardboard box in your own house”.

He likes to explore the city, and collect secret places located on a ‘personal map’. Sometimes, as happened with the studio under the bridge, he builds something to visit frequently. Unfortunately, he assures that this little house life is limited, “until someone finds it”.

While rents in Spain have grown by 20.9% in the first quarter in 2017 (according to the real estate portal ‘Idealista’), Abellanas is unconsciously giving us a debate for alternative homes and innocent thinking, thanks to his fluid creativity.

It will probably be an ephemeral artistic intervention, but in the meantime, it feeds our hope about freedom and future. He inspires me to stop and listen to what my inner voice is saying to me and I hope it inspires you as well.

Abellanas develops his designs through his brand Lebrel. You can see more about his work in his Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/lebrelfurniture/.

Do you have an idea resounding in the back of your brain? Bring it to the foreground and make it real. Let your inner child come back again!


Our Retreat.

 – Mark.

The glow of our recent retreat still warms the office and I’m sure fond memories of our time at Uluru will linger for months to come. The real challenge will be where to head next year to equal, or better, the experience we had in Central Australia!

Thanks to retreat team leaders Zoran, Renee, Gabe and Martin for guiding their respective teams leading up to, and during, our time away. The benefits of collaboration prior to the retreat were evidenced at the workshops where teams tackled the assigned tasks with imagination and efficiency. The retreat team leaders commented on the enthusiastic collaboration and valuable contribution made by everyone involved.

In many ways, the greatest lessons occurred during the preparation for the retreat. Not unlike Uncle Max’s experience with the elders by the river where the ‘lesson’ occurred while he was waiting for the lesson. The pre-retreat meetings allowed themes of culture and place to be investigated and appropriate activities crafted outside the conventional processes of an architectural project and with the normal office roles stripped away.

While the lessons learnt will vary from individual to individual, I am confident that the activities we did together will have applications in relationships, communication and projects back at the office. In the next week, the four team leaders will finalise the learnings from their respective workshops. The results will be placed on the retreat website which will act as a memento as well as a repository for photos and links to related resources.


EJ Retreat 2017 Uluru.

 – Mark.

The indigenous history of this land continues to amaze me. Opening The Briefing this morning, I was met with the news that Archaeologists working in Kakadu have uncovered proof Aboriginal people have been in Australia for at least 65,000 years. Working at the Jabiru mining lease east of Darwin, the archaeological team uncovered a stone axe 18,000 years older than any evidence of human activity in Australia found before it. The find has overturned scientific assumptions of humanity’s migration out of Africa and confirms Aboriginal people undertook history’s first large-scale ocean migration. Keiya’s article in this issue gives a personal insight into his family’s experience in Kakadu.

The retreat this year will have two interlinked themes: culture and place. The culture of the firm has been interrogated in the past, is documented and everyone has an idea of “the way we do things around here”. It will be enlightening to get a better understanding of the 65,000 year old culture of this country’s first people and see if this informs how we present ourselves to the world. Edmiston Jones benefits from cultural diversity within the firm with Macedonian, Spanish, Catalonian, Italian, Chilean and Japanese family lineages. This diversity enriches us and the time together away from the day to day of the office will help us appreciate how each individual makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

As an architectural practice, we are place makers. Fundamentally, we design. We create places, working with the people that will use them, that are inspired and inspiring. We aim to enhance people’s lives through the spaces we create. We have sophisticated, and evolving, processes that help us understand ‘a day in the lives’ of our clients, their activities and the physical spaces required. It is possible that we have neglected a deeper understanding of site and as importantly ‘place’, the broader context of the development site. My sense is that we are better ‘placemakers’ if we better understand our place. The retreat is going to be a special opportunity to reflect in a unique location – and have a ball while we are there!


In the middle of Kakadu National Park.

 – Keyia.

As our next retreat is coming up, I would like to talk about my experience with indigenous people. It was about two years ago when my family and I went to visit Jaburu in Northern Territory, a town up north in the middle of Kakadu National Park. We took a day tour guided by two bush Aboriginal sisters, Pasty and Sean, and Non-Aboriginal guide Mark, together with a Hungarian family to share the experience of the day. The bus took us into the bush where we were all surrounded by the beautiful wilderness of their land. The day’s activities: hunt/collect bush foods and cook them in a traditional cooking style.

As I love doing these kinds of things, I was really excited about it. The first thing we did was to collect some firewood, paperbark, and fresh green grevillea leaves. These were all used later in in-ground oven cooking, their traditional cooking method. Next, the bus stopped in front of the muddy area beside a river. We all went hunting for water chestnuts, river mussels and wild carrot and other bush foods. We were a little out of season, but sometimes visitors found river turtles in the same environment. Importantly, they spotted a crocodile in the river water while we were hunting. It took me too long to spot the croc even after they pointed out the direction to me.

They also showed us one of the bush medicines termite clay drink. Red-coloured ant mounds are known to be effective on the bacteria which cause upset stomach and diarrhoea, while the white-coloured mound is used for easing thirst when walking long distances in dry, hot weather. (Obviously no water, so chuck a piece of white dry clay to your mouth!) Clay soil and saliva from termites make up these dried ant mounds.The Hungarian dad first offered a go for a sip as he had an upset stomach, then all the other adults including me ended up trying it. Somehow it was quite a natural thing to do, maybe because we were guided by very experienced people. None of the kids in the tour tried though!

They all said “ yuck!”.

After the food gathering, we arrived in the open bush beside a large billabong in Kakadu Buffalo Reserve. We started to prepare a bush food campfire cook-up with what we gathered and other foods like magpie geese, barramundi and buffalo meat which were prepared by the guide while the sun slowly went down on the beautiful horizon. While the earth oven was cooking our dinner for us, the two sisters showed how to braid with fibres from a native plant and told us stories about the land and their lives. We enjoyed our meals with the beautiful sunset. The weather, atmosphere and the company were all perfect.

This day became our best time in our trip. Even now I often talk about it with my family, wanting to go back and do similar activities like this again. Seeing another side of the culture in our country is always very interesting and certainly becomes a very memorable experience!