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Today's guest on Landscape Conversations is the highly regarded landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson. With practices in both London and Seattle, her firms' work is truly international, with projects in the USA, Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. Kathryn has spent the last thirty years working on a diverse body of projects. These works have been described as groundbreaking and as contemporary designs that incorporate the sculptural, sensual qualities that are fundamental to the human experience of landscape. Examples of Kathryn's work include The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park, Chicago, Westergasfabriek Park, Amsterdam and the Diana Memorial in London.
Anton: I was interested in that idea of how you form your perception, your conception of landscape?
Kathryn: I think there's a couple of things that I've--you know, you become aware of things over time and it's not evident in the beginning why you like certain things, why you're comfortable with certain things. And I remember people always saying to me, "You do these big folded landscapes because you're a fashion designer". And it actually has nothing to do with fashion, it has to do with where I was raised. I was raised in a high plateau desert that had these mountains without any trees on them and you could see the bones and the softness of the mountains and they looked like bodies and folds. And I'd walk into that landscape and I'm comfortable. That's where I was raised, it's what is--it's high plateau light, it's lots of light, it's a lot of open skies, it's channelised water. All the water is channelised because it's coming from big reservoirs in the mountains. So it's not natural rivers and things, it's actually artificial water that is brought to you through a series of channels. There is a river in the town I was living in. But the biggest impact is all the irrigation ditches, so all this channelising of water or having that rigid structure next to a very soft structure of these mountains, it all comes from where I was raised. I remember being at Versailles, people saying, "Your scale of space is much bigger than ours and that what you're comfortable in is much bigger". And it's absolutely true, I'm much more comfortable in very large spaces. And the Europeans, you know, protect your back, fit into something, surround something, it's a much more articulated landscape and a very relationship to man rather than a relationship to nature. It's quite different and I think when you're starting to learn landscape, you're being taught certain principles, historical principles, the principles of the Italian gardens, of French gardens, or also what is contemporary, contemporary art, what is composition. And so all of those things are coming into your education. Somehow there becomes this moment of osmosis between who you are and what you've learned, and something else comes out the other side.
Anton: Did you find that with the rational approach of the French [and slightly political probably at that time as well], there would've been quite a bit of politics around those early 70s with the idea of landscape and that whole idea of territoires?
Kathryn: I never got involved. I think that's one thing, I think I was so dead set on trying to discover what was possible to do in landscape rather than worrying about territoires. I was more interested in form and how to make a form fit as if it emerged from a landscape and didn't feel foreign. I felt a lot of that intellectual was artificially imposed on things and they didn't feel like it was part of the earth. I felt like it was imposed on. Which a lot of agriculture is. And so that whole territoire thing of imposing something, making it part of a bigger piece is important, but I'm not sure-- there's two ways to do that. One is the natural way and one is an artificial and man made way. And so I think that I've always been in this in between phase between the two because of where I was raised, between this natural and artificial. So I've always had those really hard lines with those really soft lines. They're sort of really part of me.
Anton: So you're drawn to those landscapes now when you go on holidays? Because it's interesting that you live in Paris. You're still there.
Kathryn: Well I'm there but I'm also in Seattle and I'm on an island in Seattle now. I'm in the country. I can't see anybody. So--and it's--I've had my own gardens now for 17 years, which is fantastic. I've learnt so much having my own garden. So I plant more than I ever did before.
Anton: You've always had that interest in horticultural…
Kathryn: Always have had the interest. Always been very drawn to it. My parents were master gardeners, so it's always been something that at home, you had to be part of. So you had to cut the junipers and weed them and you had to trim the lilacs or whatever it was, that my dad or my mother wanted done this week.
Anton: Do you think that's influenced the very tactile way you used to work, certainly with clay…
Kathryn: I still do that.
Anton: Where do you think that comes from? Do you think that comes from that physicality of landscape, getting involved with things
Kathryn: No, because I started art when I was like 13 and I started in clay. And I think that my brain just doesn't work on two dimensions. My brain really works only in three dimensions. And so I have a lot of problems understanding a two dimensional thing. That's why I always work in section, because I can't just work in plan. I have to work in section if I'm drawing. So I do section elevation, projection perspectives…
Anton: Was that something that came from Versailles, that way of doing things?
Kathryn: No. It was actually my husband who taught me perspective and he went--he was in Beaux-Arts in Paris. And he actually sat me down and taught me how to do it, because he could see I was struggling and it was--and I think the models were such a relief for me, to be able to see something and manipulate it in 3D. I'm super dyslexic, so I think that has probably been part of it. So things twist if I don’t watch them and hold them in place. But I think it's a good thing also, yes.
Anton: And what about that idea of casting and clay? The negative and the moulds are also fascinating,
Kathryn: Yeah, but the moulds are just a method for me. I think the clay is perfect for landscape because it reacts like soil, you know. You can't like--I mean if you dry it you can cut it in a vertical, but it's a pourable material. Like soil, it's pourable. You know, you wet it, it's mud, it's pourable. I think that working in a material that is close to what you're going to work in, in reality really helps. So often if I'm in clay and I know I want a wall, I'll talk a piece of metal or a piece of wood, something that's rigid that's not mouldable, to work that piece. And a friend of mine, an engineer, taught me. He said, "You have to work in a material similar to the material you're going to build in, in your model, because they react the same. And if you don't, you end up building a model that can't be built in that other material". It took me a while to understand intellectually what that really meant, but on the pylons, I did wire and clay and I did a form that was very hard to do in steel, because I used a mouldable material. And steel, the only way it's mouldable is to melt it and cast it, which is extremely expensive. And you normally are bending it, heating it, things like that. So what I should have done is worked in metal, if it was going to be in metal. And I think a lot of people build landscapes out of cardboard and things that actually don’t have anything to do with the landscape themselves, and I think that's part of the problem why they don’t actually teach you a whole lot about what's actually going to happen. They--it's probably a more abstract form of relationships and space, but I think it loses that real quality of vérité, you know, that clay will give you in a landscape.
Anton: So you are still involved much on site? Have you been able to translate that with all your work all over the place, into a more hands on approach on site?
Kathryn: It really depends what the project is. I was on site in Switzerland two weeks ago. All the planting was laid out. I went to make sure--and it's the second time I've been on site just for the planting. I was there also to check all the pathways, the metal work, the stone work. So I don’t do it for every site, it depends on what the site is, how much I've been involved, who the team is that's working on it. I love going on site, I've always loved going on site. I think it helps a lot to have 30 years of experience when you're on site. You actually know how to communicate when something's wrong, whereas someone with less experience, they can feel something's wrong but they don’t actually know why it's wrong. And so it's very hard for them to catch it. And so just having somebody a little bit more experienced going with them, whether it's me or somebody else that can explain to them, "This is what the contractor's done, that's why this is not working". So that part, nothing replaces experience.
Anton: How about the communication with, while we're on the site question, traditional construction drawings are pretty dry. I think probably using 3D models more and even your plaster models, do you show those to the contractors and people on site?
Kathryn: But you know, you've got to be able to communicate the forms through two dimensional, and so the way constructions site work now is, you just give them the 3D computer model. And they're all very articulate in it. I think--where was I on site? All of our--it was Washington DC, we did six city blocks in Washington and a couple of really big plazas and fountains. And they had computer screens, but huge screens in the workers' shed, that they could just pull up details and then they would look at the details, rotate them. They're all in 3D, everything's gone through BIM and everything else. So it's a new world of construction that isn't like before. It's nothing like that. Everything has X, Y and Z coordinates, people go out there and put their stakes, they know where they're supposed to be, they lay out grids of different heights. I mean it's all just totally so much easier than it used to be. <laughs> It's so much easier than it used to be to do this kind of work. If you want it precise. Before, you could get things sort of like what you wanted, but you can really get things precise now.
Anton: now that you're working so globally, have you started to formulate a sense of the difference in the cultural take on what landscape does?
Kathryn: I think all the countries are changing. The means of communications now through the web are so huge that you do get a globalisation of tastes and things like that. The norms of a country historically are really for me the most vibrant thing that I see. And how cultures use landscape has so much to do with the way they work, the hours they work and the climate. And so in Singapore, things get inhabited at night, in the evening, because the temperature comes down and people are off work. So they use their landscapes at night much more than other cultures do. As soon as you go up into Holland, middle of the winter, everybody's gone at 4:30 in the afternoon, everybody's inside. I think climate has a huge amount of impact on how people use things. Middle East, night time, everybody's out, the temperature goes down. Spain, all the hot countries, it's really a much more nigh time experience, or very early morning which is also interesting. So climate's a really big deal. The other thing is the use of resources is very different, because you have or you don’t have resources. So the control or use of water is extremely different. Some places have too much, like Singapore. It's the deluge. And then you get into many of the Middle East countries, it's just not enough and so they're fabricating water, they're desalinising. I mean you're looking at more sustainable plants, more native plants, trying to find out how it's--there's some places people just shouldn't be living there, they're just not meant to be lived in. And so it's this constant battle with nature and what man wants to do. And I was raised in a town that totally survived on irrigation, that we probably shouldn't have been living there. <laughs> Or maybe a small band along the river. But we insist on living in this inhabitable places which makes the draw on resources really difficult. So I'm finding that really fascinating.
Anton: That's happened quickly, hasn't it?
Kathryn: It's happened very quickly. In Singapore I've watched it happen over the last ten years. More and more bike lines, more and more places for people to bike, to walk. It's just the emphasis of trying to stay healthy within a lifestyle that has become more sedentary, because of the way we communicate and the way we work doesn't require us to have the same output of energy. So you have to figure out another way to put out that output, because you're not doing it through manual labour, through agriculture, through manufacturing. And so we've turned into service industries and even our manufacturing is a service industry because we're doing the service or running the machine to do the work. So it's totally completely different how our bodies were made a certain way, and now we're using them a totally different way. And so the only way you're going to keep that health balance is through movement of the body. And so it's--I think it's normal landscapes are just becoming an integral part of making a city healthy. When you design for a city we call it healthy city. You have to be able to do everything you need in your life within 200 to 300 metres.
Anton: I was going to ask you about the competition system. I don’t know if you want to talk about that at all, whether…
Kathryn: It's very different between different countries. The European systems always run better in my opinion, because they actually pay you to do it and they pay you something that is actually somewhat feasible to meet, that you don’t have to lose tons of money. And they also pretty much insist on apples to apples as far as what is turned in. So you can do so many, three boards and this but not this. The Middle East, the Americans and the Brits, they pay you nothing, they keep it totally opening meaning a young practice can never compete against a big practice, they just don’t have the resources. The big practice will come in with fly throughs, way many more boards, models, everything, and a young practice, they just can't afford it.
Anton: Do you think it's a good way to get a result? On both sides obviously, do you think as a juror and a…
Kathryn: I think competition is very good for getting a result, if it is run properly. One is doing a multi selection process so that you have qualifications, where you have a bigger number that allows it, then you do a first selection, pull it down, then you get maybe just a simple board of approach, and then you pull it down to maybe five. Not more than five, maybe six. And then you pay people to work for three months and do it correctly. It's either that or the other system that I find very interesting is, you pick a team through qualifications and then you work with that team to actually write the program with you. And that is very interesting because then the designer is really embedded with the client to understand what the client really needs.
Anton: I think that's one of the typical complaints or criticisms that I've heard about the competitions from more experiences practitioners, is that lack of access to resolve things with the client because the competition is--you don’t have that interchange.
Kathryn: A design competition only really works well if the client has done their research and gives a tremendous amount of information, and then at the end of it is choosing an architect, not a project. It's very important, because the project's going to have to modify anyway. So it's more about getting the architect to understand how the architect works, the method of how they work, the basic feeling of the architect so the client can know, is there a marriage here or is there not a marriage.
Anton: I think young practices, they're appealing for young practices to get a crack at those bigger projects, Probably as you have more experience that ability to work with the client becomes more important.
Kathryn: I think it's very important to understand, to do projects is a team effort, it's not a sole effort. I think that's where a lot of young people don’t understand that the person across from them has different kinds of knowledge than they do. So they may not be smart in design, but they're a whole lot smarter in other things. So it's a learning process between the two of you and their team. Yeah. It's not art. It's not like, "I'm going to create a sculpture, you're going to buy this sculpture". It's not the same thing. You're going to actually have to walk in it and use it when it's done.
Anton: So on that, do the two practices, the London practice and the Seattle practice, is there a different way of approaching it? Do you have dedicated competition teams to do that many competitions..?
Kathryn: We don’t actually do that many competitions. We try and--the United States, we haven't been that successful with competitions. I think that we've been much more successful being repeat clients, qualifications, working with the client. The competitions are really badly paid in the United States. They're often not followed through, so we win them and then they never do anything. The clients often haven't don’t their homework, haven't raised the money. So it's been more iffy for the US company. The London office has one competitions, like Diana, like Valencia, Spain, that have been very successful, Nottingham. I mean we've won a number of competitions that actually get built.
Anton: So the European system is still…
Kathryn: Still works, but also London works a lot in the Far East and Middle East. Singapore does a lot of competitions and we've won a lot of competitions in Singapore and have done a lot of work, but we also do a lot of direct work with the architects. That is successful on both sides. And repeat architects.
Anton: Well the culture of the offices, it's quite different, the culture? And how do you nurture that culture in an office? How big are they?
Kathryn: They're like everything in the world, they fluctuate. So there's two equity partners, three equity partners and both offices, besides myself. So Shannon Nichol, Jennifer Guthrie and Rodrigo Abela in Seattle, Neil Porter, Mary Bowman, Sibylla Hartel and our equity partners in London. So the cultures are slightly different, but it's also the way the Europeans and the Americans work. The Americans tend to work more on the SOM type of thing where you have a project manager and designer, and it's much more that in different stages, different people work on, but according to expertise. Where in Europe, and this is true of Fosters and Rogers, the project architect is also embedded as part of project management. And so they're much more holistic as the way the teams are formed. They design and they manage. So they have people on both sides that help them obviously, but that they're really expected to have that role. So that is something that is culturally different between the two worlds.
Anton: So that specialisation in the US is more…
Kathryn: It's much more specialised in the US. The US has--I don’t know, it's wonderful to work in both. I don’t really have a preference. I was quite surprised when I moved back to the United States when I have time, how efficient Americans are. I mean they're extremely efficient and they cut out red tape extremely fast and they do it naturally. They don’t even think twice about it. If they see something that can in any way be made more efficient, they just automatically do it. There's this energy about being able to change systems easily and it's normal to change them, that make things move really quite incredibly fast. And that's about the whole country, not about my office particularly or anybody else's office, but watching how streamlined things happened and how technology is embraced so fast and changes so fast, it's pretty incredible.
Anton: And the Europeans less so or the London office?
Kathryn: Well the Europeans, certainly not less so the French and the English because they're both very tech heavy, nor the Asians. But it's just sort of, there's the older populations such as Hong Kong with so many different layers of laws, as whereas you have the British law, you have the old laws, you have traditions. Their administration is just extremely heavy. The French administration is horribly heavy and they're just being smothered by the regulations. And nobody has taken it and thrown the book out and rewrote it because you need to, because it just seems to add on and add on. America is not easy either, but…
Anton: Do you find if you have the support, it makes it more stable? Whereas that's less prone to fluctuations, whether it's senior management or politics?
Kathryn: No. I think stability has to do with being successful. If you're successful you're stable.
Anton: I meant more in terms of the project outcomes that if you have the backing of the ministry of culture or whatever in France, and you can carry on, whereas maybe if that bureaucracy's not so heavy, you might…
Kathryn: I'm not sure it really affects it that much. I mean the American has a huge bureaucracy also and I'm not really--maybe I shouldn't have mixed up subjects, because--I work in Washington DC, they have bureaucracy. It's one of the worst in the world, it's absolutely the worst in the world. There's just something about energy of--you get it here also, of can do. Just mow on through, just keep doing it. I'm sure I took that personality with me to Europe and then when I came back into America…
Anton: I know we're getting a little bit of landscapes…
Kathryn: No, but I think that's interesting for the comment before about globalisation and how you deal with the specifics in this increasingly globalised world of global ideas and the interchange of cultural ideas. And as a landscape architect when you're working with the landscape, to what extent the old sense of place or that idea of the specificity comes into play, versus all those more global concerns. I think the specificity is extremely important, to have a sense of place and to have a soul to it. You know that about me. It's very important, we do tons of research about a place before we start working on it. So it feels actually it's emerged out of that piece of ground, out of the historical and ancient cultures that were there, just where the soil came from. I mean it makes everything feel different. It's like being here at the sandstone, the feel of the dryness and the wetness at the same time. There's all this porosity here. It's very interesting to be here. It's a totally different feel. And that's what's going to make a landscape feel like home to the people using it. It doesn't mean that they're born here, they can be from any place, or maybe they were born here but they moved here from another culture, but still they live here and this place has a residence to them. And so it makes it theirs. I think once a place is appropriated by people, they take care of it and they maintain it. You can still have all this globalisation of knowledge, about different apps and different computers, and those general movements actually bring some interesting things in, like health of a city, health of environment. I think the more we have this global connection on these big issues, the better we get about them. But then they come down to the specific of what you're designing, of who you're designing for. So I don’t think globalisation is actually hurting us…
Anton: They're not mutually exclusive?
Kathryn: No, I don’t think they are at all. I think that when I go work in different places, I always partner with somebody local.
Anton: And how do you find them?
Kathryn: Just look. Ask people, rate people, look online, talk to people. And sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong, sometimes they don’t want to work with you and you get into trouble. And often it's more working with botanical people, horticultural people, scientists. You don’t need somebody that is going to compete with you on design, you need somebody that's going to work with you on design and doesn't see it as a competition but actually you have the same goal. So making sure that happens is really important. We've found some fantastic partners around the world, just fantastic people. I could give you a list that's huge. It's like creating a family somehow over each project.
Anton: I know you didn't want to talk too much about France, but what occurred to me in thinking about that was also, while I was studying la Villette happened. It was a bit of an eye opener for us as students all the way over here. How was that received in France amongst landscape architectural..?
Kathryn: I think the opening of landscape had already happened in a contemporary manner, in that there were other people, like Jacques Sgard, there's like Peter Walker, there's like Dan Kiley, there's Olmsted. I mean there's a lot of people that were doing contemporary landscape architectural work before the Villette. I think what the Villette brought was that a landscape could be a cultural generator, a cultural engine. I think it has been very successful, but I also think it has harmed other landscapes because now, there seems to be often that a landscape has to be a cultural generator, which it doesn't. It has different roles and one of the roles is respite and health. And respite from all this other cafone of stuff going around you. So if you bring the cafone into the landscape also, you never get respite from anything. So the culture which is often a lot of sound, movement, texture pieces that are man made and artificial, you have that all around you in the world, in your work world and in your entertainment world, and then you bring that to the natural world and then the natural world can't exist anymore. And so I think that's one of the things to decry about the Villette, is that it shouldn't be everywhere.
Anton: Well the pendulum probably swung against it and went towards the whole systems based ecology where for a long time that was the ruling…
Kathryn: Well, but the problem with the systems based ecology, it's not really against the cultural part, it's about a totally different understanding of the natural systems. I think that's more about biodiversity, sustainability. It's not actually about human activity, it's about natural activity. And so for me, that natural based system design is great for the natural systems, but it's a one liner actually, and you actually need a few more layers in there because the world is a little bit more complex than that.
Anton: Well as you were saying, the cultural la Villette needs to sit with it as well.
Kathryn: Right. So they need to sit side by side, there needs to be a balance between the two. People need to be in the systems and the systems need to be in the people, as you said. The thing that I often argue, the people are programming, I say, "Would you not make this park into a carnival please? Can we actually have a place of plants and respite and air and breath and breathing and something that has some silence in it and has birds and doesn't have music all the time, doesn’t have motors all the time?"
Anton: Well that comes back to my question about the role of landscape in those different cultures and the idea that landscape is a place for entertainment, or it's a place for selling real estate or it's a thing for solving health problems or solving legal problems.
Kathryn: It's a bit of everything.
Anton: I get the sense different cultures have a different weighting, if you like. They tend to favour one a bit more versus another.
Kathryn: So much of it has to do with historical culture. I mean obviously you are in a culture that was brought to you by the English who cherish having large parks within cities. That has been part of their culture. It's also a democratic culture from the very beginning. It never had a monarchy not in the same way that some of the Asian cultures have true monarchies. It's also about land use and how because there was a monarchy, there was different kinds of land use. So I think that has to deal with how people relate to the landscape. And just how much land there is and how much density of the population. It's very different across the world.
Anton: That's one of the things that strikes me about Australia. It might be the same in the Unites States. There's nearly a surplus of land and it doesn't get used very well because there's so much of it. There tends to be a lot of spaces, just doesn't do anything well. We'll put something here just because it's there.
Kathryn: Or it's cheaper to just put it over there and there's not really good planning. And there's this--it's such a delicate balance between freedom, innovation, opportunity and then good planning and protection. And so how do you balance out the two and not strangulate something with codes, and at the other time, don’t allow the greedy to just ruin things?
Anton: And that really is symptomatic of the suburbs. You say in Australia, they've got those suburban sprawls. Do you do much work in those? Do you tend to get into the suburbs?
Kathryn: Not really. I'm trying to think if I've worked in the suburbs ever. I don’t think I ever have. I don’t think they have ever found a need for me. I think some of the bigger systems, landscape is really important for the suburbs, how to make them more healthy. I've never been able to understand how to express myself about the suburbs because some of it is extremely pleasant and it's a healthy place to live in, if you could get public transportation to be better, water use, roads, all the services, and not use natural resources so badly. On the other side, I'm a true believer in densities and the denser they are, the better they are, as long as there is enough green space for people to have respite and to get out. There's cities like Hong Kong I love because nature's so close and you can hike in Hong Kong within a half an hour of anywhere you are. Just get on a train, half an hour, you're in the middle of nowhere. Seoul, Korea, same thing.
Anton: I think that's also that problem of the land as a resource, that suburbia tends to not use it very well.
Kathryn: I agree. I don’t agree with the logic, but I think that is what some people's logic is. I'm sure if they ever hear this they'll say, "She's an absolute idiot, she didn't understand any of this". I'm not quite sure that's true. <laughs> But I think you're right about the emotional and intuitive, I really get it as far as landscape. I feel so lucky that I found this deal because it fits, it actually fits, and as I get older it fits even better. It's something I really love and care about. I think I care more and more about living things every day of my life and how important they are to our balance and to our psychology, to the way we live our lives and treat our world. It just gets more important. Probably for you too.
Anton: Absolutely. And the way that I think also, that spatial bodily person in space, I think with the land form, it's obviously very important for you as well.
Kathryn: And I do get frustrated that people don’t draw the body in space and then end up in the computers. I think that model or the section, and actually putting a body in there, not just abstractly, really understanding what the scale of that body and those arms and feet and kids and how every level change affects that.
Anton: I think it's probably a case of developing a tool where you can project yourself into--and you've done that through your model making, you're able to project yourself into that space.
Kathryn: Yes. You have to. But that's our job as designers, of landscape, to get the scale of them and not just the intellectual conceptual base. People do use these things.
Anton: Scale is possibly one of the defining features of landscape architecture really.
Kathryn: And it changes everywhere. Yes. It changes with time, it changes with money, it changes with finances, it changes with weather. And you feel comfortable in many different scales which is interesting. It all has to do with the amount of time you have and what the weather is like, and what you're trying to accomplish. That changes immensely how you feel about the scale of a place. Yes.
Anton: I think the intervention that needs to be at the--in dialogue with the scale at least.
Kathryn: Should be, yeah. Should always be, but I sometimes feel that broader, larger, encompassing master plans are not quite looked at well enough in the city. They end up doing pieces and that broader vision of tying--you know, landscape can tie a whole city together.
Anton: Do you get much opportunity to do that sort of work?
Kathryn: Some, but I think--and I do lecture on it, that landscape is the moment that you walk out the door and it ends the moment you walk in a building. All the rest is landscape. And so I think getting cities to realise that no, the streets aren't highways and the parks aren't horticulture, it's all part of the same system. And how do you get the landscape of a city to really represent that city and make that city feel like it's an integrated part? I think Singapore is one of the best cities I've ever seen do that. Their systems of green connect everything. And now, they're adding in the bicycle, the pedestrian. It's really this entire network that goes across the entire city, and it's really wonderful to see.
Anton: Do you find working at that scale satisfying? For someone who likes to build things and get into the 3D, a lot of that work can be on paper for a long time or in reports.
Kathryn: I think you've got to have a variety of things. And I don’t mind somebody else doing that work and then I come in and implement it, but the work just has to be done. I don’t have to do everything, but I think that I walk through areas here even in Sydney and say, "Come on guys, connect it". It's like neighbourhood bumps up to neighbourhood bumps up to neighbourhood…
Anton: To freeway too.
Kathryn: Yeah, and I think like, what in the hell are you doing? Connect your neighbourhoods, connect the paving, connect the feeling, connect the way people move through it instead of…
Anton: It would seem simple, wouldn't it?
Kathryn: Yeah. <laughs> It seems like, come on. <laughs> People have to move from there to there. Why can they not move from here to here? Do I really need three freeways to go straight through the centre of my city? Get rid of them, put them underground, take out parts, do it incrementally. Many cities are doing it more and more. They're getting the high speed car out of the city. There's absolutely no reason you need to drive 50 miles an hour in the centre of a city. If you want to go to the city, slow down, go on the roads or get on a bus or get in the subway.
Anton: Does much of your work involve communal consultation and extensive--that's quite strong in the USA, isn't it?
Kathryn: It's strong everywhere. Obviously very strong in England. Holland is one of the more consultation, obviously the United States. More and more in Asian, which is good to see. A lot of consultation in Singapore. Again, if people don’t appropriate, they don’t take care and they don’t appropriate if it doesn't fit what they need. So if you don’t listen to people--I think designing something before you have canvassed the people is really stupid.
Anton: So you tend to do that yourself or you have that in-house?
Kathryn: It's in-house, and there's different systems--and we work with specialists on the consultation. We have surveys we do, the way we set up meetings, how to control meetings so that somebody doesn't take them over for another agenda, which is one of the biggest problems. They're suppose to be about democracy and then they end up being about somebody's monologue.
Anton: It's always politics, isn't it?
Kathryn: Yeah. Well there are systems to control that in the way you run meetings. There's some very good systems of how to do that. I've just learnt so much more about it, about how to make it a fair interactive process. We just did a lot of public consultation for San Antonio in Texas. Also for Yakima, Washington, my home town, I'm doing a plaza for a town of 50,000 people, only because I was raised there. So it's trying to understand what the population is today, what do they need, what do they want. You're not designing it for yourself. You're designing it for somebody else and so I think it's really important. I didn't use to like it, now I like it a lot. I found that it really helps you design the right thing, to say it very bluntly. Something that actually is going to work where it is. Is there anything else?
Anton: No. Well we could go on for hours, I'm sure. Thank you very much.
Kathryn: I don’t know. Have I changed a lot in the last 25 years?
Anton: Yeah, sure. <laughs>
Kathryn: No, outside of getting older, but you can turn off the tape. <laughs>
Conversation: Kathryn Gustafson + Anton James
Audio recording: Anton James
Audio editing: Angela Grant
Website content: Matthew Kneale
Funding: RMIT University School of Architecture and Design SRC Grant