05 August 2011
A former lepers' hospital in Belgium might not seem the most fertile place for innovative design practice and extending and sharing knowledge.
The former lepers' hospital in Ghent, Belgium, has become the base for exciting research.
An extract from Tidal Garden, part of a PhD project by Dr Richard Black for the Melbourne GRC in 2009.
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Yet this is where RMIT University's School of Architecture and Design is pioneering its Graduate Research Conference (GRC) in Europe.
Twice a year in Melbourne, invited "masters" in relevant architecture and design fields come together to be part of the Australian GRC and engage in a weekend of innovative discussion and debate.
This innovative model of research through design practice was established in 1988 under the direction of Professor Leon van Schaik AO, who still chairs the Melbourne GRC.
Now, through a partnership with Sint Lucas School of Architecture at the Catholic University of Leuven, the GRC process has a European base in Ghent.
Professor Richard Blythe, who heads the School of Architecture and Design, said RMIT's invitational postgraduate program had produced remarkable results.
"We are now firmly established as a world leader in research through design practice," Professor Blythe said.
"The invitational program has resulted in over 150 practitioners who have conducted research into their own practice.
"The quantity of successful graduates is only surpassed by their quality, with PhD graduates emerging to become significant leaders in their professions and the design community."
The Ghent GRC program is managed by Associate Professor Martyn Hook, who said that candidate interest was not just coming from Europe.
"Obviously we have strong interest from European-based practitioners, including candidates from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France and the UK," Associate Professor Hook said.
"But we also have strong interest from American-based practitioners who are interested in the global connections the GRC offers.
"The Melbourne program also has pulling power, as it provides access to further insights and practitioners and, as a city of cutting-edge architecture and design, is attractive in its own right.
"We seek out practitioners who have developed a body of architecture or design work demonstrating mastery of their field, invite them to reflect upon the nature of that mastery within a critical framework and to speculate, through design, on the nature of their future-practice and demonstrate their findings publicly.
"We argue that architects and designers have a responsibility to the furtherance of their practice domain, and that this examination of the nature of their mastery promotes and extends the fundamental knowledge base of their profession, and thus its ability to service society."
Professor Blythe said that whether it was in Melbourne or Ghent, the GRC offered more than a weekend of discourse and networking with other designers.
"It means a continued participation in a global network of design at a high level," he said.
"It provides candidates with a terrific network and ongoing design community that is locally placed but globally connected."
Candidates see and celebrate differences in their work whether they are working as artists, fashion designers, object designers, landscape architects, architects or industrial designers.
"For example, we have had two very interesting program candidates working on design projects that involve death," Professor Blythe said.
"One is a fashion designer designing death garments and researching the wrapping of dead people as a sustainable alternative to using coffins.
"The other is a monumental mason and artist up in Brisbane, who is interested in how grave design can help with grief counselling and the whole process of coming to terms with a loved one's death.
"He is interested in involving and engaging clients in the design and construction of a grave or headstone to see if this can help them come to terms with their loss.
"For one design he incorporated a seat in the grave, so that someone could sit in it and be closer to the dead person; for another design a person made a handprint in concrete to connect with the dead person.
"It's inspiring and ground-breaking for practitioners like this to bond and interact with architects from London and urban activists from Estonia.
"In this way, the best thinkers and practitioners in architecture and design are attracted to the GRC, take part and enhance the process as they make global connections through the program.
"Each European GRC is a chance for RMIT staff and candidates to engage with international peers in both practical and academic architecture and design issues.
"And each Melbourne GRC offers Sint Lucas staff and candidates similar opportunities. Both programs add value to the academic cycle and design communities in both countries and beyond."