20 Dec 23

If These Walls Could Talk: Memory as a design condition in the built environment

As part of the MPavilion 10 program, Woods Bagot curated a conversation on the role of memory in the built environment, considering what makes a place worthy of protection; how memory can be preserved in the built form; and where we place the identity of a building – in its bricks and mortar, or the immaterial stories of the people that animate it? 

Now in its tenth iteration, the 2023/24 pavilion has been designed by Pritzker Prize laureate Tadao Ando as the architect’s first ever project in Australasia. Every year, the pavilion provides a public space for events, explorations, conversation and debate as the city’s leading cultural laboratory.

Guided each year by a set of themes, one of the 2023/24 program’s organising concepts is “memories of place”, considering the dialogue between architecture and its surrounds, asking why landscapes are significant to our collective memory and how we might preserve them for generations to come.

Left to right: Emily Wong, Lou Weis, Bryan Cush, Sue Fenton, Millie Cattlin.

Responding to the theme of “memories of place”, Woods Bagot curated a conversation around the notion of continuity in the built environment, considering what “caretaking” of our heritage assets could look like in the 21st century. 

The conversation began by exploring Woods Bagot’s adaptive reuse of a 122-year-old woolstore: the Younghusband Woolstore in Kensington and sundry turn-of-the-century buildings. After it was a functioning warehouse for wool, hide and tallow, the store served as a storage facility for the Australian Ballet and provided affordable studio spaces for small creative businesses. The site has now been purchased by a consortium of developers and Woods Bagot is helping to transform the space into an urban mixed-use commercial village.

The Younghusband case study provided an entry point into a wider conversation about the future of our inner-city heritage assets – the contributory benefits of preservationist efforts along with the potential displacement of communities associated with gentrification.


Lou Weis, founder and creative director Broached Commissions

Sue Fenton, senior associate, Woods Bagot

Younghusband interior design leader and Woods Bagot senior associate Sue Fenton was joined by maker and former Younghusband tenant Bryan Cush; Broached Commissions founder and artistic director Lou Weis; and social programmer and creative director of These Are The Projects We Do Together, Millie Cattlin.

The conversation was expertly steered by Emily Wong (Landscape Architecture Australia), with provocations including: whose memories do we preserve in the built form? And, what is lost in the form of social cohesion and unique cultural identity when existing communities are displaced as a consequence of gentrification?

Sue Fenton discussed the materiality of memory and the role architects and designers play in excavating the stories of place through sensitive restoration and a “light touch” approach. Sue also discussed the difficulties around short lead times on design projects and the necessity for deep, meaningful engagement with site custodians and community for genuinely contributory public buildings.

Bryan Cush discussed the imperative for affordable studio spaces in the CBD and the importance of grassroots organisations and small business ecosystems for community identity. Bryan also shared his experience working in both the Younghusband Woolstore and Jack’s Magazine in Maribyrnong, describing how working in these history-soaked heritage spaces contributes to his creative process.

Through her temporary projects like Testing Grounds, Siteworks and The Quarry, Millie Cattlin helped us understand how we can integrate community-driven strategies to minimise displacement, celebrate cultural heritage, and create socially inclusive spaces. As a multidisciplinary practice, Millie’s project funding often falls under the blanket of a “caretaker” budget, and as such, her job has been to advocate for sites, culturally, creatively and materially.

Millie says “caretaker” as we once understood it is losing its foothold in the collective imagination as building services are increasingly outsourced, streamlined, automated and anonymised. But, she maintains, its essential that we don’t relegate this labour to the dark and shadowy depths of the unseen and invisible.

Lou Weis discussed the role of public art in beautifying public spaces as well as fostering a sense of collective memory, cultural identity, and reinforcing attachments we have with place. Lou also elucidated the fundamentally fraught nature of public art commissions that aestheticise power and reinforce the belief systems of the powerful minority.  

Together, art consultants, architects, designers and makers discussed how we revive our historic assets so they can best contribute to society – aesthetically, culturally, and economically – without disrupting the social cohesion, cultural richness and immaterial stories of the communities that already exist.

Listen to this conversation on the MPavilion archives.


Spectres, dinosaurs and rock’n’roll: Memories of the caretaker of Younghusband Wool Store

For more than twenty years, Vern “Hollywood” Anagnostou, nicknamed for his flamboyant dress sense and rock’n’roll sensibility, has been the custodian of the Younghusband Wool Store in Kensington – an adaptive reuse project Woods Bagot is redesigning into flexible commercial tenancies.

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Isla Sutherland
Content and Communications Specialist (Australia & New Zealand)

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