Site Knowledge: in Dynamic Contexts by Richard Black

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Abstract

The PhD is concerned with the construction of site knowledge and how this is transformed into knowing where and how to intervene in a river system close to ecological collapse. It involves three overlapping topics:

• Site knowledge and its impact upon the design process
• Development of tools and techniques appropriate for working on a particular type of site condition: the threshold between land and water
• Transitory: the impact of dynamic processes and events on inhabitation

Site knowledge emerges from a process of investigating a location. It is generated by on-site and off-site operations. This involves the architect in a dynamic set of relationships – between encounters on the ground in the here and now, with more remote encounters with the site from the studio and archive. This mode of site study amplifies the impact of scale shift and it exposes the variable and provisional status of a location, while also providing a way of operating in environments that can be considered dynamic.

The PhD is premised upon the need for a work to relate to its surrounding environment. The hinged meaning between the terms a site and to site have relevance to the design process. A site, as a noun, suggests a specific place, such as a plot of land, whereas the verb to site, suggests that a work will be placed in relation to other things. Site knowledge is thus generated through the act of describing a place, through the act of making drawings and other descriptions of that place. It generates ways of conceptualising a site and leads to action: knowing how and where to intervene in a location.

The River Murray provided a context for the project work of the PhD. Research led to tools for recording (on site) and interpreting (off site) the impacts of flood events on the settlements on the riverbanks that were protected by levees that worked against the natural forces of the system. The research culminated in a range of designs that demonstrated how to integrate town and tourist developments into the re-established cyclical flows necessary for the health of the system.

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