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Architecture (MA)

Elizabeth Cox

I'm Elizabeth, an international student from unceded Gadigal Land (Sydney, Australia). I'm interested in using architectural tools and forms of analysis to communicate spatial injustices and the forces inflicted on human and more-than-human bodies by nation-states such as Australia.

In my first year at the RCA, I was in ADS2, Black Horizons: Worlding within the Ruins of Racial Capitalism. Within this studio I investigated flooding, disaster capitalism and the colonial violence of road infrastructure at Djaki Kundu, a sacred site on Bunya Country in Australia.

In my second year at the RCA, in ADS8, I've continued my research into the colonial project of Australia, with a lens on human and more-than-human ecologies. As a descendant of British and European settlers, convicts and migrants, I am aware that my privilege comes as a product of being on the white side of settler-colonialism and racial capitalism. Through my work I intend to weaponise my privilege and align myself to Indigenous resistance against these systems. 

1949 black and white aerial photographs of Garden Island stitched together on a black background.

Reclaiming Booroowang is located on unceded Gadigal Land, Eora Country, the site of British invasion in 1788. The research begins by dismantling the fiction that is land ownership in Australia and its legal, juridical, and philosophical foundations. Within the framework of ADS8’s theme, the project foregrounds research in settler-colonialism and its modes of extractivism to trace how the country got to where it is today, and the bodies responsible for its ecological destructions.

The research also foregrounds First Nations Australians voices and knowledge systems which resist settler-colonialism and have done so since the invasion of Australia. It challenges the erasive settler-colonial history of Gadigal Land and instead develops and builds upon an Indigenous feminist history of resistance, care and repair.

The work culminates in a spatial proposition that is reparative, regenerative, and reflective: an ecological reclamation of the Royal Australian military base at Garden Island, Gadigal Land (Sydney Harbour). The proposition is both:

  • an abolition of colonial and military administration and maintenance of Garden Island and;
  • a long-term ecological rehabilitation of Gadigal Land and waters, starting with active human intervention, and ultimately more-than-human intervention and growth.

These spatial interventions thus create a testing ground for what abolishing colonial administration of unceded Aboriginal land and bodies might look like if custodianship of the land was returned to First Nations peoples, and forms of life were given the support to grow from colonialism’s ruins. It resists simplistic and extractivist ways of representing bodies of land, water, humans and non-humans; and attempts to represent these bodies in relation to one another.

Questions explored throughout the research include:

How has the cadastral allocation of stolen Aboriginal land from 1788 onwards influenced state control and private property patterns over ecologies throughout Australia today?

How is the military influential in perpetuating and maintaining the spatial violence of colonial conquest and which bodies resist its operations and are thus deemed a threat to its operations?

In rejecting racial capitalism and settler-colonialism as governing forces of space, and adopting a respectful relationship to land, what non-extractivist architectures might emerge to reconnect bodies that have been disconnected through these state-mediated forces of control?

In dismantling the legislative, juridical, philosophical, and built infrastructures of the colony, what reparations need to be made and to who?


 
Research film using archival documents, forensic analysis and architectural mapping to dismantle the narrative of land ownership within Australia and disambiguate data. It builds a body of evidence to lay out the argument for removing the military base and reclaim it as common land catered to humans and non-humans who have been dispossessed by settler-colonialism.
Cosmogram mapping showing a 250 timeline to ecologically reclaim Booroowang, starting from active human intervention
Decolonial timeline of the ecological rehabilitation projectReclamation is a term typically used to describe the process of gaining land from the sea, by dredging and filling the area between median high water mark and median low water mark. Reclaiming Booroowang subverts this term and reclaims Garden Island for its human and non-human inhabitants who have been forcibly disconnected from the land and water by coastal reclamation and other extractivist projects. The timeline above shows how the project will unfold over 250 years.
Site plan of Booroowang with Sydney context in view. Background is black, the buildings in white, demolitions in red linework.
Site plan of BooroowangThe numbers on the site plan link to the numbers on the timeline, showing how architecture has been complicit in facilitating the development of Garden Island. To decolonise Booroowang, a method of subtraction is deployed, removing war machines, entry barriers and the caisson holding back the water from flooding the dock (dotted in red). Further buildings will be dismantled or repurposed over the course of the project.
Render showing interspecies bridge, with people sitting above the water, and oysters, fish and other marine life submerged below
Interspecies bridgesLinking the mainland side to the former island side and gesturing to future uses. One is positioned flush with ground level, for accessibility, and the other is positioned lower in the intertidal zone of the dock, which acts as a datum point while the tide moves up and down. The bridges are propped up by stacked keel blocks already existing on site. The keel blocks form a substrate for the seeding of oysters, which will begin to filter out pollutants and toxins from the water, and attract other marine life.
Render showing timber stage that hovers above the flooded dock. People are dancing upon it while others watch from the sides.
Booroowang stageConstructed similarly to the bridges, with a timber floor, the stage hosts dance and performance to project the mission of the project. The stage opens up the possibility for forms of ritual and storytelling for Indigenous folk, and forms of listening for non-Indigenous folk. As a first invitation to the site, the stage draws interest and ultimately a connection for people to come back and take part in the island's rehabilitation.
Birds-eye view of Gadigal Land (Sydney Harbour) showing Garden Island in its present condition as a military base.
Booroowang at year 0
Birds-eye view of Gadigal Land (Sydney Harbour) showing Garden Island in its future condition after ecological rehabilitation.
Booroowang at year 100
large-scale plaster and blue silicone model showing the stage. A balustrade wraps around the edge of the dock and the stage.
1:100 sectional model of stage, aerial view
large-scale plaster and blue silicone model showing the stage. Colourful people dot are scattered over the model
1:100 sectional model of stage, detail view
large-scale plaster and blue silicone model showing the stage. Colourful people dot are scattered over the model
1:100 sectional model of stage, detail view
large-scale plaster and blue silicone model showing a sectional view of the stage. Colourful people dot are scattered over the model
1:100 sectional model of stage, elevation view
large-scale plaster and blue silicone model showing the stage. Colourful people dot are scattered over the model
1:100 sectional model of stage, rear view

Medium:

plaster, silicone, plywood, metal mesh, grey card
side view of silicone model showing flooded section of dry dock. In the water is seaweed, marine animals and sunken vessels
1:50 sectional model, detail view
side view of silicone model showing flooded section of dry dock. In the water is seaweed, marine animals and sunken vessels
1:50 sectional model, side view

Medium:

plaster, silicone, sand
Black background with white bubbles and text showing the inter-relations between legal, juridical and philosophical regimes
Mapping the Nation-State and the commonalities and constructs that sustain its power and control
Map with a rotating arm showing Sydney as though it was a skin
If Sydney was a skin, how would you describe its changes after colonisation in surgical terms?