By Tess McCabe
Hamish Coates is principal of Scapesystems, a Landscape design firm with an office right in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD. So he knows better than most how winter seems to only accentuate the grey and brown tones of the concrete jungle. Eager to inject more green space into the city centre, for this year’s design festival Hamish is inserting a bright green, grassy refuge at the bustling corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets. Aptly titled ‘Oasis’, he’s creating a simple seating area around an existing tree, and covering the entire thing in Astroturf.
You would think that a landscape designer would be adamantly against such an unnatural substance, and within his day-to-day landscaping projects he definitely refrains from using such products. But he hopes passers-by will discover that constructed landscapes are not entirely limited to natural products. And c’mon, it’s hard to argue the fact that it will stay green without a drop of water.
I visited the workshop where Oasis is currently being constructed with the help of sculptor Paul Allen. At this stage, the frame is complete and the Astroturf is applied.
Tess: What was the starting point/concept moment/flash of inspiration for this exhibition?
Hamish: Looking out my window. Something had to be done out there.
T: What kind of research/planning was involved (using new/different materials, exhibiting in a busy area of the CBD)?
H: Causing things to adhere, secure and not move without creating an environmental public and social catastrophe. Trying hard not to leave an imprint.
T: Any surprises so far? Unexpected turns that take the initial idea on a different course? Injuries?
H: No injuries, but it’s not over yet. Everything’s going to plan and the biggest surprise is being reassured that the idea works as a built piece.
T: How do you hope people will react/interact with Oasis?
H: I want people to interact with Oasis in any way they can. If they want to wreck it, that would be disappointing, but it would inform me I’ve failed to make something fun, happy and possibly useful. But I don’t think this will happen, as I’ve found most people take these sorts of things on with a degree of relish. I am very interested to explore the notion of landscape and see how we fit into it.
T: If you could invite anyone, living or dead, to enjoy Oasis at the MIDF, who would it be?
H: Mum and Dad. They’ve always been great supporters of all our weird and wacky pursuits.
T: What do hope this piece will bring to the people of Melbourne?
H: I want people to look beyond any novelty value and dig a little deeper with the concept of possibilites.
T: If money wasn’t an issue, what would you work on next?
H: Where do you want me to start?
Scapesystems’ Oasis will be at the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets during the design festival.