18 metres above ground and 550 metres in circumference, the Brickpit Ring Walk is a remarkable piece of interpretive design. From the clarity of its diagram – a perfect yellow Olympic circle super-imposed over a degraded landscape – to the way it frames (and subsequently disappears) at three different scales – the acid green wetland, the significant buildings within the curtilage, the perforations that reduce the wildlife to sounds – make for an incredible ampitheatre of memory, one which evokes the ‘whirling machines, larrikin brickmasters, and technological innovations’ of brick mining in the early 20th century.
According to the text encountered along ring path, the Homebush Brickworks site was established in response to the Sydney housing boom of the 1920’s. The Brickpit shifted in ownership throughout its lifetime, rising and falling in use with the market. By the century’s end it was abandoned, subject to documentation as an industrial ruin. The ‘intangible heritage,’ the memories of workers and managers at the Brickworks, have also been preserved in oral history interviews. Visitors can hear their voices recalling experiences of working the site in company with others.
The site has a more recent political history regarding the 1990’s pre-Olympics fervor and the presence of the small Green and Golden Bell Frog, a species who, after being protected by emergent landscape heritage requirements, prevented anything major from ever being constructed (and interestingly/conveniently saved the city the money it would require to actually make the site safe after all of the brick mining pollution). Hence the precise and delicate construction of the ring.
The educational text that surrounds the Brickpit, in addition to the motion activated recordings of Golden Bell Frog frogcalls and oral interviews of workers, makes it easy to imagine the unending rhetorical project of composing spatial history. The need to stabilize collective memory, in a certain sense to firmly superimpose a clear diagram upon it (metaphorically but also literally in the case of the Olympic ring), must be one of the greatest continual efforts of the ‘enlightened’ western civilizations (who’s own history, I am routinely reminded, reads as an unending list of violations and infractions against the earth and its inhabitants).
For myself, photographing the carefully arranged historic buildings through precisely choreographed frames of glass, while realizing my photographs will eventually be posted on this blog to then be viewed across the world through a computer screen (the metaphorical ‘Window(s)’ I spoke with my father about before leaving) left me with the pervasive melancholic feeling of life in constructed environments as a kind of endless diorama; of space flattened into images to ease its circulation.
Is the Brickpit Ring Walk a truly educational environment for Sydneysiders and visitors alike? I think so.
Is it also landscape and architecture as propaganda, seamlessly merged into one beautifully moralizing Olympic ring? Of course. Does this make for good design? Well, this is good design by definition.
Interestingly, my visit to the Brickpit was preceded by what I feel may be a uniquely 21st century phenomenon: Google Street View Déjà vu. Seven months ago, when I was contemplating whether or not I should work in Australia after graduating, I was scanning the surface of Sydney in Google maps, looking for sites of interest. I happened upon the Sydney Olympic Park and dropped the little yellow man onto ‘Australia Avenue’ whereabouts I looked at an empty parking lot between the Sydney Showground and a Samsung Electronics store. Having completely forgotten about that uneventful digital excursion half a year ago, I was stopped in my tracks when I happened upon the same empty parking lot in real life. I began to laugh out loud hysterically, as I realized this erroneous recollection was experienced in the all too convincing distortions of digital space.