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Beyond the chimneys

On the hill near the stratified TAB building and still absent in the air above the Yland is the ghost of the Albion flour Mill. Last year it burned to the ground after revelations of structural weakness; the blue and white silo and factory was an iconic site marker to be integrated into the proposed apartment development as a council precondition. The developer’s fence now surrounding the site is branded with the logo Be A Part Of It, now topped by a marker-written ‘arson’ in a big wobbly hand.


The phrase ‘dark satanic mills’ in William Blake’s poem Jerusalem comes in part from the London Albion Mill whose charred remains Blake walked past to work in the early 1790s (it is now the site of the Tate Modern). This Mill was a huge chugging monster of industry that was ready to bring most of the small London miller’s to their knees until its owner, bent on paying off the huge cost of construction, overworked the engines, sparking the grain and combusting the entire Mill. Or someone burned it down.

We live and work in this light industrial area; for many years next door to the steady hum of a turning lathe making test equipment for the concrete industry, across the street a prestressed concrete beam manufacturer who oversaw the casting of the creek banks into a drain like sluice after the ’74 floods. These trades and their indicative names Con-test and Austress, have left; the properties are now consumed by services to body fitness while on the street another business model is developing.


Early mornings and weekends our sleep is broken by engines droning on the kerb side and the brittle, hard-edged timing of repetitive work.

Online delivery trucks cleaned out of hours on the road-side, workers yelling in Urdu, throwing things about in individually parked echo chambers, competing with each other for levels. I’m reminded of a time some years back when a taxi company settled in down the road. In the early morning hours the endless sound of car doors closing became a counting sheep meditation on how one vehicle could require so many doors to be banged shut prior to leaving.


The Yland has a natural geography of waterways and floodplains submerged under the energies of industry in the air above it. The Albion hill was once a security boundary of the then garrison town and the TAB building maintains the appearance. The Albion mill and the creek below, flour and water signified the staple bread to the early settlement. William Blake’s dark satanic mill was a metaphor intended to condemn the knowledge society of his day for losing its bearings in production. We think here in this overlooked and almost invisible Yland environment something is becoming evident in the overlay of information systems, physical architecture and natural geography.


River Ghosts

River ghosts can be sited all through the Yland, most often when the tides in Breakfast Creek are at their lowest. When there were moorings on the Sandgate Road side and people lived on the boats not long ago, a sailor/ gardener created an enviable kitchen garden in the rich wet soil alongside the wire fence.

Since the closure of the moorings the river ghosts float around a row of pointed white-capped columns close to the bank. I like to think these columns were placed there by Council in memory of the past tenants and that at low tide the tiny mangrove suckers hide the ghosts within them.


In a street away from these lost moorings there’s a looking point where if you linger there on a rainy day the ghosts are almost visible at the end of the view: an astigmatic view reflecting the image with a slight blurring of its edges, and lo, there they hover.


This isn’t a dreamy space though you have to be present with the street, the traffic, the slippery surfaces, the looking and reception. The distances are small and close and unless you’re on the Yland itself surrounded by your craft, plant your feet firmly.


Architectural Fantasies – VERTIGO Barbara Penrose 2011

Happy New Year! 

Screen Stories


The TAB (Totalizer Agency Board) building by architect Geoffrey Pie connects function and form in a classic modernist manner unlike anything else in the Yland district. Signs, billboards and walls writ large with text and image are the norm here, this environment is an  ode to the idea of the tableau, of surfaces that actively engage the passing viewer with content, reducing the spaces between messages to a blur.


I’d always resented the involuntary attention drawn out of me at every step by street signage, gone the intelligent glance or abstracted stare, enter a polarized experience of the referential sign relegating everything else to impenetrable reality.


This experience of walking around with a head full of catchphrases has made me more analytical towards such signage and its part in my environment.  Opposition changes to difference and a more permeable kinship of billboard and sky.


All week we’ve been thinking In terms of screens. A conversation we had with visitors to the studio last week brought up the current architectural code of using screens over blank buildings to create facades, street front visuals in the tradition of what Venturi called ‘the decorated shed’.


Over the years we’ve developed commissioned screens in a variety of incarnations as roofs and walls. The main function in a permeable screen is to hold the eye by means of some visual or referential device on the screen plane. It doesn’t cover what’s behind it like a curtain, but discovers the site in another way for the eyes, as shapes bathed in a local light.


So to start to deconstruct the Yland, we look, glance and stare at The TAB building, it externalizes its structure, ie the stair and lift well form a tower with ramparts to the central span, all in large mass concrete castings. there’s a clear reference to old castle architecture, also reinforced by its perched site overlooking the creek (moat) like an imperial dynasty gate house. The building functions partly as a sign with concepts of power and associations of history attached while the signage surrounding it: text, stripy graphics, photography in large scale, the branded environment, also trigger culture in the passing brain.


The point we came to was in thinking of the signage as screens and frames, in an interview recently, the artist RH Quaytman says walls can by like pages in a book, movable and able to be cross-referenced.


Billboards are large scale physical planes that block the vista just as roads are cut through it. We’ve started to see the roadway newly spatialized by the collage of signs that play a part in the discontinuity of the Yland environment along with the abrupt and edgy borders between businesses and their uneasy relationship with the creek.


The Other Side

In 2013 we were living in Lyon France for a while. Today I was sliding through some images of Bon Pasteur, a winding city street overlooking the old Roman Circus carved into the hill, and close to where we were living.


From a brownish toned circular shaped island of dirt, rise several embankments of stone seating above which Bon Pasteur continues the contour shifts up the hill to where the Croix Rousse plateaus. The seating arrangement, as for any large public venue was  constructed to focus the attention onto the central stage from which some form of entertainment was enacted.

I’d like to use this notion to imagine a public art work for the Albion Yland section of Breakfast Creek. The artwork itself exists already in the wonderful (f)act of rising and falling water levels. This breathing mass acted upon each day by moon, sun, tides, courts it’s audience with shimmering surface patterns and fluctuating colours.

What it needs is a place to sit and ponder. On the Sandgate Road side of Yland the concrete retaining bank which was built after the ’74 floods follows the curve of creek and road, while sloping down from street level to below water level. It was built by an old neighbour of ours, Austress, since amalgamated with a French company and relocated.

I’m imaging the old Roman Circus built into the curve below the
Sci-Fleet car yard. The ebb and flow the performance.

A Stony Question

There is a little pocket of space beneath the ICB where the Allison street bridge meets Sandgate Rd at the roundabout.  Unless you were exploring beyond Yowoggera Park on foot, or enjoying the creek by kayak, canoe or boat it is a hidden pocket.


Walking this area for many years now we still experience a thrill coming upon this place, as if we’re unearthing a lost Roman amphitheater or ancient Greek temple. At this end of the Yland there are shiny brut concrete columns extending across the creek supporting the raised motorway of the ICB . Those across the creek flanking the entrance to the headquarters of ad agency GOA have been papered with the flutings of Corinthian columns.

The stones forming the bank of the creek here are not rounded smooth by river water but sharp-edged flinty blue stones appearing as a mosaic of quick ripples, lapping the base of the  columns by the water’s edge.


There is an otherworldliness here and I think of Virginia Woolf filling her  pockets with stones for ballast before stepping into the water. Were the stones water washed and smooth in her palms? Did she carefully choose them one by one, feeling their weight, adding it up, calculating their combined effects? Or were they stones like these stones, their geometry pretend polyhedrons, mathematical straight edges drawn into existence by the crushing process of a machine. In Roman times stones were believed to contain spirits, numina, which were revered for their divinatory properties.

The Traffic Muse


The Albion_Yland project begins on an unremarkable section of Breakfast Creek between the Albion five ways and the ICB. Overlaid by bitumen and concrete, routed by transportation lanes.

The Albion_Yland is a 700 metre long site. Its width is Breakfast creek and the twin four lane roads running either side of it. The roads and their currents of traffic make the encircled water seem like an island. Most of the time it slides beneath, invisible, a form only in the tracery of traffic movements that follow it’s banks, angling over bridges and  when they can, resume direction and so define the upper and lower reaches of the Albion_Yland.

The creek is tidal, regularly lapping the bitumen at high water, a mirror surface within a system of corridors. City, burbs and ports. Destinations like watermarks on hallway walls.

Over the coming months we’ll develop weekly posts to support this concept and in the process produce a handbook that we aim to be a guide to viable art in an extremely un-still-life.