Claire Martin Senior Associate OCULUS & Creative Director – This Public Life  / 
Life + Death, Love + Longing and Participation + Spectacle

story / Interview / October 16, 2015

I studied English literature and fine art in the UK. After working in London for a few years, I travelled to Sydney and worked for the Olympic Coordination Authority. We were doing quite a lot of work in the public realm and that really got me interested in the politics of space and the urban domain.

When I moved to Melbourne I had a roof garden and that really got me interested in plants. This in combination with some of the graphics skills I had developed, started me off in a different trajectory. I’m now a registered landscape architect and Senior Associate with Oculus, where I have worked since I did my professional placement. I studied at RMIT where I’m on the landscape programme advisory committee and an invited critic.

The other two Creative Directors for the Festival of Landscape Architecture are Architecture Media’s Cameron Bruhn and Ricky Ricardo. Over the last eight or nine years I’ve written a lot of articles and interviews for Landscape Architecture Australia and we decided to put in an expression of interest to be the creative directors for this year’s festival.

As creative directors we got together and workshopped our thematic. We focused on public life through three lenses Life + Death, Love + Longing and Participation + Spectacle. We wanted to play with the double-edged nature of those terms.

It’s only the second year, of what used to be the national conference and has now become the Festival of Landscape Architecture. We saw it as a really good challenge, partly because the brief was to make the event more public and the opportunity to talk about the importance and value of public life. This year, we were trying to engage with the public just as much as we are engaging with industry.

The Festival of Landscape Architecture is part of ArtCop21, a global festival of cultural activity on climate change and includes a city wide program of over 30 public and industry events we have developed with the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and a number of cultural and academic institutions. The eleven-day program includes an Australasian Student Design Competition, Conference and Research Summit, city and project tours, exhibitions, installations, screenings and talks. At our national conference there’ll be over 500 people with speakers from the Unites States, Spain, the UK, Norway and Australia. A talk called Play in the City held earlier in the week, looked at different ways of we can be more playful in the city; a multi-site installation by the Chart Collective invited members of the public to share intimate stories of very personal events that have happened to them within public space. These stories are exhibited all over Melbourne at the moment. The  PORTAL sound project by Luke Jaaniste, one half of Supercriticalmass, ran over three nights at the MPAVILION and questioned how we might design for a more meditational expanded public life – lots of fun, different ways to engage the public and the profession.

I’m really interested in the potential of the built environment from a psychological, sociological and physical perspective. When things are designed well, they can affect change and be a positive influence on society. I like the idea of trying to create spaces that can be used collectively, that can better connect people to their environment and each other.

Landscape architecture is a really broad field and its professionals have very different skill sets and interests. I think it’s important as a profession to continually communicate that diversity to ourselves, our values and ambitions to the public. That’s why I like teaching and writing, and collaborative multi-disciplinary, because there’s so many different ways to engage with people and space

During the festival we’ve talked a little bit about empathy; the benefits of being more empathetic and more intuitive as designers. The Play in the City talk was about people trying to identify with value of space and the benefits of play for children and adults; an indigenous walking tour emphasised the ongoing relationship that indigenous people have with the city and emphasised the importance of getting to know the history of our city.

I think there can be a disconnect in terms of providing intimacy and public space. We have to design to standards, in consideration of safety and risk, for things to last and increasingly for flexibility. This often means spaces can become so open that their scale doesn’t enable intimacy. In our practice we use proxemics to design for personal and public life.

Increasingly there are a large number of education programmes enrolling and graduating landscape architects – so it is increasingly competitive for graduates to get jobs. My advice to young graduates is to be tenacious. It’s really important, when people are preparing their folios, that they do their background research and that they really try to communicate themselves through their work. You should get a sense of what that person would add to your practice, what they value and what they believe in.

The first thing I thought of, was that my mother always told me that ‘life isn’t fair.’ I’ve always found that a troubling statement. As a designer I think you have an eternal optimism, so what I’ve taken from this saying, is that whilst life isn’t fair, there’s a lot that we can do to make it fairer.


We are so lucky in this industry that we get to meet fantastic and interesting people. And it’s always fascinating to find out what people are up to outside their regular nine-to-five. Justine and I met Claire at the University of Melbourne – School of Architecture project, where for Oculus she would head up the landscape design for the project. When she told us what she was one of the Creative Directors of the festival, we knew it was a story to share. It is so inspiring to find people trying to build something they care about; something they know has worth and give back to their professional community, but also to the wider community that we live in.  Claire is passionate about what she does, the public realm, good design and a robust discourse on how we go about it. And we knew we had to capture that whilst This Public Life – Festival of Landscape Architecture was on. If you have had a chance to attend, we hope you’ve been inspired!


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