OF OTHER PLANS: Re-viewing Canberra through the lens of other spaces

Erin Hinton

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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As a planned city conceived upon utopian ideals, Canberra is a city encumbered by its legacy. What was a project of the future is now an archive of provisional futures. Instead of an ideal city, Canberra is a city completely preoccupied with its plan. This tendency finds expression in the layers of planning that have come to define the city, with each attempting to be more faithful to the ideals of the legacy. Locked in a perpetual struggle for clarity, Canberra is a city confounded by an advancing dichotomy between the plan (the life of the city) and the image of the plan (the ideal city). What is largely missing from the vexed dialectic is a constructive polemic for the production of the future city; a way to see beyond the dominance of the image of the plan to recognise and enable the ‘other’ potentials of the city. This requires a fundamental re-imagining; a new way of seeing the city that may change the way of thinking about how the city is seen and, in turn, how the city might change.

The posthumous publication of Michel Foucault’s influential lecture Of Other Spaces detailed his observations on the transformation of public space: from enclosed spaces preoccupied with history and time, to a present condition of infinitely open structures or networks, in which space is “defined by the relations of proximity between points or elements” (1986, p. 22). He categorised spaces into two major types: utopias and heterotopias. Foucault proposed that heterotopias, like utopias, relate to other sites by both representing and at the same time inverting them. Unlike utopias, heterotopias are localised and real. Further developing his notion, Foucault outlined a ‘systematic description’ comprising six principles for the interpretative analysis of heterotopias as they may exist in any given society at any given time.

This research is focussed on Canberra and is comprised of two parts—exegesis plus project—and applies the way in which Foucault’s text develops a distinction between ‘other spaces’ and utopia. Since the mid-19th century, the illustrated utopia has not only underpinned theories in urban planning but has become encoded in planning principles equating better space with better society. Under the direction of the unachievable ideologies of utopia, the urban plan immediately becomes a utopian diagram: a ‘no-place’ like the word itself. Foucault’s exploration of the link between heterotopia and utopia makes heterotopia an alternative lens though which to encode the city. Here, the ambiguity and consequent opportunity heterotopia presents is its very appeal. It is a beguiling hypothesis that has provoked a continuing and expanding dialogic affirming its significance.

As distinct from the ideals of utopia, the principles of heterotopia (when applied to Canberra) develop as a product of the spaces of its urban practice and living patterns. This research project asks whether these spaces and patterns may be productive in the development of alternative frameworks for understanding Canberra. And as a form of validation my research project proposes to develop heterotopic projects to see through the utopian ideal that is Canberra.

The research explores four of Foucault’s six principles and develops new ways of thinking about Canberra (the exegesis) and these four ways of thinking about Canberra are then applied to develop new ways of seeing Canberra (the project). The new ways of seeing illustrate an ‘other’ Canberra that has always been there but buried under the layers of utopian toil. There may be more versions of Canberra, but this research shifts the focus of the plan of Canberra from its dependency on the legacy.

Through the lens of ‘other spaces’, the notion of heterotopia is embraced as a new layer of investigation and representation—more complex than simply mapping city form. In this way the text and project illustrate the convergence between Canberra’s urban space and the experience of the city developing and repositioning the total concept of the city. This type of re-imagining generates a view of Canberra as a complex network of deviations, transitions, juxtapositions, illusions, and encounters; so-called man-made places outside of all places. Here the bi-products of the everyday—human activity, connections, and experiences—are used to generate a renewed way of seeing that which is not utopia revealing an ‘other’ lens/polemic/plan that presents the opportunity to explore and position Canberra from ideal city to city of ideas.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Bremner, Craig, Principal Supervisor
  • Woodward, Margaret, Co-Supervisor
  • Hartoonian, Gevork, Co-Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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