Earlier this month, a carefully timed 24hr design competition was launched simultaneously across New Zealand and Australia, dragging architecture and design students through an intense and lively studio experience.

Here are the mixed recollections, myths, and lies from two Superstudio gatherings in Auckland (representing the 3 schools of architecture in Auckland and Wellington) and Melbourne (representing Victoria's 4 schools), the evidence of which I've acquired from the reliable and enduring enthusiasts behind these events, Jean Bachoura et al from Melbourne –where I was generously hosted, and Nick Leckie, Rachel Dawkins and Charlotte Brennan et al at Auckland.

The brief, kept dutifully secret until students across Oceania were synchronised, revealed an enigmatic soundbite, in which a mysterious character strides steadily through a scene that we can only piece together through acoustic echoes and fragments.  Soon after, we are asked to find 'Place X' in the next 24 hours.  Place X is a hidden space, one unnoticed, experienced by the disinterested...

"Make an invisible space become a place through play. The proposal should consider a chosen demographic and a function of play.

Finding Place X is to walk out of your city. The fringe area where by the language of the city its grain, setbacks and landmarks meet the landmark structure of the celebrated single family detached dwelling, the suburban home with grass all around. This space in-between the suburban and urban
environment holds languages of barriers, integration, voids, intersections, nodes, axis’ where place X is waiting to be seen."

-Superstudio Brief.

Before reacting to student reactions, playing my part as the "24Hr Tutor" –an equally improvised performance– I was excited to see the brief challenging the hermetic seal of the studio environment, charging the students with a playful seriousness and some serious play.   The over-reaching goal of Superstudio (since its inception in Australia some years ago) is to re-invigorate studio culture, implicitly questioning the role of studio in architecture and design education. The enculturation of the student to the 'Studio' is complicated further, or advanced more richly, by the inter-school collaboration of the event, where teams are encouraged -and sometimes positively required- to form competition teams with complete strangers before embarking on the 24-hour design charrette.

In New Zealand, the southern students of Victoria University of Wellington's school of architecture had the arduous but adventurous task of traversing the country, to make it to UNITEC's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, this years host (the 3 New Zealand schools have a respectable agreement of rotating the host venue each year).  Thanks to the overwhelming support of KiwiRail, (who deserve our continued patronage!) students travelled at near-zero expenses, arriving a dash late, but surely eager and excitingly dislocated.

Wellington students enjoy the 12 hour commute to Auckland thanks to the hugely generous sponsorship of KiwiRail []! Catch a train, go on!

Everything was colleagial, until Moustachio said that Coke sucks.

Despite its dignified appearance on the skyline mid-North Island, Sophie turns her back on Mt Ruapehu, and in a single stroke decries the Rural.

Meanwhile, the University of Melbourne School of Architecture, Building and Planning welcomed its largest ever turnout from students across the State, with one-hundred students jostling for studio space and a fresh take on the brief.  

Students in Melbourne enjoy pre-briefing feeding.

The ensuing event is a heady brew of excitement –"It's my birthday at midnight!"  – intellectual dexterity, headlong confusion (tutorials after midnight, with a glass of wine which seems to be relentlessly refilled by my gracious hosts, become questionable, but are always keenly participated in)...

And then I return, to see faces more tired than mine, having wrought out ideas and projects through the quieter hours of the morning, fashioned on paper and screen, with collage and cardboard, and summary sentences still fragile in their latest arrangements.

As the 24Hr deadline looms, they regather, 60 in Auckland and about 90 survivors in Melbourne.  Early reports suggest NZ has benefitted from the enthusiastic (manic?) Wellington immigrants, with the breadth of proposals incorporating dance, dream-state trainrides, and body augmentations...

An Auckland project...

In Melbourne, the 6-member judging panels are also well provided for, and are encouraging through the 6-hour marathon of presentations from the 30 teams.  Here it seems the results are surprisingly –to me at least– conservative, perhaps the relatively young demographic (which is terribly exciting for the future of this event) are tied too closely to their tightly monitored studio courses, very few depart from formal solutions of the architectural type, and those that do wander into the rich space of speculation and risk are noticeably more compelling.  Process becomes key, as well as insightful (and inventive) site analyses, and of course in such competitions, skill in both performance and presentation pays off big time... hook, line, and sinker.

Curiously, pictured below, the train takes a Finalist position in both cities, "Brotown" from Auckland offers:

"Aucklanders commute to the city daily, but resist the public train network.  Place X is the underused, underappreciated spaces, moments, and sequences of train travel.  Place X is further defined by hidden, individual playfulness – daydreams, condensation doodles and stranger life-planning."

And in Melbourne, the Metro line is defined as a 'fringe' space between urban and suburban space, using a highly methodic approach (and presentation) and some playful possibilities for the thousands of Melbournian commuters.  In this case the capacity for serious play (competition) and the train-line as community becomes a compelling and potentially viral project (pictured below).

From here, the four finalists selected in Melbourne, and three from Wellington are offered a few weeks to clarify their proposals, which are presented among the other Finalists of Australia online here from August 20.  In early October the Finalists are assessed by the National Judges, with the National Winner announced October 12, the grand prize being a trip for the winning group to the Venice Biennale - a very handsome prize.

Importantly, Superstudio also offered the chance for SANNZ to hold its AGM, where the new committee were elected, so check out your local reps.  Congratulations and best wishes to Samantha McGavock (VUW) who will become the next President of SANNZ.

As always, these events rely on the generous support from sponsors.  Superstudio 2010 has Bluescope Steel as its principal National sponsor, and in New Zealand, SANNZ was grateful for the support from Gordon Harris, and of course KiwiRail.

Many, many thanks for the images, from Nick Leckie (NZ) and Jean Bachoura (AUS).