The Carousel Restaurant, Red Hill. Miles Jakl (1964). modernism-in-aus-feature

Modernism in Australia — a Google Maps project

The exhibition Modern Times, currently at the Powerhouse Museum, reveals how modernism transformed life in Australia across five decades from 1917 to 1967. Given that a major outlet for modernism has been the built environment, there exists an opportunity to extend the reach of this exhibition out of the museum and into Australian cities. A collaboration initiated by Dan Hill using Google Maps now attempts to do just that.

Modern Times at the Powerhouse looks at the impact of modernism on all aspects of Australian culture—from art, design and architecture to advertising, photography, film and fashion. The exhibition also explores those parts of the city where modernism profoundly reshaped Australian life—its skyscrapers, milk bars and swimming pools. To extend the reach of the exhibition, the Powerhouse set up a group on Flickr where members can post their personal interpretations of modernism—whether architectural, spaces, furniture, interiors, fashion or design. While the Flickr pool invites participation from a wider audience, it also leaves open the possibility for something location-based, which would extend the reach and potential use of the idea even further.

Enter Dan Hill, at Cityofsound. Dan pondered the possibilities offered by the built environment:

…imagine temporary plaques outside the MLC, Rose Seidler, NGV etc., which give a little note about the building and state they’re part of an exhibition around Modernism in Australia…these simple analogue interventions would be interesting, discreet and more widely accessible. It kind of threads the exhibition through the cities rather than keeping it in glass cases.

— Dan Hill, Cityofsound

On the other hand, Dan suggested, why not build a Google Map indicating places of interest to the theme? The content could potentially be delivered in a variety of ways—to phones from the exhibition or its website, or from transmitters embedded in signage at selected sites. Besides, it could become a neat content-based collaborative project able to be made into something good without a huge amount of work, since the collaborators were all starting from a position of having the material at hand.

And that’s how the Google Map Modernism in Australia started. Within a few days, Dan, Rory, Marcus and I tagged buildings, houses and other examples of built modernism around Australia—mostly in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, but with some additions in Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart. It is, of course, an ongoing project, with significant areas of the map still to be populated with content. Go ahead and check it out. If anyone is interested in becoming a collaborator on this project please get in touch with Dan at Cityofsound or email me here.

UPDATE: Dan, Marcus and now Seb Chan at the Powerhouse Museum have now posted about this.