Dr Deborah van der Plaat

ATCH Manager & Research Fellow

School of Architecture
Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology
d.vanderplaat@uq.edu.au
+61 7 336 53878

Overview

Dr Deborah van der Plaat is a Senior Research Fellow and Manager of the Architecture Theory Criticism History Research Centre (ATCH) at the University of Queensland. Her research examines the architecture of nineteenth century Queensland and Britain and their intersection with contemporary theories of artistic agency, climate, place and race. Writing histories of Queensland architecture is a second focus within her work. With John Macarthur, Jane Hunter, Andrew Wilson and industry partners State Library of Queensland, Conrad Gargett Architecture, Bligh Voller Nield, Wilson Architects and Riddel Architecture, she developed the Australian Research Council funded Linkage project "Architectural Practice in Post-war Queensland: Building and Interpreting an Oral History Archive" (2011-2013). Major outcomes of the project include: an exhibition, Hot Modernism: Building Modern Queensland 1945-1975 (State Library of Queensland, July- October 2014) curated with Janina Gosseye, Kevin Wilson and Gavin Bannerman; the Digital Archive of Qld Architecture qldarch.net; and a book, Hot Modernism: Queensland Architecture 1945-1975 (London: Artifice Press, 2015) co-edited with John Macarthur, Janina Gosseye and Andrew Wilson. In 2017, the project was awarded the John Herbert Memorial Award and the Gold Heritage Award, Interpretation and Promotion by the National Trust, Queensland.

From 2009-2011 she was the recipient of the UQ Postdoctoral Fellowship for Women to work on the project, "Tropical environments and Queensland architecture (1850-1914): building historical understandings of the culture of architecture and climate change." This project resulted in a symposium titled Architecture at the Ragged Edge of Empire: Race, Taste and Place and the Colonial Context (State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, 27-28 June, 2013) and a number of papers which explore the insection of architecture, climate and race in Queensland architecture. This research is ongoing.

From 2010-2014, Deborah was an editor of Fabrications, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand and co-edited a series of themed issues including: The Nineteenth Century (20:2), Cosmopolis (21:2), American Links and Exchanges (22:1), Canberra Centenary (23:1) and Disciplinarity (23:2). With Antony Moulis, she convened Audience, the Twenty First Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand (State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, July 2011). She is currently a member of the Society's editorial board.

Deborah's work has been published in national and international journals including Architectural History, Architectural Histories, Fabrications, History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, Interstices, Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide, Journal of Australasian Victorian Studies, Australian and New Zealand Art Journal and the Australian Journal of Garden History. In 2013 she was awarded the Annual Conference Senior Scholar Fellowship, Society of Architectural Historians.

Research Interests

  • Architecture at the Ragged Edge of Empire. Race, Place, Taste and the Colonial Context
    This research examines factors or contingencies of the colonial experience that challenged, worked against, or sat alongside the more formal (governmental) representations of colonisation. It also considers their impact on, or expression through, colonial and/or settler architecture. While colonial architecture is often assumed to approximate that of home, especially in formal and material terms, a question regarding architecture’s disciplinarity, it’s conceptual framing as an aesthetic or a high art, is often difficult to reconcile with the climatic, geographical, ethnic and racial complexity of the colonial context. Attaching architecture to philosophical and aesthetic concepts of beauty (such as the sublime or picturesque) and artistic agency (imagination, association, genius or judgement) western architecture has also been historically linked to specific climatic (temperate), racial and social ideals. Building on Kay Anderson’s thesis (2002) that European contact with Australian Aborigines generated a “crisis” for Enlightenment ideals of humanism, this research examines the climatic, geographical, racial and ethnic variations presented by the colonial context and whether they challenged and/or altered western conceptions of architectural practice.
  • Tropical variety and Queensland Architecture: Building Better Understandings of the Culture of Architecture and Climate Change
    Western ideals of beauty have often been bound to an image of the natural world. Tropical climates and the physical environments they produced were also often seen to be degenerative to the creative impulse. In the mid-nineteenth century, in response to scientific exploration and the colonial experience, European ideals of beauty shifted their points of reference from temperate to tropical environments. Investigating architectural design in 19th century Queensland, the project seeks to understand how English theories on creative invention responded when transplanted into a tropical setting. The research has significance in understanding Queensland’s history and the cultural corollaries of climate and environmental science.
  • Digital Stories and Semantic Web Technologies: New Practices in Developing and Interpreting an Architectural Archive.
    In 2011, researchers at the University of Queensland received funding to develop a digital archive on Queensland’s post-war architecture (1945-75). Bringing together researchers in architectural history, the digital humanities and industry partners, the project’s aims were threefold: to document the oral histories of a generation of architects who studied and worked in Queensland from 1945-1975; to gather these into a single online multimedia archive or federated database producing a new knowledgebase of Queensland architecture and design (qldarch.net); and to use innovative Semantic Web technologies to make visible for the first time a history that is currently veiled, dispersed, and tacit. This research considers the potential value of digital technologies not only to the construction and management of the architectural archive but also to its interpretation. Focusing on emerging Web technologies including semantic text analysis, tagging, compound object authoring, and semantic inferencing, the research considers their application to the study and advancement of architectural history.

Research Impacts

Hot Modernism Research Impact: http://www.uq.edu.au/research/impact/stories/hot-modernism-cool-resource/

Hot and Bothered Film Competition: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/whats-on/awards/hot-and-bothered

Hot Modernism: Building Modern Queensland 1945-1975: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/hot-modernism

The Digital Archive of Queensland Architecture and Hot Modernism identified by the Hon Dr Steve Miles, Minister of the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage, as an important source for “future research.” He noted:

“I don't think you can underestimate the importance of the oral history-digital archive. …I am told by Fiona Gardiner-my department's Director of Heritage-that this book [and the archive] will be the Branch's first resource for researching post-war buildings.” (Minister Miles, Hot Modernism-Queensland Architecture 1945-1975 book launch, Auditorium 1, Level 2, State Library of Qld, Stanley Place, South Brisbane, Wednesday 9 March 2016)

Exhibition Hot Modernism: Building Modern Queensland 1945-175 (2014) identified by SLQ as their most successful exhibition with final visitor numbers reaching 18,000 over three months.

Exhibition reviewed by Kirril Shields in prominent architecture journal Architecture Australia. Shields acknowledged the exhibition altered his understanding of Queensland architecture, its post-war manifestations, and its preservation.The use of historical work to illuminate contemporary debates and the importance of preserving Queensland’s built heritage is also acknowledged. He writes:

"What I think is clever in this exhibit is the overviewing of architectural history and design that uses these cultural and artistic endeavours to subtly inform contemporary Queensland society. Hot Modernism has been curated as a means of explaining the past, but it also emphasizes the importance of preserving that past: a somewhat salient and extremely topical message in present-day Queensland."

(Kirril Shields,“Cold Change: Queensland’s Modernism at Risk”, Architecture Australia, October 2014. http://architectureau.com/articles/hot-modernism-building-modern-queensland)

Qualifications

  • PhD in Architecture, University of New South Wales

Publications

View all Publications

Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

View all Supervision

Available Projects

  • The aim of this research is to consider factors or contingencies of the colonial experience that challenged, worked against, or sat alongside the more formal (governmental) representations of colonisation (in Australia and beyond). While colonial architecture is often assumed to approximate that of home, especially in formal and material terms, a question regarding architecture’s disciplinarity, it’s conceptual framing as an aesthetic or a high art, is often difficult to reconcile with the climatic, geographical, ethnic and racial complexity of the colonial context.

    Climate: The deterministic role of climate and landscape on colonial architecture is commonly argued. The disciplinary positioning of architecture within the colonial context is, however, rarely considered. How was the practice of architecture framed or viewed by architects working in colonial settings? Could the entanglement of taste (architecture as a cultivated rather than mechanical art, painting instead of engineering) be maintained? What effect did the topographical and climatic diversity revealed by colonisation have? Was it possible to cultivate an artistic practice or architectural culture within tropical/sub-tropical/arid settings? Did the aspiring artist/architect need to leave for more temperate climes in order to develop an aesthetic sense or could these concerns be addressed locally (southern versus northern colonies, or east versus west)? Or, from a slightly difference perspective, was climate viewed by colonial communities as degenerate or redemptive and did climate theorists explicitly address the arts/ architecture alongside the problems of labour and national character?

    Race: While British colonial institutions governed the early penal and settler societies of Australia, the populations of these new communities were often heterogeneous, ethnically diverse, and racially conflicted. In Australia, this is made most explicit by the imbalance of settler and indigenous populations and the conflict and dispossession that resulted. It is complicated further by the ethnic diversity of settler populations, one that is often mirrored in colonial settlements the world over.

    While racial and ethnic diversity and conflict are acknowledged as attributes of the colonial condition, their impact on the architecture of white settlement is less considered. How did issues of race, ethnic heterogeneity, hybrid populations or racial conflict impact on colonial architectural practice? Did architecture participate in broader agendas of cultural representation, racial division and/or “reform”? Did ethnic and racial diversity challenge the authority of colonial institutions and/or Enlightenment and humanitarian values of universality and equality? Were “hybrid” communities viewed, in accordance with nineteenth century theories on race—as potentially infertile, unproductive and lacking in character— or did they make explicit alternative models, such cosmopolitanism?

    Taste: Within Australia, colonised initially under a penal system and later through free settlement and migration schemes, significant proportions of early populations were often illiterate or semiliterate, valued for their physical labour rather than their intellectual capacity. Cultural refinement, as Evan has suggested, though not entirely lacking, often remained somewhat at a discount—at best a luxury and at worst a distraction. What role did the concept of ‘taste’ play in Colonial societies? What was the impact on the practice of architecture of such a demographic mix? How was architecture viewed by such communities (technical practice or higher art) and was it valued? Did architecture, and the broader arts, play a role in the lives, education and ‘improvement’ of such communities or was it the sole domain of government and a wealthy elite? Was a culture of architectural taste developed and if so how and by whom?

View all Available Projects

Publications

Book

  • Hot modernism: Queensland architecture 1945-1975. Edited by John Macarthur, Deborah van der Plaat, Janina Gosseye and Andrew Wilson London, United Kingdom: Artifice, 2015.

  • Skyplane. Edited by Richard Francis-Jones, Lawrence Nield, Xing Ruan and Deborah van der Plaat Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales Press, 2009.

Book Chapter

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Edited Outputs

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

  • Master Philosophy — Associate Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors:

Possible Research Projects

Note for students: The possible research projects listed on this page may not be comprehensive or up to date. Always feel free to contact the staff for more information, and also with your own research ideas.

  • The aim of this research is to consider factors or contingencies of the colonial experience that challenged, worked against, or sat alongside the more formal (governmental) representations of colonisation (in Australia and beyond). While colonial architecture is often assumed to approximate that of home, especially in formal and material terms, a question regarding architecture’s disciplinarity, it’s conceptual framing as an aesthetic or a high art, is often difficult to reconcile with the climatic, geographical, ethnic and racial complexity of the colonial context.

    Climate: The deterministic role of climate and landscape on colonial architecture is commonly argued. The disciplinary positioning of architecture within the colonial context is, however, rarely considered. How was the practice of architecture framed or viewed by architects working in colonial settings? Could the entanglement of taste (architecture as a cultivated rather than mechanical art, painting instead of engineering) be maintained? What effect did the topographical and climatic diversity revealed by colonisation have? Was it possible to cultivate an artistic practice or architectural culture within tropical/sub-tropical/arid settings? Did the aspiring artist/architect need to leave for more temperate climes in order to develop an aesthetic sense or could these concerns be addressed locally (southern versus northern colonies, or east versus west)? Or, from a slightly difference perspective, was climate viewed by colonial communities as degenerate or redemptive and did climate theorists explicitly address the arts/ architecture alongside the problems of labour and national character?

    Race: While British colonial institutions governed the early penal and settler societies of Australia, the populations of these new communities were often heterogeneous, ethnically diverse, and racially conflicted. In Australia, this is made most explicit by the imbalance of settler and indigenous populations and the conflict and dispossession that resulted. It is complicated further by the ethnic diversity of settler populations, one that is often mirrored in colonial settlements the world over.

    While racial and ethnic diversity and conflict are acknowledged as attributes of the colonial condition, their impact on the architecture of white settlement is less considered. How did issues of race, ethnic heterogeneity, hybrid populations or racial conflict impact on colonial architectural practice? Did architecture participate in broader agendas of cultural representation, racial division and/or “reform”? Did ethnic and racial diversity challenge the authority of colonial institutions and/or Enlightenment and humanitarian values of universality and equality? Were “hybrid” communities viewed, in accordance with nineteenth century theories on race—as potentially infertile, unproductive and lacking in character— or did they make explicit alternative models, such cosmopolitanism?

    Taste: Within Australia, colonised initially under a penal system and later through free settlement and migration schemes, significant proportions of early populations were often illiterate or semiliterate, valued for their physical labour rather than their intellectual capacity. Cultural refinement, as Evan has suggested, though not entirely lacking, often remained somewhat at a discount—at best a luxury and at worst a distraction. What role did the concept of ‘taste’ play in Colonial societies? What was the impact on the practice of architecture of such a demographic mix? How was architecture viewed by such communities (technical practice or higher art) and was it valued? Did architecture, and the broader arts, play a role in the lives, education and ‘improvement’ of such communities or was it the sole domain of government and a wealthy elite? Was a culture of architectural taste developed and if so how and by whom?