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 Research Fellow and ResTeach Affiliated Academic with 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 ARC funded Linkage project Architectural Practice in Post-war Queensland: Building and Interpreting an Oral History Archive (2011-2013). Recent outcomes of this project include the exhibition Hot Modernism: Building Modern Queensland 1945-1975, which she curated with Janina Gosseye, Kevin Wilson and Gavin Bannerman, and the Digital Archive of Qld Architecture qldarch.net. 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.

She is co-editor of the book Skyplane (UNSW Press, Sydney, 2009) and has published essays in Semi Detached: Writing, Representation and Criticism in Architecture (2012), Sweat: the subtropical imaginary (2011), Back to the City: strategies for informal urban interventions and collaborations between artists and architects (2009) and Architecture, Disciplinarity and Art (2009). Her work has also been published in national and international journals including Architectural History, Fabrications, History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, Interstices, Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide, Australian and New Zealand Art Journal and the Australian Journal of Garden History. Since 2010, she has been an editor of Fabrications, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand and co-edited a series of themed issues includingThe Nineteenth Century (20:2), Cosmopolis (21:2), American Links and Exchanges (22:1), Canberra Centenary (23:1) and Disciplinarity (23:2). In June 2013 she convened a symposium on Architecture at the Ragged Edge of Empire: Race, Place and Taste and the colonial context and was the recipient of the SAH Annual Conference Senior Scholars Fellowship.

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.

Qualifications

  • PhD in Architecture, University of New South Wales

Publications

View all Publications

Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Master 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:

  • 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?