Meet Cassandra Chilton

Meet Cassanda Chilton – Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (Honours) and Studio Principal, Rush Wright Associates

What was it like to be studying Landscape Architecture at RMIT at a time when the field was undergoing great change?

Studying at RMIT in the mid-1990s was an incredibly exciting time, not only for me but also for the discipline and the profession.

Landscape architecture was transitioning out of being a course of study and an occupation that primarily engaged with large scale land management, into one that was refocussing on cities and urban spaces, on cultural issues and on the impact that we, as designers, can have on the challenges of urban life.

In this period of change and realignment, as students and practitioners, we created our own contemporary language and discourse around design. It was a great time to be actively involved in such monumental changes.

What student learning experiences did RMIT provide you with that you still value today as a professional in the field?

RMIT taught me to embrace change and continually challenge myself in terms of my actions as a designer. Some of my styles and predilections have come and gone, but my desire to stay innovative in my profession has remained strong. I still continually question my actions as a designer.

Design is a political act and so you need to be aware of where you are coming from. It is important to keep asking yourself questions such as, what is the basis of the decisions I am making here, and why am I doing that in this way? 

How would you describe your profession? How have you shaped your own career?

Landscape architecture is a challenging profession. We make places for people and thread living systems through our cities and daily experiences. This is sensitive, forward-looking, important design work. Time and growth are specific to what we do; we set up the structure and then hand it over and hope that someone will care for it and manage the vision of it into the future. Sometimes, other layers will accrete in it over time and hopefully add to it. 

Unlike most professionals in the industry, much of my career has involved a constant juggle between my part-time work as a landscape architect and part-time work as an artist. The way the two intersect, however, has been essential to the way I conceptualise both of those types of work.  

Landscape architecture is an expansive and innovative field of design with outcomes that can engage the senses, the emotions, and the intellect.  Are you working on any projects at the moment that are a good example of this? 

Currently I am working on a memorial for Victoria's Emergency Services sector, to be located in the Treasury Gardens, Melbourne. This project has involved numerous consultations with six government agencies including the Country Fire Authority and Forest Fire Management. It has been a thought-provoking task to create a contemporary monument that accurately and respectfully commemorates those who lost their lives protecting others in the context of a historic park. Construction has just started, and it is due to be completed by September.

You are now reconnecting with RMIT in a teaching a capacity. What is it that you like about this work? Why do you do it?

After a long hiatus, I ventured back to RMIT teaching a summer studio subject on post-apocalyptic space. Frighteningly for onlookers, we made all the students and the critic panel dress up as zombies for our final review.

It has been refreshing to bring the elements of my work that I have learned away from RMIT into my teaching here. I think that performance as an imperative aspect of design, finding and using humour in design, and feeling comfortable being an active participant in design are all aspects of learning and teaching that can sometimes be forgotten in university life.

I feel like industry participation in higher education is incredibly important, which was the driving factor to come back and teach at RMIT. I have been very practice-focused for a long time now, and I was looking for a way to contribute to the education of landscape architecture students. I contacted RMIT and we developed an idea to teach design around the idea of fiction. This was a very different approach and it has been an interesting experience teaching in this highly innovative way.

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer