John Williams uses landscape architecture to reclaim and invigorate former industrial sites.
Landscape Architecture is not about pretty gardens; it’s about dealing with the challenges of urbanisation, such as water, energy and food security, as well as ensuring equitable access to transport, work, leisure, health and happiness.
Williams is an award-winning landscape architect and graduate of RMIT’s Master of Landscape Architecture.
Taking the concepts and ideas he studied at RMIT into the wider world, Williams is bringing post-industrial spaces back into public use – and he’s now taking his practice overseas.
What is your main area of focus in landscape architecture?
As a landscape architect, I’m interested in the extreme challenges that our cities are facing as we transition away from the industrial and into service-based economies.
I’m interested in design that acts as a catalyst for new social, environmental and economic processes, and site-responsive design that builds resilience through flexibility and adaptability.
What makes RMIT’s MLA stand out?
RMIT’s MLA is so different to other universities’ because the program is studio-based and run by acclaimed local and international practitioners, and there are also opportunities to take your studies around the world.
I was incredibly fortunate to travel to Berlin, Boston and Taipei as part of my degree and to learn from innovative world leaders in landscape architecture, including Chris Reed (STOSS), Louis Callejas (LCLA) and Marti Franch (EMF).
Tell us about some of your achievements at RMIT?
My final-year major project (The Space In-Between) was an investigation into alternative post-industrial redevelopment practices, centred on the highly industrialised suburb of Brooklyn in Melbourne’s inner west.
The way we produce and consume goods in our cities is shifting, resulting in a series of contaminated post-industrial void spaces.
My project investigated these spaces as opportunities for new forms of urban living, new modes of production and new types of green infrastructure.
How did it feel to have your major project win the 2016 HASSELL Travelling Scholarship?
I was elated – the grant offers the unique opportunity for me to visit communities applying many of the processes that my project investigates.
I plan to use the grant to visit and investigate a series of innovative mixed-use developments in Amsterdam that use similar techniques to reclaim post-industrial sites.
This is a truly inspiring prospect that offers me the chance to see how these initiatives have been used in the real world and document the transformations that are happening as a result of them.
How did doing the MLA help prepare you for your future career?
The program offered me the opportunity to hone my skills in a collaborative learning environment. I think the Design Hub at RMIT acts as a kind of incubator – you spend a lot of time in there working closely with so many other talented students, so you are constantly being exposed to ideas and new ways of operating.
The MLA program at RMIT also offers the unique opportunity to spend an entire year building a body of research in the form of a major project. This project helps build your expertise in your chosen field and shapes your future practice as a landscape architect.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to advance their career in landscape architecture?
Firstly, read widely so you can bring fresh ideas to the table and challenge the notion of what landscape architecture can be.
Secondly, travel. Find places and events that you love and investigate the processes that brought them into being.
Story: Bradley Dixon