About Professor Michael Tawa

I am passionate about the capacity of design thinking and practice to engage curiosity and wonder. That passion extends into my research, writing, teaching and architectural practice.

I am fascinated by the way things (concepts, places, spaces, objects) are made – not only that they are made, but more so the way they come to be made. Consequently, I value process over product, and products only to the extent that they open up new perspectives and processes of thinking and making. I value the un-programmable, the uncertain, the makeshift, the incommunicable and the uncanny in language, the image, representation and architectural experience. My approach to teaching is that of an encounter with an equivalent fascination in the other, of a practice focused on opening up and mobilising sense through the project, around which the work hovers and proceeds.

I have worked on many fronts. My initial interest was in the symbolism of sacred architecture, framed by the works of Coomaraswamy, Guénon, Schuon, Eliade, Kollar and Snodgrass. Familiarity with the Platonic dialogues bred contempt for the limits of a mimetic and representation approach to art and architecture. Heidegger provided a bridge to continental philosophers who continue to influence my thinking and teaching – in particular Deleuze, Agamben and Nancy, who have shifted my orientation from logocentric certainty to the fluxions of sense, or to use a pre-modern turn of phrase, to the forest of symbols. I retain a fascination for words and for the interminable potential of semantic resonance. This is being explored through a work in progress, the on-line Design Lexicon. The intellectual shift from Platonic to continental philosophy is evident in my recent book on architecture and cinema, which argues against formalism and for a parallel move into the unprogrammable and fluxional propensity of architectural experience. I am working on a second monograph, Theorising the Project, which will explore how this could be played out productively in design thinking and practice. Along the way, my attraction to the sublime and the remote in Australian landscapes took me into the desert and to an encounter with indigenous communities. This led to working in the Centre, then initiating student projects in the Pitjantjatjarra and Ngaanyatjarra Lands of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, culminating in the BHP Steel awarded Patjarr Visitor centre – a collaboration with the University of SA. Growing concern for indigenous concepts and practices of place, and in the ethical rather than aesthetic dimension of architecture and placemaking, led to a collaboration with HealthHabitat and the establishment of the first indigenous preparatory programme in architecture at the UNSW.

Between 2006 and 2010 I was Professor of Architectural Design at Newcastle University, where I helped to develop and sharpen the year long final Graduation Studio, and came to appreciate the critical questions and sacrifices around regenerating abandoned industrial fabric in the contemporary city. I have practiced architecture in Sydney, Alice Springs and Adelaide, designing and building several houses and civic/community projects. I was design architect for the Garie Surf Lifesaving Centre, Royal National Park, completed in 2007 after a 10 years process that began as a student project.

Selected publications

Agencies of the Frame: Tectonic Strategies in Cinema and Architecture. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010. ISBN (10) 1443817457

Garie Beach Surf Safety Centre, in World Sustainable Construction. Edited by Dou Pingping. Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2008: 178-185. ISBN 9787112071517

Framing the Parasite, in Richard Goodwin: Performance to Porosity. Fishermans Bend: Craftsman House (Thames and Hudson, Australia), 2006: 116-155. ISBN 9780975768426

Furnishing place: what is architecture fit for, in Content(s). Edited by Barbara McConchie. Canberra: Craft and Design Centre, 2005: 10-16

Place, country, chorography: towards a kinaesthetic and narrative practice of place, in Architectural Theory Review, Volume 7, Number 2, November 2002: 45-58. ISSN 13264826

At Kbal Spean, in Architectural Theory Review, Volume 6, Number 1, April 2001: 134-155. ISSN 13264826

Reconciliation in Action, in Scott K Phillips (ed.), Everyday Diversity. Australian Multiculturalism and Reconciliation in Practice, Altona: Common Ground, 2001: 37-51. ISBN 1863350810

Making-for, in Linda Marie Walker (ed.), Warm Filters, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide, 2000: 4-9. ISBN 1875751629

Mapping: design, in Architectural Theory Review, Volume 3, Number 1, April 1998: 35-45. ISSN 13264826Ecotourism. A South Australian Design Guide for Sustainable Development. South Australian Tourism Commission, Adelaide, 1994 (with Paul Pholeros & Nick Opie). ISBN 0730800849