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An exhibit calculated to elevate and ennoble: celebration and suppression of natural landscape in nineteenth-century urban visions of Sydney


Orr, K, An exhibit calculated to elevate and ennoble: celebration and suppression of natural landscape in nineteenth-century urban visions of Sydney, Panorama to Paradise: Scopic Regimes in Architectural and Urban History and Theory: XXIVth Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ), 21-24 September 2007, Adelaide, South Australia, pp. 1-13. ISBN 9781920927554 (2007) [Refereed Conference Paper]

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In 1909 the Report of the Royal Commission for the Improvement of the City of Sydney and its Suburbs sadly concluded that the ‘irregular configuration of the foreshores of the harbour and the hilly character of the city’ made it impossible to achieve the sort of idealised, European-style city that Sydney’s elites had long been hoping for. The desire to impose symmetry and order was frustrated by the unruly charm of Sydney’s natural landscape.

This paper investigates panoramas of Sydney presented at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition and offers an explanation of their impact on later planning decisions. When Sydney hosted its international exhibition, the view from the top of one of the Garden Palace towers became an experience not to be missed.

In his essay, La Tour Eiffel, Roland Barthes explores the aerial panorama’s power to alter visual sensibilities and spatial perceptions. Barthes argues that there is a dialectical nature to the aerial panorama that distinguishes it from other forms of spectacle and makes it more profound. On the one hand the lofty outlook is a ‘euphoric vision’ that induces a blissful sensation as the eye slides passively over a complete and continuous image. On the other hand, the outlook activates an intellectual struggle of ‘decipherment’ in which the mind attempts to read and make sense of the transcendent space by identifying landmarks, recognising known sites and finding signs.

Likewise, the aerial panorama from the Garden Palace provided a new medium through which people oriented themselves to their urban milieu and the natural landscape. This paper reveals how the interplay of opposing urban and landscape forces foreshadowed Sydney’s late nineteenth-century planning decisions regarding the attainment of public institutions and the commercial development of the city and port.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Conference Paper
Keywords:Sydney International Exhibition, Roland Barthes, natural landscape
Research Division:Built Environment and Design
Research Group:Architecture
Research Field:Architectural history, theory and criticism
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Understanding past societies
Objective Field:Understanding Australia's past
UTAS Author:Orr, K (Professor Kirsten Orr)
ID Code:107632
Year Published:2007
Deposited By:Architecture
Deposited On:2016-03-21
Last Modified:2016-04-13

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