This thesis is concerned with themed environments in the public sphere, and the prospect of consumption as the primary generator of contemporary public urban space. Centrally controlled, themed environments on the scale of trade fairs and theme parks, have in the past, represented a real possibility in the further evolution of urban space and human invention through large scale controlled experimentation. Paradoxically, over time, themed environments have become an effective vehicle of commercial interest, in a process of hybridisation that has heralded the birth of the shopping mall and theme park, similarly posing an extreme threat to our freedom of experience, and authenticity of place.
50 years after Victor Gruen initiated the spread of shopping mall typology as the new urban module1, more subtle incarnations of commercially driven public space are appearing in cities. Brisbane's
South Bank precinct is a recent example of a new type of civic space that is dedicated to public interchange whilst exhibiting an affinity with this continued process of hybridisation. The South Bank Parklands represents a contemporary example in which public urban space, commercial interest, and the language of themed environments are combined in order to re-constitute the public sphere as a place that primarily exists to serve commerce. South Bank is however unique within the notion of the hybrid, in that it exists in what is currently an unhappy state of flux between its themed origins, and its physicality as a permanent urban space. This tension presents us with a unique opportunity that may be the key in reconciling its role within Brisbane, and may reopen the conscious exploration of themed environments. South Bank could possibly become a tool in exploring the spatial, and urban potential of themed environments within an integrated, yet physically, and philosophically defined area.
The study will commence with an analysis of the philosophies that underpin traditional notions of virtuous public space, and contemporary societal conditions of image and advertising in an effort to examine the effect of their conflation. This will form the basis for the second chapter which will discuss the positive and negative effects of themed space in the urban condition. This will inform a theoretical position for the study of Brisbane's South Bank, in which it will be illustrated that South Bank exists as a hybridised public space that has a relationship to other themed environments, as well as being a genuine place of civic importance. This will form the basis of an approach that could be taken by architects in order to reconcile the tensions that exist better utilise themed environments as possible generators of urban invention.
1 Sze Tsung Leong, "Gruen Urbanism," in Chung, Chuihua Judy, and Harvard University. Graduate School of Design. Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping. Koln: Taschen, 2001, 385.