On the Couch with Emma Telfer

Emma Telfer Arts Review On the CouchWho is Emma Telfer?
I’m the Executive Director of Open House Melbourne, partner in the Office for Good Design, and a proud Kiwi. Open House is a public architecture organisation that empowers citizens to be active participants in the building of their city. We run an annual program that explores the issues, challenges and success stories of Melbourne’s built environment. At the heart of our program is the Open House Weekend, where people visit significant buildings and sites across the city to learn about how the built environment and urban planning initiatives and issues influence our culture and shape our future.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
Carve out more time for travel.

Who inspires you and why?
I’m constantly inspired by other women working in the design sector who are pushing against the traditional organisational models, roles and expectations: Creative Director, Dan Honey, Curators Kate Rhodes, Fleur Watson and Simone LeAmon, and Artist Eugenia Lim (to name a few).

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Encourage Melbourne and Australia to adopt a similar model to solve homelessness as Finland’s Housing First strategy. Housing First means ending homelessness instead of managing it by offering permanent housing and support for homeless people instead of temporary accommodation (or no accommodation). It really feels like we are dragging our heels with the issue at the moment, with a sharp increase in people sleeping rough in the past two years.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Mexico. It represents a time in my life when I could make time for a 5-week holiday!

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
I tend to take guests for a walk through the city… moving between our great cultural institutions, the Botanic Gardens, MPavilion (if it’s the right season), and a classic eating and drinking spot such as the City Wine Shop.

What are you currently reading?
Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs by Robert Kanigel. We have a month-long program titled What Would Jane Do? – a program that celebrates Jacob’s writing, insight and sheer guts, and uses her ideas as a catalyst for conversations about Melbourne’s future. Perfectly aligned to Open House Melbourne’s mission, Jacob’s empowered people to participate in the development of their neighbourhoods and cities.

Jane Jacobs was an author, activist and city dweller who introduced insightful ideas about how vibrant cities are created (and destroyed) through her books including The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She had no formal training as a planner, and she is infamous for leading citizen protests against major urban renewal projects in Manhattan that she felt would destroy communities.

There is a great documentary as part of the program at ACMI titled Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. It has wonderful archival imagery of Manhattan from the 1930s through to 1960s and is an insightful look at the tension between urban renewal and cultural heritage preservation.

What are you currently listening to?
Max Richter, various albums. I’m kicking myself for not being on the ball and booking tickets for his live 8-hour performance of Sleep at the Sydney Opera House last year. A once in a lifetime opportunity that, unfortunately, passed me by.

Happiness is?
Time with family, friends and to myself.

What does the future hold for you?
Expanded and formalised education programs will be a focus for Open House in the coming years. We aim to emulate the success of our sister organisations Open City London and the Chicago Architecture Foundation by offering a broad range of formal and informal educational opportunities to our visitors.

Chicago Architecture Foundation – who run Open House Chicago – is the world’s largest public architecture organisation, with over 70 staff. Sure, you could say that is a big leap from where Open House Melbourne is now, but there is no reason that we can’t work towards that level of engagement across Melbourne and Australia, positioning Melbourne as the centre for public engagement with urban design and architecture in the Southern Hemisphere.

The 10th Open House Melbourne takes place this weekend – Saturday 29 & Sunday 30 July 2017. For more information, visit: www.openhousemelbourne.org for details.

Image: Emma Telfer (supplied)