The Internationale Gartenausstellung 2017 – IGA is a permanent contemporary landscape exhibition located on the outskirts of Berlin, within a rejuvenated 102 hectare park surrounded by one of the largest prefabricated housing estates in Europe. Nine leading international landscape architects were allocated 380square-metres to create a garden that showcased the cultural landscape of their home country.
Cultivated by Fire explores the Australian Aboriginal land management practice known as ‘fire-stick farming’ or ‘fire mosaics’. This sophisticated practice of selective, low-intensity burning serves many purposes including reducing the risk of larger and more unpredictable bushfires, creating open country ideal for hunting and increasing fertile new growth that provides an abundance of edible plants for both wildlife and humans. The recent devastating bushfires in Australia in early 2020 highlight the need to investigate alternative land management practices and look to the ways in which Aboriginal people sustainably care for the landscape.
TCL examined satellite images of areas burnt by the ancient practice of Fire Stick Farming, as well as researching artworks by Aboriginal artists that depict this sustainable form of burning. The garden distils and abstracts the fire-stick farming practice to create a mosaic garden composed of elements reminiscent of both the burnt and rejuvenated Australian landscape. These elements include actual fire, charred poles and clipped branches, Eucalyptus and Acacia seedlings, embedded glass cabinets or wunderkammers containing sculptural installations of various narratives in relation to Fire Stick Farming, floriferous garden beds of Australian native plants and a walkable orange ground plane of crushed red brick that is reminiscent of the fiery sands of the central Australian desert.
Creating a garden in Europe with a vastly different climate to Australia had its challenges. A close working relationship was formed with the client and local German Landscape Architecture consultants, through the planning, management and monitoring of construction works. Bespoke solutions were developed for working in the site’s climate, plants species were substituted with suitable alternatives, particularly grasses that were aesthetically similar to Australian grasses, assistance was provided in sourcing plants and seeds for propagation and even in the detailing an underground heating system for the garden’s Eucalypts to survive the Berlin winters.
Cultivated by Fire promotes Australia and Australian landscape architecture to a broader public, fostering an understanding of the country’s rich and ancient Aboriginal cultural and environmental history, as experienced by an estimated 1.6 million visitors per year. The project has received wide publication internationally, as well as being nationally awarded by The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.
It (the garden) is colourful, dense with all sorts of references to Australia’s Indigenous landscapes and traditions… it’s a great show garden and I came out the other end knowing more about aboriginal culture than I did from six months consorting with sheep and kangaroos in the outback aged 18.
– Tom Stuart-Smith. The Telegraph 26/08/2017
This exhibition for the Internationale Gartenausstellung 2017 (International Garden Exhibition) in Berlin celebrates the Australian landscape as one that has always been shaped by cultural processes. TCL articulated Indigenous fire-management processes as a large-scale cultivation of the environment that results in plant and ecosystem evolution. A series of textural spaces reflect the stages, spaces and vegetation of this process. The project is a leading demonstration of the capacity of landscape to reflect culture, temporalities and intertwined relationships.
– Jury Citation, Australian National AILA Award for International Projects