2013 Rosie Halsmith

Rosie Halsmith is a landscape architect and design educator based in Walyalup (Fremantle). She is a lecturer in landscape architecture at the UWA School of Design and a consultant in design, engagement and communications. She graduated from the UWA Bachelor of Landscape Architecture in 2013.

Why did you choose to study landscape architecture?
Rosie Halsmith – My first degree was in music, with a focus on percussion performance. Towards the end of that degree, I began to play the music of Iannis Xenakis, an avant-garde composer and music theorist. Through his works I became interested in the spatiality of sound, and its relation to the use of graphic notation. As I learnt more about Xenakis I found that he was an architect as well as a composer, and that he’d worked together with Le Corbusier. My interest started to drift more towards the spatial. I knew my interests were also in community and ecology so when I read Design with Nature by Ian McHarg at a friend's house, I decided that landscape architecture – rather than architecture – would be the degree for me.

What was your most memorable class from your time at UWA, and why? 
RH – I vividly remember Grant Revell's second year Rural Studio in Pingelly, in 2010. This is when I began to understand how to design with community, and how to integrate local stories of place into design. We spent a week on site in Pingelly, sleeping in swags on the floor of the basketball court. Many friendships were made during that trip.

Richard Weller's history and theory unit, The Culture of Nature, was also memorable. It set us up with the idea that landscape architects could, or should, be a leader in the conversation about multiple issues.

What was your most memorable project from your time studying landscape architecture at UWA?
RH – For my Independent Design Studio, I was able to write my own brief and choose my own site. I looked at multiple methods of analysis and engagement for the suburb of Bayswater, to consider how we could create a visible and psychological link between the town centre and the Derbal Yerrigan.

In some of my explorations I was able to return to the idea of sound, with analysis and notation of sound on a transect through the area. It meant a lot to have my two areas of study come together in this project.

During your time as a student, who was a key person of influence in developing your approach to landscape architecture, and why?
RH – We had an excellent group of teaching staff while I was studying. Richard Weller and Christopher Vernon provided us with multiple perspectives on history and theory, both local and international. Grant Revell set us up with the essential knowledge that we were living and working on stolen land, and what we needed to consider to design in this context. Tinka Sack and Julian Bolleter both provided me an opportunity to learn about research –  I worked for both of them as a research assistant. This learning set me up with the direction I chose for both my teaching and practice.

What is a moment that stands out from your time studying landscape architecture at UWA?
RH – The 2011 study trip to India – Chandigarh, Lucknow and Delhi – with Christopher Vernon. An amazing trip to many of the sites Christopher had presented to us in his history unit. It was incredible to experience these places in-person.

Since your time at UWA, how have your ideas about the practice of landscape architecture changed?
RH – My understanding of landscape architecture has become somehow broader, and less defined. I learnt a design process at UWA, this was then was consolidated while working on community-led design with Greg Grabasch and Vanessa Margetts at UDLA. In listening to communities and working alongside these mentors of mine, it became clear that to develop solutions, we needed to look at design beyond the built.

Could share a significant project that you’ve worked or are working on?
RH – Working on Murujuga Cultural Management Plan with Vanessa Margetts at UDLA from 2014-17, on Country that is cared for by Ngarluma, Yaburara, Mardudhunera, Yindjibarndi, and Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo people. One of my many tasks on this project was to transcribe the Elder's stories about this significant landscape. I spent weeks listening and learning as people shared about the history and significance of this powerful landscape. The information shared, in this way and in other ways, then became the Plan itself - which was quite a thick, hardcover book in the end.

In my own practice, at To & Fro Studio and then as an independent consultant, a highlight has been working together with the community, including the Wilman Bibbulmun community, in and around Collie on a number of different projects – some being the Collie Mural Trail, and on a community vision for Minnunup Pool, a significant site along the Mardarlup / the Collie River system. I've loved returning to this place over the years.

As an educator, I have found that my work with students, both in history and theory units and in the design studios I teach, is linked inherently to practice. I enjoy the two-way flow of understanding from teaching, to practice, and back to teaching again.

Most recently I've been exploring the idea of more-than-human design with the Master of Landscape Architecture students. We're looking at design for ‘the other’. In this studio, students design for a non-human and the system it depends upon. In doing this, we are considering the idea that the beings we design for (both human and non-human) have different world views, values systems and needs to those that we bring to the project, as designers. It's been great to consider the process of design with empathy, as well as acknowledgement of positionality, with the students over the last few years.  

Do you have any advice for current landscape architecture students at the School of Design?

RH – Don't be afraid to challenge the brief! Connect to what is unique about you and bring this to your design studio; to your other units as well. The amazing thing about landscape architecture is that you can take it in so many directions. You can really bring your self to your work as a student, and then to your work as a practitioner.

This interview was undertaken in 2023 and has been edited for clarity and cohesion.

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Images: A Community Vision for Minninup Pool, by To & Fro Studio (via toandfro.studio)