Bringing the village to the city
September 10, 2012
Gilbert Rochecouste grew up in Mauritius, surrounded by extended family and with the daily rituals of visiting the local well and market. This idea of village life inspired Village Well, Australia’s first placemaking agency, which he founded 20 years ago. He spoke to Clare Goff about putting people at the heart of place
WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF A GREAT PLACE?
Place and placemaking were embedded in my DNA and fabric from an early age. I grew up in a small village in Mauritius and that’s where the idea for Village Well comes from. I was surrounded by my extended family, there were daily rituals and a sense of celebration and conviviality. There was not a lot of money in terms of infrastructure but it was rich in terms of place and beauty. That fabric is part and parcel of who we are. We all yearn for somewhere we can call home, for gatherings and celebrations and physical places where people can meet and connect, such as the village well. That yearning for creating beautiful places was planted in me at an early age. Growing up in Mauritius taught me that placemaking needs to start with people and place. If you start with design, infrastructure and transport – as many town plans do – then that’s what you get. But if you start with people and place that’s what you get.
YOU SPENT THE EARLY PART OF YOUR CAREER WORKING ‘ON THE DARK SIDE’ MANAGING SHOPPING MALLS. WHAT DID THAT TEACH YOU ABOUT PLACEMAKING?
When I came to Australia I lived in an industrial town, Dandenong. I began working in the largest department store in Melbourne and that taught me placemaking through consumption. I became manager of the biggest shopping centre in the western hemisphere and it was the commercial engine room of placemaking – internalised malls, whole landscapes, distractions to make you shop more, and beautiful food environments.. The dominant story of our time is consumption and I had to go through a commercial landscape to come back to the more democratic spaces of towns and cities. Malls offer a false sense of community, kicking you out when the shops close at 5pm. The high street on the other hand is a place for all.