The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the surface the critical qualities of air—airflow, ventilation, particulates etc—on everyday lived experiences of high-rise urban living. However, in focusing on models of airflow, ventilation and particulates as discrete variables, engineering and architectural discourse fail to capture the diverse ways that air enters into and shapes experiences of high-rise dwelling. In this presentation I will explore resident experiences of densification through the prism of air. Drawing on the experiences of residents living in high-rise housing in Sydney’s South Western suburbs, the presentation reveals air as an assemblage that ties apartment dwelling to car-dependent suburbanization, pollution and climate-change induced temperature extremes in the Anthropocene. While embedded in relations of power, these assemblages are immersed in processes of vernacular adaptation that through low-tech and low-cost technologies work to connect suburban high-rise into evolving ecological systems. In so doing, I critically assess the ideological genesis of high-rise as a bounded, climate-controlled environment, delinking housing from place-specific ecologies to globalised zones of transnational capitalism. Recognising the pharmacological quality of air, as both ‘poison’ and ‘cure’, I contrast models of encapsulation with resident (and other) experiments with airy infrastructures that orient high-rise to the elements, and the interlinked challenges of the Anthropocene.
Dr Nicole Cook lives and works in Dharawal Yuin Country. She is Lecturer and Head of Postgraduate Studies in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong. Her research examines the capacities of communities, residents, businesses and governments to foster equitable and sustainable cities, suburbs and homes. Her writing has explored home-ownership and deregulated mortgage markets, the financialisation of housing, and social movement activism in fostering socially and environmentally sustainable cities and suburbs. She is currently researching home in the context of COVID-19 and Sydney’s CBD through the prism of creative cities, and the assemblage of high-rise living and suburban densification in the Anthropocene. Nicole is a former co-convenor of the Urban Geography Study Group of the Institution of Australian Geographers and lead editor of the Routledge collection: Housing and Home Unbound: intersections in economics, environment and politics in Australia.