We started by thinking, what makes a ‘temporary’ commission good? We didn’t want to do another shelter, or a wall, or a landscape intervention, or a piece of art. We pondered the criteria of sustainability to the extent of thinking perhaps the whole competition is not sustainable? However we thought temporary implies a ‘moment’ so the courtyard interventions should say something about ‘now’ and provoke debate. We wanted that speculation to reveal something about the contemporary architectural condition, its practice, the here and now - not last year, not next year, not elsewhere.
Arguably, one of the biggest topics for Australian architects is the influx of International architects. Love them or hate them, international firms are right now, vying for Australia’s major commissions, which says a lot about the current state of architecture and what we consider to be good.
The recent ‘Beulah’ Southbank competition, the M Pavilion, the Adelaide Contemporary, among many others set the scene for the NGV’s own proposed Contemporary Gallery on Southbank Boulevard. This site is close to the courtyard and a nice spot for six larger than life figures to assemble and peer into the precinct.
Our response seemed quite simple: for Architects, it visualizes a dilemma facing the local profession, to provoke, to react against or perhaps to contemplate what we do next. For the general public, it presents another cultural condition of architecture and prompts further questioning: Who are these people? What are they doing here? Where are the women?
The concept draws on the fun and entertainment of balloon festivals, Bop-Bag inflatables, advertising and signage. The heads are scaled up, nominally 5 x 7 x 10m high and are scattered around the courtyard to work at an urban scale - visible from the St Kilda Road Arts precinct, Southbank Boulevard, the theatres precinct and beyond. The figures’ silent peering into their surrounds draw on precedents of the large-scale monuments of Mount Rushmore and the Moai Statues on Easter Island among other examples.
Conceptually, this disjunction of scale, transforms the courtyard into an eerie space between the tethered ‘giants’, a scaled model landscape, and it is on this ground the viewer circulates and shelters in the shadow of the internationals.
Architects have been chosen according to their participation in local design competitions or delivery of high profile commissions in Australia. The final choice of digitally filtered likenesses of architects was open for discussion. They were sited in various locations to maximise their engagement with the audience and urban connections.
It was intended that people can walk up to the heads and around them. Custom-made inflatable furniture in the vicinity of the base was proposed for lunches and lounging. The largest inflatable is hollowed out, so that the public can walk through and inhabit. This area could be utilised informally and/or with multi-media projections and audio visuals.
Economically, inflatables offer bang for buck, allowing a comparatively large structure with minimal material and weight that operates at an urban scale within the commissions budget. We also liked the other connotations with inflatables: their transience, use for satire and festive days; all of which imbue an energy and atmosphere through the courtyard.
Our response to sustainability is don’t waste, use less and recycle/reuse everything.
An inflatable allows us to achieve a large structure, supported by air and minimal structure. The rip-stop material is light, conformable and energy efficient to produce when compared to other building products or technologies. The scheme is compact when deflated, relatively light when stowed and therefore efficient to transport.
The inflatable manufacturer offers a take back recycling service. The company partners with NGOs who utilize the cloths for production of other temporary structures. In addition, off-cuts can be reused for production of industrial or fashion items. Ballast items can be hired and/or custom-made with a recyclable/return service.
We proposed a 5kW Photovoltaic system with battery to be installed to off-set power use from the inflatable fans and to be used by the Arts school or others post-commission.
As the inflatable structure is all temporary, individual elements can be returned/reused and there is a light touch to the earth.