Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Box

Melbourne Recital Centre
Melbourne Recital Centre by Ashton Raggatt McDougall. Photo ©Darren Bradley
As you may have noticed from my previous two posts on Melbourne, the design team of Ashton Raggatt McDougall have been on a bit of a tear in that city for some time. This studio has landed some of the most prestigious commissions in Melbourne, including this Recital Centre above. I liked this building as soon as I saw it, but I was also a bit confused by it. I couldn't understand the shape of the white forms on the facade. Then I spoke to some of the locals and they explained it to me. You won't believe what they represent... 

I described Melbourne as a city that largely skipped Modernism - going directly from Classicism to Post-Modernism.  Modernism is rooted in a sense of simplicity in materials and an absence of ornament, or historical styles and references. Post-modern architecture rejects any sense of over-arching philosophy (such as Le Corbusier's Five Points)  or rules. This style strives to seek meaning and expression in forms and stylistic references. It can be brilliant but usually ends up looking (to the eye of this photographer, at least) as a cheesy, cartoonish pastiche of pseudo-historical references.  I usually hate it. 

Well, it appears that Mr. McDougall (who was the lead architect for this effort) took Post-modern philosophy to its logical conclusion and has now started referencing everyday, household objects. Yes, Frank Gehry and Claes Oldenburg already put a giant pair of binoculars on the facade of their Chiat/Day building in Los Angeles back in 1991. But ARM made the whole building to reference A GIANT CARDBOARD BOX! 

Here's another view of the building where the design is easier to understand: 
If nothing else, this picture will at least give you an idea for the number of power lines and streetlights that I had to remove from the first photo. It took several hours. Fortunately, it was a long plane ride. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Apparently, the idea here is that the Arts are a precious commodity and should be protected. So ARM had the idea of designing this theater as a cardboard box with a styrofoam insert and even bubble wrap. You can even see the cardboard flap on the side of the box. But no, there's no giant television inside. Instead, you get The Arts. 

Architects allude to abstract ideas in their work all the time (yes, even the hard-core Modernists did this!). But this has to be the most literal translation of an abstract concept that I've seen since The Donut Hole...


Additional posts about Melbourne architecture here and here

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