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Friday, June 12, 2009

Commonwealth Place Kiosk, Canberra, Australia

Terroir reinvents the public amenity as sculpture
Commissioned by the National Capital Authority the Commonwealth Place Kiosks are small scale kiosks providing amenity facilities and small scale commercial premises.

Canberra is distinctive as a planned city and seat of government. A key component of the planning geometry is the Parliament House, the foreground of which is a range of buildings containing Australia's major public institutions. The conceptual framework for the kiosks was generated from questions the architects asked in response to this context. How does one install a toilet and kiosk just metres from the central axis connecting our Parliament and lake? What is an appropriate form for an ice-cream stand seen at a distance with Parliament looming on the horizon?

These questions explored the tensions that existed within the brief and provided an engine which drove siting, planning and detail solutions. The decision to locate a small public amenity in this context was a positive gesture intended to increase the daily use of the Parliamentary Zone. However, with this brief came a risk that an amenity building would adversely impact upon this context given its prominent siting. In the context of this risk, Terroir started to understand the amenity building in terms of its potential as a public sculpture. The uncanny nature of the planned city resulted in the realisation of the sculptures as blank timber boxes installed within this largest of sculpture parks.

The danger with such an earnest approach may have been the lack of wit or joy in the final building which resulted from such careful observations. So, rather than employ formal or detail embellishments from outside the project, the architects chose to push the logic of the siting and context observations. The potential for absurdity when Griffin’s overarching geometry of the city plan is pushed to its limits was exploited by the hidden system of coloured tubes filtering and dispersing light. The colours themselves are based upon the tonal range of the autumn leaves of the adjacent trees, connecting this timber and coloured object back to its formal landscape context.

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