Category Archives: Architecture

Prahran Square

In order to avoid the threat of democracy no city in Victoria was designed with a square. Now that democracy is no longer a threat squares are being retrofitted into city plans. I’ve visited two new squares in Melbourne: Prahran Square and the smaller Maddern Square in Footscray. Both are multifunction spaces made from converting carparks.

Prahran Square

Prahran Square is on the site of the old Cato Street car park in Prahran with the carpark now beneath the site. It is a very large space like a amphitheatre with steep sides. Facing in on itself it ignores the borrowed scenery of the old buildings around it. The central elements of the square are all created by the architects. Taken from the same set generic contemporary elements that architects around the world currently use, including the fountain with jets of water flush with the pavement. The green playground equipment is more central and sculptural than any of the actual sculpture.

Indigenous artist Fiona Foley’s work, murnalong, is literally on the periphery of the square. ‘Murnalong’ means ‘bee’ in the local Boon Wurrung language, a subtle reference to the location. Attractive as these cast aluminum bees are, they fail to identify the place; firstly because they can hardly be seen and secondly because there already is a building in Melbourne with several large gold bees on it – Richard Stringer’s Queen Bee on the Eureka Tower. So that identifying the place in conversation; “You know the place with the bees?” could be confusing.

Jamie North, Ringform 1 and 2, 2019

Not much of the arts budget was spent on Jamie North Ringform 1 and 2. There is minimalism and then there is North’s basic forms; a couple of zeroes scores well for being garden sculpture.

The only public art that is allowed to work in the square are The Pipes 2019, a site-specific visual and audio installation co-designed by light artist Bruce Ramus and sound designer Material Thinking, because they were designed in collaboration with Lyons Architects. The visual and audio can be seen and heard almost everywhere in the square.

When I visited, none of the shops were occupied and there was also two temporary black wooden cubes with street art painted on them; the standard city council move to use street art as an urban social-aesthetic solution.

The Foley’s bees is the only part of the square that refers remotely to the location. Otherwise, it could almost anywhere in the world and I expect to see it or its underground carpark in a movie that is not set in Prahran. There is much about Prahran Square that is forced, contrived and strained; it was controversial and the two year build doing nothing to assist local traders. The arts do not account for a single percent of the $64 million budget.

Maddern Square, Footscray

Contrast this to Maddern Square in Footscray in Melbourne’s west. It is smaller in many ways, less money was spent on the space and the public art is all aerosol. It has a drinking fountain, shady trees, seating and a shipping container being the only facilities that the square needs. The architectural elements in the square are the same set of contemporary elements that are used everywhere but at least you know where you are because it uses the backs of buildings: “Keep Footscray Crazy”.

Thanks to William and Matt for showing me these squares.


Jewell Station Forecourt

I first saw Fleur Summers’s sculpture, Making sense, from inside the train. Aside from the Fairfield Industrial Dog Object (FIDO), there are few public sculptures at Melbourne railway stations but there is now one at Jewell Station.

Fleur Summers, Making sense

Summers’s sculpture marks the new entrance to the station like bunches of dead flowers. A cluster of biomorphic forms, like metal fungus protrude from the grass in Jewell Station’s new forecourt. Each of the forms crowned with a black lumpy form.

Fleur Summers is a local artist and a lecturer in sculpture at the School of Art, RMIT. Her sculpture was selected from four finalists in a competition for a new sculpture. Given the biomorphic forms it is not surprising to find that Summers started her professional life as a microbiologist.

I’m not sure about the scale of the two clusters. They are intended to be at a hight where the metal heads of the stems can be torched and gradually polished by the public. Raising the question does the public connect to sculptures by touch?

In another attempt to establish a connection with the public art students from Brunswick Secondary School helped fabricate the work. I am skeptical of manufacturing connections in this way because even the casting of the local faces failed to establish a connection for another Brunswick art project (see my blog post).

Jewell Station was once an old brick station at the end of road with light industries. The entrance was an ugly mess of tarmac paths with pipe handrails leading to the sidewalk and the carpark with the bike path running through it. Now there are curved concrete forms terracing the entrance with a variety of paving and other surfaces. The new forecourt is not unsympathetic to the late Victorian Gothic station’s architecture without having anything in common aside from location.

The new forecourt has another gesture this time trying to establish a connection with local history. There are a few printed bricks about Brunswick quoting local politician James Jewell (1869-1949) for whom South Brunswick Station was renamed in 1954. Although there are a number of memorials around Brunswick to the free speech movement during the Great Depression when Victoria police wouldn’t allow public speech critical of the government. It is one of the features of Australia’s unique democratic system is that there are no civil or human rights that are protected from arbitrary government encroachment.

How Jewell’s new forecourt’s sculptures and paths work with social distancing or when people return to using public transport in greater numbers remains unknown. Will Summers’s metal flowers shine or will people, like I did, avoid touching them.


The Saigon Welcome Arch

It is a strange sight in the middle of the tasteless utilitarian architecture of Footscray’s low rise suburban shopping. Two matching curving arabesques of wings and bird’s neck reaches high into the sky. The forms of the fabled Vietnamese Lac birds The inside of these enormous forms is lined with golden printed metal with an image with a mass of flowers, butterflies and a woman in traditional Vietnamese dress.

On one edge, in clear lettering is “Saigon Welcome Arch”. Footscray is such a welcoming place, or at least it aspires to be, a short distance away there is and Indigenous welcome, the ‘smoking’ ceremony at Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins.

The Saigon Welcome Arch in Footscray is packed into the intersection of Leeds and Hopkins streets with a cafe one side and a pharmacy on the other. This is about creating a better urban space by making a place out of an otherwise nondescript T-intersection. It doesn’t fit into bland cheap utilitarian architecture of the place, it burst free from it.

But does any of that matter aside from aesthetics how does this public art work? On a large scale of architecture and human interaction the arch is a landmark in Footscray and the Saigon Night Market operates every second a Friday of the month under it and along Leeds Street (I should go, sculptures and public art is different at night). On the small personal scale of comfort for tired legs there are matching curving white seats at the base of each of the arch’s wing.

It was created in 2016 by architects McBride Charles Ryan and local artist Khue Nguyen as part of the redevelopment of the Little Saigon precinct. Khue Nguyen came to Australia as a political refugee in 1988 and in 2010 he was a finalist in Archibald Prize for a self portrait.

There aren’t a lot of gateways in Melbourne but Khue Nguyen has done another on the opposite side of the city for the Springvale retail area. This time it was in collaboration with Hassell Architect. In Buckingham Ave two towers topped with a flat red roof hang large golden banners printed with a Vietnamese design. Springvale, like Footscray, also has a large population who were, or whose parents were, from Vietnam.


Exploring Victorian Melbourne

Here are a couple of Victorian (in every sense) places that can be seen if you are wandering around Melbourne.

The dome inside 333 Collins Street

333 Collins Street is one of the best example of preserving the old architecture is the fantastic dome inside a multi-storey building at 333 Collins Street. You can go into the foyer and look up and see the old dome. Through the dome’s windows you can see, instead of seeing the sky, the inside of a new building. It is unfortunate that the architect didn’t plan public access to the roof of the dome so that the surreal sight of an old roof inside a new building is not available. You can easily imagine this site if you look at the architectural model of the new building that stands in the foyer. It is a fine example of the greed and exploitation that is quintessential to Australia. Once the dome was part of Melbourne’s banking’s “cathedrals of commerce”, yes in the 19th century Australia really did build temples to Mammon.

Another of these temples to Mammon is at 380 Collins Street. Like a cathedral there are stain glass windows, carved wood screens and stone guardians in the gothic revival style. Labelled as the ‘ANZ Banking Museum’ with an impressive brass plaque – all I saw of that were two very small display cases on the floor bank. Instead of Biblical scenes one of the stain glass windows there is a series of the motifs from the Victoria Memorial in London. It is also very modern; cast iron pillars support the roof space that includes a large skylight.

The Block Arcade of Marvellous Melbourne has becoming a home to middle-brow tourist art and ersatz culture like the Dr Suess Gallery but it still has a great mosaic floor. A neo-classical Victorian design by Craven Dunnell Pty Ltd. of the United Kingdom made from Italian tiles. (For more on Melbourne’s many mosaic’s see my post Time and Tiles.) George Sala, the man who coined the phrase ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ spent a lot of time in the arcade. Sala needed to coin phrases about Melbourne as he was the special correspondent for the Daily Telegraphy. In 1880s he wrote of Melbourne’s arcades:

“Indeed, but for the fact that prohibitions on smoking are conspicuously placarded about in the Royal, the Victoria, and the Eastern arcades, you might, without any very violent stretch of the imagination, fancy on a fine night that Bourke Street was one of the Paris boulevards instead of being a highway hewn not fifty years ago out of the trackless Bush, and that you were a flâneur from the Café du Helder who had just strolled into the nearest passage to saunter from shop to shop, the contents of which you may have seen five hundred times before, and to rub shoulders with a throng whose faces from long acquaintance should be perfectly familiar to you.” (from The Birth of Melbourne ed. Tim Flannery, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, Australia, p.328)

When the Block Arcade’s opening in 1892 there were 15 milliners, three lace shops, a photographer and the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Only the Hopetoun Tea Rooms survives. The prohibition on smoking in the Royal Arcade remains.

For more of my thoughts about Victorian Melbourne read my posts: Time Warp to Victoria and Melbourne’s Gothic Revival.


Planning a city

“Between the Street and the Sky” describes itself as a “provocation for Melbourne” rather than an exhibition about urban planning. It is at the City Gallery in Melbourne Town Hall. The elegant little display is certainly provocative in putting the gigantic growth of central Melbourne into perspective. More people are living in tall buildings with an ever smaller footprint. However, increases in population have not been met with an equivalent investment by either the city council or businesses.

DSC02730

“Between the street and the sky”, model by Christopher White/Bates Smart

Planning is currently a hot topic in Melbourne, maybe in the rest of Australia too. This is because the quality of planning in Australia is catastrophic. Consider another example not covered in the “Between the Street and the Sky” exhibition. A major tourist attraction damaged for the benefit of a short term commercial interest. It could be  the impact of the Culture Kings shop on Hosier Lane, it could be the Apple store in Federation Square or Adani coal mine in Queensland potential to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. Take your pick they are all examples of Australia’s lack of planning. It is not just tourism that is threatened but the environment, to culture, to being able to live a good life.

Rather than focusing on one issue I want to know why Australians repeatedly makes these kind of decisions. I will not be blaming one political party for it because that is simply false and the people who do that are part of the problem, as they are trying to get a short term political advantage while damaging Australia in the long term through entrenched partisanship. I am happy acknowledge that this kind of decision making is not unique to Australia if the Australian demanding this will acknowledge that Australia is amongst the best in the world at doing irreparable damage to its own long term interests.

It is a problem of poor planning, avoiding planning and not planning. It is as if many people living in Australia never intended for Australia to be a permanent residence. Even if they never did, most of Australia’s population arrived planning to exploit the natural resources, become rich and return to their home country. This is especially true of the British colonial immigrants who became Australia’s ruling class. Australians often don’t want any other people in the area because this would additional people who will just reduce the amount that they can exploit. This paranoid and greedy reaction to the limited resources drives both Australia’s abuse of refugees and a local defence of the status quo in suburban infrastructure and planning.

Instead of avoiding the difficult issues Australia needs plans.


Habitat Filter in Southbank

Unlike what many sculptures become by accident, Habitat Filter is intended to become a bird roost. The green, blue and orange shards fit into Melbourne’s contemporary architecture on the skyline. Eight shards stand in the middle of a freeway off ramp. In some areas there would be no need for the extravagance of such a construction but the highly visible location near ACCA and the Malthouse Theatre requires more than just a generic design solution.

DSC01864

Habitat Filter comes with many environmentally friendly design solutions: a vertical garden creating an urban forest island and providing natural filtration of water and air by native species vegetation. It makes use of recycled materials and provides renewable energy, through photovoltaic cells, to offset the energy for its lighting. I hope that the vegetation has grown more over the year since I took these photographs shortly after it opened in 2016. It is part of CityLink’s sculpture collection; see my earlier post for more on freeway art.

It is an attempt to restore a small circle of degraded inner city land designed by Drysdale, Myers and Dow. I use the word ‘designed’ because that is what is used on the sculpture’s information panel and to emphasise the background of the designers. Matt Drysdale is an ‘urban designer’ and both Matt Myers and Tim Dow studied architecture. The large letters spelling out its name is just prosaic; it eliminates the mystery of art, reducing it to a branded design solution. For more on the subject of sculpture vs architecture.

I can understand why the chainlink fence is essential and yet it is not part of the design plan but rather added as an undesigned after thought. However, neither the sign nor the chainlink fence is not going to put the birds off roosting. Perhaps my pedestrian perspective on it is wrong; perhaps I should be travelling in a car to see it at speed rather than stationary. Or maybe, as Habitat Filter is a human free zone, I should ask the birds. I tried but various species of parrots argued amongst themselves, the crows commented dryly and the magpies just attacked me.

DSC01867


Victorian Architectural Ornamentation

I have been looking at all the ornamentation on Victorian buildings. The keystones with heads, the corbels scroll brackets, the flower shaped patraes and the plethora of other embellishments, like over decorated wedding cakes, on nineteenth century buildings. Now in the twenty-first century they are in varying states of repair, some crumbling away.

dsc07701

I am amazed that I haven’t heard about some concrete pineapple or other orb becoming dislodged and crashing onto a roof. Do have a metal armature supporting them? There is so much about these ornaments that I don’t know.

Given that I see these ornaments every day I am struggling to even to learn the vocabulary to describe them. They are so alien after the modernist world. Where John Ruskin might have endorsed ornamentation, the architect Alfred Loos declared decoration a crime.

Who made these things?

Some of these architectural ornaments were made by Colin Young Wardrop, who also taught modelling and woodcarving at Geelong College, and William C. Scurry. Both men were on the council of the Yarra Sculptors’ Society.

Ken Scarlett’s Australian Sculptors has details on William C. Scurry.

“Messrs Wardrop and Scurry, Sculptors, Modellers, and Fibrous Plaster Manufacturers, 48 and 69 Arden Street, North Melbourne. This business was established in 1892, and since that date has made rapid strides in advancement. Messrs. Wardrop and Scurry have been large contractors for the principal decorative work in the city and suburbs, the principal buildings entrusted to their care being the Princess Theatre, the Theatre Royal, Opera House, Federal Coffee Palace, the Queen’s Walk, and numerous other places of interest in Melbourne.”

“The firm also executed the group of Justice and the other ornament for the Bendigo Law Courts, also the group of figures for the Bendigo Art Gallery. They were the first to introduce fibrous plaster for decorative purposes in Victoria, and in this class of work they certainly excel, as may be seen from the interior decoration of the Princess Theatre and Opera House” (p. 585)

It is uncertain when William Scurry’s father arrived in Melbourne but what is know is that in 1856 Scurry’s uncle, James Scurry was working with Charles Summers and John Simpson MacKennal. James Scurry was producing decorations for the interior of Parliament House on Spring Street including the two figures, Mercy and Justice, on the north side of the Legislative Council Chamber. Charles Summers went to create the Burke and Will Monument. John Simpson MacKennal was the father of Sir Bertram Mackennal, who became Australia’s first international superstar artist.

federal_coffee_palace_melbourne

Federal Coffee Palace, Melbourne


%d bloggers like this: