The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY MITCHELL OAKLEY SMITH

The most in­no­va­tive ar­chi­tec­tural projects tend to be driven by the pri­vate sec­tor. That’s not to say that lo­cal and state gov­ern­ments are in­ept at com­mis­sion­ing stand­out build­ings, but that the road­blocks to get there are so sig­nif­i­cant that they of­ten have the ef­fect of hin­der­ing the creative process. Leg­endary Dutch ar­chi­tect and ur­ban­ist Rem Koolhaas, of the Of­fice for Met­ro­pol­i­tan Ar­chi­tec­ture, says this is par­tic­u­larly the case in Aus­tralia. “You have this un­be­liev­ably rigid sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors and the way they work to­gether,” he tells WISH. “It doesn’t do any­thing to re­in­force each other’s strengths, and I think if the pri­vate and pub­lic were in more of a di­a­logue than de­bate that you would get a more com­plete com­po­si­tion in terms of the city.”

Naomi Milgrom, the Aus­tralian arts phi­lan­thropist and owner of the Sus­san Group, has brought Koolhaas to Aus­tralia as part of her an­nual ar­chi­tec­ture pavil­ion com­mis­sion, MPav­il­ion, which sits within the grounds of Mel­bourne’s Queen Vic­to­ria Gar­dens. “We want to sup­port peo­ple, projects and ideas that in­crease pub­lic en­gage­ment with art, ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign,” ex­plains Milgrom of her name­sake foun­da­tion. “MPav­il­ion brings this phi­los­o­phy to life, not only in a lo­cal con­text but in a global sense, too, [pro­mot­ing] Mel­bourne as the creative and de­sign cap­i­tal of Aus­tralia and a ma­jor cul­tural des­ti­na­tion in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.” And, she adds, it’s a cat­a­lyst for creative col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors for the ben­e­fit of ev­ery­one. “It’s about fos­ter­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties for col­lec­tive cre­ativ­ity,” says Milgrom.

A four-year pro­gram, MPav­il­ion is a tem­po­rary event hub com­pris­ing free talks, work­shops, per­for­mance and in­stal­la­tions through the spring and sum­mer months, and is each year de­signed by a dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tect, with pre­vi­ous com­mis­sions by Sean God­sell Ar­chi­tects, Stir­ling Prize win­ner Amanda Levete and Bi­joy Jain of Stu­dio Mum­bai. The re­sults vary dra­mat­i­cally, al­ter­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence for vis­i­tors each time. Levete’s de­sign, for ex­am­ple, com­prised a for­est-like canopy of translu­cent petals, each of them 5m in di­am­e­ter and just a few mil­lime­tres thick, sup­ported by slen­der col­umns that swayed in the breeze. By night, the petals omit­ted a halo-like ef­fect with the use of an LED strip form­ing the cap­i­tal of the col­umn. God­sell’s, by con­trast, rep­re­sented a piece of flat-packed fur­ni­ture: a box-like struc­ture with pan­els that raised to re­veal the space within, blur­ring the line be­tween in­doors and out.

“Hav­ing a dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tect de­sign MPav­il­ion each year has en­abled vis­i­tors to ex­pe­ri­ence their sur­round­ings through the dif­fer­ent lenses of some of the world’s best de­sign minds,” Milgrom says. “The ar­chi­tect is cho­sen on the ba­sis that they have an ex­traor­di­nary abil­ity to en­cour­age chal­leng­ing de­bate and di­a­logue around de­sign, and to make a mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion to ur­ban in­no­va­tion and the creative in­dus­tries in Vic­to­ria.” The projects of­ten live on, too: Levete’s pavil­ion now lives per­ma­nently at the Dock­lands end of Collins Street, while Jain’s de­sign will soon re­open within the grounds of Mel­bourne Zoo. A re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Google Cul­tural In­sti­tute al­lows view­ers out­side of Mel­bourne to tour the pre­vi­ous pav­il­ions, fus­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and tech­nol­ogy in the same way that ma­jor in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions such as the Bri­tish Mu­seum and the Guggen­heim have ex­panded their au­di­ences.

It was, in fact, New York City’s flag­ship Prada store, housed in the for­mer site of the Down­town Guggen­heim, that brought Koolhaas to Milgrom’s at­ten­tion some 15 years ago, when she trav­elled to the US in search of in­spi­ra­tion for con­tem­po­rary re­tail­ing for her own port­fo­lio of busi­nesses. “The Prada store in Soho com­pletely took my breath away,” says Milgrom. “Every el­e­ment was a work of art, and it was more than just a cloth­ing store – it was a real stage for cloth­ing. OMA and Rem’s con­tri­bu­tion to the cul­tural land­scape – not only in ar­chi­tec­ture but also writ­ing, re­search, graphic de­sign, so­ci­ol­ogy, art and the­atre – makes him one of the world’s most provoca­tive and in­flu­en­tial ar­chi­tects.”

With a port­fo­lio span­ning both pri­vate and pub­lic com­mis­sions, the 72-year-old Koolhaas is per­haps best known for his con­tin­u­ing re­la­tion­ship with Prada, one of the defin­ing as­pects of the lux­ury fash­ion brand that spills over into all of its projects. With the Prada Epi­cen­ter in New York (and later Los An­ge­les, Shang­hai and Lon­don), Prada set a trend for con­cep­tual store de­sign, with Epi­cen­ters of­fer­ing a unique com­bi­na­tion of retail and cul­tural space. In­deed, the flag­ship New York Epi­cen­ter fea­tures a deep timber stair­case that is re­flected by a heav­ily sloped, skate-ramp-like wall. There aren’t clothes in this sec­tion, ei­ther, ded­i­cated in­stead to tem­po­rary in­stal­la­tions.

“OMA has been one of our most im­por­tant partners dur­ing the past years,” says Prada’s CEO Pa­trizio

Bertelli. “With them we have de­vel­oped avant-garde projects like the Epi­cen­ters, in­stal­la­tions, ex­hi­bi­tions, stud­ies and, ob­vi­ously, the Trans­former” – a tem­po­rary mu­seum in Seoul, cre­ated by Koolhaas, able to flip its ori­en­ta­tion to ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ent ex­hi­bi­tions. AMO, the re­search and brand­ing arm of OMA, is re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign of the Prada show space for each col­lec­tion pre­sented as part of Mi­lan Fash­ion Week, of which the brand presents four (spring-sum­mer and au­tumn-win­ter for wom­enswear and menswear) and in­volves adapt­ing the ex­pan­sive Prada Fon­dazione, a con­verted fac­tory space ad­join­ing the com­pany head­quar­ters, used for the shows since 2000.

The show space’s de­sign of­ten im­bues the cloth­ing with greater mean­ing, such as when in­di­vid­ual blue foam blocks were spaced in a metic­u­lous grid over syn­thetic green grass for the brand’s spring-sum­mer 2012 golfing-in­spired menswear col­lec­tion. Some con­cepts are more struc­turally am­bi­tious, such as in 2008 when the space was filled with multi-lay­ered timber plat­forms as seat­ing, sur­rounded by a tall scaf­fold struc­ture. As Prada’s mono­graph notes: “A fash­ion show is a per­for­mance de­signed to speak the spirit of the col­lec­tion, ad­ding con­text, ref­er­ence and mean­ing. This empty shell is con­tin­u­ously re­con­fig­ured to yield new ar­chi­tec­tural spa­ces, re­plete with film and video pro­jec­tions and unique sound en­vi­ron­ments to en­hance the con­cept of the col­lec­tion.”

The Trans­former was one of Prada’s most sig­nif­i­cant cul­tural projects. The me­chan­i­cal tetra­he­dron was cov­ered in an elas­tic mem­brane and, over the course of three months at its location in Seoul, it flipped and shifted its shape to suit the ex­hi­bi­tion it was hous­ing, in­clud­ing fash­ion, film, art and ar­chi­tec­ture. As Bertelli ex­plained, Trans­former was cre­ated “to bring to­gether, for the first time, the brand’s di­verse ac­tiv­i­ties in cul­ture, fash­ion, ar­chi­tec­ture, cin­ema and art in one space”.

Like the Prada Trans­former and sea­sonal show spa­ces, MPav­il­ion is ephemeral – if not in its life­span, then at least in the per­ma­nence of its location in the Queen Vic­to­ria Gar­dens, and ac­cord­ing to Koolhaas, such projects pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for spa­tial and so­cial re­search. “To­day, very few build­ings last for­ever, and in­ter­est­ingly, more and more build­ings are not even con­ceived with any sort of per­ma­nency in mind,” says the ar­chi­tect. “Ar­chi­tects have had to be­come more mod­est be­cause of the econ­omy, be­cause of de­sign con­ven­tion, be­cause life changes so fast – all of these fac­tors are an­tic­i­pated in de­signs to­day, with many of our own build­ings barely re­main­ing for 25 years be­fore be­ing taken down. These [tem­po­rary] projects then be­come a re­ally in­ter­est­ing do­main where, for less money, you can ex­plore com­plex ideas that feed into your broader prac­tice.”

For the MPav­il­ion, Koolhaas has worked col­lab­o­ra­tively with OMA’s man­ag­ing part­ner ar­chi­tect, David Gian­ot­ten, and dis­patched a team to Mel­bourne for the months lead­ing up to its un­veil­ing later this year, to craft a struc­ture that not only pro­vides a space for de­sign, mu­sic and arts events, but is it­self built to per­form. Tak­ing cues from the an­cient am­phithe­atre, in par­tic­u­lar the his­toric Syra­cuse the­atre in Si­cily, the pavil­ion “blurs the lines be­tween in­side and out­side, and be­tween au­di­ence and per­former”, ac­cord­ing to the foun­da­tion. The re­sul­tant struc­ture can, ac­cord­ing to Koolhaas, “con­stantly change. Cer­tain con­fig­u­ra­tions are com­pletely open, while at other times there’s a cen­tral­ity to the thing – sometimes with a canopy on top, or open to the sky. It presents all kinds of pos­si­bil­i­ties for the pro­gram­ming.”

Made up of two grand­stands, one fixed and the other mov­able, the main in­fra­struc­ture is en­cased within a float­ing roof, a 2m-high me­chan­i­cal grid struc­ture that al­ters to fit the for­mat of the event. Sur­round­ing the pavil­ion is a hill of in­dige­nous plants that act to em­bed it more nat­u­rally within the sur­round­ing gar­dens.

“What I love about OMA’s vi­sion is that it blurs the lines be­tween in­side and out­side, with a ro­tat­ing seat­ing el­e­ment that will al­low vis­i­tors to be part of the sur­round­ing gar­den and city as much as MPav­il­ion’s in­te­rior space,” says Milgrom of the de­sign. “The way OMA’s pavil­ion is po­si­tioned in the Queen Vic­to­ria Gar­dens is re­ally dif­fer­ent to the past three MPav­il­ions and we’re ex­cited about the op­por­tu­ni­ties that cre­ates in terms of our cul­tural pro­gram and the kinds of peo­ple who might be cu­ri­ous to ex­pe­ri­ence the space.”

Milgrom’s in­ten­tion is to con­tin­u­ally in­crease that au­di­ence base, too, ex­tend­ing vis­i­ta­tion of the pavil­ion well be­yond the ar­chi­tec­tural and de­sign com­mu­nity. Pre­vi­ous ac­ti­va­tions have in­cluded chil­dren’s events in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Poly­glot The­atre, live mu­sic per­for­mances by the Aus­tralian String Quar­tet and LAbased elec­tronic band Tropic of Can­cer, and a grad­u­ate show of RMIT Uni­ver­sity’s fash­ion stu­dents. “The cul­tural pro­gram al­lows us to bring ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign into the lives of the broader pub­lic,” says Milgrom. This year, the foun­da­tion will host Liv­ing Cities Fo­rum, a se­ries of pub­lic events, in con­junc­tion with the pavil­ion, bring­ing lead­ing de­sign minds from around the world to in­ves­ti­gate the def­i­ni­tion of “live­abil­ity”, de­bat­ing varying no­tions of what makes a city healthy and vi­brant.

With sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence with projects that pro­mote civic en­gage­ment, such as the Fon­dazione Prada and Seat­tle Pub­lic Li­brary – as well as 7000sqm New Mu­seum for Western Aus­tralia, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Aus­tralian firm Has­sell, which is slated to open in 2020 – Koolhaas is well po­si­tioned to muse on the topic.

“Even with the most mod­est ar­chi­tec­ture projects, you are chang­ing the world,” he says. “I don’t mean that in a pre­ten­tious way, but you are ad­ding [to the built en­vi­ron­ment] and there­fore ef­fect­ing change, and I think most ar­chi­tects are re­ally con­scious that their work al­most in­evitably has so­cial am­bi­tions in that they want to make the world slightly dif­fer­ent and, hope­fully, slightly bet­ter. That’s the view we take with the pub­lic build­ings we un­der­take.” Gian­ot­ten adds that these projects come with their own chal­lenges, too. “The thing about pub­lic projects is that the user group is much big­ger, and cer­tainly not as de­fined, as in pri­vate projects, so you have an op­por­tu­nity to or­ches­trate these en­coun­ters be­tween peo­ple, and that cre­ates more dis­cov­ery in the de­sign process.” W MPav­il­ion will be on dis­play in Queen Vic­to­ria Gar­dens, Mel­bourne from 3 Oc­to­ber 2017 – 4 Fe­bru­ary 2018.

“These tem­po­rary projects be­come a re­ally in­ter­est­ing do­main where you can ex­plore com­plex ideas.”

Ren­der­ings of the fourth tem­po­rary MPav­il­ion in Mel­bourne’s Queen Vic­to­ria Gar­dens, de­signed by the Of­fice for Met­ro­pol­i­tan Ar­chi­tec­ture

Naomi Milgrom with ar­chi­tects Rem Koolhaas, left, and David Gian­ot­ten of OMA

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