M IS FOR MEMORY
THE FIFTH MPAVILION, MELBOURNE’S TRANSIENT CULTURAL VENUE CONCEIVED BY NAOMI MILGROM, IS DESIGNED BY CATALAN ARCHITECT CARME PINÓS, WHO TRACES ITS INSPIRATION – INDEED HER WHOLE CAREER – BACK TO AN APPLE ORCHARD.
Carme Pinós is fresh off the flight from Barcelona. Her dark eyes are bright, even though she says she barely slept a wink. Why the restless night? I ask when we meet at the Melbourne HQ of businesswoman Naomi Milgrom’s MPavilion project, designed in its fifth year by Barcelona-based Estudio Carme Pinós. “Too many things to think about,” she says with a head-height twirl of the hand. Where others crave the anaesthesia of inflight entertainment, Pinós prefers to crunch through design problems at 10,000m, sketchbook in hand. “I am never bored,” she declares.
The MPavilion offices are on the second floor of Milgrom’s base at the former redbrick Rosella tomato sauce factory in Cremorne, a 1sqkm annex of Richmond. The complex, from which Milgrom runs her Sussan women’s clothing empire and expanding portfolio of philanthropic projects, was repurposed by Sydney architects Durbach Block Jaggers in 2008 and now looks on approach more like a Swiss pharmaceutical company.
But looks can – and in this case are probably meant to – deceive. The interior is so richly appointed with contemporary art that it looks and feels like a semiprivate Tate: think of it as Milgrom Modern by the Yarra.
I meet Pinós in a conference room commanded by Thomas Struth’s outsized photograph of the Pergamon Museum interior. Design and architecture books are scattered about, and a zebra skin is splayed underfoot.
Down the corridor is a storeroom crammed with prototypes of her pavilion-in-progress. There are wooden frames and purlins, and wire cages, or gabions, filled with bluestone fragments. The gabions have been designed as seats with removable concrete coverings. Above them will hover a latticed roof of intersecting planes. Pinós has concluded that her pavilion, which will grace Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens from October to February, needs a little something extra. And she has promised Milgrom’s people a “surprise”. The ta-dah moment has arrived.
From a large, flat brown-paper parcel she produces three pieces of hand-tinted grey-green birch plywood, two of which slot together crosswise. Next she locks an elliptical seat pad, resembling a stylised eye, into a notch on each side. A stabiliser fits into the centre of the eye. Once the pieces are firmly in place Pinós rocks her portable stool back and forth to gauge its stability and sits on it, beaming proudly at the small inquisitive crowd drawn from offices up and down the corridor.
By convention each MPavilion project finds a permanent home somewhere in the city: last year’s Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten design was adopted by Monash University in Clayton. “When the Pinós pavilion is moved I’ve got to get one of these stools,” I hear someone say. I would wager that the design-savvy audience is thinking, as one: “Breuer chair, Eames lounge – Pinós stool.” In the meantime the Barcelonabased designer’s “surprise” will allow 50 extra people to sit in the sheltered space of a pavilion that has been conceived, in essence, as a meeting point.
Estudio Carme Pinós is a small Barcelona-based practice with a broad remit. It works in public (museums, theatres, schools, sporting facilities) and commercial office architecture, as well as public and private housing, urban landscape and design. Uniting all these categories are two seemingly contradictory concerns: with cities and with nature. But the nature-culture paradox is only superficial. Pinós insists that even a Palladian villa on a manicured estate is, in some sense, a city. “All architecture is city,” she declares, rather grandly. “With a little house, thoughtfully designed, you start to make a city.”
To her mind the best cities are social environments. “It is the job of city to socialise. Good cities are big meeting places constructed from small meeting places: streets, parks, promenades, plazas. So I try to design buildings and spaces where routes intersect and there is an exchange, and people can feel like part of a community.” She hopes that her MPavilion, designed with these civic ideals uppermost in mind, will be a “public point, a place to attract people, to make events, to make things happen, and also to contemplate the landscape and to take part in nature.”
From the moment of Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion in 1929 and Alvar Aalto’s Finnish Pavilion of 1939, this impermanent built form has been an important showcase of fresh architectural ideas. But Pinós wonders if her Melbourne pavilion really sits within the tradition, for it is neither a design laboratory nor a statement of artistic intent. “My pavilion’s form is determined by its function,” she explains. “Naomi wanted a place in the city for an event. And I like that. I also like to offer the city an experience.”
She recalls a discussion with Milgrom, who was pleased that the structure would offer filtered sunlight, wind protection and views of the city and gardens. At the same time her benefactor – Australia’s eighth-richest woman – was concerned about a dousing from Melbourne’s not infrequent summer storms. “Naomi gave me a lot of freedom,” Pinós offers in her husky Hispanic bass. “But Naomi was very worried about the water. She says, ‘You can do anything you want but please protect us from the rain’. I say, ‘OK, then I’m going to play with the water.’ I make a channel [of polymer] for