Gongs for Aussie ar­chi­tects

Three out of eight top in­ter­na­tional RIBA awards went to Aus­tralian build­ings, Guy Al­lenby re­ports

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Prime Space -

Dis an achieve­ment made more re­mark­able when you con­sider you are com­pet­ing against all the build­ings in Asia, in the Amer­i­cas and in all the Euro­pean Union’’, says Michael Cortese, di­rec­tor of Syd­ney­based Bligh Voller Nield, an­other of the Aussie firms ac­knowl­edged in the awards.

BVN re­ceived a RIBA In­ter­na­tional Award for the L5 Build­ing at the Univer­sity of NSW.

De­signed by Cortese and his co- di­rec­tor in the firm, Lawrence Nield, L5 was de­vel­oped by the univer­sity to ac­com­mo­date two sep­a­rate com­pa­nies and has been built on a

dif­fi­cult’’ block out­side the main cam­pus and nes­tled be­tween res­i­den­tial build­ings, semi- in­dus­trial build­ings and a main road.

It is a sharply con­tem­po­rary build­ing and it wears its not in­con­sid­er­able ar­chi­tec­tural in­no­va­tion with dis­cre­tion.

This main ‘‘ point of in­no­va­tion’’, ex­plains Cortese, is the build­ing’s sin­gle- skin fa­cade. With walls fac­ing east and west, the tra­di­tional way to con­struct a build­ing with such an as­pect is with a dou­ble skin.

What we were able to come up with is a sys­tem of a sin­gle- skin, ven­ti­lated cav­ity fa­cade,’’ he says.

Or, in other words, L5 has been built us­ing one layer of glass with an alu­minium wo­ven fab­ric as a blind on the inside’’ and a ven­ti­lated cav­ity be­tween.

On hot af­ter­noons with di­rect sun on the west­ern face of the build­ing, heat is then ex­tracted from the perime­ter rather than cool­ing it on the inside’’, Cortese says.

This approach takes fewer build­ing ma­te­ri­als and is cheaper to build. The build­ing is still air­con­di­tioned, how­ever, but be­cause less heat finds its way be­tween the glass and the blind — and to the inside on sum­mer af­ter­noons — the air­con­di­tion­ing load is less­ened.

In the win­ter, spring, au­tumn and sum­mer morn­ings, mean­while, the build­ing’s oc­cu­pants have the ben­e­fit of be­ing able to see through clear glass.

The al­ter­na­tive would have been shut­ters or very dark glass, all of which were un­ac­cept­able to us’’.

The build­ing is right up there in in­no­va­tion and in re­la­tion to other build­ings in the world,’’ says Cortese, adding that reach­ing and set­ting in­ter­na­tional bench­marks in ES­PITE the fact that the cream of Aus­tralian ar­chi­tec­ture has been long recog­nised as the equal of any­where in the world, a lit­tle of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion from your in­ter­na­tional peers never hurts — par­tic­u­larly when it comes from the au­gust and dizzy­ing heights of the Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects.

In fact, given that three of the eight in­ter­na­tional awards dished out late last month at RIBA’s Na­tional and In­ter­na­tional Awards din­ner in Lon­don were to Aus­tralian build­ings, you’d have to think that an­tipodean ar­chi­tec­ture is be­ing served — and swal­lowed — hot right now.

Tak­ing the top award, the Lu­betkin Prize, was Melbourne’s new South­ern Cross Sta­tion by Grimshaw Ar­chi­tects ( work­ing within the Grimshaw Jack­son Joint Ven­ture).

The strik­ing, wavy- roofed South­ern Cross Sta­tion is the re­named Spencer Street Sta­tion and $ 700 mil­lion has been spent on its re­de­vel­op­ment.

In award­ing the prize the judges said: ‘‘ The sta­tion is sim­ply a big roof over a com­plex piece of trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, but re­ally its vo­ca­tion is as a civic struc­ture.

‘‘ It is a point of en­try to the city and, crit­i­cally, it makes a space con­nect­ing the new and the old parts of the town.’’

The Lu­betkin Prize is one of the sin­gle most pres­ti­gious prizes in in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tec­ture and is awarded for the most out­stand­ing build­ing out­side Bri­tain and the Euro­pean Union. That an Aus­tralian build­ing has won it ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign am­bi­tion of the firm.

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‘‘ For us this award is a val­i­da­tion of our am­bi­tion to achieve that stan­dard of work,’’ he says.

Shar­ing a ta­ble at the RIBA awards with BVN — and sim­i­larly chuffed with its in­ter­na­tional pat on the back — were rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Perth- based JCY Ar­chi­tects & Ur­ban Plan­ners.

JCY also took out an In­ter­na­tional Award for a univer­sity build­ing — this one the li­brary at Perth’s Edith Cowan Univer­sity. It’s a very light sort of build­ing and it’s changed the vibe of the whole univer­sity,’’ says Elisabetta Guj, a di­rec­tor at JCY and the project di­rec­tor for the li­brary to­gether with fel­low JCY di­rec­tor Paul Jones.

The build­ing is fin­ished in a se­ries of hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal lou­vres and there is a

real sense that the build­ing’s alive’’, says Guj, and it changes colour’’.

There’s al­ways been a li­brary there but orig­i­nally it had no one in it,’’ she adds.

Peo­ple were choos­ing to be at home or find other places to study.’’

JCY’s de­sign for the li­brary in­cludes a cafe, book­shops, ar­eas where stu­dents can do fo­cused work and where they can sit in groups. It’s be­come the real hub of the whole univer­sity. ‘‘ Any time you go there the place is ab­so­lutely hum­ming peo­ple,’’ says Guj.

It has been an un­mit­i­gated suc­cess and RIBA clearly agrees.

‘‘ They talked about it be­ing an ex­em­plar of a new gen­er­a­tion of li­braries,’’ she says, adding what a thrill it is ‘‘ to be recog­nised in a field of such amaz­ing build­ings and ar­chi­tects from around the world’’.

And the other win­ners are an im­pos­ing list in­deed.

Oth­ers given In­ter­na­tional Awards on the night in­cluded the Hearst Tower in New York by lead­ing Bri­tish firm Fos­ter & Part­ners and Des Moines Pub­lic Li­brary by David Chip­per­field Ar­chi­tects. Steven Holl Ar­chi­tects had two build­ings on the list: New Res­i­dence at the Swiss Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, and the School of Art and Art His­tory at the Univer­sity of Iowa. And De­sign En­gine Ar­chi­tects was rep­re­sented for the Bri­tish Em­bassy in Sana’a, Ye­men.

All of the eight In­ter­na­tional Award win­ners, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia’s trio, were orig­i­nally in con­tention for the Lu­betkin Prize, but by the night of the din­ner it had been nar­rowed down to a short­list of three: Des Moines Pub­lic Li­brary, Hearst Tower and South­ern Cross Sta­tion.

Ac­cord­ingly there was still ‘‘ a rea­son­able amount of ten­sion’’ felt by the Aus­tralian con­tin­gent be­fore the win­ner was an­nounced at the cli­max of the evening, says Cortese.

And then South­ern Cross Sta­tion got the big gong.

It was a fan­tas­tic night’’.

Awards: South­ern Cross Sta­tion, top, the li­brary at Perth’s Edith Cowan Univer­sity, left, and the Univer­sity of NSW’s L5 build­ing, above

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