Just as the days got longer this week, a pristine box unfolded into Melbourne’s gardens, a host for the summer’s events, music and talks. Opened to the public on Tuesday, this is the first ‘MPavilion‘- a temporary events hub sitting in the lush green surrounds of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens. It’s right opposite the NGV on St Kilda Road, and joins the Myer Music Bowl as an architectural adventure in the parklands just south of the Yarra. And like the Music Bowl, we’ll remember what happens here as much as the backdrop.
Designed by the office of Sean Godsell Architects (SGA) the pavilion was commissioned by the Naomi Milgrom Foundation as the first of a four year programme. It will host a jam-packed schedule of free events, talks, workshops and music over the next four months. MPavilion is based on London’s Serpentine Pavilion, which is rebuilt each summer by a designer who hasn’t worked in England before. Here the commission has been given to one of Melbourne’s well-known architects in SGA, which has designed award-winning projects such as the RMIT Design Hub further up Swanston Street (the one with the circular discs all over it).
This pavilion enters a grand tradition of picturesque ‘moments’ in parks, such as band shells, rotundas, follies. These typically provide shelter and a sense of enclosure whilst opening themselves to their surroundings. This one is the same, but in an ultra cool minimalist style – thin steel, glass and perforated aluminium.
This building does, however, what most don’t – it changes. Giant flaps fold up on the square sides and roof to literally open the pavilion up. Each morning the pavilion is subject to an ‘opening ceremony’ – where the drama of the folding panels plays out with a commissioned soundscape by Geoff Nees. Many other Melbourne creatives have come to together for the project – the cheery MPavilion staff, for instance, wear uniforms designed by local fashion label Alpha 60.
Inside the pavilion is a forest of thin steel posts supporting a glass roof. A recycled timber floor provides texture and warmth to the openable room. Loose furniture can be reconfigured for events which include talks, film screenings and performances as of part the Melbourne Festival. Events spaces normally tend not to have as many internal posts or columns, to allow for views and movement, but here the frequency of steel posts allows for a thinner structure generally, keeping profiles fine and lightweight. The architecture, when open, is reduced to its bare bones – posts, floor and roof – when closed the layers of perforated panels form a solid grey bunker.
The panels swing up at different rates and rest in staggered positions when open, adding a varied flower-like external shape, in contrast to the closed box. The ability to change the various levels of ‘openness’ (with a remote!) means the pavilion can respond to the shifting light and conditions to suit different programs. Seeing the variation of form play out over the summer is something to look forward to.
This year’s MPavilion is an exercise in restraint, a precise and disciplined container.
It’s architecture in the minimalist manner – the search for distilled ideas, for merging elements into one. Future pavilions from other teams will look to different styles and approaches for how to make good space for events, as the Serpentine Pavilion in Hyde Park has successfully done. Diversity is embedded into the commission through changing architects each year.
The success of this (and future) pavilions will be as much about the activity programmed within, as the design of the structure itself. As with all great public buildings and spaces, MPavillion is designed for interaction and activity. It’s not just to be looked on from afar, as you’re speeding down St Kilda Road, or jogging through the gardens. This is a structure which beckons human engagement. Go inside, touch and feel. Spend a long summer’s day there.
The MPavilion program runs until February 1st 2015. It is open everyday except for New Years Day. All events are free, check out the bustling programme at www.mpavilion.org.