Summer Pavilions: 2015 MPavilion and NGV 2015 Summer Architecture Commission

As summer kicks into gear, Melbourne offers us not one but two temporary ‘summer pavilions’ in which to take shelter and enjoy a range of diverse summer arts events.

Our architecture columnist Stuart Harrison compares the 2015 MPavilion in Queen Victoria Gardens, designed by UK based AL_A, with the National Gallery of Victoria’s  2015 Summer Architecture Commission, designed by award winning local firm John Wardle Architects.

Stuart Harrison

2015 MPavilion designed by AL_A. Photo – John Gollings.

2015 MPavilion designed by AL_A. Photo – John Gollings.

2015 MPavilion designed by AL_A. Photo – John Gollings.

2015 MPavilion designed by AL_A. Photo – John Gollings.

NGV 2015 Summer Architecture Commission designed by John Wardle Architects. Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.

Detail from the NGV 2015 Summer Architecture Commission designed by John Wardle Architects. Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.

NGV 2015 Summer Architecture Commission designed by John Wardle Architects. Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.

NGV 2015 Summer Architecture Commission designed by John Wardle Architects. Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.

Stuart Harrison
30th of November 2015

Another summer. And like last year Melbourne has a seasonal pavilion in its Arts Precinct – oh wait it has two! This year the NGV has joined the party and added its own summer pavilion to face-off with the second instalment of the MPavilion sitting just across St Kilda Road. These two temporary and exciting pavilions are distinct to each other – different designers, from different places with alternate ideas about colour, material, context and activity.

Amanda Levette runs London-based AL_A, her work known for complex geometry and new ways of building. Her previous practice, Future Systems, created a series of icon buildings – her more recent work such as that for the V&A is subtler and more interventionist, while maintaining the ‘systems’ intelligence explored previously. She was selected by MPavilion patron Naomi Milgrom to design this year’s instalment, the second in a four year commitment that will see the commission given to a local and international designer in turn.

The NGV pavilion is designed by well-known Melbourne based John Wardle Architects. Wardle was also given the job directly, however the NGV is moving toward an architectural competition for next year’s pavilion, which is a great sign, and will hopefully reveal some new creative voices.

These types of projects become testing grounds for these celebrated architects, relatively small projects that burn brightly, if not for long. A pavilion is a structure ‘in the round’, with space around it, typically open to its surrounds. Both of these do that, especially the MPavilion, which is essentially a big canopy roof made from smaller ones. The NGV project is more enclosing, with its luscious skin curving down to the ground. This creates a sense of it as a band shell, open to one side to a crowd, both real and imagined.

The architects of the NGV pavilion ask us to point our gaze deep into the Domain, straight past the MPavilion, to the 1957 Sidney Myer Music Bowl, from which it draws inspiration. And while the historical connection to the Yuncken Freeman designed masterwork is clear, the structure also dips it hat at the work of Roy Grounds, the architect of the NGV itself (1968). This time last year, Rory Hyde’s Bin Dome just metres away in the NGV foyer as part of Melbourne Now, introduced the idea of a domed plastic surface that is referential to experimental modernism of the 1950s. Hyde’s dome was essentially a white plastic skin, here Wardle’s key move is introducing brilliant colour in the plastic ‘leaves’ that cover the structure. The rich imagery it generates seems ideally suited to the era of Instagram.

The saturated colour of the NGV pavilion also kept me thinking of another Melbourne shinning light, architect Cassandra Fahey, and her coloured saturated work of last decade. Her Platypusary (yes it’s a thing) in Healesville is a golden dome with a perforated steel skin to simulate the shade created by trees – and here at the NGV, the summer pavilion aspires to and achieves a similar thing. So while the NGV pavilion is full of references to Melbourne architecture, the MPavilion is not as contextual. It instead aspires to a fusion of new methods and the natural – it’s an organic structure, with ‘storks’ more than posts, ‘petals’ more the roofs.

The pavilions are built very differently. The MPavilion uses carbon fibre, which is a bike technology essentially that is now (slowly) being used in building projects. Carbon fibre is super strong and light, it means here the storks that hold up the petals can be super thin, almost becoming black vertical lines. The petals themselves are plastic, with black carbon fibre ‘printed’ into them, which adds both strength (so no additional framing is needed) and a decorative veil effect. In contrast, the NGV pavilion is more traditionally built, with lots of steel and timber framing on the shell’s backside.

Shade is essential in our hot summers. Structures that create shade are part of what makes outdoor spaces good, and in this way both these pavilions are models for how we can protect and improve the performance of public spaces. They’re also sculptures, each located in an art and park context, and offer us a place to enjoy summer’s endless afternoons.

MPavilion is located in the Queen Victoria Gardens, opposite the Arts Centre on St Kilda Road, Melbourne until February 7th 2016.

The NGV 2015 Summer Architecture Commission is located in the Grollo Equiset Garden at the NGV International on St Kilda road, until May 1st 2016.

2015 MPavilion designed by AL_A. Photo – John Gollings.

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