2017 NSW Australian Institute of Architects Awards Jury

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Andrew was part of the 2017 NSW Australian Institute of Architects Jury for Small Projects and Heritage Architecture. The following are two of the citations written in response to that experience.

 

The jury is delighted to award The Greenway Award for Heritage to the Juanita Nielsen Community Centre in 2017. This creative adaptation project is a rare example of experiential delight, and is an exemplar project for the manner in which the effects of time on built fabric have been considered and preserved to enable an almost pedagogical awareness of the history of place. 

The project is for the rehabilitation of an existing Community Centre in a Victorian Regency warehouse in Woolloomooloo from 1888. The structure is of local heritage significance. The centre is of further significance via the association since 1984 with Juanita Nielsen, who was heiress to the Mark Foy’s department store fortune, publisher and activist for urban conservation, in particular the anti-development campaign in Kings Cross in the 1970’s. Her life remains shrouded in mystery due to her unexplained disappearance in 1975, a suspected result of her conservation activism. 

The project was commissioned via City of Sydney Council’s admirable design-lead procurement process and their involvement in the project has been ongoing to the extent that they are co-credited as architects in association with Neeson Murcutt. 

There is much of Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos’ collective works in the manner of this architecture. But not simply manner, it is also evident in the adoption of a strategy in heritage which holds that everything matters, that all that exists now and has come through time should be preserved. This strategy of deferred judgment on the part of the architect is in essence egalitarian. By preserving all, indiscriminately, the decision to extinguish certain parts of history is deferred, to be reconsidered by future generations. The wisdom of this strategy rests in the humble realization that, though we determine significance in our reports and fight to protect it, the significance of our time may not in fact be shared by future generations. 

Neeson Murcutt has adopted this view of history as a palimpsest, and has delicately and skillfully blended built fabric in various stages of decay with new interventions in which the consideration of being, singularly and socially, is one which results in delight. 

Our experience of the project is one of allusion and intellectual engagement but the lasting impression remains that of a kind of sensual tactility. This is a building that invites use, from the tangential composition of the low-key entry to the sandy concrete stair and the leather bound handrail. To the fluted concrete walls, the vibrant red interior of the kitchen, the puzzling lithe precision of the joinery that only when handled reveals itself to be plate steel, to the orphaned tree trunk within the children’s space, the delightfully varied width of the hinged internal shutters in the upstairs hall, and above all, the invariable rhythm of the diagonal timber ceiling boards which expand and contract across the various bays of the existing structure.

This is an astoundingly accomplished work of architecture that finds resonance at the scale of the people who inhabit it, and the manner in which it engages with history, a manner that seems to evoke the best of us in time by embracing all of time.

 

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It is difficult to divorce a building from a place and determine its merits in isolation. This task is made especially so in the Pirramimma Garden Pavilion, when both the structure and the landscape are so indelibly linked due to the guiding hand of architect and of landscape architect being of one person. The small project architecture is an exquisite pavilion of 8.16sqm in size. Tiny certainly, but that figure belies the experience and impact of the structure. It seems more fitting to consider the pavilion might really begin about 40 metres out – at the moment the path to its entrance turns through 120 degrees at the fulcrum of the constructed lake on which it stands. That point when the vista of the main house disappears behind and at which 2 massive rectangular rough hewn sandstone blocks are lain to gently evoke the nearby scarps and force us closely past and under the branches of a single Willow, where we must duck our heads and watch our step, where when once traversed and regaining our composure on firmer footing and a straight section of path, our gaze can rise and we only then experience the composition of the pavilion frontally against the layered backdrop of graduated vegetation rising to trees of statuesque proportions.

We are reminded of Cruzio Malaparte musing in his imagined conversation, that he did not design the house, it was already there; but the mighty cliffs and calm waters of the Mediterranean were of his making.

That allusion is quickly eclipsed by the more powerful realisation that this might be a paean to the garden and structures of Katsura Imperial Villa, not simply in the evocation of form, but more deeply in the experience of movement and stasis, within varying timescales. 

We worry for a moment about how clearly this reference is perceived in the experience of the architecture. We have always believed that great works are innovative in a manner that is striking, embracing beauty in the mode of the sublime. But here the seductive nature of the work is more tangential. Perhaps it wears the garb of another place and time. But for anyone who would care to look beyond, it remains of today, and our ongoing relationship with place.

At the entrance there is a small stool for the removal of boots, seemingly ungainly, like a young lamb struggling to its feet for the first time, though in use it proves to be surprisingly stable, reassuringly fit for purpose.

Within, we learn the structure is made from a single Cyprus tree. With timber graded carefully and dressed selectively to allow evocations of the tree’s original form and for colours layered horizontally from warm to cool. The consideration in the manner of making is astounding. There is an alcove for tea, a bench for sitting, sleeping or just being. There are various openings to the landscape beyond, we talk comfortably and then linger.

This is a privileged place. The pavilion is part of the kind of personal pleasure palace that exists much more often in mythology than in reality. As such the architecture can only be exemplary in an aspirational sense. That said the consideration evident in the project’s siting, making and inhabitation makes it worthy of the highest award we can bestow.  

 

panovscott - 2017 NSW Australian Institute of Architects Awards Jury.

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