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BKK and Second Story aim to create ‘true public space’ with ACMI’s first renewal in 17 years

The ancient Greek agora, or public gathering space, has informed the design of the redevelopment of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne’s Federation Square. The project will be the first major update to the building since the Lab Architecture Studio and Bates Smart-designed museum was built in 2002.

ACMI appointed architects BKK to principally design the new public spaces, while exhibition and experience design firm Second Story was charged with the design of the new permanent galleries.

But, said BKK principal Tim Black, the two practices have established a true collaboration that has seen the cross-pollination of the work produced by the two design teams.

New permanent exhibition at ACMI exploring the history of film, TV and video games.

New permanent exhibition at ACMI exploring the history of film, TV and video games.

Image: courtesy ACMI

“All projects claim to be collaborative, but this has been a very interesting collaboration because we’ve worked so closely with Second Story,” he said.

“While ACMI appointed the architectural team and the experience and exhibition design team separately, the project governance was set up at a foundational level so that we’d have to work very closely together.”

In terms of an overall approach to the design, Black said, “We have always viewed the remaking or the renewal of ACMI as a really great opportunity to stitch together a whole range of functions that have already existed and operated extremely successfully within the Alfred Deakin Building but have always suffered from disconnection.”

“So one of the great challenges of the institution has always been the vertical separation between its various offerings.”

One way that BKK has tried to rectify this is through a massive timber staircase, which Black said was “much more than just a vertical connection, but actually includes a range of seating options that involve those moments of pause, those opportunities for people sitting alone waiting for others, or adjacent to strangers that might bring a conversation about, you know, having seen something in the Romanian film festival or whatever it might be.

He added that “the ‘living stair,’’ which is being developed in consultation with an accessibility consultant and ACMI’s internal universal access group, “really performs multiple roles.”

ACMI entrance, Level 1, via Fed Square.

ACMI entrance, Level 1, via Fed Square.

Image: courtesy ACMI

Beside the stair is a seating area that is a “continuation of the stair under the main cinema that in some ways provides a literal version of that third space. It’s an urban lounge room.”

Black noted that there are very few public buildings that are designed to invite use by the public. Traditionally, public libraries fulfilled this role, but “There’s not many of them within our cities.”

When asked about how passers-by would be drawn from Federation Square and Flinders Street into these public spaces, Black said that a new shop front on the building’s northeast corner, which looks out on to Flinders Street, really aims to open up ACMI,” while a new entry door will create an east-west connection through the ground floor foyer.

Critically, BKK wanted to use the redesign “to really create a better social function and connection between people and to invite [them to] dwell within the space.”

“We have really very much taken to heart that Lab always envisaged Federation Square to be a series of laneways connecting the city down to the river,” Black said, noting that in some ways this concept was not successfully applied to the ACMI building.

The design also reconfigures the stairs at the Federation Square entrance that lead to the cinema, really opening up the view corridor through the open space.”

“So if you come in off Federation Square the only thing you will have directly in front of you is the information desk and you’ll have a much clearer sight line through to the street and a direct passage down the Living Stair into the entry.”

Preservation and film digitization at ACMI.

Preservation and film digitization at ACMI.

Image: courtesy ACMI

“There will hopefully be a greater clarity to that laneway connection down. At the moment it’s not so obvious that it’s a true public space.”

Katrina Sedgwick, ACMI director and CEO, said, “The museum is ripe for a refresh, we first opened in 2002 and our centrepiece exhibition Screen Worlds is now a decade old. As you know, massive shifts have occurred in screen technologies in even just the last ten years. The renewal and redevelopment allows ACMI to upgrade and offer an enhanced visitor experience.”

“This multi-million-dollar makeover will transform ACMI into the world’s leading museum for screen culture, education and innovation through a renewal project that will overhaul our permanent exhibition, dramatically improve the visitor experience, integrate cutting-edge technology and expand our education programs.”

The Victorian government allocated $31.6 million to the project in its 2018/2019 budget.

Federation Square has been the centre of intense public debate around a plan to demolish the Yarra building to make way for a proposed Apple flagship store, designed by Foster and Partners.

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