A multisensory installation by London design practice Studio Toogood that demystifies wine and takes visitors on an exploration of art, sculpture, geometry, scent and taste.
The Blocks, designed by Studio Toogood, is an immersive installation commissioned by Penfolds that takes patrons on a sensory exploration of wine. Built within the rough, cavernous space of Pier 2/3 in Sydney’s Walsh Bay – the last of the undeveloped piers – and travelling to Melbourne later in the year, The Blocks combines sculpture, art, furniture design and a fountain with food and wine, all in one experiential installation.
Visitors are first brought to the centre of the space, where five timber sculptures stand like oversized totems. Dubbed “The Oaks,” each one is built in a unique geometry using a different type of timber, inspired by the five groups of grapes available for tasting: aromatic whites, chardonnay, varietal blends, regional and shiraz. “Based on the tasting notes that the sommeliers gave us, we
reinterpreted that in terms of geometry,” explains Faye Toogood of Studio Toogood. “We placed the totems in a ring because there is a great mystique to wine which is quite spiritual.”
In addition to this, each is infused with a different scent, created by Studio Toogood in partnership with Paris and New York-based perfumers Dawn and Samantha Goldworm at 12.29. The scents themselves are based on the tasting notes of each group of grapes; for example, the notes for the aromatic whites group are: pure, mineral, abstract, energy, sorbet, cool, altitude, elevation, pristine, vibrant. The resulting scents do not smell like wine but are related to the wine.
Just behind each of the sculptures are five numbered glass cases, which feature the work of emerging Australian artists and designers and correspond to the five groups of grapes. Toogood found the artist selection process liberating – coming from London, she is unfamiliar with the Australian art scene and chose artworks based on the work alone rather than on previous work or reputation. “We commissioned the artists in a completely instinctual way, which is quite reflective of the way that we are asking people to taste wine,” Toogood says. “It was almost like a blind tasting.” The work ranges from glass and burnt timber sculptures by Stevie Fieldsend for the aromatic whites, to video sculpture by Kit Webster, cast sculptures by Katherine Huang, and photography by Samuel Hodge, and Haines and Hinterding.
Having experienced the sculptures (both through sight and smell) and viewed the artworks, guests are greeted by the sommeliers – dubbed “The Noses” – who guide them to their tables. This setting is also part of the installation – overhead a netted canopy of glowing balls inspired by grapes is suspended, while the chairs are a heavy hand-cast aluminium version of the Spade chair, designed by Faye Toogood. Once guests are seated, The Noses get to work, selecting wine and food (by chef Jock Zonfrillo) based on the preferred artwork, and the totem’s scent and geometry.
At the other end of the space is the bar – a simple black structure with branding overhead in huge neon letters that glow bright from the dark surroundings. In front of this, a long, low pool of water features a metal and neon sculpture suspended above one end, the shape of which is a subtle reference to the grapevine. The fountain itself is also a reference to wine, says Toogood. “It’s a volume of liquid, directly related, but not a literal translation.”
Nearby, casual seating is provided in the form of low versions of Toogood’s limited edition Armour Bench. The lighting is moody throughout, adding to the sense of theatricality and immersion in the experience. Somehow, by limiting one of the senses, the other senses (smell and taste) are highlighted.
Artists for The Oaks:
Oak 1: Stevie Fieldsend (aromatic whites).
Oak 2: Samuel Hodge (chardonnay).
Oak 3: Kit Webster (varietal).
Oak 4: Katherine Huang (regional oak).
Oak 5: Haines and Hinterding (shiraz).