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Forthcoming Boyd Education Centre competition lacks “respect”

In an open letter, Brit Andresen, Rick Leplastrier, Peter Stutchbury and Lindsay Johnston claim that the Bundanon Trust’s masterplan to expand Riversdale – home to Glenn Murcutt, Wendy Lewin and Reg Lark’s Boyd Education Centre – threatens to compromise the wishes of Arthur and Yvonne Boyd, the landscape of Riversdale and the vision of the architects.

Background

In April 2016, the Bundanon Trust announced plans for a $28.5 million expansion of its Riversdale property. Central to the Riversdale site is the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre, designed by Glenn Murcutt, Wendy Lewin and Reg Lark in 1999. This widely acclaimed building was the recipient of the 1999 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Buildings.

The Riversdale site is one of four sites gifted to the Australian people by the late artist Arthur Boyd and his wife Yvonne Boyd in 1993 for use by their education foundation. Located in the Shoalhaven River valley in southern New South Wales, the four sites are managed by the Bundanon Trust on behalf of the Australian government.

The masterplan proposes the addition of three new buildings: a creative learning centre that will include the Boyd Gallery, a 100-person auditorium and underground carpark; an accommodation wing; and a cafe and catering facility. The three buildings are to be sited near the Boyd Education Centre and existing homestead complex. The masterplan has been prepared by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, and the Bundanon Trust plans to hold an architectural competition for the scheme, but has yet to announce the jury and the competition framework. Read more about the masterplan and forthcoming competition here.

In this open letter, Brit Andresen, Rick LePlastrier, Peter Stutchbury and Lindsay Johnston ask whether the development proposed for the site disregards the wishes of Arthur and Yvonne Boyd, threatens the landscape that inspired Boyd’s work, and ignores the accomplishments of Murcutt, Lewin and Lark.

It is a matter of respect. Respect for Arthur and Yvonne Boyd and their gift to the people of Australia, respect for the tranquil landscape of Riversdale and the setting on the banks of the Shoalhaven River, and respect for architects Glenn Murcutt, Wendy Lewin and Reg Lark, who created the wonderful Boyd Education Centre, a “masterwork” that has become internationally acclaimed.

We have had the great privilege of teaching with Glenn Murcutt on a masterclass for international architects at Riversdale. This program has been taking place each year since 2001, and has attracted practitioners and academics from over 75 nations around the world. For many participants, apart from the experience of being tutored by Glenn Murcutt, dwelling with him in the remarkable Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Centre building, in its setting, has been a “life-changing” and spiritually enriching experience.

During their time at Riversdale, masterclass participants have undertaken design projects, many for an art gallery for Boyd’s works, on various sites within walking distance of the Boyd Education Centre. The quest has been to respect the spirit of the place, to respect Boyd’s cultural legacy and, most importantly, in placing buildings, to touch lightly the land – “in furnishing the greater room.” The sensitivity of Murcutt, Lewin and Lark’s intervention in this delicate landscape has been a guiding principle – always. Many intriguing proposals have emerged, guided over the years by a maturing understanding (by us) of the topography, weather patterns, water flows, solar access, bushfire risks and so many environmental issues, and how to reconcile these with any increase in human interventions.

How can it be that proposals by the Bundanon Trust to expand Murcutt, Lewin and Lark’s Boyd Education Centre can be pursued, a masterplan prepared and an architectural competition announced, with no reference to Glenn Murcutt, Wendy Lewin or Reg Lark?

The current masterplan proposes, in addition to a gallery for Boyd’s works and supporting facilities, an underground carpark for 48 cars, and foreshadows a building with 32 ensuite double bedrooms, reception and lounge areas, and road access across the sensitive landscape with a turning circle for buses. Arthur Boyd treasured the tranquillity of Riversdale, hated even the intrusion of occasional speedboats on the river, and is said to have asked that the place “be used, but not used up” – as an educational retreat. Do these current proposals respect the spirit of Arthur and Yvonne Boyd and their Deed of Gift to the people of Australia?

Brit Andresen, Richard LePlastrier, Peter Stutchbury and Lindsay Johnston
29 June 2016

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