REVIEW PAULA WHITMAN PHOTOGRAPHY IAN WILKINSON
THE COMBINATION OF artistic exploration and minimal means is a recurring point of departure in the work of m3architecture, and is articulated in two small but notable projects by this young Brisbane practice: the Paper Wall, recently awarded the top prize in the category of Design, Innovation and Excellence by the Design Institute of Australia in Queensland; and the Human Movements Pavilion currently under construction at the Kelvin Grove campus of the Queensland University of Technology. Both demonstrate m3’s determination to make every project, no matter how small or seemingly banal, contribute to their ongoing architectural explorations.
Each year the Queensland Chapter of the RAIA invites a local practice to be responsible for the design management of the State Awards night. In 2002, m3 took on the task, which came, like most volunteer assignments, with minimal resources and major constraints. Potential building materials for the stage set, generously donated by the awards sponsors Colorbond and Duropal, appeared to dictate a steel sheet and laminate aesthetic. The stage set itself had a budget of around $5,000 and an installation time frame of two hours. As a client brief, the Chapter President nominated the theme of sustainable and affordable design. m3’s response to this set of demanding constraints was the Paper Wall – a pragmatic, cost-effective solution and a poetic temporary art installation that referenced a range of architecturally intriguing ideas.
In keeping with the theme of sustainable, affordable design, m3 rejected the use of the heavily manufactured donated steel and laminate. While these materials came at no cost to the Institute, m3 concluded that they did come at a cost to the industry and the environment. They decided instead to use paper, an essential material of the architectural trade and the stuff of everyday practice. Although the compression of a drawing today involves “zips” rather than “pleats”, the folded drawing was a central component of the Paper Wall. After much experimentation, m3 developed a folding technique that converted A1 sheets of paper into collapsible units that, when opened, created a subtly faceted, eight-sided prismatic surface, braced by the folds of the paper. Guides for folding the paper were printed on each sheet, with large sweeping arrows indicating the directions of the fold. When placed side by side, the flow of fold arrows from one sheet to the next created a lively organic pattern. This formed the back elevation of the Paper Wall, its complexity in strong contrast to the purity of the pristine white grid of the front elevation. Thus each sheet served a dual purpose – providing both the instructions and the materials for making the wall. Ten folded sheets were stapled together to create “flat pack” prefabricated columns. On the day of the awards, fifteen columns were transported to the site and lifted into place, and the vertical seams between the columns were stapled together to create the wall. For a total cost of around $250, 150 folded A1 sheets were transformed into a visually striking stage set.
Throughout the awards night, different faces of the wall were revealed through the manipulation of stage lighting. During the formal proceedings, the pure white grid, front-lit, appeared appropriately buttoned up and black-tied. During the later stages of the event, when the crowd started to relax and take to the dance floor, the back-lit wall revealed its crazy workings, as if appearing from nowhere. m3 felt that the combination of these two elements – the presentable, finished product and the frenetic activity that lies behind its production – referenced the work of the architect in the realization of a built project.
The Human Movements Pavilion continues a number of themes addressed by the Paper Wall, including the capacity of light to “set in motion” an architectural idea, and the challenge of undertaking artistic exploration when only minimal means are available. An extension to a garden shed, it is difficult to imagine a more prosaic project. Located on the edge of the university playing fields, the brief for the new shed included toilets and change rooms, storage areas and a small amount of teaching space. Given its prominent position at the entry to the university campus, the clients felt that the “architectural aspirations” of the project would be best met by attempting to downplay the existing shed as much as possible by locating the new facilities away from it. However, m3 decided to “accept the unacceptable” and build directly onto the shed. A bold, deep fascia element visually ties the old and new elements of the complex together.
It also provides a canvas for experimentation. m3 were attracted by the rich tradition of pavilions on the edges of playing fields, including the fact that these buildings often incorporate a clock face. In this case, it was decided that the fascia would function as the timepiece for the pavilion. m3 collaborated with young Brisbane artist Dirk Yates to develop a non-figurative description of the passage of time that would utilize the form and detail of the fascia. This is achieved through the clever use of various devices that modulate shade and shadow, opacity and reflection, colour and texture along the length of the fascia, recording the passage of time on both a daily and seasonal basis. As with the Paper Wall, the play of light animates the architectural object. Consequently, the ordinary, everyday garden shed is given the capacity to express temporal change. Both the Paper Wall and the Pavilion demonstrate m3’s position that all projects, regardless of their commonplace nature or modest budget, call for ingenuity to meet practical demands and creativity to promote artistic agendas.
DR PAULA WHITMAN IS A SENIOR LECTURER AT QUT AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE QUEENSLAND CHAPTER OF THE RAIA.
Project credits – Paper Wall
Architect m3architecture— project team Michael Banney, Michael Christensen, Jayne Kelly, Michael Lavery, Ben Vielle. Client Royal Australian Institute of Architects (Queensland Chapter). Lighting Barry Webb and Associates. Builder m3architecture.
Project Credits – Human Movement Pavillion
Architect m3architecture— project team Michael Banney, Ashley Paine, Ben Vielle. Client Queensland University of Technology (Facilities Management). Artist Dirk Yates. Structural engineer Arup. Hydraulic engineer GHD. Mechanical and electrical engineer Hawkins Jenkins Ross. Quantity surveyor WMW. Certifier Philip Chun and Associates. Builder T. F.Woollam.