North face of the roof structure. Image: Anthony Browell
Interior view, showing cloth, webbing and hoop pine ceiling. Image: Anthony Browell
Detail of spinal truss. Image: Anthony Browell
Concept Note by Richard Goodwin
My structure was built in the studio, dismantled and rebuilt on site. It was made as a sculpture using construction models in favour of drawings. Only by using this process was it possible to coordinate the complexities of geometry achieved in the work and to maintain a fluid reaction to deviations in the design.
As a form, it bites into the thirties structure and clings to the ground inside the courtyard. Growing from this position, it surges towards the north; splintering the light with glass, shade cloth panels and zincalume-clad wings. These materials combine the flesh-like fragility of cloth with the idea of exoskeleton in the shells and steel. As a form, it shields a variety of hideous buildings and favours the views. The ‘parasite’ is working on a private/public building to further open it to public space. Viewed from the street, it appears to turn the building inside out—revealing social information to the public realm. It is analogous to the growth of a large fig tree. Unlike minimalist modernism, it shows the struggle of structure through space. Peter Lonergan and Julie Cracknell and their associates provided a rare open framework for the project and so have helped to progress the role of public art within the urban environment.
Comment by James Grose Richard Goodwin calls his new work a ‘parasite’. It’s actually a roof which has a strong narrative. To understand this narrative, it is necessary to be aware of his work over the last 20 years: an exploration of the ambiguous space at the conjunction of flesh and skeleton; of the internal as external. Although he graduated from architecture, his work has principally been sculpture in the public realm.
The roof shelters a new terrace off the Union Hotel dining room, overlooking West Street in North Sydney. The hotel has recently been refurbished in an appropriately soft and subtle language by architects Cracknell Lonergan with Bill MacMahon and Patrick Nicholas. The Goodwin parasite was commissioned by the architects, with no other requirement than to perform the functional duties of a roof over a terrace off a bar—keeping the patrons dry, cool and relaxed.
This is architecture made from the romantic world of the artist—rooting works of expression in the realm of the inquiring and explorative mind; it is art borne of intellectual and intuitive expression. It isn’t part of a new ‘movement’ in architecture, or of the cyberworld of the fleeting moment; the world of the photographic moment in architecture.
For Richard Goodwin making artworks is contextual—the architecture being the context. The primacy of ‘place’, or the street, or the people, is of little concern to him. The making of art lies in the left-over spaces between the bits of buildings, the bits that architects are not good at; or in the void between the making of a building and its intellectual heritage.
In his view, it is the place of the artist to fill that void, to facilitate between the public and the private—to simply reach beyond the brief, beyond the programme, beyond the neat and obsessional relationship with the street—to make a place that exists in the realm of the undefined, and in the undeniable. In other words, to confront the place, the building, the street.
In this case, this ‘parasite’ is at work under the building, in the bowels of the structure; emerging to engage the very insides of the building with the unsuspecting passer-by. In some ways his strategy is not dissimilar to the way Francis Bacon disgorged his parasitic human interiors into the public realm.
Richard Goodwin calls this porosity, or even permeability: it is where architect and sculptor begin to merge. Unlike his other works, this has to deal with the vagaries of wind-driven rain, of the sun path and the other untidy realities of building. Together with his team, Goodwin built the entire structure in his studio, then dismantled it and reconstructed it on site. There are no drawings to speak of; the work has been generated from balsa and steel models, and conversations and structural detailing with Harry Partridge.
As a form, it settles upon the neat P&O lines of the hotel, and engages with it by penetrating the building envelope and courtyard with various tendons. It grows with complexity and energy as it surges from the protective brick base into a sort of splintering canopy. With its glass, cloth, and zincalume clad attachments, it neatly shields the occupants from the blond brick horrors surrounding it.
The crossover between art and architecture is ambiguous. Put simply, it enriches the architecture of the whole by its narrative. The roof is an organic response to the need for the entire building to mark the passing of time. It creates a dynamic tension. While Cracknell, Lonergan, MacMahon and Nicholas have skilfully layered the geometry of the existing building, Richard Goodwin, metaphorically, has dumped the guts on the footpath.
But what is the point of that? This is the artist confronting us with a truism: this building is not what you see. It has beating, pumping services lying just below its skin. No longer can the neat and poised exterior of the Union Hotel conceal the truth; the underbelly of this building has been scratched and the parasite has emerged. A parasite that exposes the real goings on of this place: of the stench of fifty years of beer and cigarettes, of the tales told, of the jokes had, of the human passing. Scratch below the surface and the spirit of this building will disgorge. The making of a narrative is the real legacy of a work like this. One can argue about its composition, its aesthetic heritage, the intention of the council and so on. The real importance is that it clearly and unambiguously locates itself in the realm of now. Richard Goodwin has demonstrated that our buildings and cities can intellectually and artistically engage the present. The past is relevant as a context for the future, but it is not the present.
Cities are languishing in a simplistic intellectual mire that claims the past has always been better than the future. With this project, Richard Goodwin demonstrates that architecture of substance can be created without prescribing materials, form and language. This work clearly endorses the notion of architecture as art, and that architecture must challenge our preconceptions, and allow us to see beyond the past.
Builder Richard Goodwin, Leggio Artistic Wrought Iron, Argos Roofing, Creative Covers and Awnings, Architectural Glass Projects, Avnir Built
- Site Details
- Project Details
Category Landscape / urban
Transmedia Park Stud
Published online: 1 Mar 1999
Words: James Grose
Architecture Australia, March 1999