John Wardle Architects’ Summer Architecture Commission / National Gallery of Victoria  / 
Time and Technology

story / Project / September 21, 2015

Gazella was fortunate to interview with Mathew van Kooy, Senior Associate at John Wardle Architects (design) and Andrew Moir, Project Manager at Engineering Directions (construction), on their collective work for the 2015 Summer Architecture Commission at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

This is the inaugural commission for a new initiative, which should see new and well established architecture firms present their architecture each year, out in the NGV’s Grollo Equiset garden…

The background…

We were approached by the NGV to complete a temporary installation within their Garden. Originally, it was designed to be a little bandstand completed by November last year. They came to us at that time with an impossible deadline wanting it completed in six weeks! After realising the greater complexity of the project, the NGV wove it into a larger programme and the project evolved over time. Each year, from here on in, an expression of interest will be extended by the NGV to any architectural practice to undertake this installation commission.

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The inspiration…

The installation is a humble reference to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and its play on the idea that it is a ‘bandstand’ with a hyperbolic, tensile structure. Ours is also a doubly curved gridshell structure. A gridshell works in compression and tension. They’re both ‘technology of their time.’ Gridshells are not necessarily new by any means, (the gridshell was pioneered in 1896 by Vladimir Shukhov), but in the last few years there’s been a lot of interest in this type of structure, primarily because now with laser cutting technology and computer modelling, we can create, test and model the reactions very accurately. They seem to be turning up everywhere. So, that’s the reference; to time and technology.

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On the structure…

The footprint is approximately 17 x 17 metres. The main arch is 7.5 metres high and about 25 metres in length. It’s quite an implausible span, and the structure is incredibly fine. The structural steel members are mainly 200 x 200 and 125 x 75 millimetres. It has an incredible lightness to it.

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On the materials…

We used a combination of structural steel, timber and polypropylene. The steel was chosen simply because it’s suited the best for a project like this. It is lightweight and able to be optimised structurally for a project of this nature. To compliment it, we used kiln dried treated pine on the underside. The reason being was because we could cold bend it to the underside of the doubly curved surface.

The polypropylene is a really interesting one. Originally we had an idea that there would be fabric to the underside, so we started looking at shade materials and PVCs. We went through a whole lot of iterations. We tried to find a material that would be able to form a 3D surface from a flat plane and able to hold its shape. The polypropylene is a material that does that. The supplier, Megara, were incredibly useful in working through all the issues with us. It’s a material you wouldn’t normally use for a built project. It also a UV stabiliser in it and has been made thicker than normal. It’s really quite an ordinary material; quite humble. It’s your spiral bound book covers and folders, it’s kind of omnipresent and everywhere. It’s a really interesting material, it is easily recycled and able to be formed into new products with low embodied energy input to the recycling process.

The installations lifespan…

The project’s expected lifespan is about six months, so we were able to use materials and techniques of assembly we ordinarily wouldn’t use. The use of eyeleting was the fixing method decided on for the pieces of polypropylene. We conducted our own tests on whether you can rip the eyelets out, but they’re phenomenally robust. The eyeleting machines that were used are from the 1960s. It’s all really low tech. There’s an idea of hand crafting, and everything is in some way hand assembled whilst the rest is created through the use of laser cutting or shop drawing.

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The colours…

When we originally commenced the project, our original form studies, drawings and diagrams were all pink. We presented that to the NGV and I think the colour was so compelling that it just stuck. This is complemented by the orange and purple.

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On temporary design and engineering…

The NGV will repurpose the steel structure at the end of the installation. As its temporary, it enabled us to do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily do. We detailed the steelwork in a simpler, more cost effective way. We had the opportunity to use materials we couldn’t ordinarily use in our day-to-day projects. At the same time it’s a real building, you have the same liability and obligations. A project like this is a lot more complicated. These types of installations are subject to wind loads and come with complexities of elevation and people occupying space underneath it.

The delivery….

There have probably been one hundred people across the project, from supply, fabrication to transportation. It’s been manufactured and erected in Laverton (the steel), the plastic has been manufactured in Doncaster, the eyeleting has been punched in Springvale, the shop drawings have been drawn in Geelong and the design has been inspired in Collingwood. It’s a tour of the suburbs. Things have gone from place to place, but they’ll all end up at the NGV.

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On the client…

As a client, the NGV have been fantastic. They have not restricted us in any way. They have allowed us to design the project so that it can be the best it can be. They have been designing their curatorial programme around it and responding to it. There’s a kids programme. They’re working with Megara to make a little kit, so the kids can come along and play with polypropylene. There are talks around materials as an outcome of our use of material.  All sorts of activities.

The contactor…

The contractor, Engineering Directions led by David Moir, stuck with us through all the trials and iterations of the project. I know them through lots of work I’ve done with them over the years. The project was a design and construct so it was really important to have a good contractor; all their time, effort and tolerance.

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The team…

It is important to understand on a project like this, there are no traditional design drawings. The installation was designed through modelling (3D and physical) and through shop drawing. We couldn’t do that with a contractor that we didn’t know. The level of trust and understanding has been critical to working the project through to its successful completion. That’s one of the best outcomes on the project. It’s been collaborative. To have that mutual respect for what people do. They all have amazing ideas because they are all experts in what they do.

For the architectural practice…

I think projects like this are important because it tests the adaptability of the practice. A chance to do something that is completely different. And it’s challenging. It’s also important outwardly as a demonstration of something that is aside from our usual work. It’s also happened phenomenally fast.

Gazella were intrigued. We visited the NGV on Friday afternoon, 6 days before their deadline to meet with Andrew from Engineering Directions, who undertook the manufacture and site installation..

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The connections…

The structure is made up of bolt connections generally; however the perimeter is all welded. Originally they were looking at spigot connections for the perimeter, but the spigots were going to be too challenging. The bolt holes would never have lined up. We had to go for a welded more rigid connection. The engineer was happy!

The trial…

We completed a trial erection of the structural steel structure in the factory. It was a lot easier in the factory to assemble it, as you have access to overhead cranes, several forklifts and you have guys working around the factory, so if you need an extra person here or there, you can just grab them!

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On the logistics…

The hardest part was just getting all the materials in here. I had everything cut to fit on a medium size truck. You also have loading requirements on the slab, through the Arts Centre and the NGV.

The installation…

We had a 5 tonne crawler crane. The biggest piece of steel was the front arch. We fabricated it as individual members and assembled it on the ground, lifting it into place.  It weighs about 1.5 tonnes itself.

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On the program …

It has taken up three days here at NGV to get to structure installed to 80 percent complete. The intermediate tie sections are still yet to be finished. Saturday will see us commence the installation of the timber. The timber battens run at 300mm centres throughout the structure. Then they’ll commence all the wiring for the multimedia and the polypropylene cladding. Finally we’ll undertake touch up paint for any scratches or bumps.

Lessons learnt…

There is so much more that goes into the planning and documentation, than the manufacture and install. It’s critical to get everything right. The buildability must be considered when you are designing something with such great geometry. Program allowance on site and thinking outside the box when looking at prefabrication and installation, is key.

Are you going to hit your date for the NGV opening?!…

Yes of course! With a bit of luck and no rain, it should be right!

 

 

VISIT the NGV International 

Ground Level, Grollo Equiset Garden 

24 Sep 15 – 1 May 16

 

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