You Can’t Hide Where You Are From
RMIT University Master of Architecture Graduate Project 2018
Supervisor: Michael Spooner
This project positions Tasmania in a state of crisis, it has become a museum with an island attached and is being filled with strangers. But this crisis is only the most recent evidence of the underlying strangeness that is Tasmania.
This project brings a sinking raft of Tasmanian refugees to the arts centre precinct in Melbourne. It attempts to induce Tasmania and its strangeness through distance in the narrative, form and strategies used. This project is a series of displacements, mimics, references and imposters, that sits somewhere between a Melbourne architecture and a Tasmanian soul.
Located on the fringe of an already isolated land, Tasmania has a taste for sublime nostalgia, strangeness and discontent.
The state was populated by convicts under the British Empire, experienced an apocalyptic war that lost its indigenous people and as the rest of Australia prospered rapidly, it was seen as backwater ruins and Tasmania became Australia’s unlucky island.
Much of Tasmania’s identity revolves around romantic notions towards its landscape and isolation. The idea that solitude could be found in the Tasmanian landscape profoundly influenced the state’s identity and became a midden of false meaning expressed through romantic imagery. This idealistic obsession with landscape and solitude has resulted in a fundamental denial of the strange and dark reality that is Tasmania.
A society of such a dark history breeds extremes and radicals; from the highest percentage of outlaw bushrangers under the British Empire to the creation of the world’s first Greens Party; Mona is its latest manifestation.
But Tasmania is no longer identifiable without reference to the museum. Opening in 2011, Mona has quickly become Tasmania’s foremost visited attraction. With more than 360,000 visitors a year to the museum, in a city of only 200,000; Mona has become Tasmania.
David Walsh, with his largest privately owned collection in the world, has, without negotiation, transformed Hobart. This renaissance that Mona has sparked has sent Hobart into an existential crisis.
Tasmania is currently experiencing an economic and tourism boom, with Hobart at the epicentre. The state’s economy has expanded, over the last 12 months Hobart has lost its rating as easily the most affordable city in Australia and is now in the running to be the next Sydney.
Visitors to Tasmania have increased by almost half with international visitor numbers rising 17 percent in the last 6 months. House prices have jumped 14 percent and the rental vacancy rate has dropped to the lowest of any Australian capital.
The demand of this booming tourism, the growing numbers of university students and the emergence of Tasmania as a lifestyle destination are all taking a toll.
International developers have brought visions of 210m tall hotels to precincts with 18 metre height restrictions.
These rapid changes and extreme proposals are prompting fears that the very things people love about Hobart, its human scale, low rise heritage character and environmental splendour, will be lost.
The city’s inevitable future is at risk of compromising the qualities that make it quintessentially “Tasmanian”.
This project does not propose to solve this crisis, but examines the strange aggravated condition that Mona has inflicted on Tasmania. This incomprehensible situation that is occurring on an island of 500,000 is playing out at an urban scale the size of Melbourne. But it is difficult to recognize the extent of this strangeness when in Tasmania. The essential strangeness of the place is only realised with distance.
Departure and escape have been part of the Tasmanian identity since convict settlement, and through distance and displacement, this project attempts to investigate the Tasmanian condition by being both outside it and confronting it. This project takes Tasmania, on an overloaded, sinking raft of refugees, to the new site of ngv contemporary, behind the ngv and arts centre.
Like most refugees before it, the project begins by re-creating what it knows best. Incapable of escaping Mona, now a key part of the Tasmanian identity, the project performs a series of acts of re-appropriating, copying, adapting and amalgamating Mona onto the raft.
The strategies used were a remaking of things but in a different context, a reappropriation of terrain, both urban and landscape, an opportunistic approach in constantly pushing forward previous results and an invitation or willingness to allow the strange to participate.
Like Mona, an incessant collector and reliant on constant extension, the project persistently gathers, displaces and layers these morphed versions of Mona with elements of its surroundings and quintessentially Tasmanian stories onto the raft.
Mimicking the language of the surrounding Roy Grounds Arts Centre buildings, the project is also wrapped in an almost impenetrable exterior skin. It uses the now very familiar form of the metro tunnel shed like a trojan horse, to infiltrate its foreign context.
Within this space, the early acts and the refugees have carved out more spaces, creating facades within facades, interiors within interiors and spaces within spaces.
Piling on top of one another and pushing each other out of the way, the shed is excavated in plan and the adjacencies are interrogated in form. These strategies were played out to the point where they were no longer legible; creating no clear distinction between interior and exterior.
Working incrementally, sections of the drawing were removed, set and then put back in. There was an attempt to negotiate the intersections and exacerbate the moments when they met but not everything was resolved, whether there was a misalignment in layers or a shift in scale, the project is never complete and is consistently under construction.
The composition and scale of these spaces in plan, mimics the back of house/front of house organisation of the arts centre, ngv and hamer hall, where these large theatre spaces are surrounded by spinning rooms of density. The project is an extension of this density and is a collector of this back of house to such an extent that the front of house no longer exists. Cramped within the shed, these back of house spaces crack through the surface, carve away at the exterior and spill out onto the street.
The strange starts to become visible within these entry and exit moments of the project where the back of house penetrates the exterior skin. The strange does not occur because of a contrast in between architectural languages but in the way the two scales and languages intersect or meet.
Like where the franklin axis carves out a small hole in each end like a cave, even though the axis is more cavernous through the middle. Or where the spirit door rips a huge opening in the shed when it opens, and where the entry to the institute of bankruptcy is mostly void.
Like an island of its own, the project is assessed on the ideas of contribution through program. It consists of a series of criteria defined by the good country index as to what makes a country successful. Tasmanian stories and elements have been brought over to contribute to these categories.
For peace and security, the damned wall, holds the shed back from flooding onto the abc centre, and the spirit door, both distracts or blocks people from the ngv garden, the gun bunker, hides all the guns in Tasmania before thy loosen the gun laws, and the thylacine fence, is destroyed.
The handfish discovery centre, for science and technology, is where an identical copy of the centre can be found directly next door.The Greens Gallery, for planet and climate, is where what once made the space distinct morphs into the normal.The carwash, for culture, sucks in the corner of the ngv and the “Haven’t you always wanted?” pavilion, is for culture. Within the 35 total contributions, four of these spaces have been focused on to extract the strange on a micro scale.
The political rsl, held directly behind the damned wall, spilling out around the corner, contributes to world order. The rsl is for the exiled political party of Tasmania. Inside the interior is being torn away from the exterior wall, ripped in half, cracking along the facade, it has a sense of being unstable, turned upside down. It has multiple layers, where nothing lines up, but everything pulls away from the edge and the structure beneath the surface is exposed, referencing the power of federal group behind Tasmanian politics and the extreme nature of Tasmanian policies.
The Franklin Axis, slicing along the existing kavanagh street, between southbank boulevard and the ngv, contributes to planet and climate. The surrounding program constantly attempts to interrupt the axis, and it is finally corrupted at the end, this time by the greens gallery, with an overflow of text, shiny posters and signage, referencing the franklin blockade of the early 80s.
The State Club for Pink Thylacines, opening directly out through the spirit ferry door into the ngv garden, contributes to culture. Finished with sandstone and colonial details and textured as if granite, the club pretends that it has been around forever even though it was the last to the party.
The Garden of Empty temptations, leading into the Gallery of First and Last Australians contributes to prosperity and equality. Both the garden and the gallery are celebrating something that has been removed or no longer exists. This idea of absence or abstraction of the object itself leaves two shells of spaces, with the only evidence of their existence engraved in the surfaces.
The strange is identified in each of these spaces as they reflect either an existing or historical but specifically Tasmanian condition. It is recognised in each of these views in the constant looking to a space beyond, above or out of the corner of your eye.It exists in the piling up and the juxtapositions which explode recognisable elements and scale.It occurs in the adjacencies between two different programs, such as the club above the carwash and the federal control centre above the empty garden.
The strange is not only identified in the project itself but, in an effort to induce Tasmania within the work, it is buried within the process. There has been a sense of estrangement within the strategies I have used because there is a level of hostility between the Tasmanian/Melbourne relationship that I personally have.They have both been kept at an arm’s distance and in trying not to knit myself closer to either, a distance or tension was formed between the two. The process for this project has arisen somewhere within this distance. This idea of displacement has been extended into the method, program and language, both architectural and verbal.
There is a distance evident in the worlding display of the plan and the real, a distance between the worlding map and the section, and a distance between the images themselves. I believe that this is where the true strangeness of this project lies. This project is an island, a raft, a shed, an acropolis, a museum, a cabinet of curiosities, a trojan horse, a coffin, a new world.It is the back of house of Tasmania. Haunted by the landscape, it has an unrecognisable, coded knowledge. It has secrets and gossip and implies a narrative that is unknown.
This constant layering, imposition and collecting has been an attempt to find a Tasmanian truth or hoping somewhere it has exposed itself.
On the site of the new NGV contemporary, that is supposedly proposed not in competition to Mona, but to complement it, this project is situated somewhere in between the two. From Melbourne, this project has attempted to explore Tasmanian peculiarities or identity but has perhaps induced the strange to a point where it has been normalised. As hard as this project may try to infiltrate its Melbourne context, you can’t hide where you are from.