Monday, August 01, 2005

The Art Wall

The Art Wall in Surry Hills, Australia by Dale Jones-Evans Architects

Photographs are by Paul Gosney.

When confronted with an urban site and the undertaking of a vertical building, the articulation of base-middle-top is an important aspect of architectural design. Ever since Louis Sullivan's dictum of "form follows function" was expressed in this manner, architects break up the building's form into these three parts. The articulation of each creates a direct interaction with the pedestrian, deals with the repetition of stacked floor plates, and finishes the building in a gesture that gives the building identity. This tripartite structure is evident in Dale Jones-Evans Architects' Art Wall - what they call feet-body-head - though the solutions for each are highly creative responses to its situation.

Situated on a tiny 7x15 meter (23x49 feet), sloping site, the architects describe the base as a "tractor blade, replete with a carved out public grotto below and a restaurant above." Structural Cor-ten steel plates are folded, giving the small building a strong presence on the street while also creating "a place for the dispossessed to pull up." Given the size and scale of the site and building, this gesture seems appropriate; any bigger and the solid steel would be overwhelming and be an oppressive presence on the sidewalk.

The Art Wall's middle - or body - continues the application of cor-ten steel, though instead of solidity this area strives for porosity. Supposedly influenced by Chinese patterns, the steel plates are laser-cut into an intricate pattern that acts like a veil projected in front of the glass-walled facade. Naturally this veil reduces the amount of sunlight entering the small office plates, apparently cutting the air conditioning use by 50%. While this may be the case, the shadow effects created by the pattern is more dramatic than these practical considerations would otherwise portend.

Lastly, The Art Wall's top is treated as an extension of below but also as a unique element in the overall design. Physically the walls of the building's crown are the same footprint as the middle, their exterior treatment differentiated by a repeated artwork by Aboriginal artist Emily Kngwarreye. At night, the top is illuminated to create a glowing crown and doing what the base does at other times: create a strong presence for a small building. This last piece gives the building its name, though it's the patterned cor-ten veil that brings it close to being its own work of art.

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