For much of this year it seemed obvious which project would command the bulk of attention in the non-residential sections of the 2020 Australian Institute of Architects National Awards, announced in a virtual ceremony on Thursday night.
And the extraordinary, the exceptional, the paradigm-jolting gallery and theatre that is fast becoming world famous as Sydney’s new Phoenix Central Park did just that when it won two of the big awards for two of Australia’s most revered design studios.
John Wardle Architects created the gallery’s pale brickwork to appear almost like a fabric, and duly won the Harry Seidler Award for Commercial Architecture.
By lining the inside spaces in beautiful bends and curves of timber as mesmerising as tide lines, Durbach Block Jaggers made, according to the jury, “outstanding, highly experimental, in-the-round performance spaces” that justifiably won the Emil Sodersten Award for Interiors.
But the most rhapsodic accolade came from the philanthropist and super patron Judith Neilsen who, starting with her own home Indigo Slam, then the White Rabbit Gallery, and now with Phoenix, has in the past decade been responsible for implanting three utterly amazing buildings into the once raffish downtown Chippendale neighbourhood.
Dr Neilsen said Phoenix Central Park was the realisation of “an open invitation to create something as close to the perfect ideal of architecture itself – the beauty of space and the poetry of light; the pleasure of use and the magic of materials”.
It does speak of the stellar quality of the 25 winning national awards that were whittled down in this disjointed year, from the 806 projects that were initially entered into their state awards, that joint winners – or the one project winning in two different categories, or one studio winning all awards in one category – became a bit of a common theme on the night.
The top name award in the Houses New category, for instance, was shared by Sydney’s Peter Stutchbury for his permanent camp-like Basin Bay House at Mona Vale, and, for a very different residence with a modernist feel – East St house in Albury – Melbourne’s Kerstin Thompson Architects, which also got their name on the 2020 Robin Boyd Award.
The main Heritage award was shared by two Tasmanian residential restorations; Hollow Tree House by Core Collective, and Bozen’s Cottage by Taylor+Hinds.
Another standout because it won two awards – for Sustainability, and shared the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture – is the wonderfully photogenic new Marrickville Library by BVN, credited not only with breathing so much new life into the community’s infrastructure that membership has doubled, but in being designed to be such a breathable, bright, energy-conservative building.
The other recipient of the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture was the semi-subterranean expansion to Sydney’s Anzac Memorial, by Johnson Pilton Walker with the NSW Government Architect.
This space of reverential recall commenced another of the night’s common themes, this time the celebration of buildings and structures made as memorials, most of them to our past and present military forces.
In this, and in the Small Projects category, Melbourne practice Edition Office in collaboration with two Indigenous artists won two awards.
The first, the Nicholas Murcutt Award, was for a permanent and darkly powerful structure raised at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Called For Our Country, and made with input from artist Daniel Boyd, the starkly beautiful construction commemorates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who served the nation in theatres of conflict. The jury acknowledged it as “a careful interplay of light and shadow, tactility and symbolism”.
Edition Office’s second Small Projects national award was made with glass artist Yhonnie Scarce and as a tall, hollow, dark tower, aimed at evoking the idea of Terra Nullius. It was commissioned as a temporary architectural piece for the National Gallery of Victoria.
One more commemorative structure about war won a national commendation rather than main Urban Design Award. Yet the Bridge of Remembrance by Denton Corker Marshall that now links two of Hobart’s most significant memorial places with a 200-metre-long “elegant, twisting plane”, is worth noting.
What did win the prestigious Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design was the eight-station project known as Sydney Metro North West that has enlivened a 36-kilometre transport corridor with diverse infrastructure and inviting public spaces.
The design and engineering team, led by Hassell in collaboration with Turpin Crawford Studio and McGregor Westlake Architecture, had so many names requiring acknowledgment that it was almost a case of “roll credits”. But that’s what it takes to pull off a big new infrastructure project; a huge cast of creative mind and muscle power.
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