NGV Architecture Commission 2022 to build an evocative abstraction of The Parthenon

The ephemeral winning installation for Melbourne’s Grollo Equiset Garden by Australian practice NWMN will imbue The Parthenon with layers of new meanings and reflections.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Aug 29, 2022

Following the installation of a dreamy pink pond last year (titled Pond[er]), which elicited moments of pause and reflection, the ephemeral public space for the NGV Architecture Commission 2022 outside The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne is seeking new meanings that arise from juxtaposing an iconic architecture of the past in a contemporary setting. The winning entry named Temple of Boom is a work of Melbourne-based practice NWMN, led by its founding architect Adam Newman, and lead designer and technical director, Kelvin Tsang. The pavilion aims to attempt an evocative reimagining of the Parthenon – a resplendent marble temple perched atop the hill of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Built between 447 and 432 BC, the monument being one of its kind in the Greek world continues to advance as an enduring symbol of ancient Greece, democracy and western civilisation.

Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang | National Gallery of Victoria | Drawing Board | STIRworld
Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang Image: Courtesy of the artist

Temple of Boom has been selected for the annual open national design competition that seeks to activate the Grollo Equiset Garden of NGV - Australia's oldest gallery of conservation and ideas which was founded in 1860. Inviting Australian architects, the competition encompasses the design and execution of a site-specific installation that doubles as a thought-provoking social space for the community, and to stage events and performances. From previous concepts ranging from a playful interpretation of Australia’s inland salt lakes, and suburban carwash, to a maze-like series of rooms and corridors framing found features of the garden, the installations combine architecture and landscape design to create a space that encourage new ways of experiencing the NGV garden.

A visualisation of Temple of Boom at the Grollo Equiset Garden of the National Gallery of Victoria | National Gallery of Victoria | Drawing Board | STIRworld
A visualisation of Temple of Boom at the Grollo Equiset Garden of the National Gallery of Victoria Image: Courtesy of Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang

"'Why the name Temple of Boom?", I ask Newman over a phone call between Melbourne and New Delhi. Speaking from his studio, he says, "There’s a live music and art sector in Melbourne city, considered the cultural capital of Australia, and it was almost wiped out because of COVID. So part of the thinking with our scheme was that it was a way to assist in regenerating the art sector. The title Temple of Boom describes the aspirations of it being a performative space."

Newman and Tsang's design will reveal a full-scale model of the temple erected atop a solid base. The installation will sit before an open space where the public seating will be defined by independent furniture units that resemble broken sections of the temple's fluted Doric columns. Adding new interpretations to the Parthenon will be overlapping large-scale contemporary artworks that local artists will paint over the temple's entire structure. This intervention has been drawn from the vibrant colours and artistic embellishments that defined the temple 2,000 years ago.

Speaking of how the space within and around the temple will be designed for people's interaction, Newman thoroughly describes the scheme to STIR. “There's an area of the Parthenon itself that is called the Treasury, it’s where they kept monetary goods, gold and valuables. In our scheme there are some walls that are representative of that treasury space which will be converted into a stage when a performance is put on. It will be a bump in bump out affair, meaning the stage will come in for that particular performance and after it's done, it will be removed. There’s also a mechanism by which we can have the stage within the temple and the crowd outside of it, and that would be for larger gigs where we need to use more of the garden space outside of the temple.”

Layers of contemporary artworks will be superimposed on the temple’s surface | National Gallery of Victoria | Drawing Board | STIRworld
Layers of contemporary artworks will be superimposed on the temple’s surface Image: Courtesy of Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang

According to NGV, the installation will invite audiences to reflect on the conversations that are enabled when Parthenon is viewed in new and surprising contexts, particularly asking people to consider the effect of time on all architecture. I ask Newman if he considers the contradictions of the project – that arise from it being a contemporary ephemeral architecture drawn from the imagery of an iconic Greek temple – as nuances that he intends to balance or rather celebrate? He puts forward an interesting point of reflection. "It's definitely intended to be a celebration and is over-archingly positive. One really important thing is that Melbourne has the second largest Greek population in a city outside of Athens. It's a very Hellenic city and there's a thread running through it that is very Greek. The Parthenon is held very dear by all Greek so we are really conscious that it is not to be interpreted as something that’s taking the image of the Parthenon and using it in a negatively provocative way, because we have a team of street artists that will come into the scheme once it's built and they are going to paint and install large murals and all different forms of urban and street art. We are very conscious that it's about the Parthenon being represented as a building we love and something presented as a love letter to Melbourne and the people of the city from that COVID lockdown period," Newman says.

Visitors will be able to interact with the interiors of the temple, in addition to inhabiting the space outside it | National Gallery of Victoria | Drawing Board | STIRworld
Visitors will be able to interact with the interiors of the temple, in addition to inhabiting the space outside it Image: Courtesy of Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang

Touching upon the materiality and construction details of the temple structure, Newman shares that it will be entirely modular, and will have another life in another place after the commission is concluded. "The entire construction can be decamped or pulled apart," he says, “much like a large Lego set for lack of a better analogy, and it can be rebuilt anywhere in Melbourne, around the country or in any other country for that matter.”

The temple structure, as per him, will be composed of a number of parts. The columns will be split into 10 pieces, much like the Parthenon itself, where each column is a set of drums, one sitting on top of the other.

The expected transformation of the temple’s space during evenings | National Gallery of Victoria | Drawing Board | STIRworld
The expected transformation of the temple’s space during evenings Image: Courtesy of Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang

While all temples in Greece were designed to be viewed from outside and one could only get a glimpse of the interior statues through open doors, the Parthenon stood out for being a people’s place; it was designed in such a way to allow a smooth transition between the exterior and interiors. It is also said that the master planners imagined it as a theatrical event and that the temple was conceived with the movements and activities of the people in mind. Taking cues from its social-centeredness, Newman and Tsang’s abstraction of this icon will allow people to interact with the structure in new ways, while celebrating its relevance and contradictions in today’s world.

An important feature that the project stands out for is its idea of assessing layering as a priority while building. "Our proposal," Newman observes, "is in the spirit of palimpsest where we think it’s really important for cities to be about layering. We are keeping everything of Pond[er] – the 2021 commissioned pink pond - other than its water, and are building on top of it. The pond itself becomes the plinth of the Parthenon, and that new column structure, entablature and impediments sit on top of it. […] So rather than a tabula rasa condition of demolishing buildings, putting them into land and building something new, we are promoting the idea that you build with what you already have.”

Temple of Boom will be on view at the NGV garden in Melbourne from November 16, 2022.

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