Pezo von Ellrichshausen explores intentional ambiguity with LESS in Canberra

Commissioned by Molonglo, LESS pavilion comprises 36 concrete columns and a circular ramp with a viewing platform, existing as part public art work and part public space.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Oct 26, 2022

An architecture that defies labelling also disavows a clear identity. In particular, public and open civic spaces have often carried an almost esoteric, definition-less character, imbibing multifarious personalities — of being open, restrictive, colourful, strict, bare or overpowered with elements. What unites them, is their endeavour in inviting people, fostering interaction, and creating safe pockets to host varied activities. But are all samples of public space designs (regardless of scale), from art pavilions to public squares, successful in creating meaningful platforms of community or individual engagement?

Pezo von Ellrichshausen have created an “intentionally ambiguous structure” with LESS | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
Pezo von Ellrichshausen have created an “intentionally ambiguous structure” with LESS Image: Rory Gardiner

Chilean art and architecture studio, Pezo von Ellrichshausen with their recently completed work at Dairy Road in Canberra reveal an "intentionally ambiguous structure". Its programme left open to interpretation is perhaps an attempt to forgo labelling and essay itself as a landmark and gathering place that exists in the past, and the present, and is unafraid of adapting to the future. Like the potter’s clay, awaiting direction as an object and finding further meaning in usage, the LESS Pavilion, with identical, soaring columns surging urgently from the ground, "avoid(s) a deterministic or transactional approach to use and presence,” inviting an evolving community to occupy and use its varied spaces as they see fit.  

LESS’s building programme is left open to interpretation | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
LESS’s building programme is left open to interpretation Image: Rory Gardiner

The peculiar yet reassuring concrete architecture was commissioned by developers Molonglo, who view property development as "the willing of architecture into being; from an abstraction of drawings and ideas into something to be touched and lived in."

LESS is designed partly as a public artwork and part public space | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
LESS is designed partly as a public artwork and part public space Image: Rory Gardiner

When viewed from a distance, LESS bears semblance to skeletal grey scaffolding, a building under construction, a work in progress seemingly frozen, perhaps a nod to its undesignated, almost acquiescent character.

Conceptual artwork for LESS | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
Conceptual artwork for LESS Image: Courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen

A modern, abstract hymn to a city’s built fabric and community engagement

Built over two years, LESS is part public artwork, part public space, made of 36 concrete columns placed in a regular six-by-six grid, and a smooth circular ramp that leads to a viewing platform. Adding a subtle definition to the Australian architecture is a petite, continuous and shallow stream that runs through and down the versatile structure’s distinct cluster of columns, pooling, running and returning to itself.

The columns are placed in a regular six-by-six grid, in a basic square plan | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
The columns are placed in a regular six-by-six grid, in a basic square plan Image: Rory Gardiner
The columns are accompanied by a circular ramp that leads to a viewing platform | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
The columns are accompanied by a circular ramp that leads to a viewing platform Image: Rory Gardiner

Founders Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen articulate their design intention – "This is a pavilion without a name. It is a nameless pavilion. Less than a structure, an infrastructure. It is an idiosyncratic place that refuses to be called in a single manner, with a single word.”

Other than LESS being a non-commercial public place, its uses are undefined, where people can interact and activate it as they see fit | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
Other than LESS being a non-commercial public place, its uses are undefined, where people can interact and activate it as they see fit Image: Courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Its basic, 330 sqm, concrete grey form has been conceived in a square plan, with a 2:3 ratio in elevation. A single element repeats in abundance within this adopted format, the columns soaring strictly vertical towards the sky as a monument to architecture, and its relationship with the community. 

A petite and continuous stream of water runs through and down the structure’s cluster of columns and pools below | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
A petite and continuous stream of water runs through and down the structure’s cluster of columns and pools below Image: Rory Gardiner

"This relentless arrangement can be understood as the very rhetoric of structural behaviour (since it not only resists its own weight while transferring to the ground the unpopular effort of supporting the sky). It might also be read as evidence of fear for not being able to do so," the Chilean architect duo elaborate.

  • Conceptual sketch | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
    Conceptual sketch (2019) Image: Courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen
  • LESS pencil perspective (2019) | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
    LESS pencil perspective (2019) Image: Courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Around 6,000 individual plants of more than 50 varied species decorate the ground surrounding LESS, many of which are endemic to Canberra. Pezo von Ellrichshausen relays that, as this collection of flora grows, the unconventional, mixed-use architecture and site will transform from its weighty concrete, almost industrial materiality, to a softer, more natural landscape with plants taking over the built, referencing its “pre-colonial ancestor. This landscape will change with each season, of which there are six according to the local Ngunnawal calendar, slowly becoming more immersive and equal to the structure that supports it,” they share.

The identical columns are surrounded by various species of plants | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
The identical columns are surrounded by various species of plants Image: Rory Gardiner
In its monotonous gesture, in its tedious regularity as much as in its lack of direction, bold columns and slender pillars erode any other function than that of framing every other function. Many events are allowed in unlabelled places. – Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen, Founders, Pezo von Ellrichshausen

LESS also aims, in essence, to encourage and stimulate personal contemplation within an industrial and evolving site, undergoing its own process of imperceptible changes. It does so by evoking a sense of stillness and movement simultaneously, brought forth by the ever-so-gentle sounds of running and gurgling water, as well as that of wind blowing meekly through the columns. The viewing platform from the upper floor will give a daily report of how the neighbourhood evolves over time.

Reflection of the unlabeled structure in water creates further intrigue | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
Reflection of the unlabeled structure in water creates further intrigue Image: Rory Gardiner

"Other than the intention for LESS to be a non-commercial public place, its uses are undefined. People are welcome to come and activate it as they see fit. Equally as important as the biological and social evolutions at the site; LESS hopes to encourage contemplation,” explains Molonglo.

When seen from a distance, the cluster of columns seem like skeletal scaffolding | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
When seen from a distance, the cluster of columns seem like skeletal scaffolding Image: Rory Gardiner

Home to open spaces, nature reserves and a scattered built vocabulary, Dairy Road in Australia, where LESS is situated, is a neighbourhood slowly developing in Canberra’s East Lake. Molonglo, tasked with the area’s development, carries the mission of creating spaces and structures that respectfully merge urban form with nature, welcoming people into their architectural insertions across industrial warehouses, studios, workshops, and recreational spaces.

The bare concrete materiality gives the structure a raw, almost unfinished look | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
The bare concrete materiality gives the structure a raw, almost unfinished look Image: Rory Gardiner

“We envision Dairy Road as an interconnected and diverse neighbourhood that emerges over the next 10 to 15 years, where light industry, working, living, recreation and entertainment will co-exist in a natural setting. A place engulfed in open spaces and cultural meeting places. Living and working at Dairy Road will not be for everyone. It will manifest an intentional community of people who support the philosophy of the place. It will appeal to those who value kindness, sharing and taking care – of themselves, others, the environment and future generations. We are comfortable with being less appealing to all, but more appealing to some,” they affirm.

Water trickling down the outer surfaces furthers intrigue | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
Water trickling down the outer surfaces furthers intrigue Image: Rory Gardiner
We have found that modest projects have the potential to be powerful prototypes; becoming exemplars of what is possible, against the backdrop of previous impossibility. – Molonglo

Despite architecture being a practical, research and practice-based discipline, arbitrariness in building functions incites curiosity, where its users decide its intent by way of interacting with it. LESS, a built hymn in sculptural, contemporary architecture seems rigid in its being, yet in faithful contrast, relays a fluid intent, of flexible spaces that can be used in varied creative layers, by a variety of people across ages, ethnicities, gender, and occupations.

  • Axonometric sketch of LESS in pencil (2019) | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
    Axonometric sketch of LESS in pencil (2019) Image: Courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen
  • Elevation (L); Plan (R) | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
    Elevation (L); Plan (R) Image: Courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen

In a world that is largely guarded and fearful, with architecture often designed to seclude, and privatise, much more than practise social inclusivity, LESS perhaps carries an intention of rawness that welcomes, sans judgement, and stands steady in its being as a monumental community space. Such places and structures that do not carry a specific programme may possibly etch the potential to foster more tolerant societies where ambiguous arrangements such as this, reflect our very own entropic systems of politics and socialism, of entertainment and information, of functioning and existing.

Detail in pencil (2019) | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
Detail in pencil (2019) Image: Courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen
Axonometric detail in pencil (2019) | LESS Pavilion by Pezo von Ellrichshausen | STIRworld
Axonometric detail in pencil (2019) Image: Courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Project Details

Name: LESS
Location: Canberra, Australia
Area: 330 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Molonglo
Architect: Pezo von Ellrichshausen (Mauricio Pezo & Sofia von Ellrichshausen)
Collaborators: Fabian Puller, Olga Herrenbrücks, Amelie Bès
Local Architect: Dezignteam
Structure: Northrop
Landscape Architect: Oculus
Construction: Creative Building Services

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