by Jerry ElengicalOct 28, 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?
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.”
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.
"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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Location: Canberra, Australia
Area: 330 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Pezo von Ellrichshausen (Mauricio Pezo & Sofia von Ellrichshausen)
Collaborators: Fabian Puller, Olga Herrenbrücks, Amelie Bès
Local Architect: Dezignteam
Landscape Architect: Oculus
Construction: Creative Building Services