by Jerry ElengicalOct 14, 2021
Finding its footing on Kaurna land between Adelaide and the Adelaide plains, the design of the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Woods Bagot draws on the legacy of and acknowledges the Aboriginal people of the land, and their culture it is to represent, in both its driving concept and design narrative. The volumetric mass of the building derives from the Aboriginal conception of elemental principles that link us to any place: the earth, land and sky. The design narrative for the building is based on the deep Aboriginal connection to “country, place, and kin”, connected through ‘layers’ of ancestral tradition and culture.
Another way the structure’s deep connection to the land manifests is how lower level galleries and landscaped terraces are carved from the earth itself. A radically welcoming arrival ground plane extends to the land in all directions of the structure, seamlessly merging with it, while in the process “re-orienting” the building and its entry to Kaingka Wirra, the Adelaide Botanic Garden, in Australia. Toward the northern terrace of the building, a gentle slope comprising roughly 8100 sqm of native landscape provides visitors with seamless access.
At the heart of the building is a flexible, three-storey gathering and performance space, encompassing over 7000 sqm that visitors spiral around as they make their way to different levels. Between the spaces on the lower levels, exhibition and performance spaces are primarily housed inside, while a gathering area for 'Welcome to Country' ceremonies and other activities are intended to be housed in an expansive amphitheatre outside. Through its intricate, textured façade, reveals in the upper galleries frame views to the sky and of the nature outside. The transparency is two-way according to the designers at DS+R, since the frames also serve as windows to the activity and commotion inside.
A distinctive yet signature element of the AACC is its richly textured, golden, mild-ochre façade, tilting open like a lid at the seams of the upper floors to reveal the upper galleries through seamless glazing edifices. The designers describe it as a woven skin 'draped' around the building, an attempt to connect Aboriginal art and cultures “back to the public and to country”. The inspiration for the ‘weaving’ facade is drawn from hut-like temporary shelters and structures, known as “wurlie” and “humpy” created by the region’s Aboriginal people. The 'weave' is also strongly reminiscent of one of the firm’s earlier, iconic designs: that of the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado, cladding similar jagged volumes, playing off the corners.
Founded in 1981, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) is a design studio whose practice spans the fields of architecture, urban design, installation art, multi-media performance, digital media, and print. With a focus on cultural and civic projects, DS+R’s work addresses the changing role of institutions and the future of cities. The studio is based in New York and comprises over 100 architects, designers, artists and researchers, led by four partners—Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, Charles Renfro and Benjamin Gilmartin. On the vision and design of the building, Renfro stated that the Centre would be “a building of the 21st Century, while remaining agile enough to allow future generations to evolve their own storytelling”.
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