09 Feb 24

Art leads the way on METRONET Morley-Ellenbrook Line in Perth

Integrated art is a key design element of the five new METRONET Morley-Ellenbrook Line stations in Perth, on which construction is due to complete in 2024.

Charl Testa, Transport Leader Perth for architecture studio Woods Bagot, says artwork integration is central to the design process and plays a significant role in each station’s sense of place and identity.

The art also provides continuity between the different stations through repeat elements such as the central skylights that incorporate artwork by artists Penelope Forlano and Marcia McGuire.

“We’re thrilled at the outcome, the original vision has been realised and our expectations exceeded,” says Testa of the Ellenbrook Station skylight, the first to complete.

He adds that “the skylights were always identified for a great unifying artwork that ties all the stations together and at the same time gives each one a unique character”.

There are also sculptures and landmark pieces throughout that complement the architecture, which was heavily influenced by cultural context and history of place. As such, the features are different for each station.

Testa says art was considered from the outset as a core design element with a focus on stories from the Noongar people, original inhabitants of southwest Western Australia.

Jessica Priemus, Associate Director, Artify Consulting and public art consultant on the project, explains that the project “has quite a clear strategy on public art, sustainability and Aboriginal engagement”.

“Linewide there are multiple tellings of Noongar themes, reflecting land that the project sits on, the history and the culture, creating a living tapestry of stories and experiences,” says Priemus.

All artworks along the Morley-Ellenbrook Line that depict Noongar themes are sent to the METRONET Noongar Reference Group for cultural endorsement by a panel of Elders.

“This process not only ensures cultural sensitivity and accuracy but also fosters a deeper connection between the art and the community it represents,” she says.

“The other thing that’s prominent across the Morley-Ellenbrook Line is support of emerging artists, which in turn injects fresh perspectives into the public art scene.”

Aerial view of the skylight artwork at Ellenbrook Station in Perth.

Woods Bagot put together a brief for each station and worked with the art coordinator to identify which opportunities were most feasible and fitted the budget, says Testa.

An expression of interest campaign was run, attracting more than 80 submissions.

Every artwork was assessed by a panel including Woods Bagot, Laing O’Rourke, PTA and METRONET in a comprehensive and extensive selection process.

Well-known West Australian public artist Penelope Forlano and emerging Indigenous artist Marcia McGuire, a Whadjuk, Ballardong and Yamatji woman, created the skylight art across the five stations.

Forlano worked on Whiteman Park, Noranda and Morley; and provided strategic advice to McGuire for her compositions at Ellenbrook and Malaga.

“Even though the five sites are not far apart, each has their own unique cultural significance and we really wanted to emphasise the differences between these locations,” says McGuire.

“Through my family I knew Ellenbrook was a place of looking, ‘Giyunung’, historically a place to see people visiting country, welcoming ceremonies and where smoke signals were practiced. Malaga was a place for tool making, camping and foraging food.”

The cultural significance of each site is reflected in McGuire’s artwork.

At Whiteman Park, the location of a 3700-hectare recreation and conservation reserve, Forlano looked to the nearby Caversham Wildlife Park, known for its marsupials, for inspiration.

“At Noranda, the Lightning Swamp is close by, so I was inspired by the waterbirds and bullrushes. For Morley I concentrated on the bushland and reptiles.”

She says the dimension and positioning of the skylights – 1.5 metres wide, up to 36 metres long and centrally located above the main station concourses – also had an impact on the art.

“We certainly talked to the architects to understand where we’d have most impact and most visibility so that it draws the people through the space, and it does very much flow almost like a ribbon,” says Forlano.

“With the organic space we really tried to create continuity cause it’s really such an odd proportion to have something that’s so long but only a metre-and-a-half wide.

“To make that work we really looked how it would flow along that length.”

Woods Bagot Architect Emily Simpson says the skylight art works exceptionally well at Ellenbrook.

“This beautiful skylight is the uplifting spine of the station. It allows all that natural light in and exaggerates the organic formations coming through with incredible shadows,” says Simpson.

“The roof geometry is very linear and quite regimented in its form, but the skylight brings more pattern and movement into the space.

“So there is the beautiful contrast of that organic skylight against the linear geometric reading of the soffit. I think it is so successful in that regard.”

Testa says getting the skylights right has been “a long journey. We’ve gone through various iterations, printing these things, mocking them up.

“We had some glass printouts in the office here, testing out the pixelation size, the colour of the pixelation, the quality of the glass,” he says.

“Then we had large full-sized printouts on the table for everyone to see, and that resulted in some amendments.

“We had full-scale printouts that we took to the site office and put against the glass for everyone to check.

“At some point I was quite nervous about the white print because I thought it might be too light and the graphic might not be strong enough, but it ended up being really, really successful.”

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