Art and architecture

Public art – architectural additive or the linchpin of urban integration? Here are seven Woods Bagot projects shaped by their public art programs. 

Art and architecture have always shared a synergistic relationship, the line between building and art object oftentimes blurring.

Artfulness has been incorporated into the built form for as long as the discipline has existed, from a building’s parapets to its architraves, but the relationship became most pronounced in the architecture of the postwar period. In a world devastated by tragedy and existential uncertainty, modernism served as a balm for reconstructing a world with renewed hope, reestablishing the bonds between a city and its inhabitants.

Today, art has moved from an additive role in a building’s form, to a something that is deeply integrated into the design process. It is often the public’s first experience of a building’s forecourt, and it serves to uphold and gesture the belief systems of the landowner.

There is an appetite in the design world for ambitious works of art that are intrinsically of their place: that respond to the location and its environment; that engender a sense of collective identity; and that tell the stories of First Peoples. Art also serves the role of unifying the disparate design conditions of a building, creating a resolved and integrated urban identity. 

Here are six examples of Woods Bagot projects that showcase the productive and generative relationship between art and architecture.

Heritage Lanes 80 Ann Street

Under the direction of public art consultants IAM, Heritage Lanes, 80 Ann Street, features two LED ceilings by Bengar in the foyer and rooftop spaces. Serving as a digital canvas, the vast 23-metre-wide roof top screen is connected to live weather data, changing colour according to local daylight and cloud density conditions. In the foyer, the “bubble” screen responds dynamically to live wind conditions.

In the ground-floor laneway, Quandamooka artist Megan Cope draws on archives and historical maps to create public documents of Indigenous knowledge. Her work for 80 Ann remembers the creek that formerly ran through the site, which now directs the public through the laneway while a glass and light sculpture flows above on the ceiling. In the foyer, a suspended aluminium and glass sculpture by Hannah Quinlivan references free-flowing water of the Brisbane River in the arrival space.

LED ceilings by Bengar.

Suspended aluminium and glass sculpture by Hannah Quinlivan.

Quandamooka artist Megan Cope lithograph map of Brisbane from 1863.

Central Station

With the help of art consultants Creative Road Art Projects, Melbourne-based artist Rose Nolan was commissioned by Sydney Metro as part of it’s Central Station upgrade, led by Woods Bagot. Nolan has been a prominent figure in Australian avant-gardism since the 1980s, her work ranging from small sculptures to large-scale installations, often incorporating inexpensive materials, like hessian and cardboard.

This supersized installation takes pride of place in the new North-South concourse, featuring inlaid floor text following the unique curvature of the station’s roof. The text incorporates the font used in the 1968 Summer Olympics, spelling out: “All Alongside Of Each Other”. Commuters may take the opportunity to see themselves reflected back in the mirrored letters, shaped by the line of a red athletic racetrack. According to Nolan, the work references the act of coming together in Australia’s largest train station, “moving together in parallel lanes with parallel lives,” she tells the Guardian.

Central’s Northern Concourse upgrade is in collaboration with John McAslan + Partners.

Artwork by Rose Nolan can be seen at Sydney Metro’s Central Station entrance.

The ‘clock wall’ with crafted GRC panels and display of the original Central Station clock.

Perforated steel gallery wall designed by Woods Bagot showcasing historical objects found during excavation.

Shell House

Shell House, on the corner of Sydney’s Carrington and Margaret streets, ties together the best of heritage and contemporary design across four discrete hospitality spaces: the Menzies Bar, Dining Room, Clocktower Bar and Sky Bar. The entire venue serves as a canvas for artist-in-residence Mikey Freedom, whose work merges the frivolity and indulgence of past with present. More than an atmospheric prompt, the artwork is deeply enmeshed with the interior design, installed on the walls, ceilings and in furniture – there’s hieroglyphic walls, mosaic tiled tables, murals, canvases and sculptures. Freedom’s art celebrates the original 1930s art deco architecture, enriching the existing palazzo-style interwar building with a uniquely contemporary sense of Australian grandeur.

Mural by Mikey Freedom in Shell House’s Menzies Bar.

Shell House, Clocktower Bar light installation by Mikey Freedom.

Shell House Terrace Dining Room.

Central Park Lobby

Woods Bagot’s Perth studio recently undertook a bold transformation of Perth’s tallest building, revitalising the formerly disconnected ground floor plane. Supplanting the aged austerity of the original lobby, the refurbishment brings lightness and elegance to the ground floor while respecting the base building architecture. Four vast Brian McKay artworks commissioned for the original building are re-homed more prominently in the new fit-out. Inspired by the geometric form of the building, the murals are crafted from Alpolic, a composite aluminium material with a silver-blue colour that is complemented by the subtle tone of the Eveneer Milkwood. Today, they are joined by a new Bec Juniper artwork, Salt Lake, specified for the café.

Collins Arch

Art consultants Urban Art Projects (UAP) worked closely with Woods Bagot and SHoP Architects on the technical design, fabrication and installation of a bespoke water wall feature on Collins Arch. Made from cast aluminium with a unique textural patina, the wall consists of a series of concave and curved planes, down which a wall of water continually runs. The piece is intended to serve as both architectural intervention and fountain, creating a tactile moment for the public to engage with the building surface. “The work is a highly integrated response to the architecture of 447 Collins Street, creating a soft, elegant solution within the geometric form of the building,” says UAP.

UAP bespoke water wall for Collins Arch.

Collins Arch interior wall.

83 Pirie Street

Woods Bagot collaborated with Guildhouse art consultants in designing the workplace fitout for government tenant Department for Infrastructure and Transport (DIT), in 83 Pirie Street. Suspended  totems by Tjanpi Desert and Ngarrindjeri weavers represent the flora and fauna of the local ecosystems, made from natural grass fibres. Local aboriginal artist Allan Sumner depicts regional environments through illustrations and linework, featured on full-height glazed partitions throughout the workspace. Ceiling graphics by Elizabeth Yanyi Close are inspired by the “Seven Sisters Songlines”, which speak to the landscape through perforated patterns. The result is a diverse and inspiring commercial workplace that empowers local artists and fosters a deep connection to Country. 

Suspended artwork by Tjanpi Desert Weavers from APY Lands.

Ceiling graphics by Elizabeth Yanyi Close, an Anangu woman from the Pitlantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Language Groups.

1000 La Trobe Street 

With Creative Road art consultants, the client at Woods Bagot-designed 1000 La Trobe launched a public art competition for works that “spoke to the ethos” of the site and its occupants, creating a space with artistic insertions that “provoked thoughts, feelings and discussion,” the client said. “Public art is one of the remedies that create communities; it prompts the public to engage, interact and inspire,” says Poly Victoria design manager Howard Mok. “It helps cultivate a community through civic dialogue and from the artists selected we are confident the final design will fundamentally attribute to the surrounding space where it will be appreciated by the immediate locals and contribution to the cultural fabric of Docklands.”

Creative Road worked with artist Stuart Green to produce these epic interpretative sculptural pieces that reference the history of the site. “The site was formerly cut through with branching rail lines linking the docks to the rest of the state,” says Green. “The new artwork draws on the parallel character of these travel lines cutting through space to create a tall looped path in heavy metal and segmented colour. The resulting sculpture is massive but silent, with the curves having a bodily muscular sense as the eye follows the form through its swoop and tangle with the enveloping space.”

Photography: Ben Wrigley

Read our spotlight with art consultant Lou Weis, founder and creative director at Broad Commissions, as he discusses the relationship between art and architecture, and the moral and material role it plays in the conception of a building’s identity.

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Isla Sutherland
Content and Communications Specialist (Australia & New Zealand)

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