National Galleries Architecture

"Golden Escalator": the National Gallery of Australia's
inspiring architecture (photo: Kathleen Fisher)

The architecture of the National Gallery of Australia is just as inspiring as the precious art it holds.

Designed by Colin Madigan and built between 1974 and 1982, the gallery is sleek and industrial, featuring a plethora of geometric shapes, especially triangles, and exposed materials, notably concrete.

Iconic artworks projected on the National
Gallery of Australia facade (photo: NGA)

National Gallery of Australia interior
during construction (photo: NGA)

The building is in the late twentieth century Brutalist style, a term that suggests ugliness or violence. However, it is anything but — instead, the use of humble materials seems honest and accessible, and the sharp geometry has a sculptural effect. Indeed, the gallery appears to have been designed to be viewed as an object — a series of platforms and windows invite visitors to pause and gaze at various “architectural vistas” within the open-plan, multi-level space.

Next door, the National Portrait Gallery moved into new, purpose-built accommodation in late 2008. Designer Johnson Pilton Walker has at once made this “new kid on the block” stand alone as an iconic piece of architecture and harmonise with the eight other national institutions in the surrounding Parliamentary Triangle. Not surprisingly, their work has picked up four impressive awards.

"Geo Face Distributor", sculpture by artist James Angus
at the National Portrait Gallery entrance (photo: Kathleen Fisher)

However, the architects have overlooked a crucial element — how their design leads (or, in this case, does not lead) visitors through the building. The forecourt uses light directed by a ceiling of giant wooden louvres to stunning sculptural effect, enticing visitors to walk through what looks like a series of glowing “sunbeams” into an equally magnificent entrance hall.

But here the drama stops. Where does one go next? Where are the portraits of great Australians we’ve come to see? Unfortunately, the doors to the institution’s two galleries are dark recesses, virtually hidden and barely distinguishable from the entrances to the nearby toilet and carpark. Without even the usual piece of signage, many visitors, including myself, head straight to the cafĂ© and bookshop … which, by the way, are excellent.

The National Portrait Gallery's stunning entry
(photo: Australian Design Review)

Entrance Hall at the National Portrait Gallery
(photo: Matt Kelso)

No comments: