As a part of the Sydney Architecture Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) hosted a free panel discussion 'MCA Re-build'. Held on the evening of Thursday 1 November, the panel comprised architect Sam Marshall, MCA Curator Rachel Kent, artist Julie-Anne Long and was moderated by the MCA Head of Creative Learning Heather Whitely Robertson.
Almost a decade ago, Sydney architect Sam Marshall was awarded the task of creating a masterplan, designing and overseeing the remodelling of the existing MCA premises and development of a new extension. The official MCA opening weekend was held over the 29 March to 1 April and since this time over 500,000 curious members of the public and contemporary art enthusiasts have passed through it's doors.
The discussion provided a fascinating insight into the various aspects involved in the design and operation of an arts institution. Participants of the talk were treated to a broad overview of how the building addresses a variety of competing agendas that encompass aesthetics, operations, education and financial viability.
Sam Marshall began the discussion by outlining the some of the key criteria he used in the design of spaces:
1. Access to the building and it's spaces must be equitable and easy to circulate.
2. Gallery spaces must be flexible.
3. Spaces must be provided to host events and generate revenue.
4. Spaces and technological systems must be provided to facilitate both exhibitions and educational programs.
5. The buildings form should reflect it's status and function as a contemporary art space.
MCA Curator Rachel Kent then discussed the practicalities of exhibiting artworks and how this informed the brief given to Sam Marshall. She discussed how museums require:
1. Easy to navigate circulation through spaces.
2. Straight walls.
3. The ability to control light.
4. The need for neutral spaces that provide flexibility.
5. The need for these spaces to be conducive to both two dimensional and three dimensional works.
6. Most importantly the spaces need to feel welcoming.
Heather Whitely Robertson introduced the topic of 'live art', dissolving the boundaries between inside and outside. During this discussion led by artist Julie-Anne Long, the issue of circulation and how space is perceived was explored. Sam outlined how he wanted the interiors of the gallery to be perceived from the exteriors. Julie-Anne explained how her performance of the art piece Val, The Invisible would at times be visible to the street front and drawer curious observers. She also explained how she liked the ability to blur distinctions between 'gallery space' and 'public space' within the building. Rachel explained how from a curatorial aspect it was important to be able to filter out into the public spaces within the building, as well as outside the building.
The panel discussion ended with a Q&A session with talk participants asking questions about features of the building and materials used in the building. We learnt about the practicalities of the backstage operations and how it had a tangible effect on the physical form of the building. We also discovered how sustainable systems have been employed in the design of the building.
An interesting question posed to the panel was, 'what were their favourite spaces?'.
Julie-Anne felt that a great space was one in which the building was accessible to the human scale, that promotes an awareness of what surrounds oneself.
For Rachel, great architecture is defined by a sense of intimacy and simplicity both inside and out. She described her favourite gallery, The Beyeler Foundation Museum designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.
Sam explained how he felt great architecture is one that works on the emotions of the building user, is uplifting and has a sense of connection to light and the surrounding environment. He mentioned the buildings, the Barcelona Pavilion, designed by German architect Mies van der Rohe; the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, designed by French architect and artist Le Corbusier; the Nordic Pavilion in Venice, designed by Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn; and the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, designed by American architect Steven Holl.
The audience was then invited to contribute their own ideas about what constitutes great space and their own personal buildings and spaces.
Overall the evening was a wonderful opportunity to hear the personal views of people involved in different aspects of the MCA's design and operations. Participants of the talk left with the impression that this is a building where the needs and expectations of the various users have been met through considered design, open communication and collaboration.
The MCA has a great program of exhibitions and events. To find out the latest news check out their website and sign up for their e-Newletter.
- Article: Vanessa Couzens
- Images: Vanessa Couzens & Vincent Lam