Published:  August 22, 2012
Heath Killen

Momentum: New Victorian Architecture is the initiative of Geoffrey London, the Government Architect of Victoria. Momentum explores some of the recent, defining architectural projects from Melbourne and regional Victoria, and was designed by Emerystudio.

Creative Director Garry Emery shares some insights into the design of the book, as well as thoughts on the ever-changing architectural landscape of Melbourne.

What was the motivation behind this book? Why now, and why the focus on Melbourne?
Geoffrey London, the Government Architect of Victoria regards Melbourne as the cultural engine of Australia, as such he felt it was fitting that Victorian architecture be provided with an appropriate platform to showcase and celebrate culture and business. The book reflects upon the strong international reputation for innovative design in this State, a key factor in Melbourne’s claim to be the cultural capital of Australia. The book was initiated in 2009.

As the Premier Ted Baillieu outlines his Foreword:
“The best of Victoria’s history has been based on aspiration, ambition and a focus on building for future generations.

Magnificent buildings such as Parliament House, the Treasury, Government House and the many town halls, courthouses and churches across Victoria are part of a collection unrivalled in other States. That our own Royal Exhibition Building is World Heritage-listed, though barely 130 years old, is fitting tribute to the core character of this State and our architectural traditions.

Great architects and great architecture continue to shape our cities and State. Architecture at its best speaks for itself. And that design effort is critical to maintaining and nurturing the liveability of our State. Victoria’s recent architectural history is as visionary and innovative as it has ever been. The reputation of our built environment continues to grow both at home and further afield.

The book celebrates recent architectural projects across the State. Momentum extends and renews our affection for the shared legacy of fine architects, forward thinkers, great public and private spaces and the pursuit of excellence.”

Can you talk me through the design process behind Momentum’s distinctive graphic language?
The distinctive graphic language was derived directly from aerial photographs representing urban, metropolitan and regional Victoria. The photographic images were transformed into geometric abstractions, a meaningful ordering device for text and image, as an underlying graphic reference to regional identity, albeit an ambiguous reference.

What about the material qualities of the book – the cardboard housing, white foil and page stock? Why were those particular materials chosen?
The target audience for the book is national and international, comprising the interested general public, the architectural and associated design professions, academics and students. The intention is for the book to be accessible and meaningful to each of the very different audiences.

The book is dense in text and image content and aimed at capturing the interest of practicing architects, designers and/or academics and students, without alienating the lay public by using language that is idiosyncratic and specific to architectural discourse.

As a homage and reference to Melbourne in this book, the central organsing device for the setout of text and images is a stylized interpretation of the Hoddle city grid used as a page grid for the layout of text and images. A meaningful but well disguised device!

The format of the book was designed around convenience for the reader and to be of a size that would fit comfortably into the Premier’s briefcase as well as ensure affordable local and international distribution. The manageable size and the flexible cover treatment aims to make the book easy to hold and comfortable to read in bed, on the sofa or on a plane, not so much for display on a foyer coffee table.

The slipcase gives the book status when used as a gift from the State Government to dignitaries whilst maintaining the impression of, or a sense of modesty through the use of natural, low cost raw materials. For political reasons, there was a reluctance to feature pictorially the work of a single project or architectural practice.

The use of the white glossy finish to the letterforms, introduces an idea of contradiction, the natural juxtaposed against the manmade, a familiar tactic used in architectural design.

The intention is for the publication to be perceived as something of more substance and intellectual rigor than a glamorous compendium of glossy digitally enhanced photographs (although we do include a few of those). The matt stock enhances the intention for the book to be perceived as modest rather than glamorous, confident and thoughtful rather than a show-off.

What are the characteristics that are defining Melbourne architecture at this time?
According to the Victorian Government, “they recognise the role of architecture in helping to define Melbourne and the regional centres and the value of an architectural legacy for future generations, whilst providing an enduring means of supporting and celebrating one of the State’s most highly successful and creative professions.”

From Geoffrey London’s perspective, “Melbourne architecture is both intriguing and confronting, asserting an alternative direction from which architecture could be approached. It is a distinctive local architecture in the making: rough, tough and combative.”

He says “it is an architectural practice dignifying local values and local imagery, employing them as the source of their architecture. This is masked in a kind of oppositional larrikinism but directed by a deep commitment to the architectural discipline and its place in Melbourne culture. It firmly asserts architecture as a cultural activity, as being embedded in the world of ideas.”

The visual landscape of Melbourne is always changing, but it has managed to retain many strong links to its design heritage. How important is it to preserve architecture from the past, and when should we let buildings go to make way for the new?
It is the view of Emerystudio that: the past is celebrated in the grand legacy of 19-century architecture built on gold, sometimes buildings of the past are retained when they have no real heritage value, other times buildings of value that should have been preserved have been demolished. For example, the heritage value of St Kilda Road has been lost to a large degree and in its place we have a heartless collection of uninspiring buildings. There are also buildings of very recent history that deserve protection but are not on the heritage radar.

Perhaps universities, most visibly RMIT driven by Leon van Schaik, lead the way in terms of design discourse, promoting both the university and progressive architecture, using its building program as an effective marketing tool. With the completion of two new buildings, the northern edge of the city has now been clearly defined as an active educational destination.

The views stated in above are those of Emerystudio and may not be shared by informed architectural practitioners or academics.

One Response

  1. Chris

    Exquisite work for compelling subject matter…

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