Performance & Exhibition Space
Sub-spaces: Hard & Soft Edges
Theatre is a continuous exchange between audience and actors. Like the notion of performance, each theatre space is variable, nuanced, and constantly changing – between use, function, and accessibility. There is no model shape or size. The building itself is made from a variety of sub-spaces – a strategic arrangement of soft and hard edges. A series of studies of the relationship between the human body and built forms are inserted into the fabric, creating an abundance of soft edges with sometimes blatant and sometimes ambiguous functions. These sub-spaces invite ingenuity of uses and performances, which may be spontaneous or improvised - encouraging an active and participatory response. At all levels – the architecture is a labyrinth of opposites: of movement and stasis, sinuous and rigid, public and private, light and dark, soft and hard edges, separation and congregation, fragmentation and unity.
The exterior of the building is formulated through a combination of extracted echoes and resonances between the site, its history and its surrounding context: direct views from high-rise buildings of the CBD and the Domain’s expanse of open space. The angled fins of the theatre are ruled by sectional relationships – resulting in a building that acts as a translation between two radically different scales: motioning upwards towards the high-rises of the city and down towards the expanse of parkland. Public access and open theatre spaces are strategically placed on the roof-top turning the site into a visual point of interest from above in relation to the city's high-rise buildings with direct views.
Beginning from a precedent study of Jorn Utzon’s unbuilt Silkeborg Museum (1964), resembling a series of various crocus bulging forms which appear below the earth, the schema extracted from the building to inform the design of the theatre is the creation of continuity between contrasting spaces.
Silkeborg Museum (1964)
Levels of galleries, winding ramps and viewing platforms allow the entire audience to move up, down and around a single, convivial space before entering and exiting each of the exhibition rooms.
Circulation patterns which are defined by the physical geometries of the building distinguish the spatial qualities of contained and uncontained spaces; for example, above from below, and reception from viewing space. Spatial mappings of different routes through the building highlight the different relations of movement and interconnection, discontinuity and distinction.
The dynamic relationship of the user to the building is created through varying hard and soft edges: winding ramps, lofty spaces, balustrades, enclosed rooms, elevated floors, voids and curved and rounded walls, which stand to either connect or separate spaces.
These ideas stand as the main schema in Utzon’s design: the creation of continuity and variation through hard and soft edges.
The site for the proposed theatre lies on Hospital Road, the western edge of the city’s historical centre, bordering the eastern edge of the Domain: some of the only open parkland left in Sydney.
The site sits within a unique concentration of colonial sandstone buildings and bronze monuments of civic and cultural institutions of the state, forming Australia’s premier heritage precinct. These buildings become the interface between the uneven and unsympathetically scaled, high-density office development along Macquarie Street west and the expanse of parkland that forms the entire eastern side of the city.
The schema identified from the Utzon study is used to consider and map the site’s underlying conditions. As a site nestled within a tight urban block, the idea of continuity naturally extends towards the Domain; a natural plateau, free from noise and traffic and occupied by tall and deep-rooted trees.
A subterranean mapping of Sydney reveals the density of tunnels and utilities placed below ground. The subterranean area of the site in particular is bordered by proximate train tunnels (St James & Martin Place) and the Domain Carpark Walkway. Thus, a basement level roots the building in the ground and maximizes connections through the site.
Hard & Soft Edges: The Human Body
The internal fabric of the building is a made from a variety of sub spaces – a strategic arrangement of soft and hard edges. A series of studies of the relationship between the human body and built forms are inserted into the fabric, creating an abundance of soft edges with sometimes blatant and sometimes ambiguous functions. These sub-spaces invite ingenuity of uses and performances, which may be spontaneous or improvised.
Lines of visual continuity are mapped as linear connections to the site free from obstruction. These lines are utilised by enhancing the visual links through the site as circulation and positioning rooms and exhibition spaces only within the negative spaces. Each floor is varied, creating different wall placements and experiences on each.
Study of the Utzon precedent also informed a simultaneously loose and convivial circulation arrangement strategy, creating moments of gathering and moments of dispersion, allowing the creation of distinct, yet highly interconnected spaces. Corner spaces wrap into the floors below creating an infinite circulation path.
In direct relation to the site; hard edges are formed by the solid walls of the neighbouring civic monuments, allowing no form of visual or physical access. An array of soft edges are created by the canopy’s of the Domain’s fig trees, radiating towards the eastern edge of the site. Amplifying these soft edges and extending the notion of continuity, seat stairs pull views into the building, as well as creating a place to stop - a publicly accessible and informal theatre that is always observing the park.
Going back to a history of Sydney before European settlement - which has predominated (visually evidenced by the architecture immediately surrounding the site), Aborigines lived in Port Jackson for over 10,000 years. On Hawksbury sandstone, which surrounds the Cumberland Plain, they drew familiar objects, painting and rock engraving. In opposition to the use of sandstone in an imported tradition, the basement is modelled to resemble native and naturally occurring sandstone slot canyons in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. This basement forms the main entrance to the theatre, creating a bold and distinct point of entry.