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Art outcrop: a strange abstracted intrusion of the outback enriches and completes (for now) Melbourne's adventurous Arts Precinct.

The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) lies at one end of Melbourne's Arts Precinct, a necklace of galleries and performance buildings that stretches through the city to Federation Square, the controversial new cultural piazza next to Flinders Street station (AR May 2003). ACCA adjoins the Malthouse, a nineteenth-century brewery converted into the Playbox Theatre.


Though the art centre is much smaller than Federation Square, the two have several things in common: the new square is slung over railway tracks; ACCA's site is half on top of the City Link urban motorway tunnel (the ventilation stack of which forms a landmark post for the complex). Both projects relate carefully to context and, though both have arcane Melbournian geometries, they do generate proper and amiable urban spaces. From down the street, or from the motorway, the ACCA seems remarkably unurban, a striking cross between a vast and strange prehistoric beast, a prominent geological outcrop and a huge rusting agricultural shed. It contrasts dramatically with the surrounding slightly shabby context of century-old warehouses and modern Americo inner-city tat.


Nearer, on Sturt Street, the centre beaks out over the thoroughfare, calling attention to the rather maw-like main entrance, almost the only obvious opening in its otherwise nearly impervious brown Corten steel skin--a conjunction of rusted steel, abstracted figuration and progression that curiously recalls Massimiliano Fuksas's entrance to the Neolithic caves at Niaux in France (AR August 1995). Art gallery and its companion, the big set-construction shed for the Playbox, are arranged against the Malthouse so that a courtyard is created between them protected from traffic noise and pollution. Here is the theatre cafe, and the space can be used for open-air performances, as well as exhibition of weatherproof art works.


The architects, Wood Marsh, have worked on night clubs, and Victorian (in both senses) exuberance radiates from the foyer even before you go in. Wall and roof planes--opaque, translucent and transparent--incline and collide to form a space that might almost be by Libeskind, if ever he could be persuaded to make anything as unportentous, wacky and fun. Past the ticket desk and offices on the left and the bar on the right are the two big portals to the four main galleries. These are for the most part simple and orthodox, with white vertical walls modestly waiting to set off ever changing exhibitions.

Lift and stairs at the east end of the block take visitors to top-lit, plylined rehearsal studios for the Chunky Move dance company. Seen from outside, the studios form a box that spans from the gallery block to the big set-building shed. A sheltered entrance to the court is created that enhances its semi-private nature, but the court is connected to the whole site by a reticulated paving pattern that reflects the browns and pinks of the earth of the Australian deserts, out of which, metaphorically, the angular geological outcrop emerges so surprisingly in the middle of the city.



Wood Marsh P/L Architecture with Pels Innes Neilson Kosloff

Structural engineer

John Mullen & Partners


Derek Swalwell Photography





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Article Details
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Author:Peterson, C.
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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