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Darwin's evolution.

Design of a restaurant in a popular Darwin nature reserve makes the most of an extraordinary site and extemporizes on its potent history.

Troppo Architects was founded in 1980 with the laudable aim of promoting good tropical architecture in Australia's Top End. The Darwin-based practice received a Northern Territory grant to examine the history of the region's architecture.(1) That research has informed their work, though the influence of such seminal figures as Richard Leplastrier and Glenn Murcutt must have played its part. With work throughout the Northern Territory and beyond, the practice has a reputation for spare intelligent architecture that has evolved out of the architects' feeling for tradition and landscape. Not least, their buildings are designed for the climate.

Pee Wees at the Point stands surrounded by flame trees on a spectacular site in a nature reserve at the eastern point of Darwin Harbour and Fannie Bay. Bordered by a road to the north, the site slopes gently away to the south towards a rocky foreshore and the sea. On this side the restaurant opens out onto a wide verandah and green lawn with views of the Bay and Beagle Gulf.

Strange as it seems - and at first you imagine as a foreigner that this is part of the natural perversity of the country - the orientation runs counter to the history of Darwin's development. But the city has had several good reasons for turning its back on the sea: tides that can rise almost 9m high, marine predators, lethal box jellyfish and threat of inundation from cyclonic surges. In recent years Darwin City Council has been concerned to make controlled use of foreshore land in and around the city and Pee Wees is a civilized result of this.

The restaurant seats 200 people at a time inside and a further 150 outside on the verandah and paved areas. Even without the view the lofty light-filled interior, paved with big golden panels of hoop pine ply, would be exhilarating. Architecturally gutsy, defined by a clearly articulated structure, the big pavilion feels like a delicate extemporization on the familiar, tugging at half digested images of the past, part industrial, part colonial ease.

Design has eliminated the need for air conditioning (except possibly at the height of the wet season). With the east and west sides of the structure enclosed, north and south faces are composed of glass louvres and pivoting glass doors. The system permits prevailing and/or stormy winds to be deflected from passing straight through the dining room but still allows cooling breezes. A single roof plane lined internally and externally with metal sheeting, floats overhead. Soaring up from the north it encompasses on the south a clerestory made of corrugated polycarbonate sheet which provides a diffuse view of the sky by day and a translucent band of glowing light by night. Glass louvres in this upper strata provide high level vents.

But it is the ancillary service building to the north across the connecting covered walkway, containing kitchen, offices and bar, that strikes you with the force of an archetype. In scale, form and texture, the dual pitch shed-like structure refers to an adjacent hut, a listed relic of the War.(2) East Point was a military zone and the Sidney Williams hut, prefabricated from corrugated metal sheet and a lightweight frame, was supplied to the troops based there by a windmill manufacturer. He applied prefabrication and framing technology developed for construction of windmill towers to that of rural buildings, like shearing sheds, as well as housing.

The delight of discovering Pee Wees is partly to do with the site and also its relationship to it. At first glance, the loose arrangement of the buildings surrounded by exotic trees, the shed-like structures, metal sheeting and impression of big over-sailing roofs taken together have an archetypal, faintly ramshackle appeal that suits the landscape and the laid-back culture that accompanies it. Closer to, you appreciate the purposefulness of the composition and detailing. Then there is the luminous drama of the simply furnished restaurant, its sobriety counterposed to the clamour of tropical colour outside.

1 The capital of Northern Territory, Darwin itself was flattened on Christmas Day in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy and has since been reconstructed.

2 Darwin was an important base for Allied action against the Japanese and the only place in Australia to suffer prolonged attack.
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Title Annotation:Troppo Architects' design of the Pee Wees at the Point restaurant in Darwin, Australia
Author:McGuire, Penny
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Feb 1, 1999
Previous Article:Model ministry.
Next Article:Pastoral idyll.

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