Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Federation Square (Melbourne) and the New Australian Art Gallery

On the whole, the architects have done good here. What interests me more, though, is the way humanity uses and/or takes over a new space, especially a vast new space such as Federation Square.

Walking through two days after its opening, it is hard not to conclude that the architects need not have bothered. If this was a major new cathedral, the occupants were grimly determined to colonise – setting up borders where there was obviously intended to be flow – various bits of it, so they could “work”. In other words, act as police of a space small enough to effectively control, but large enough trod the delicate line between people going “Huhh?” and outright pissing people off.

The classic example of this is the new Australian Art Gallery. Anyone who went to the “old” NGV would have noticed that there was someone employed specifically to stop people leaving through one of the doors – for no reason other than, it would seem, giving this person the “spoiler” joy of exercising petty power (think parking ticket officer, but worse) in a magnificent building. At the new Gallery doors, rude fuckwits stand like they’ve worked there a thousand years already, letting you know who [they think] owns and controls the space.

So the “good” news is that humanity has already petty-fied Federation Square, into a space that can be despised, instead of inspire. Perhaps there should be a special word for just this type of debasement process: “despiration”?

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