projects » rorschach pavilion

NERVEGNA REED ARCHITECTURE - Design Team: Toby Reed Anna Nervegna Tom Nervegna Reed
NR team: Yidong Zhao, Lim Chong Shien, Zhenzhen Fu, Rikky Falantino, Ye Zhang
Engineer: Arup (Melbourne): Brendon McNiven, Kelvin Cheuk
Lighting: Arup (Melbourne): Tim Hunt, Hoa Yang

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rorschach pavilion

RORSCHACH PAVILION

Shortlisted: NGV Architectural Commission Design Competition 2016

The Rorschach Pavilion, proposed for the National Gallery of Victoria’s sculpture garden, explores the spatial and formal possibilities of a liquid architecture, with similarities to the inkblot test devised by Hermann Rorschach 100 years ago, around the same time that Kandinsky and Malevich were making the first abstract paintings, and Jean Arp was performing his Dadaist experiments which combined chance and abstraction. The Rorschach has co-existed with abstraction throughout the twentieth century, always posing the question of how do we read abstraction and what is the relation between abstraction and figuration. The process for the design of the pavilion involved dripping liquid onto a surface, tracing the drips in Rhino, slicing the edge, mirroring the drip-surface to create a mirrored Rorschach effect, and folding the surface around to create a self-supporting space with simple structural integrity. The pavilion is intended to interact uniquely with the NGV sculpture garden. E.H. Gombrich wrote that Alberti, in his book ‘De Statua’ hypothesized that the origins of art were most likely based in a Rorschach-like experience in which early mankind projected images into the abstract shapes of nature, such as trees, branches and clouds. Significantly the pavilion is situated between Rodin’s ‘Balzac’ and de Kooning’s ‘Standing Figure’, both of which work like the Rorschach’s sliding scale of abstraction and figuration. Viewers could relax in the pavilion or grass and free-associate with each other about what they see in the abstract shapes of the trees, clouds, sculptures or the pavilion itself.

The folding of the pavilion allows for a simple yet effective structural integrity surprising for a pavilion based on mirrored drips. The steel structure folds around and locks into a concrete slab below the ground. The cladding is powder-coated perforated aluminum. The rear curved wall has large arabesque openings to allow views through the garden and help wind loadings. These openings were created by cutting the drip specifically close to the edge.

For the last 100 years the architectural pavilion has been a format for the testing of ideas on architectural space, form and methods of generating architectural design. The idea of the Rorschach Pavilion was to explore possible methods of generating a liquid architecture and how this could manifest in space and form. The form and space of the pavilion based on liquid drips is partly an investigation of how the physics of matter and space can influence the spaces in our built environment. The form of liquid and the drip has been important to the history of art, as well as to the development of the inkblot test. In art, the drip has been important from Pollock’s abstract expressionism, to the pop liquid paintings of Ed Ruscha, Ai Weiwei’s dipped pots and to the video art of artists like Daniel von Sturmer.

Centuries before Hermann Rorschach, and after Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci wrote that the stains on walls, ashes of a fire, the shape of clouds and mud can all be used to provoke the imagination. Later Freud developed free association as a method for interpreting dreams (and by extension, the subconscious). Rorschach’s act of combining the inkblot with Freud’s method brought together free association and abstraction (and chaos) with dreams and the subconscious. The Rorschach has shown us how no two minds will ever see exactly the same thing, as what we see depends on how our mind free-associates with our past experience. The inkblot test is a very useful metaphor for how we read and experience buildings and has an intrinsic relation to the theory, practice and enjoyment of art.

The pavilion is intended to interact uniquely with the site, the NGV sculpture garden. E.H. Gombrich’s reading of Alberti’s theory of the origins of art make the NGV sculpture garden a perfect site for the simulation of the primal scene of art using a Rorschach-like experience in which we, like early mankind, can project images into the abstract shapes of nature, such as trees, branches and clouds, or the abstract shapes of the sculptures or pavilion. The images that cultures have projected into star formations predate Plato’s theory of representation by millennia. The idea of making a Rorschach pavilion from liquid drips is intended to project this thematic into the sculpture garden setting asking us to dwell on some of the oldest issues of art: the origins and nature of representation and the relation of abstraction to image. This in turn could heighten our experience of the sculptures in the garden and the garden itself as a natural setting simulating this primal scene of art.

Significantly the pavilion is situated between Rodin’s ‘Balzac’ (1898), an icon of 19th century abstraction, and de Kooning’s ‘Standing Figure’ (1969), with its strong relation to abstract expressionism. Both sculptures work on the Rorschach’s sliding scale of abstraction and figuration. Just as these sculptures provoked viewers to free associate and imagine the figurative within the abstract, the pavilion aims to continue this audience connection within the context of an architectural folly. Viewers could be encouraged to relax in the pavilion or grass and free-associate with each other about what they see in the abstract shapes. In order to keep a free-flowing relation between the garden and sculptures we decided it was important not to enclose space but to create a zone in which our experience of the elements in the garden is heightened.