Parables of the Modern: Augmented Australia 1914-2014

By Creative Director, Augmented Australia, 23 April 2014

Minifie van Schaik, Caught Unawares, 2013, Sydney. Digital reconstruction by Ben Juckes. Image: Courtesy Felix

...if you can experience this history through digital reconstructions, then physical distance becomes even more irrelevant. Unbuilt projects become parables of parables: stories of incomplete stories that held hopes for a modern Australia. 

There is a persistent view that Australia exists as an edge condition. But if you dismiss the idea of distance and instead locate Australian architecture within a context of global conversations, professional networks, customs and cultural flows, then it takes on a very different perspective.

Furthermore, if you can experience this history through digital reconstructions, then physical distance becomes even more irrelevant. Unbuilt projects become parables of parables: stories of incomplete stories that held hopes for a modern Australia. This is the aim of the eleven historical projects of Augmented Australia 1914-2014, the Australian exhibit at this year’s International Architecture Biennale in Venice.

Chosen from the period 1914 to 1994, the historical projects represent a cross-section of Australian architecture, across time, across the geography of the world’s largest island continent, across different scales, and across the increasingly troubled term of modernism as it lumbered through the past century. All are unbuilt public buildings. There are no houses and this is a direct challenge to international preconceptions of Australian architecture as always being the last frontier for stunning houses romantically sited beside the beach or in the bush.

Architecture students from The University of Western Australia, using surviving drawings, photographs, archival sources, correspondence, and interviews with architects, digitally reconstructed each unbuilt project. One stood out for inclusion: a cathedral, abbey and Benedictine monastery proposed for New Norcia (1958) in Western Australia and designed by the great Italian engineer/architect Pier Luigi Nervi. The connection between Venice and Australia was irresistible. Had they been built, Nervi’s vaults in the desert – each ten storeys tall – would have provided Australia with its largest lattice-framed shell structure, and Rome its first antipodean pilgrimage site. Another project is a competition entry by German émigré architect Frederick Romberg for Adelaide Boys’ High School (1939). It epitomizes modernism infiltrating the social programs of housing, health and education in 1930s Australia. Had it been built, it would have been Australia’s first all-concrete school. Another first would have been Harry Seidler’s competition entry (1952) for Melbourne’s Olympic Stadium in Princes Park. Designed to seat 125,000 spectators, it was a tribute to Rio’s Estádio do Maracanã (built specially for Brazil’s 1950 World Cup and incidentally the main venue for this year’s World Cup). It would have outstripped the Melbourne Cricket Ground in scale and seating capacity!

These are just three of a total of 22 historical and contemporary projects that can be experienced this year in Venice. The exciting thing is that the first version of the Augmented Australia app is now live. Download it now! If you go to Venice you’ll be able to experience each unbuilt project geo-positioned across the city. The Nervi cathedral can be seen through your smart device in Piazza San Marco at full size! You can experience Australia’s new pavilion complete on its construction site. Never before has Australian architecture cast its net across the whole city, and all through the groundbreaking techniques of augmented reality. 

Image Credits 2: Example of Augmented Australia app viewing geopositioned ‘Cloud Space’ design. 

Image Credits 3: ‘Cloud Space’ exhibition design of Augmented Australia, for the Venice Architecture Biennale, designed by felix._Giles_Anderson+Goad. 

Instructions for the Augmented Australia app:

  1. Go here to find the ‘Augmented Australia’ app at the App Store (for iOS) or Google Play (for android).
  2. Open the app on your handheld smart device and select ‘Animations and Scale Models’
  3. Simply point your phone at one of the trigger images (either on your computer screen – see below – or in print). A suite of virtual material will automatically appear. Ensure your device has the sound switched on to listen to the voiceovers.
  4. To utilise ‘1:1 Geo Triggers’, you will need to be situated in a central location of one of the following cities: Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne or Perth. The device will ask to detect your location. Select yes. A ‘radar’ icon at the top left hand side of the screen will show the direction of the model by a yellow dot. By moving towards the dot, you can see the full-scale cathedral and “walk through” the building, viewing it from the outside and inside.