Denton Corker Marshall (DCM) has taken out the Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) architectural design competition to build a new, $34.5 million art museum for Victoria. The firm’s proposed design was unanimously selected by a seven-member jury to replace the existing art museum on Welsford Street in Shepparton.
DCM’s winning design has been described as “small and tall” by the architects, and was heralded as a “beacon in the landscape” by the jury. Denton Corker Marshall beat out 88 submissions from architectural practices around the country. According to the jury, their proposal stood out for its powerful and relevant ‘sculptural’ expression, as well as for its consideration of the immediate and greater environment in which it will sit.
“Our design is characterised by simplicity and clarity with compelling imagery creating a landmark cultural destination,” said DCM design director Adrian FitzGerald. “By making the building small and tall we maximise parkland around the gallery and incorporate numerous places for community interaction.”
The community spaces incorporated into the new Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) include a sculpture forecourt, community arbour, ‘art hill’, cafe and rooftop. Verandahs will also span all four sides of the building – created by an ‘L’ shape in the four façade plates – and provide shelter to visitors.
One of the main site challenges faced by Denton Corker Marshall was a floodway that restricted access to the ground floor. The architects turned this into an opportunity to extract the diminutive floorplan across five levels, creating the ‘small and tall’ component that is central to their distinctive winning design.
By minimising the floor space needed by the building itself, DCM was able to ensure that the parklands surrounding the museum were utilised to the greatest possible extent. Considering Shepparton’s topography is predominantly low and flat, the ‘tall’ design is able to stand out as a ‘beacon in the landscape’. To visitors on the inside of the building, this height also offers panoramic views over park, lake, town centre and the Goulbourn Red River Gum reserve – particularly from the rooftop events space.
“Integrating the building within expanded parkland is intended to help de-institutionalise SAM, making the museum’s art and artefacts more accessible to the wider Shepparton community and visiting tourists,” says DCM in an architect’s statement. “The design has welcoming spaces and places for a diverse range of the community across age and cultural backgrounds.”
The interior of the new SAM building is characterised by openness and accessibility. All five levels of the interior are focused around an open Circulation Galleria. While traversing the museum’s interconnected, multi-level spaces, visitors are always able to see out over the Galleria and to see into other levels through its open expanse.
“Rather than six designated galleries displaying art and artefacts, the design conceives the total building as an art container,” reads the architect’s statement. “Not one gallery but every space in and on SAM is a gallery display opportunity, be it stairs, lobby walls, lift wells, façades, even external toilet block roofs. Every surface presents an opportunity for display, event or installation.”
The building itself is a cubic design made up of a variety of metallic surfaces. For instance, the façade above the main entrance will be of a soft, matte charcoal, while the southern frontage is conceived as a complementary yet lighter-coloured low-sheen zinc. The building’s northern façade will be intentionally left blank and will function as a canvas for installation art.
The four façades of the building will meet at different heights to create the sense of abstraction, relevant to the building’s designated artistic function. At the base of each frontage, the metallic façade plate digresses from the building’s core to form an ‘L’-shape, providing a suspended ledge that hovers above the forecourt below. These ‘L’-shaped forms fulfil both symbolic and practical functions: while providing museum visitors with a protected, sun-shaded space, they also reference the traditional verandahs of Australian country towns such as Shepparton.
“The ‘L’ to the base of the plate… creates a transitory indoor-outdoor realm for exchange and interaction,” reads a design statement by DCM.
Denton Corker Marshall were awarded $10,000 for their winning proposal. Their ‘Beacon in the Landscape’ design was one of five shortlisted proposals. The unsuccessful shortlisted practices – John Wardle Architects, Kerstin Thompson Architects, Lyons Architecture and MvS Architects – each received $7,000 as an honorarium.
Construction on DCM’s design is slated to begin in 2018 and is estimated to take two years to complete.
“The new SAM will be a game-changer for the region, creating tourism and employment opportunities for Greater Shepparton and beyond,” says Greater Shepparton city council mayor Dinny Adem. “It will provide a [cultural] centre to our regional city but it will be more than an art museum; it will be a place for experiencing, socialising and celebrations.
“The selected design is [a] reflection of what makes Greater Shepparton unique and we congratulate the competition winners [on] being able to capture this.”