Art Fairs

Blog — 15 Sep 2015

Sydney Contemporary is a biannual Art Fair that was established in 2013. I have just returned from overseeing the installation of our designs for its second edition. Both were hosted by The Carriageworks, a beautifully refurbished arts venue in Redfern. There are not many venues as attractive as this, blending muscular shuttered concrete interventions with the old industrial fabric. Even empty it is a beautiful place to be.

As with any art fair, temporary interventions need to be respectful of the building they occupy, but strong enough to give the fair an identity and a touch of glamour. At the same time the design should not appear to be a work of art in itself, that would be confusing and to the detriment of the art on the walls. For these reasons, architectural thinking is well suited to these projects.

Working closely with the brand, finding economic, quick to build and recyclable solutions to space making and wayfinding, art fair design is perhaps more complex than it might appear. Whatever the design is, it needs to be flexible enough to manage the different requirements of the opening event and the regular Fair days. Depending on the venue it may need to look good in both daylight and darkness

At Sydney Contemporary in 2013 we used corrugated translucent roofing sheet and coloured fluorescent lights to define the entrance and VIP areas. This worked really well in that it was a memorable and fun environment for the first fair. But we all felt that with the second edition the layout could be improved and that the design and image could be moved on, the Fair was “growing up”.

The 2015 plan uses curved walls to define the spaces, the challenge was to find a way of building curved walls that was quick, clean and not labour intensive. We were aware of the work of Shigeru Ban, which inspired us to look at cardboard tubes as a wall material. Strong, self supporting and self finished they form curves with ease and are robust and raw enough to make an architectural statement. Most importantly they can be reused or recycled after the event. The design was well received, and the fair a great success, with strong sales and good visitor numbers.

Curved Wall in The Carriageworks
Curved Wall in the VIP area
The Art Fair Entrance

Most days I walked the 2 or 3 miles from my hotel in the CBD (Central Business District) to the venue, through Chinatown and into the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) campus, home to some interesting new architecture, not least Frank Gehry’s Dr Chau Chak Wing business school, the “crumpled paper bag" building.

Dr Chau Chak Wing Business School

It sits alongside the Goods line, a similar concept to Manhatten’s High line. Recent buildings by Denton Corker Marshall and Durbach Block Jaggers add to the diversity of architectural styles of the campus.

UTS Science Building

Across the road sits Jean Nouvel’s Central Park residential tower, with living walls by Patrick Blanc, this building has matured and the Sydney climate is perfect for vertical planting. What impressed me most was the atrium that forms the heart of the shopping precinct at its base, illuminated by the giant hanging reflector cantilevered at the top of the tower.

Central Park Tower

On the other side of the park on the border of Chippendale, sits the White Rabbit Gallery. Judith Nielson’s collection of contemporary Chinese art is housed in a beautifully refurbished warehouse. She has commissioned William Smart to create a new building which is nearing completion. I understand it is her home, a sort of residential warehouse, with an immaculately made fair faced concrete sculptural façade.

William Smart for Judith Nielson

My journey continues into Redfern, not long ago a place few outsiders would venture, crime ridden and squalid, the scene of riots in 2004. There are plans to redevelop its most notorious area “The Block”, and much of the hinterland between this district and central station is the subject of a huge masterplan known as C2E,( Central to Eveleigh) by Grimshaw and Arup.

Sydney is changing fast, and will continue to do so as long as the political will and the economic climate allows.