Studio leaders: Gumji Kang and Javier López-Menchero
Melbourne operates within an arena of strong urban contrast. The frenetic and sky-high CBD looks over the low-density urban sprawl that sometimes stops at the very verge of the skyscrapers. This city is witnessing how these two urban models shape the life of its inhabitants, their implications in architecture and the way we experience the city. Density vs sprawl is now a discussion more relevant than ever and it deeply affects its building fabrics and heritage.
NoVacancy explores these universal principles and speculates inside the particular scenario of Melbourne. We want to explore different methods and processes to negotiate with the existing conditions rather than simply replacing them. How do we preserve, reimagine, and design the buildings to grow with the city? That implies discussing urbanity, density, and interventionism to understand how current building fabrics are layered in the CBD of Melbourne.
Studio NoVacancy invites the students to consider their interpretation and methods of architectural intervention in the context of Melbourne CBD. Four building sites were selected within Melbourne CBD that had a significant role in the past of the city. Each of those sites has distinct qualities and characteristics, representing the diversity of intervention scales and possible typologies. A row of buildings with the traditional typology of shop-house, a substation that formerly gave power to all the western end of the CBD, a big retail development in the very heart of the city and a traditional business inserted in a building with many interwoven stories have something in common… Despite the undeniable role they played to shape the city, our memory is short, and they are currently fully or partly vacant.
Students were then asked to demonstrate their understanding and document the complexity of one of the building sites: the history and stories of the place, physical heritage, spatial qualities and what made them unique before even starting to consider a project to be layered on top of it. With a particular understanding of monumentality, morphology, mentality and value, many idiosyncrasies were found. These moments of interest and traces of highly emotionally charged spaces/elements later became part of the intervention projects.
The term NoVacancy refers to the idea of managing the underused spaces of the city before continuing its expansion, but also refers to the thought of that there is no space without past, there is no such thing as empty. Tabula rasa is an oversimplification that does not respond to the complexities of the society and its architecture. We never start from scratch, even vacancies and empty sites are spaces highly charged of meaning. Sometimes we just need to be participants of a longer story that does not start (or ends) with us.