Cumulus Team trip to Melbourne

In August, Cumulus Studio undertook a study tour visiting a selection of award winning projects and tourism hotspots in Victoria. The opportunity to get away from the desk and explore first-hand the inner workings of completed projects occurs too infrequently for most offices, leaving designers often reliant on the ‘desktop experience’ to judge their peers work. Instead, a two-day field trip eating, drinking, and learning the motivations of practices such as Six Degrees Architects, and Lyons Architecture provided the Cumulus Studio team food for thought.

Similar to an aperitif to stimulate the appetite, the expedition began with a visit to McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery. Ken Unsworth’s ‘Annulus of Stones’ (2007) emerged as a significant monument on the expedition of McClelland. Composed of a grouping of stones suspended from wires, Unsworth’s creation suggests levitation between ‘…the material world and the immaterial’.1 The work supports the notion that design balancing the tangible with the ethereal can often uphold the unique outcomes in architecture.

Back on the bus, Cumulus Studio continued toward Victoria’s Morning Peninsula, for lunch at Jackalope by Carr Design Group and wine tasting at Wood Marsh’s Port Philip Estate. While holding comparable functions, these projects take diverging approaches to their respective briefs. Jackalope imbues a holistically contemporaneous approach, like the streamlined exterior of an Apple product, it’s ominously sleek, withholding its extroverted inner workings. Its bold interiors are characterised by the hotel’s creative plot of ‘alchemy’, expressed by various works of art and installations on a backdrop of black painted walls and fluorescent neon. While Emily Floyd’s 7m Jackalope Sculpture symbolises that the project’s inspiration is primarily a hybridised mythical animal, the pairing of a stark modernist aesthetic with contemporary luxury, suggests less cross-breeding was permitted in the design of the architectural response. Comparatively, Port Philip Estate is sensuous in its Corbusian approach to form, and its monumental use of rammed earth walls makes for a heartening constant as we are submerged into the depths of the various cellars and operational facilities below ground. By contrast, the cellar door offers visitors a panoramic view of the vineyard to complement the tasting menu, and a chance for the Cumulus team (consisting of 10 architects and 7 designers) to do some well-earned catching up.

A little road weary from dinner and karoke at Supernormal (no, I’m not performing Wonderwall), day two proceedings began with coffee, and a tour of RMIT’s New Academic Street with host Adam Pustola of Lyons Architects. New Academic Street characterises RMIT’s focus to deliver outcomes that are inherently student focused. In a city where student accommodation can often provide scarce amenity, these revitalisation projects by architects including NMBW Architecture Studio, Harrison and White, and Lyons, prioritise student zones as extensions to home comforts. These are true hybrid buildings wherein programmatic functions act as a conduit for life, and staff are committed to supporting roles only. This is most notably exhibited at RMIT Connect wherein a ‘Multi modal system’ allows students via smart phone to book appointments, then head to the café while they wait for a consulting staff. Sans the familiar help desks and long cues, these innovations emphasise student’s freedom from the officious structures of tertiary environments of the not-too-distinct past.

Venturing out of the metropolis, Heller Street by Six Degrees Architects demonstrates a housing development pushing against the proliferation of high density developer housing in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Situated in Brunswick, the group of 10 townhouses are the brainchild of Six Degrees Architects co-director James Legge (who’s also an owner- occupier). On touring Legge’s own home, it’s clear that the project is characteristic of Six Degrees commitment to detail, as tectonic devices are employed to display the assemblage of ‘things’ reminiscent of the modernist architect Adolf Loos, who promoted the ‘crafting of materials’.2 This philosophy is manifested at Heller in the ‘gathering’ of contrasting plywood finishes to construct joinery that simultaneously acts as dividing wall and shelving to accentuate individuality and delight via the exhibition of belongings. Standing on the roof deck of Legge’s townhouse, we are reminded of the positive contribution architects can make taking an active role engaging in the procurement of buildings; a phase that has historically been developer-driven surely could benefit more often from the vision of a good architect.

It may have only been two days, but the chance to observe architecture the way it was meant to be experienced was nourishing for all who took part. As I reflect on the trip, I’m reminded of the tour guide at McClelland who presumed Cumulus’ experienced team were in fact students; his perception wasn’t completely off- Cumulus Studio are inherently open to new ideas, and its youthful exuberance may stem from the fact that clearly the team is enjoying what it’s part of. Everyone on the bus.

Jet O’Rourke

  1. https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/356.1988.a-yyyy/, accessed 4 September 2017.
  2. Cynthia Jara, ‘Adolf Loos’s “Raumplan” Theory’, Journal of Architecture Education (Feb. 1995), 11.