Building Blocks was a temporary urban experiment and mobile public art sculpture animating streetscapes around Circular Quay, Sydney. Between 7 and 11 April 2014, the mobile public art sculpture was constructed, dismantled, moved and re-formed each day between 7am to 2pm, inviting workers, residents and visitors to stop, take a seat, play a game and start a conversation around the Quay Quarter Sydney precinct bounded by Bridge, Alfred, Loftus and Philip Streets. The event offered a taste of how under-used public spaces will soon be revitalised into a vibrant urban neighbourhood, to be known as Quay Quarter Sydney.
While Circular Quay is home to thousands of workers, and plays host to many visitors and tourists every day, its street life is less than active - there are few places for people to linger, to connect, to enjoy the city and claim the streets as their own.
Commissioned by AMP Capital, the collaborative work brought together one of Australia’s most distinctive street artists, Jumbo, colour masters Lymesmith, and local architecture firm Fearns Studio. The team delivered a fresh new structure each day, enhancing the original streetscape and bringing life to the streets through design, colour and amenity. The boxes have since been reused by AMP Capital to enliven some of their commercial office spaces.
AMP Capital is currently working with the City of Sydney to transform its holdings in Circular Quay into a new vibrant mixed use destination at the gateway to Sydney and on the city’s cultural ribbon, to be known as Quay Quarter Sydney.
Building Blocks was the first in a series of public art events planned by AMP Capital, as ‘gifts’ to the residents and workers of Sydney, to publicise and develop dialogue around the vision for Quay Quarter Sydney.
The artistic director Jess Scully was conscious of the need for high impact colour to draw people to interact with Building Blocks. She invited Lymesmith to develop a colour strategy, and the rest of the team, architect Matt Fearns and street artist Andy (Jumbo) were enthusiastic collaborators. Due to budget and time constraints, the box forms were kept extremely simple and adaptable, and the colour palette created the visual excitement on the street. The large number of boxes allowed the display to change and adapt to each installation location and the colour system gave a cohesive identity to the event.
The colour palette sought to demonstrate a strong relationship between the iconic AMP tower on Alfred St and the Building Blocks themselves.
Colour theorist Joseph Albers spoke about parent and child colour relationships - two or more ‘Parent’ colours which, when mixed in various proportions, would form a number of ‘Children’ colours – all unique, but visibly related.
In order that the Building Blocks could demonstrate their ‘parentage’, four colours were chosen to represent the 1950s AMP tower - Resene Gold Dust metallic (spandrel panels), Resene Half Spanish White (white marble), Resene Emerald Green (green marble) and Resene Crowshead (steel glazing frames and window reflections).
The rich materiality of this building led to the decision to use three finishes in the blocks – wood stain, metallic paint and waterborne enamel.
The second group of colours were chosen more intuitively. The aim was to make the ‘old parent’ colours of AMP break into a smile, as if a bright and cheeky grandchild had climbed onto its lap and created a bit of chaos. In order to explain the palette to the client the two colour groups were described as ‘serious’ and ‘engaging’. In combination, it was hoped they would become ‘seriously engaging’ and draw the public to interact with them.
As Lymesmith had agreed to oversee the painting of the boxes, and paint at least half of them, there were no conversations with professional painters about the fact that each box required six or seven colours in three different finishes. In addition, sanding, undercoats and sealers meant that each of the 56 boxes needed at least 21 steps to complete.
Some colours needed undercoat, some didn’t, and the order of which colour to paint first had to be carefully worked out. Keeping track of which face was to be painted with which colours was also challenging, and a good lesson for future projects.
Each box was first undercoated in Resene Quick Dry waterborne primer undercoat, except for the sections that required a wood stain finish, before finishing in solid colours of Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen in Resene Half Spanish White (complex neutral), Resene Downy (clear aquamarine), Resene Mona Lisa (orange red) and Resene Enamacryl Metallic in Resene Gold Dust (gold metallic). The stained areas were coloured using Resene Colorwood stains of Resene Evergreen (forest green), Resene Crowshead (wood tar brown), Resene Candlelight (warm yellow), and Resene Clementine (clean orange) finished in Resene Aquaclear waterborne urethane.
Despite the challenges, the complex colouring created a vibrant and eyecatching display, which attracted a great deal of attention and enabled AMP to promote its development proposal for Quay Quarter to a broad range of people.
A frequent comment from passersby to the promotions team was “I have no idea what this is or why you are here, but I love these colours!” The team then filled in the blanks and disseminated the information required. It was like catching fish with a shimmering lure.
This project won the Resene Total Colour Display + Product Award. The judges commented “With an activation that invites you to come and play, the colours on these building blocks are a key part of the attraction, inviting attention and involvement. Interactive and social, this unique yet related palette, is subdued, a fresh direction in using colour to attract attention without just opting for the boldest colours. The colour takes the project forms up a notch, adding another level of interest.
The colour palette demonstrates a strong relationship between the tower and the building blocks themselves with colour combinations cleverly positioned across all faces.
A stand out winner.”
Architectural specifier: Lymesmith
Building contractor: Matt Watson, Winchester Interiors
Client: AMP Capital, Quay Quarter
Design and conceptual collaboration: Matt Fearns
Photographer: Stuart Miller, Sonia van de Haar
Project manager: Jess Scully
Quay Quarter web design, marketing: Frost
Tape graphics, assistant box painter: Andrew Boddam Whetham aka Jumbo
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