Immersive Space of Imagination: LAVA’s ‘Other Worldly’ Martian Embassy

Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent

The Martian Embassy designed by LAVA (Laboratory for Visionary Architecture, led by Chris Bosse) is the home of the Sydney Story Factory in Redfern Street, Sydney. Led by Catherine Keenan (co-founder and executive director), ‘the Sydney Story Factory is a not-for-profit creative writing centre for young people in inner Sydney. Volunteer tutors help students to write and publish stories. Free programs target young people, from marginalized, Indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds, but are open to everyone. It was inspired by 826 Valencia, a creative writing centre for young people started by novelist Dave Eggers in San Francisco in 2002′ [Press Release]. The concept of the Martian Embassy is possibly informed by the flights of fancy that must underpin the act of transcending reality to enter the realm of imagination and fiction, where the encounter of the new, wonderful, and bizarre suggest endless possibilities.

Martian Embassy (View from the Embassy toward the Classroom), Photo: Brett Boardman Photography

Largely a pro bono project, the Martian Embassy was a collaboration between LAVA, Will O’Rourke (production), and The Glue Society (creative directors, and an independent creative collective located in Sydney and New York), who developed the Martian concept, involving also Berents Project Management (Project Manager), ARUP (lighting and acoustic design), Redwood Projects (builder), Philips (lighting), Syntec (sound), and Avatar (oils). The ‘kits of parts’ (both material and intellectual) donated generously by the project’s multiple partners is stitched together effortlessly in the creation of an immersive interior that houses the Embassy, the Shop, and the Classroom.

The layout of the Martian Embassy is therefore akin to an ‘intergalactic journey – from the embassy, at the street entrance, to the shop full of red planet traveller essentials, to the classroom. By the time kids reach the writing classes they have forgotten they are in school’. Constructed entirely out of CNC-cut plywood (1,068 pieces), the interior consists of a system of repetitive spatial ribs that undulate in three dimensions to mould a fluid organic space. The spatial distinctions in the Martian Embassy are imperceptible, and the transitions between spaces are indicated subtly by the protrusion of fixed furniture and shelving, which are extensions of the skeletal system of the ribs. The skeletal ribs are not structural in the conventional sense of the word but they are spatio-structural. They structure or organize the occupation of the interior, highlighted also by the lines on the floor that follow the ribs. The three and two dimensional articulation of the fluid geometry prompts the body’s rhythmic movement through space.

The Martian Embassy, Photo: Peter Murphy

The concept of fluid space makes the most of what could have been a narrow, deep, and dark space, devoid of daylight and dynamism. But at the Martian Embassy, the entry through the door in fact leads the eye through the interior to the sunlit backyard. The daylight filtering in is complemented by the changing LED light sequences that make different parts of the ribs glow in different colours at different times. It is as if the interior were suffused with self sustaining life. This demonstrates LAVA’s interest in the synthesis of the organic and the technological. Hence, whilst they claim to derive the concept of the Martian Embassy from the ‘fusion of a whale, a rocket, and a time tunnel’, they also admit indebtedness to the technologies from the ‘yacht and space industry’ for the creation of the timber ribs. The hybrid imagination of LAVA is clearly the perfect conduit for a creative writing centre. LAVA’s expertise in working across scales, materials, typologies, and budgets (from the design of a lamp, a bookshelf, city planning, and towers) also informs the successful conceptualization and execution of the Martian Embassy.

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