National Portrait Gallery

A gallery as a civic abstracted forest

This proposal for the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra outlined a vision for a building and open-space complex that turns to address Reconciliation Place and the lake.

The emphasis is as much on the people visiting the gallery as the portrait subjects and works within the collection: a celebration of the individuals who have made a major impact upon Australia, as well as the social collective which has been shaped by their contributions.

More than a mere building, it is a combination of external open space as much as a traditional gallery interior, capable of accommodating a range of functions and events. The gallery was to be sheltered and protected, open and engaging, unique and representational, and welcoming to all.

Much like the frame of an artwork, which defines the subject and how the artist intends the subject to be viewed, the architecture will similarly frame the collection, views and vistas to the landscape, and the visitors themselves. Based upon classic traditions of human proportion and anthropomorphic form, elements are collected below emblematic roof profiles that unify and gather all the disparate components of the gallery.

The proposed form and rationale of the gallery is a metaphor of the natural and urban landscape that is the Australian setting for the human figure, with the architecture creating an analogous 'frame' for the human figure.

Sinuous roof forms represent the canopy of the sky and clouds, the podium references the ground and contours of the land, and the vertical timber volumes, slots and spaces draw reference to the bush, forest and other places for the appearance of the human figure.

The preliminary design solution is an architecture that derives from fundamental and accessible elements and essences, and yet is entirely specific and unique in interpreting the vision of the gallery within this special site. The design therefore is the creation of an Australian architectural setting for the human figure and human representation. It is a building that is itself like a portrait, or rather a portrait frame for the combined 'collection'—namely, the artwork and visitors.

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NPG-concept-sketch

Aerial image Canberra

Humansketch

Model