Melbourne’s Federation Square has created an indelible mark on the city.
At the same time that it was heritage listed, BKK Architects was commissioned to create a new identity for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).
“From the outset, ACMI wasn’t purpose built for the development and there were no clear sight lines or procession,” says architect Tim Black, principal of BKK Architects, who worked closely with architect Deb Adams, a senior associate of the practice and architect and principal Simon Knott.
Their team, who worked with London-based branding agency Razorfish, received an interior architecture award from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter) as a result.
“We had to create a series of well-connected paths through ACMI, as well as making the film and digital world more accessible to the public,” says Adams, recalling the former escalator that simply bypassed many of the activities ACMI was offering.
Briefed by ACMI’s CEO, Katrina Sedgwick, the architects and designers were commissioned to develop a unique and recognisable presence for this much-loved Melbourne institution within the building’s halo of angular metal panels, glass and stone.
“It was important to speak to the history of the culture associated with the moving image,” says Knott.
One of the films that influenced BKK’s colour palette also came from the exuberant costumes worn in the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
This history of both the image and the Australian context beautifully unfolds in the new ‘urban lounge’/foyer that leads directly from Flinders Street.
Even before exploring ACMI, visitors can take a moment to sit and reflect on this space from multi-coloured-striped upholstered banquette seating with its extended canopy.
“We drew on the colours of the Australian fauna,” says Adams, pointing out the deep reds and orange tones found in the landscape.
The former gallery was also reworked with new interactive displays.
The BKK team point out the ‘Foley Room’ in the new exhibition space.
Framed by vacuum-packed orange panelled walls there’s a series of objects, including a dishpan and a pair of runners: the former used to create the sound of crackling bacon in a pan, while the runners are tapped together to evoke a person on the run.
Instead of an escalator, people can now meander up the stairs or alternative part of the staircase’s broad timber platforms, to catch up.
Alternatively, they can move to the multi-function space at the top of the stairs and view some of ACMI’s memorabilia in the customised cabinet displays.
Those who loved through the 1970s are likely to gravitate to the Countdown section of the wall, while others will be intrigued by the many cameras on display.
This glazed wall of cabinets appears entirely fixed, but one section on wheels can be moved to allow the lab behind it – used to restore film – to form part of the experience.
BKK Architects also designed this space for novice filmmakers to show their work by including a retractable screen and concealed equipment in the wide timber overhead beams directly above.
This project was also an opportunity to integrate the work of prominent local artists. There are moving image walls by artist Daniel von Sturmer at level one, and at the entrance to the exhibition space below is a work on the ceiling by Vicki Couzens, with Indigenous figures featured on the orange Perspex dish.
BKK also included a teaching space for schoolchildren, along with a new retail offering at ground level that further connects ACMI to those simply passing through Federation Square.
“We felt from the outset the responsibility of respecting the original design, but also making it evident where the new work was fashioned,” says Black, pointing out the circular coffered ceiling, as opposed to the many angular extrusions found in the original design. “It still connects to the whole, but you now know you’re firmly ensconced at ACMI.”