The launch of the 2017 MPavilion designed by Rem Kookhaas and David Gianotten of Netherland's architecture practice OMA, is not only a chance to get up close and personal with the first OMA project in Australia – that, in itself, is a delight – it also heralds the annual not-to-be-missed arts program of talks, workshops, installations and performances that since 2014 has been drawing crowds to the Queen Victoria Gardens and opening up a part of Melbourne once neglected.
There are so many highlights from this year’s program – diverse as ever – that cover student architecture debates, a dogie photo booth, discussions about the future with robots, a twilight music ritual with Philip Brophy, and morning stories with elder N’arweet Carolyn Briggs. Another stand-out event was 'Design Your Own Pavilion' dreamt up and run by architects Tania Davidge and Christine Phillips of OpenHAUS. Their weekend program took a look at what a pavilion was and how you might design one, and engaged more than 30 kids in the adventure.
Anything but a conventional architecture practice that designs and then oversees the construction of buildings, the duo are more interested in the culture of architecture and how they can engage the greater public in city making through events and exhibitions. At a time of huge urban change in cities across Australia, OpenHAUS has carved out an important role around design advocacy with a grass roots appeal. "We like the idea of opening architecture up to public audience”, remarks Tania. “The big moves by built environment professionals have a huge impact and they don’t go away. It is important to help people feel empowered and have a voice, even if you start with kids. Kids have this particularly unfiltered response. They don’t worry if it’s standing up, they just do and make. It’s great”.
Opening up the workshop by asking the kids about what they thought a pavilion might be laid the foundations for freedom and interpretation. Materials including coloured pipe cleaners, straws, paper and plasticine were the tools of choice, taking the kids on a creative journey to design a pavilion for the lush green surroundings of the Queen Victoria Gardens.
"We asked everyone to choose their materials and they got to work", enthuses Tania. "Some of the kids whipped them up in no time at all and there was one little girl who made the most beautiful little purple model with all of this structure. I think she must have spent an hour intensely working. Others were making crazy, wobbly, wonky things. It’s really fantastic to watch kids engaged like that, and the wonderful thing too is you see their parents there helping. We had quite a few architect parents, an engineer as well, and people who just walked in and were interested. Everybody was getting into it, it was great."