Designer Jennifer McMaster from TRIAS architectural studio explains the ideas behind Four Periscopes, the 2018 MAAS architectural commission.
Four Periscopes emerged from a series of observations about the Museum hall where the work is installed. When I first visited the site at the Powerhouse Museum with my colleagues Casey Bryant and Jonathon Donnelly from TRIAS architectural studio, we noticed how this grand, cavernous space is experienced from multiple vantage points — it invites visitors to look up, down, around and out. We saw the potential for an installation that would encourage visitors to move around the Powerhouse Museum, exploring both the space and the collection with greater curiosity.
The idea of periscopes emerged in the design process, through drawing and discussion. One of the primary purposes of architecture is to bring people together, to frame and contain space to allow human connections to flourish. To us, Four Periscopes highlights the importance of communicating within our ‘commons’ by encouraging visitors to reflect and connect with one another via a matrix of mirrors.
TRIAS’s design was also influenced by the work of contemporary artists, such as Yayoi Kusama and Olafur Eliasson, who use immersion and reflection. The periscopes employ concealed mirrors to connect people on the balconies to the ground floor, and from one tower to another. Part of the joy of the installation lies in witnessing unexpected interactions, and in deciphering how each tower works. The work is visually simple and technically complex in the way it is conceived and experienced.
Since the periscopes are so visual, and visible, we also liked the idea of subverting the role of mirrors. In response to our image-obsessed culture, Four Periscopes transforms the mirror, a traditionally visual device, into an experience. The periscopes become portals that transport us away from ourselves and, instead, encourage interactions with others. They create complex webs of connections and layer lines of sight.
We developed the design using both physical and 3D models, as well as prototypes, which we used to test and assess the various view corridors, and to experiment with different building materials.
We intended to keep the installation abstract from afar, to heighten the experience of the periscopes. This decision encouraged us to cover the towers in birch plywood, a seamless and uniform timber cladding. Meanwhile, the interior needed to feel unexpected and interactive. The use of gold paint and lustrous fabric became critical to creating this atmosphere.
The final challenge related to the project’s construction and reuse. We proposed the installation should adopt a ‘second life’ after the exhibition, in response to the Museum’s exhibition Common Good and the wasteful life cycles that often accompany architecture and design. All the parts, including the frame, connections and sheeting, needed to detach and reattach for reassembly as a pavilion after the exhibition.
We documented our ideas for how the structure might transform in a series of models, now displayed alongside the periscopes. This ‘second life’ ensures that Four Periscopes will remain within the Museum’s collection, continuing to connect, engage and delight.
Four Periscopes by TRIAS is the first of three MAAS architectural commissions funded by a far-sighted and generous donor. The installation is on level 2 of the Powerhouse Museum until January 2019.