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Architect's statement

The Gallery has a complex structure — though the genesis of this complexity is a simple triangle. It was the intention of the architectural concept to implant into the grammar of the design a sense of freedom so that the building could be submitted to change and variety but would always express its true purpose. It became in a sense like a Gothic building in that elements could be added or subtracted without damaging the overall principles.

Image one: The geometry of Stonehenge

A flexible geometric law to discipline this idea was found to be a tessellation of regular triangles and hexagons, what may be called a Trihex (image one, The geometry of Stonehenge ) — and this is the geometry on which the design concept is based. The building expresses itself in a mute geometric language. There is a harmony, an ordering of elements in the Gallery building. A unity in the variety of its spaces.

The agreement between the building and its geometry is so cogent it organises the shapes, scale and dimensions of all elements within it to express this harmony.

Knowledge makes prodigious journeys. Pythagoras (image two) proved that the world of sound is governed by exact numbers (image three), he went on to prove that the same thing is true of the world of vision.

The simple numerical structure of the equilateral triangle (image four) extended into the third dimension produces tetrahedral (image five) and octahedral (image six) crystals and this geometric evolvement generates a harmony within the building.

The building is a special kind of space and there are only certain kinds of symmetries which this space can support.

Images 2-8.

The octahedron is a most exquisite crystal (image seven), the natural shape of the diamond crystal, its symmetry is imposed on it by the nature of the space we live in, expressing the crucial law of nature. So a crystal, like a pattern must have a shape that can extend or repeat itself in all directions indefinitely (image eight). The faces of a crystal can only have certain shapes. They could not have anything but the symmetries in the pattern.

The design of the Gallery building has a peculiar inquisitiveness that combines the adventure of its planned communication with this geometric logic where the numbers dovetail and say this is a part of, a key to, the structure of the building.

The equilateral triangle is the nucleus of this structural code dictating the dimensions and character of the building and producing a desirable unity in all areas of the Gallery.

This is realised primarily in the triagrid concrete space frame ceiling/floor systems serving the small galleries and extends to the steel space frames spanning the great gallery spaces. The basic three dimensional law and the inherent flexibility this system contains ensures a potential to express the manifold, complex and interconnected needs of structure, services, aesthetics and the essential neutrality for the display of art within the gallery spaces. Within this grid the mechanical and lighting services are integrated to serve the ceilings and floors.

The detail forming the landscape of this building is full of exact adaptions (image nine)— each element is governed and controlled by the geometry to fit the environment like one cog wheel into another.

The realisation becomes more subtle and penetrating as the elements combine in complex and intimate ways. Architecture as a force brings our attention to visual continuities or absolutes through principles that run or recur from one civilization to another. We can link back to history and traditions in subtle ways and this in turn gives to the observer a feeling of comfort.

The total ethos of the Australian National Gallery does this.

Col Madigan
'Architect's Statement' was previously published in the National Gallery publication: Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Canberra 1976

image: Col Madigan (architect) in front of the National Gallery building c.1978 Col Madigan (architect) in front of the National Gallery building c.1978