We had a great day on Domes Day, Sunday 13 November.  Beautiful weather, fun people…and our two famous domes!  We completed our public art sculpture, a cardboard replica of a dome, covered in shingles decorated by people of all ages, we had a grand unveiling of the domes, people talked to us about domes and shinges, there were tours, people could find out all about the shingles themselves – it was a great day.  Check out our video of the day:

The Unveiling of the Domes on Domes Day! from Historic Houses Trust on Vimeo.

One of the interesting things for us in working on this project has been unpacking the many contradictions we find in history, conservation and the contrasting approaches to both concepts.  Macquarie died in disgrace, discredited by Bigge.  Now we enjoy his and Greenway’s extraordinary vision when we encounter the fruits of that partnership across Sydney.  These are places that we walk past on our way to work, or visit with friends.  We hold our festivals, parties and celebrations in these places.  Many people we spoke to about architecture in the course of this project agreed that we need to preserve history, and that our ‘old buildings’ are an important part of that story.  But very few people, if any, knew that the Hyde Park Barracks is a Unesco World Heritage site, as one of the most important convict sites in the world.  The completion of the domes marks the final part of the restoration of the Hyde Park Barracks, so it really has been something worth talking about.

Since everyone we spoke to seemed to agree that places like the Barracks are important, and that we should value the contribution of people like Macquarie in shaping a vision for modern Australia as well as his contribution to the Sydney skyline, why don’t we continue the domes celebration? I have a simple suggestion, based on what we’ve been doing these last 10 weeks.  Tell someone else about it.  Make it important and make Macquarie’s vision live on – by sharing it.

As a classical musician, I am often occupied with twin aims.  The first is score led: I’m working on an interpretation based on learned knowledge about different styles of playing the clarinet at different periods of time, or the hallmarks and goals of a particular composer.  The second is performance led: what actually happens in the total experience where the score is one element in a bigger tapestry.  In performance, we weave together score and space and sound and listener and in that sense, the completed work arguably is the sum total of all those factors.

So it is with something like the Hyde Park Barracks domes.  The first part of the process – the ‘score led’ part if you like – has been all about the details of the restoration, who would be the architect, how it would be done.  The second part of the process – the performance – is a bringing together of a number of additional elements, which has included bringing the public into a conversation about domes.  Does the symbolism of the domes change if more people know the story behind them, and what they represent to us in terms of their place in a vision for a modern Australia? On one hand, it would be easy to say, “no, it makes no difference”.  Their restoration confirms their significance.  On the other hand my inclination would be to suggest that, “yes, it actually does matter if people are aware of the symbolism of the domes”.  Personal connection to a space or place significantly changes the way in which we view it, and interact with it.  But as with so many other things in this busy life, we tend not to think about things in a what-does-this-mean-to-me way until they are under threat or about to be taken away from us.  Check out our video of our conversation with Head of Programs at the Historic Houses Trust, Dr Sophie Lieberman.

The big picture from Historic Houses Trust on Vimeo.

A dedicated team of passionate people have overseen this restoration project. If you’d like to meet them and find out more about the story of the domes and their restoration, we’ll be there on Domes Day this Sunday, 13 November from 10am – 12.30pm, sharing that story and inviting you to be part of it.  We ‘d love to see you there.

Animating spaces, stimulating conversations about topics that are out of the ordinary sometimes seems difficult to do, in the same way that attracting any attention at all poses a challenge in a world where the greatest deficiency of all is arguably time.  Time to investigate all those interesting ideas, time to explore hobbies, and time to explore our immediate surroundings…

I’ve been reading a lot lately about whether we are experiencing a declining interest in culture.  Are we facing the death of classical music? is a question that is regularly asked in my work as a musician, and many other art forms have their own equivalents.  It really depends on the kinds of conversations you are participating in, and listening in on.  We’ve been talking to people about domes over the last few weeks, and thinking about what kind of spaces, places and activities might frame that discussion.  There is a simplicity about the domes that runs counter to their significance in the story of modern Australia.  In previous posts, I’ve explored the idea of symbols being over-looked, and this week I’m wondering if we aren’t also taking them for granted.  The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes got us thinking about what might happen if a humble food staple became sentient and enraged with humans.  Hitchcock’s The Birds and Christine, about the car who falls in love with its owner, are two other examples.

So if we were to have an Attack of the Domes, what might that look like?

Right now its locked up at Hyde Park Barracks. But what will happen when we unleash our dome on Sunday?

Well you can see that our dome sculpture is growing in size, getting ready for all the lovely shingles people have been colouring and decorating and sending in to us.

It isn’t too late to be part of our public art dome  – get your entries into the Historic Houses Trust by this Friday.  And don’t forget Domes Day itself, this Sunday, 13 November from 10am – 12.30.  We’ll see you there.

a pile of ‘standard’ 15 inch shingles rescued from an early colonial house in Sydney. Photo Gary Crockett

According to Ralph Hawkins, our hands-on convict historian from the Blue Gum High Forests of Sydney’s northern suburbs, split shingles were always fixed to roofs facing the same way they grew. This meant that rain water ran off the shingle in the same way it ran down the tree. Shingles were mostly 15 inches long, which was roughly the length of a convict’s arm from his elbow to his fingers. This made them easy to carry from the cutting area to the cart or onto the barge waiting to take them away. How about that eh?

Get along to Domes Day at the Hyde Park Barracks on 13 November and hear Ralph Hawkins reveal more fascinating stuff on shingles, domes and convict workmanship.

A shingling party in action around Middle Harbour, Sydney 1870s. Detail of an image in Album of Photographs PXA 969, sourced online from State Library of New South Wales.

More than 2-dimensional: under the rafters of the newly built guardhouse domes. Photo Gary Crockett

Our new domes are indeed sexy, in a splintery, folksy way. But how does their ‘accuracy’, or the quality of their construction, help us know more about the past, or their original builders, or the ragged world that they once were part of…? Surely they’re more than a shape, or a symbol of colonial progress. More than a costly facsimile. Former HHT curator James Broadbent once warned us that re-creation needs to forge new understandings and teach us something about life in the past, otherwise the whole activity is “a self indulgent waste of time and money on the past of its creators, or re-recreators”. Our challenge as keepers of the re-roofed guardhouses is to make them perform – to help them sing for their supper and reveal intriguing things about themselves. Looking good, or being well built, is only part of the job. They need to speak up and tell us something about the world of convicts, constables, colonists, power, pain, terror, cruelty, heartbreak and hope that echoes within their walls and under their (accurately re-made) rafters.

Musicians are often concerned with time. Rhythm and form in music shift the way in which we experience time passing – we move from ‘colloquial’ or everyday kind of time to different variations and moods in which a moment is extended or compressed, where the direction, line or shape of a phrase will have us listening breathlessly or put us in a more relaxed frame of mind. These different emotional states impact our perception of how quickly or slowly time passes. How often do we pause to consider our own internal time measurement, and the ways in which our daily activities trigger different emotional responses in us: what is the difference between the ‘going to’ or ‘coming from’ mode of being, as opposed to arriving at a destination, be it work, home or somewhere in between? We spend a lot of our time in going to and coming from spaces, but very little of that time is spent being engaged with our immediate surroundings. We are on the phone, we are listening to music, we are tweeting/checking facebook/reading. We might be physically present, but our attention is often directed elsewhere, cramming all kinds of other tasks into that travelling space which we often perceive as neutral. But in that neutral space, we find the markers of our shared social life, the examples of thinking and aspiration demonstrated on a public level, beyond the imaginings of private, individual lives. In that space, we find things like spires and sky scrapers and museums and domes.

So for the large majority of us who will frequently pass a building, park or public space and for the most part ignore it, here are 5 Reasons Why Domes Are Sexy:

1. Domes are a symbol of someone (an architect) having fun.
2. Domes are a symbol of what used to constitute civilised society.
3. Domes are simple and beautiful from a design perspective.
4. Domes come in all shapes and sizes, just like us.
5. Domes are like many of the best things in life – which might include chocolate, suede shoes and vinyl records – you can live without them, but it’s nice having them there.

If you were making a list of reasons of why domes are sexy, what would you include?

Don’t forget you can still be part of our Domes Day Celebrations by entering our Shingle Design Competition.

Make a shingle from Historic Houses Trust on Vimeo.

Download a template (PDF) and send it in before 13 November and you could win an art and craft pack!

This week, we wanted to share with you a conversation we had with one of the passionate people who work at the Hyde Park Barracks: Curator Gary Crockett.

Conversations about Domes: Gary Crockett talks from Historic Houses Trust on Vimeo.

What was fascinating about that conversation was the number of different meanings the domes took on, depending on who you were referring to.  We could view the domes as the architect Greenway having some fun – having designed a very imposing sandstone structure, he caps it off with two wooden-shingled domes that are whimsical and almost ephemeral compared to the building they are decorating.  We could view the domes as an unnecessary and expensive item to maintain and repair – and we imagine what it must have been like for convicts arriving to the Hyde Park Barracks as it fell into a state of disrepair with the dilapidated domes and broken windows rendering the dominating building desolate and terrifying. We could view the gatehouse in terms of another of its uses – as a child’s bedroom at one point, and at other times a location for lover’s lunchtime trysts.

So what happens when we conserve or preserve a building or site?  Most of these places do not revert to their original uses, but are reimagined as museums or gallery spaces.  We return the building to a state of stability and functionality in order that we might create a new life for the building through the ways in which we enable people to see its purpose and meaning in new ways.  In that sense, restoring and old buildings from the past links us to our history and heritage by giving us the opportunity to view ourselves and our current lifestyle differently.

Come and check out the domes, or contribute a shingle to our paper sculpture dome we’re creating for Domes Day on Sunday 13 November and see Hyde Park Barracks in a whole new way, thanks to two little wooden domes.

During one of our conversations with visitors to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, someone commented that one of the beautiful things about old buildings is the thick walls and high ceilings – remnants of an era where things were built to last.

It’s a far cry from today’s throw-away society where as soon as something shows signs of age, or breaks down, we chuck it out.

Shingled roofs, however, were never that sturdy with an average lifespan of 20 to 25 years.  So whilst the imposing facade of the Hyde Park Barracks remained in place, within a relatively short time frame the original domes were in a state of disrepair.  Once removed, the gatehouses remained domeless for 150 years before the restoration process was undertaken.  This week we had our own mini ‘domes disaster’ when our sculpture prototype housed in the Hyde Park Barracks Museum started to lose a few of its shingles.  In our case, it wasn’t a design problem – it was more about cardboard + glue + lots of kids in a busy museum space.  What’s interesting is the artist’s response: we won’t bin our prototype, we’ll repair it.  Many works of art, much like our cardboard and paper dome sculpture, are ephemeral but the ideas behind them are often ones that we spend lifetimes exploring.  Our dome will be built to last a day, with the purpose of housing all the decorated shingles people have been sending in as part of our conversations around the domes restoration project.

If you’d like to contribute a shingle of your own, you can download a template from here. Check out this short how-to video made with the help of one of our new friends:

Make a shingle from Historic Houses Trust on Vimeo.

Just as Greenway and Macquarie were undeterred by unexpected obstacles in the construction of their grand vision for Sydney, we will take inspiration from the indomitable spirit of our forefathers and get back to the glue guns to have our sample dome sculpture repaired in no time! Your shingles will help us a great deal in making a glorious public sculpture on November 13 for Domes Day.

Here’s a conundrum…the HHT has just removed the hardwearing fibreglass coverings from the roofs of its guardhouses and replaced these with frail and costly shingles that will start deteriorating as soon as the sun and rain starts belting down, which is already. We’ve reinstated a key, albeit quirky detail, giving the mighty Barracks its elegant entrance back. But unlike the sturdy brickwork of Greenway’s convict building, the guardhouse shingles will be lucky to last more than 30 years at best.

Why do you think its a good idea to rebuild the domed roofs and cover them with shingles…?

North Guardhouse, June 2009

North Guardhouse Oct 2011

For the past two weeks, Matthew and I have been talking to people  – the staff of the Historic Houses Trust, visitors to Hyde Park Barracks and people on the street – about domes, asking them about their favourite buildings.Check out a video of our conversations here:

What’s in a dome? from Historic Houses Trust on Vimeo.

There are a number of ways we can draw attention to an idea or message and sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are messages everywhere in our public spaces left by ambitious architects and forward thinking urban planners.  Those messages include aspirations for our society, examples of our skill in engineering and design.  But a lot of the people who we spoke to all agreed on one thing: we don’t make buildings to last like we used to and preserving heritage spaces is vitally important in remembering where we’ve come from.

Matthew Aberline, with our giant inflatable arrow outside Hyde Park Barracks Friday 14 October

Part of measuring our progress involves the ability to reflect.  To look back on our past and see how far we have come.  What we love about the Hyde Park Barracks Domes is that they are a very whimsical and understated symbol of a period of time in which Australia was developing the beginnings of nationhood beyond its function as a penal colony.  Most people who walk past them wouldn’t realise this on first look, and we’ve enjoyed sharing the story with people of all ages from all over the world in our workshops and conversations.

You can join the conversation too via twitter, facebook, or entering our shingle design competition in the lead up to Domes Day, Sunday 13 November.

Next Page »