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.

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.

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.

Intact mid 19th century ‘torpedo’ bottle (ug269) recovered from north guardhouse in 1982, on display at the Barracks. Photo Gary Crockett

At least 25 alcohol bottles, along with 8 flower pots and 1 ‘sauce’ bottle, lurked beneath the ground in the north guardhouse, according to archaeologists working here in the early 1980s. Could this mean that the 19th century occupants were big drinkers, and pot plant enthusiasts? Its more likely that the room was used for dumping rubbish.

Among the many bottles uncovered were stoneware vessels for stout, black glass bottles for beer or porter, square base bottles for gin and even one for schnapps. The ‘torpedo’ bottle shown above was one of 2 discovered. These were used for carbonated water and designed to be lying down to keep their corks moist, swollen and air-tight. Archaeologists have dated this deposit between 1870 and 1898.

If anyone’s got a suggestion about the flower pots, we’d be keen to hear about it.

Skyline Design participants in action at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum this week

This week Polyartistry has been holding skyline design workshops in the museum of the Hyde Park Barracks.  It’s all part of our conversation around the restoration of the Hyde Park Barracks Domes.

We talk a bit about favourite Sydney buildings and why they are important, we think about other symbols and signs that we pass by all the time and discuss the meaning that they have for us…and then we spend some time in the lovely silhouette room imagining and making new buildings and spaces for Sydney.     Why would we stop and chat about buildings in this way, or have kids create something from their imagination rather than focus on facts or another more obviously educational outcome?  Because there needs to be some starting point in the journey from the personal meaning that we invest in precious familiar objects to a more outwardly focussed caring about our shared spaces which reflect the heritage and values of a community of people rather than just one person or family.  When we do this, we are building stuff – giving other people an opportunity to build stuff for themselves – not only in terms of making buildings themselves, in this case, but also in terms of contributing to a set of experiences which enable kids to make connections between their inner world and the world around them.

Those of us who are passionate and knowledgeable about art, or music or architecture need to keep in mind that preserving this heritage requires custodians both now and in the future to ensure the ongoing care and maintenance of places that tell collective stories.  One way to do this is by creating a welcoming intellectual space for young people, an entry point into ideas of what we preserve and why, and what we would create if we had the chance.  It’s great to offer kids a beautifully presented and engaging museum space where they can discover many things they didn’t know, but in order to have them leave with a sense of caring or ownership about what might happen to that place in the future requires its own conversation.  A conversation where they can imagine the future of our shared spaces, and how they might be part of it.  That’s really what’s at the heart of the domes restoration: caring about a space that is significant in the story of our society to the point that we want to see it returned to its completed state.

We have one more Skyline Workshop today, Saturday 8 October, at 2pm.  We are also talking to people from midday to 1.30pm. Come and tell us what you think about the domes!

What symbol would we use to get your attention in a public space? A big blue thumb (like this) sign? A giant red arrow?

Just as a special gift might reflect how we feel about another person, we find clues as to how different people feel about our society, and what our life should contain in our surroundings. There are stand-out architectural examples that dominate our skyline. Think of the Sydney Opera House with those amazing sail-like shells –people all over the world who see a picture of that building associate it with Australia and with Sydney. It’s a calling card for us all. There are things we walk past everyday loudly vying for our attention, like enormous illuminated advertisement billboards, and then there are special occasion instances like the light projections we find every year as part of the Vivid Festival. But what did we do in earlier times when engineering and design were more modest, when we didn’t have electricity, when the idea of marketing and brands and getting people’s attention was in its infancy? Where might we find the clues in our early buildings? Well, in Sydney, it all started with a dome.

The interesting thing about the settlement of Australia by Great Britain in the late 1700s is that it was designated a penal colony and rather than building a gaol and putting people in it, the whole country became the prison settlement. So you might imagine that it was rather a momentous occasion when, for the first time, it was decided that everyone who lived outside of the Hyde Park Barracks was a free man, and those who were incarcerated were the people who were serving time for their crimes. For Governor Macquarie, this was a significant shift in our thinking about Australia and a move towards the ‘civilising’ of our society. The addition of domes to the guardhouses of the Hyde Park Barracks was an important part of symbolising this shift in thinking. A ‘civilised’ society incorporated fine architecture which included decorative features like domes. Today, people walk past the Hyde Park Barracks without giving a second thought to the importance of that building in our history or the meaning of those fairly modest objects being reconstructed underneath a shield of scaffolding and hessian. And yet that symbol, and the act of thinking that we were capable of building a society with all the benefits and finery we could possibly imagine, were the beginnings of the modern Australia that we enjoy today.

Dome on Carlton Hill

It is human nature to attach meaning to different symbols and objects, to define spaces for specific purposes – we do it a lot with smaller objects that represent aspects of our own lives. A favourite coffee cup, a pair of earrings given to us for a birthday or anniversary, a dirty, beat-up toy that a child refuses to part with…all those objects have meaning for us beyond the value of the materials themselves. It’s what we see there and how it makes us feel about ourselves that gives the object its importance to us. How often do we stop to use this way of seeing things – some might call it seeing with your heart – in our shared public spaces? To admire the outline of a building, the placement of a park or to notice something else that pleases us and to realise in that moment that other people have been responsible for that; that someone else has left a message of something interesting or beautiful for us to see in our comings and goings in daily life. Of course we are all very quick to complain when we find a sculpture or construction site that isn’t to our liking. How good are we at practising the discipline of appreciating what others preserve for the benefit of us all?

We’d love to hear how you would design your own ultimate Sydney building, or reclaim a famous Sydney place at our Skyline School Holiday workshops, or through our Domes Shingle competition where you can add you own design to our shingle template, send it in and have a chance at winning a great prize!

Next Page »