NGV Architecture Commission: Temple of Boom

“There’s a popular piece of wisdom,” says Timothy Moore, “which says that there are no straight lines in the Parthenon.” While the iconicity of the Parthenon has much to do with its perceived perfection, right-angularity, and straight lines, in fact its columns are slightly tapered and curved; even on the level of its geometry, what seems constant in this building is actually constant, if gradual, change.

I am discussing Temple of Boom, this year’s NGV Architecture Commission, with Moore – who is the NGV Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture. The seventh annual commission since 2015 – skipping a year in 2020, when it was especially difficult to exist or create in public space in Melbourne – Temple of Boom is the work of Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang. Tsang and Newman work together at the small architectural firm NWMN, having first met at Monash University where Newman was Tsang’s tutor. At NWMN, they primarily work on residential extensions in Brunswick – a world away from designing reconfigurations of historical civic buildings. Indeed, one of the things that makes the Architecture Commission special, says Moore, is that it allows architects and artists to create projects which differ from their usual fare, without the need to “prove you’ve already done it” which can come part and parcel with traditional commercial commissions. 

Temple of Boom is not a replica of the Parthenon. Rather, it is a work of translation in the truest sense. It re-materialises, recontextualises, and repurposes one of European architecture’s most recognisable buildings, exfoliating the concept of civic space and its functions in the modern city as it does so. Set down in the NGV’s Grollo Equiset Garden, rather than atop the Acropolis, the work is a monumental anti-monolith to change. It is a reminder that, in Moore’s words, “architecture is temporary, though it may seem static in concrete, steel, and brick. It changes over time, as does its meaning.” 

Temple of Boom will be transformed over the course of the summer by a series of commissions on its surface by Melbourne-based artists, as well as a public program including performances of Greek theatre (in translation), lectures and talks, and music. The first three artists to work on the Temple, whose commissions will adorn the commission from its public opening on 22 November, are Manda Lane, Drez, and David Lee Pereira, with further contributions ongoing through the coming months, still to be announced. 

In her broader practice, Manda Lane creates both painted murals and paper cut-outs, which she often uses as paste-up bases for public artworks across Melbourne. For Temple of Boom, she has worked on a painting project exploring processes of transformation and renewal in both ecological and cultural contexts; painting directly onto the glass-reinforced concrete of the structure, she pictures the tactics and accidents of re-growth for a variety of plant species. 

Part of her work is focussed on the olive tree, in a gesture to The Parthenon’s geo-historical (and, in a sense, botanical) contexts: “I like the idea of the olive tree as having deep roots so that it can withstand fire and conflict, and hold its own and be proud. This is the strength of plant life and of nature,” she tells me. Other components of her Temple of Boom work focus on weeds and plant species which thrive “uninvited” in urban settings. “Even when a city is built and nature is suppressed, it finds a way to ring back up,” Lane offers. “I liken this to the way that subcultures thrive in urban spaces, and especially in public space. Where these spaces are developed without consideration for the kinds of creative activity that are part of our society’s DNA, these forms will also find ways to sprout up where they’re uninvited.” 

Lane’s work, then, extrapolates on the foundational ideas of the commission itself: reinvention, public space as artistic space, and the “live” changeability of architecture in civic settings. These concepts are foundational in a very literal sense for Temple of Boom, as well: offering a line of vision to Roy Grounds’s NGV International modelled after a classical palazzo, so viewers take in a broad scope of classical typologies set in contemporary Melbourne, the commission is also built directly on top of the base of last year’s commission, Pond[er], by Taylor Knights + James Carey.

“The Parthenon,” as Moore recalls, “was a temple to Athena; it was a mosque; for the longest period of time it was an Orthodox Church. It’s also been a marketplace, an ammunitions store, a site of looting, and a site of preservation.” While Newman and Tsang’s temple captures The Parthenon in period of wreckage after it exploded in 1687, in a Venetian attack on the then-Ottoman building, it is set to be constantly modulated by the Melbourne of 2022/23 – before, of course, coming down to make way for the next commission.

NGV Architecture Commission: Temple of Boom
From 22 November 2022 
Grollo Equiset Garden, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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