This is the distinguished face of William Barak, the last traditional ngurungaeta (Elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan. From our apartment tower, his portrait oversees Melbourne’s Swanston Street axis.
Barak (c. 1824–1903) was an artist, an influential crusader for Aboriginal social justice and an authority on Wurundjeri cultural lore. When he was 11 years old he witnessed John Batman meeting the tribal Elders and purchasing Melbourne.
We consulted closely with Barak’s family and the wider Wurundjeri community throughout the design process. We hope the façade will endure in recognition of the history and presence of Aboriginal nations on the land where Melbourne now stands.
The image comes from a photograph of a sculpture of Barak by contemporary artist Peter Schipperheyn. First, we reduced the photo to a binary black-and-white image.
Adobe Photoshop turned the image into horizontal bands of black and white varying in vertical thickness. Next, we converted the bands into vector-based line work to import into 2D and 3D CAD files to determine the measurements for fabrication.
The image is realised with white panels bolted onto black balcony slabs. The panels (up to 6 m long and 2 m high) are an innovative engineered surfboard-like composite 140mm thick: PET foam core with E-plate (fibre mesh) and vinyl-ester external wrapping. They stand out against the black building.
The face curves from the southern to the eastern façade so it looks clearest if you directly face the corner that points along Swanston Street.
The tower’s ideal viewpoint is the Shrine of Remembrance, which marks the southern end of the Swanston Street axis. From the Shrine (2.8 km away) you can see the face clearly. As you move closer the face fades from view and increasingly you see the effect of curved, carved balconies.
All residents get to enjoy the tower’s panoramic cityscape views from the communal Skydeck space on the 31st floor. Instead of exclusive penthouses, we’ve provided a shared space to entertain guests and meet neighbours. It includes expansive kitchen and dining facilities, spas, barbeques and an entertainment space with a 20-seat theatre. Its environment encourages sole residents and new Melburnians to connect with others.
The northern and western façades are an interpretation of a topographic map. They also look a little like a heat map. The same colours feature in the lobbies and in the eight different interior colour pallettes for the apartments.
The map extends to the podium carpark at the south-western corner of the tower. Its façade has a grid of portholes, as if circles were architecturally subtracted from it. Selected holes are filled with fibreglass discs to spell “Wurundjeri I am who I am” in braille, (right).
“Something like this has been a long time waiting, and I think it’s wonderful. My great grandfather would be so proud.”
—Aunty Doreen Garvey-Wandin, Wurundjeri Elder and Great Granddaughter Of William Barak
“We think a building of this scale and civic significance owes the public a visual and cultural contribution as well as providing thoughtfully for its residents”
—ARM Architecture Director Howard Raggatt