HOTA: More than a Ripple

Our directors Jesse Judd and Mark Raggatt presented Home of the Arts as part of The Architecture Symposium: Beyond the Building discussion hosted by Architecture Media as part of their Design Speaks series. The session explored projects that have had a ripple effect well beyond the footprint of their building. Watch the video below:


Full transcript below:

Jesse Judd (JJ): The Home of the Arts was born out of an international design competition and awarded to ARM in 2014. Then known as the Gold Coast Cultural Precinct, the project imagined a new place for culture in Australia’s fifth biggest city. We imagined a transformation of what was an administrative campus into an “Artscape” of celebration, of community and culture. We imagined a place for everyone, free of the shackles of Australia’s colonial capitals. ARM were well aware of the cynical black collars, who jived at the Gold Coast, and culture, or perhaps the oxymoron. To us, it was quite the opposite. The cultural landscape was vivid. The lines between making and seeing were pleasantly blurry, and we placed walking a dog and swimming in the lake as an equal cultural endeavor to gazing at a Ben Quilty or listening to the QSO.

Projects like these don’t come out of the vapor. Remember, this is a council-funded project without a cent from the state or feds. A visionary mayor, Tom Tate, has guided the entire project. Dedicated project managers Mike Parish, Trent Windsor, Rachel Ray; the ever-energetic CEO of HOTA, Criena Gehrke; the tireless gallery curator, Tracy Cooper-Lavery; all led by board chairs Robyn Archer and subsequently Ned Pankhurst.

We knew that HOTA would not be one project, but many. It needed to be broken up into stages over 15 years. We also knew that the outlook needed bold vision. It needed to be brave, and it needed a narrative that could transcend the cut and thrust of local government politics.

So, to the design thinking. The very nature of the Gold Coast is its unbridled optimism, a city whose very character is defined by constant change and an unpredictable urban condition. We searched for the inherent DNA, the perfect armature for this tricky endeavor.

ARM had toyed with Voronoi geometries in the past, but never as a master planning gesture. We were struck by its biofilic qualities and its scaleless character. Generated by seed points, which self-perpetuate both in two dimensions and three dimensions. So, our master planning became something neither a classical symmetry of axis and vistas nor an artful curve, but rather a rough and always complete organic lattice.

Mark Raggatt (MR): The Voronoi is ubiquitous in nature, and now yesterday’s fad in architecture; or rather, architects have become bored with its image, because we are tempted to think it’s just a motif. And as a motif, it’s a powerful one.


But why then should it exist so prevalently in nature? What does nature know of motifs, or ornament for that matter? For us, it provided HOTA with an organizing structure that resists the inclinations of our discipline; the learned gestures, rules of thumb, aesthetic predispositions, the obsessive compulsive desire to line everything up neatly. A system that resists the tyranny of planning and colonial urban structures. It is a system, but one that’s open, that is adaptive.

And because it’s adaptive, it gave us an organizing structure that allowed the ambitious brief to be delivered in stages, without compromise to the larger plan; or in fact, with compromise. The Voronoi structure adapts and compromises over time. It is the vehicle for landscape and built form to cooperate. The Voronoi then is both artifice and principle, both ornament and structure, motif and foundation.


JJ: As we imagined the components of this artscape, we thought about the full spectrum of culture endeavors, from picnics on the green to heavy metal after dark. We wanted the amphitheater to be more than a bandstand and a grassy knoll. We knew that the journey was important as the destination, and the site being a peninsula, we needed a new way of getting there on bike and foot. We imagined the perfect gallery for the city of skyscrapers; a tower, of course, in the spirit of the world’s cultural landmarks. And a vertical art experience of delight and discovery, as if climbing the beanstalk to discover more than you ever dreamed, complete with a bungee jump, of course.

MR: The Home of the Arts tries to capture both the irrepressible modern city and the ancient natural world beneath, between, above and within. We aren’t preferencing one over the other. We aren’t nostalgic for the wilderness, or unreformed metropolitan urbanists. Rather, we celebrate both; the neon glow of the Pink Poodle and the complex palette of the natural world. No doubt, we fail to capture the complexity of all that. No doubt, we fall short even of our own hopes. But cities are forgiving of our shortcomings. They continue to grow, to manufacture complexity. If we can influence that growth toward an acknowledgement of, and cooperation with, the living world, that might be enough.

JJ: Transitioning the site from an administrative campus to a cultural playground required a brave first step. The council’s Beehive chambers was designed by Alan Griffith and completed in 1976, a bold building in its own right. And after a brief flirtation with repurposing the administration building for a temporary art gallery, the demolition recast the heart of a site for a new cultural beginning.

MR: Human-made places are each unique interactions between living and built environments. These interactions are necessarily unique to place; the physicality, geology, waterways, the way the sun hits the earth and how much, once upon a time, it was the availability of local materials too, before we specified buildings from the global marketplace. And culture too grew within the landscape and alongside the places we made. At our best, humans cooperate with the places we inhabit. At our worst, well, we are a species that eats the future.

The Gold Coast is a skinny city, strung out between the curling waves and volcanic hinterland; a strange mix of mid-century suburbia and sandy bitumen, prickled with all white spires. It is a miraculous city; beached, sparkling, doofing, partying, surfing, meditating, and all the rest.

The city exists because the landscape is like a dream, a natural wonder, yet the city seems to defy the landscape. The radiant towers, each nearly indistinguishable from the other, specified from the same international catalog. Aren’t we all guilty of that?

The city doesn’t seem to cooperate with the landscape so much as gawk at it. The city seems preoccupied with desire, with politics, planning voodoo and economics, and yet, and yet for all that, what a spectacular city it is. It is impossible to suppress the glittering, the verdant, the lush and the scrubby. Impossible to ignore all that blue. Impossible to suppress the sense of opportunity of teenage hijinks, of hyper beachiness, of great privilege and great good fortune.

There is a dead Swiss architect who is said to have called New York a tragic hedgehog. I wonder what he would’ve said of the Gold Coast.

JJ: The city’s brief for the amphitheater was dubbed the versatile outdoor stage, with the city leaving it up to ARM to define what potential could be unfolded from this ambiguous nom de plume. The building became an end-on stage for an amphitheater with an audience capacity of 5,000, but also intimate enough for kids to do an impromptu performance for their family. The stage itself has a proscenium large enough for a full symphony orchestra, the lawn suitable for art, installation, picnics, yoga and functions. And when the door comes down, a full service, 200-seat black box, complete with green rooms for theater and cabaret and a function venue with catering kitchen.

MR: Like all serious theaters, it’s a machine that must work efficiently and safely. Because of this, and because most modern theaters are in dense urban environments, they tend to have hard exteriors, blank walls, little interaction with the outside world, except for their exclusive purpose, and often at specific times of day. But we asked this theater to be a landscape as well, to be both a machine for culture and a habitat, too. Its form and expression is derived from the armature that the Voronoi cells provide. The shaped cells give the mound a sense that it might have eroded from an ancient volcanic plug, like a miniature of the nearby Mount Warning, or perhaps a crumbling amphitheater somewhere in a forgotten Mediterranean outpost.

When architecture negotiates with nature, it results in a discoverable, built environment. It’s explorable. It would be easy to miss, but amongst the foliage is a challenging path that takes the curious up and over the building. At the peak, there are views back to the spiky skyline of the Gold Coast. It’s a strange experience to walk up the manufactured hill, so densely planted. Is it a picturesque garden, a hoped-for wilderness, a theme park ride in need of hiking boots? It might be all of the above.

It’s hard to escape the idea that this might be kitsch. Not that we worry about that kind of thing at ARM, but we hope that this building does represent a serious attempt to negotiate a balance between the built and the living environments, that it could be a sign for what might come. That we designers cannot deny our complicity in the destruction of habitat. That the unique interactions of things made and environments found create remarkable places. And that if we do not act to cooperate with the Earth, then we will disappear and nature will consume our efforts, anyway.

JJ: The cultural lawn is now complete with the completion of the HOTA gallery. Sure, it’s a big step from what we imagined five years prior, but still a vertical tower for art, a place for making and seeing, a beacon on the cultural landscape. The facade again explores the language of the Voronoi in both two and three dimensions; in this instance, reinterpreted by the rich palette provided by a key painting in the city’s collection, The Rainforest by William Robinson. The opening revealed the 24-hour character of the precinct and demonstrated its potential to celebrate the inside-outside nature of Southeast Queensland culture.

MR: The HOTA gallery is a mongrel; part tower, part big-box retail, part institution of memory and culture, and pleasure stop.

The building is brash and earnest in turn, just like the collection of houses, just like the city it represents. The tower form is, of course, fundamental to the contemporary urbanity of the Gold Coast, each white spindle contributing to the thin skyline, each straining toward the view.

Our gallery tower is no different, occupying the highest ground on the peninsula. It looks back at the residential towers, not quite belonging, a kind of reflexive cousin questioning the city, asking, “Well, how did I get here?” Or pointedly, “Why are you still here?” So the gallery is like its residential cousins, sharing a few strands of DNA, but it’s not an affirmation of the city, not only a contextual response, but a question; what kind of city could we be? The tower levels of the gallery might be thought of as strata, each layer with identifiable character, or like the vertical ecology of a tree, each datum offering home to diverse needs.

JJ: The gallery is addressed at multiple levels. The concert lawn level is the main point of orientation, including the 1,000-square meter exhibition hall, the children’s gallery, outdoor gallery, and community workshop. The grand stair allows you to take in the view, a place to break out between each of the three stacked collection galleries. The stack culminates in a viewing deck, a place to enjoy the spectacular Nerang River and city skyline, and start or end your art journey.

MR: This climbing and descending demands something of us. The journey turns us around, giving us glimpses across the city and out to the hinterland. We aren’t constrained to curated culture, but reminded of a wild world. Thankfully, at the top, there’s a wine list.

JJ: So now the first three built components of the masterplan come together, now more than a ripple, but a critical mass of civic infrastructure for Australia’s fastest growing city. The gallery literally signals a new agenda for culture on the Gold Coast, the bridge a new way of getting round, and the outdoor stage a place to gather to celebrate and to continuously define who we are. HOTA is a place with a come-as-you-are attitude; a place to see a Warhol wearing your board shorts, a place to have a swim, enjoy the great outdoors, and then lose yourself in cultural discovery. It’s a destination that could only exist in this unique city, and an experience that is specifically crafted for its thoroughly engaging and dynamic culture.

But we’ve only just begun. The next five years we’ll see continual evolution of this artscape in artistic, cultural and architectural endeavors. Our masterplan envisions continual investment in the public realm to deliver an array of playscapes for all ages; a great terrace, the formal heart of this precinct; a new performing arts facility that will deliver for the performing arts what we have achieved for the visual arts.

A place to seed, a place to grow, and a place to display the full spectrum of cultural pursuits. ARM look forward to the next step in this exciting journey for the Home of the Arts.