ISLAMIC MUSEUM OF AUSTRALIA BY DESYPHER
According to Issam Nabulsi, Director of Desypher Architecture, the building's design was heavily contextualised by its location and the shared history of Muslims in Australia, "when designing the Islamic Museum of Australia, we were adamant to resist the temptation to assemble a shallow interpretation of iconic Islamic symbols and plonk it on the banks of the Merri Creek. Instead we carefully created something that first and foremost reflects the context of its location and at the same time is crafted out of traditional design principles and methodologies".
The Museum's entry is defined by a veil of rusted corten that wraps around the exterior. It encompasses many layers of meaning; it is a material that is iconically Australian, rugged and weathered. The perforated pattern is a modernised reference to indigenous dot painting and tells the story of Muslims in Australia dating back to peaceful Makassan contact with the First Australians.
The perforations allow filtered light to stream into the entry area and create a magical effect as the transposed dots of light transcribe the movement of the sun onto floor and wall surfaces. Interestingly at night when the space is internally lit, beams of light filter outwards interrupted only by the movement of people within. The rusted veil is set against a pristine prism delineated with a geometric pattern that is the flattened out origami construction of a sphere referencing the oneness of God.
And as it is manmade, the purity of its form has been deliberately and respectfully rendered incomplete. The calligraphic text is an extract from the Qur'an which describes aptly and succinctly the mission of the Museum – "In the Name of God the Most Merciful the Most Beneficent, and so narrate to them the stories that upon them they may reflect". It is a place that beckons the visitor to enter but it is not without its implicit challenges.
The entry itself is but negative space between the corten veil and the stone prism, it is dark and upon entering the path is not clear. A ninety degree turn emphasises the need to reorientate or refocus as if to say "look at what is to come from a different viewpoint" and subsequently one is lead to a naturally lit space that is the entry foyer. Throughout the museum the theme is the same; darkened thresholds leading to lit spaces, bridges actual and metaphoric, lines of sight that do not correspond with pathways, doorways that are spaces between creased walls – all designed to maintain intrigue through gradual unravelling, to the extent where even the way in is not the way out.
Nabulsi says, "By designing the building in such a way visitors must seek out spaces, we are inviting them to see past the veil, walk over the bridge, seek out the light – all metaphors that point to going beyond stereotypical views and instead serve to nurture understanding and harmony.
The billabong is a case in point, once entered the visitor comes to this beautiful oasis and something can be seen going on beyond – to get there you have to cross that bridge, you must make the effort even if there is some uncertainty". The galleries themselves were designed to serve as blank canvasses for the display of exhibits. It was important that spatial design enhanced rather than competed with the exhibits.
The use of anything other than white is carefully restrained to materials expressed in their "natural state" – the corten, the glass, the plywood balustrades and the polished concrete and blue-gum floors. The thinking is that in time as the Museum develops and matures the flexibility that the spaces provide will allow a greater emphasis on interactivity. Currently there are five permanent galleries and one designated for visiting exhibitions.
There are also three noteworthy punctuations to the journey through the museum; the theatrette – a vital interactive part of any tour, the workshops where visitors can come away with something made and the cafe which increasingly is being accessed by cyclists riding along the Merri Creek path. The Museum seems to serve its purpose as a positive dispeller of stereotypes and as a promoter of cultural awareness and understanding. The architectural expression is simply in line with this mission.
Location: Thornbury, Melbourne Australia
Project Team: Desypher Architecture Planning Urban Design, Issam Nabulsi Managing Director, Khalid Bouden Design Director, Ahmed Osman Associate
Cost: approximately $11 million AU
Client: A few concerned individuals who formed a not for profit foundation