MONA – Museum of Old and New Art

OCULUS: The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is a project fused between landscape and architecture, compression and revelation. Situated on the banks of the Derwent River in Tasmania, MONA is the largest privately owned Museum in Australia. The museum holds a collection of rare ancient artefacts and contemporary works varying from Egyptian antiques, Greek and Roman coins, to sensational and provocative contemporary Australian, British and American art.

In 2005, OCULUS was invited to take part in a limited design competition to Master Plan the 16 ha site and proposed Museum. After winning that competition, OCULUS was engaged by MONA to prepare a Master Plan for the Estate and then to undertake detailed landscape concept design, design development, documentation and contract administration services with a stage 1 budget of $1.6m. The project was delivered in seven separate packages and completed in January 2011.

The two main objectives of the project brief are as follows. The first was to create a spatial logic from the existing, accreted development, which included: a winery; micro-brewery; function centre; two heritage listed houses designed by Sir Roy Grounds in 1966; and a series of historic and valuable landscapes established by the site’s previous owner Claudio Alcorso, who established the Moorilla Estate in the 1950’s by planting 90 Riesling vines and a poplar avenue. The second objective was to site a new major Museum; a number of luxury accommodation units; an expanded winery and cellar door; outdoor performance spaces; areas of revegetation; and a ferry terminal. The Master Plan’s generating idea amplified the site’s observed condition of spatial compression followed by spatial opening or revelation. The Master Plan and subsequent works, use a version of this spatial narrative to structure new events whilst simultaneously providing connections between existing ones.

The perceived ideas and notions of what a gallery may be are often preformed and perhaps complacent – that the gallery is a building with a formal entry and accentuated garden, curated in a logical way to guide the spectator on a journey through a certain time, exploring a certain culture. The spectator (the subject) and the building (the place) are homogenised and comfortable. The design of MONA deliberately confounds these preconceived ideas. MONA provides a spatial experience that can be described as immersive, timeless or even supernatural. Through the detailed use of material, planting and topography, MONA’s landscape is a direct response to the changing, non-linear nature of the interior gallery spaces. The landscape is dynamic and symbolic, floating directly on top of the buried hidden building.

The overall design for Stage 1 is was divided into a series of separate sites and packages, allowing delivery of the work over the three year construction period. These separate sites include:
– The Plaza, forming the roof of the hidden museum;
– The Terraces, creating a topography for inhabitation by crowds;
– The Embankment, revegetating the Derwent bank;
– The Avenue, replanting and strengthening the original Alcorso plantings;
– The Cut Garden, dealing with the exposed cutting and stair access to the new ferry wharf;
– The Moss Garden, a vegetated roof terrace at the threshold of the museum roof; and
– The Pavilions, work to site and vegetate four new accommodation villas.

Materiality is simple, unadorned and direct, confounding the expectations of the Museum as a temple in sandstone and travertine. Planting is curated, rather than designed – taxonomic gardens deal in turn with notions of regeneration, heritage or death. The single surface of the roof plaza creates a sense of displacement from the sandstone of Hobart, of being elsewhere. The terrace performs both as a way of conveying people to the plaza and as a way of making space for occupation to observe events held on the plaza. The interventions were carefully detailed and delivered for a rich, deliberate spatial experience, considering the site, its context and the narrative engagement of the body. The landscape behaves through pressure points, with a spatial logic of compression / immersion and opening / revelation. The design is flexible and adaptable, accommodating shifting program of events, installations and occupations. The creation of MONA promotes a shift in design thinking about cultural landscapes. It suggests that community can be created through immersion and shared experience, sustainability promoted though decadence and that spectacle can make reciprocal demands on its audience. In engaging with the project, from Master Plan through to completion and beyond, OCULUS was an important part of an extremely diligent team of experts delivering a truly unique and wonderful place.

Landscape Architects: OCULUS
Project Name: Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)
Design team:
OCULUS (Landscape Architecture)
Fender Katsalidis Architects (Architecture)
Johnstone McGee & Gandy (Civil)
Felicetti (Structural)
WSP Lincolne Scott (Services)
Coffey (Geotechnical)
Hansen Yuncken (Builder)
Location: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Client: Moorilla Estate
Year of construction: 2008-2010
Budget: $1.6 million
Image credits: OCULUS, Peter Bennetts
Awards: 2012 AILA Victoria Award for Design in Landscape Architecture

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