McGregor Coxall: Set in Glenorchy, Tasmania on the Derwent River – Glenorchy Art and Sculpture Park [GASP!] curves Elwick Bay’s east edge and terminates at Wilkinsons Point to bookend the Museum of Old and New Art [MONA] which opened in January 2011. MONA is changing the social and cultural fabric of the region and has had an enormous positive impact on tourism and the local economy. In this context, the City of Glenorchy engaged McGregor Coxall together with Room 11 Architects to design the second stage of GASP! to create a spectacular setting for art, sculpture and experience.
The value of this landscape to the local community and the state of Tasmania is high. Following the early years of colonial settlement in the 1920’s Glenorchy was dominated by farming, orchards and early industrial uses which attracted a diverse variety of people to work in the area including a relatively high percentage of migrants. The area evolved to accommodate recreation and entertainment type functions to support the growing local community. The area currently accommodates recreational and entertainment uses within the Derwent Entertainment Centre and race course while numerous heavy industries are located near the site and include a zinc refinery.
The site has evolved to accommodate contemporary arts and cultural events that add another layer to its heritage and to people’s mind map of the area. The design response has been to respect and draw from the site’s heritage. It leverages the new investment by the project sponsors to provide a return for the local blue collar community and complement the regeneration now underway being led by MONA.
GASP! Stage 2’s site was formally used as a construction deck for the Bowen Bridge and new sections of the Tasman Bridge following its partial collapse in 1975 after being struck by the bulk ore carrier Lake Illawarra. The post industrial site was depleted and exhausted. It is incredibly tough and exposed to high winds and salt air. It included multiple layers of debris from its use as a construction site for city infrastructure. The budget for the ambition was extremely tight. These challenges were the foundation for the landscape design response.
The existing site conditions were considered very poor for planting and required remedial work and grading to improve the soil structure and drainage in order to support the planting that was undertaken. A simple planting palate of proven species in the tough conditions including a mix of native grasses, dropping sheoaks and pig face respond to the wind and provide colour in the central space.
The result is a landscape of two primary parts. One: the external exposed landscape that leads to Wilkinsons Point; and – Two: the point itself with the sheltered courtyard, and its apron areas. These landscapes contrast and complement each other. They change in response to light, wind, shadow and season. One open and one protected. One dark – one light. They each have a different relationship with the river’s environs, Mt Wellington and its range of peaks.
The constantly changing nature of the riverscape is heavily influenced by the prevailing weather. This ranges from impossibly relentless wind that pummels the site with salt laden air through to calm mirror like conditions. Light and reflection from the surrounding landscape become one with the river and in turn frame the experience of the each of GASP! 2’s spaces. One exposed and foreboding – the other sheltered and inviting.