geometry, history, art, craft, iconography, and pragmatics:
an exploration of intention, coding, narrative, and meaning
all we want is a dunny
Olinda is a village in the heart of the Dandenong Mountain Range, on the edge of Melbourne. Its unique geography and national park status has kept the range undeveloped and, more recently, conserved. The local council wanted a toilet block on a highly visible site at the entrance of town.
a disappearing act: geometry and conceptual art
The acute geometry of the plan, and the building’s alignment on the site presents only one wall of the building to the passing motorists – the lean-to wall of ex-bridge timbers.
To reduce the impact of a new toilet block at the entry to the town, (the usual blight of a council toilet block) the Architects minimized its size and utilized geometry and materials that hid and disguised the form of the building.
a highly coded object
The first European settlers of the area were tree loggers.. They lived in primitive lean-tos – huts made from steeply leaning timber slabs cut from the giant eucalypts they were felling.
The first element of this assemblage is the large rough sawn timber lean-to west wall. The timbers for this wall were sourced form the demolition of a local bridge, which in-turn was sourced from the local forests.
The site was previously used as the town abattoir, where animals were hung from the eucalypts to have their blood drained, then gutted and skinned and quartered. The venous blood magenta of the floor of the building acknowledges this past.
activist art – a dark history
The site is located 3km from William Ricketts Sanctuary, the life work of artist William Ricketts. Ricketts’ sculpture’s express both his strong views on the right to peaceful protest and his naturalist love for the bush and the indigenous people.
His activist art speaks of the intangible and spiritual significance of this place. Ricketts borrowed tree ring motif, speaks of both the magnificent and dark past of the place.
The north elevation references Ricketts’ adoption of the indigenous tree ring motif, with a fragment of the life size motif transforming the south elevation.
arts and crafts
By early 1900s the Dandenongs had become a place for escaping urbanity and its mass production and seeking to get back in touch with nature and the hand made.
Mary Card was a local Olinda resident who re-imagined Irish Crochet with an Australian Arts and Crafts sensibility and published books of her designs.
Each of the toilet cubicles has a ceiling perforated with the crochet pattern of one of Card’s patterns with Cherub and eucalypt foliage.
After the forests returned in early to mid 1900s, the Dandenongs became a popular mountain retreat for Melbournians. Exotic Swiss Chalet styles, with timber frame, white stucco infill and large simple roofs, became popular for new guest-houses and hotels.
An abstract reference to this style, a fragment of the gable framing of a Chalet, presents as a graphic super-man, embedded in the south elevation of the building.
cheap but not nasty
Initial costs were reduced by innovative programming, nine cubicles reduced to six by the introduction of the unisex cubicle concept. The timber wall, sourced by the Architects, was donated to the project by the shire.
more than a pit-stop – a town green
The surrounding landscape was developed to include barbeque facilities, seats and tables, information monitor, and a safety barrier to prevent toddlers running onto the mountain highway.
NDIMBY – no dunny in my back yard
The project was subject to community consultation, changes in local government, VCAT challenges, and cost restrictions. The town planning approval was drawn out several years and was finally approved through the VCAT court. By this time the local government council had changed and the project was shelved. The next leadership re-tabled the WC and put it out to builders to tender. It was again shelved until the architects learned of the project’s trials, found a suitable builder who would build under budget, and saw the project through to completion.