Building set on fire as part of Aboriginal ritual offering and design
The ritual burning of the Pinnacles Interpretive Centre in Western Australia, as part of its design and building process underscores the unique role of fire, both culturally and environmentally, in Australia.
Officially opened by WA Environment Minister, Mrs Donna Faragher today, this incredibly evocative gesture by Woodhead, project architect for the Centre, John Nichols, introduces this specific practice into contemporary Australian architecture.
While other artists, architects and designers may have used burning as an aesthetic strategy, like Belgian artist, Arne Quinze with his recent spectacular, wooden cathedral Urchronia set alight in Black Rock Desert and Marten Baas with his sacrificial seating series, Smoking Furniture, Nichols goes beyond the aesthetic.
The reference to traditional Aboriginal smoking and burning practices cannot be overlooked.
Nichols is careful to point out this is a respectful reference to such practices. He said, “The burning and the burnt remains are integral to the scheme and highlight the relationship between fire, the land and its inhabitants, particularly in Australia, which requires a specific way of engaging with space, which non-Aboriginal culture, is just beginning to engage with.”
“Something we are slowly coming to an awareness of through Aboriginal culture is the history of the land and that we must engage with space and conceive of architecture in a completely different way from the western tradition based on a concept of the heroic or heroic domination of space.”
The Pinnacles Interpretative Centre precisely challenges the heroic in architecture. It is consciously contradictory, non-heroic and embedded into a series of larger scale narratives about landscape, place and relationship. It is the latest in Woodhead’s trilogy of Interpretive Centres for the Department of Environment and Conservation, which include Karijini National Park and the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, which all explore these questions.
Nichols said, “How does one ‘build’ in response to a shifting landscape? What happens when architecture considers itself a small component of a larger system, as opposed to a self-referential all-encompassing whole? These are the type of questions that are of continual and specific concern to me.”
“With the Pinnacles Interpretive Centre, for instance, a series of staged ‘unfinished’ architectural insertions reflect the Pinnacles desert itself,” he said.
Located 250km north of Perth in the Nambung National Park, the Pinnacles is made of thousands of protruding limestone formations spread over a vast dunal landscape. The rock formations are the exposed eroded remnants of a formerly thick bed of Tamala Limestone, created over time by rain and wind.
This is a dynamic, ever changing landscape. The design principle for the centre is completely embedded in the mutable narrative of that landscape.
View a video of the process here