The Martian Embassy
Monday 17 Jun 2013


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The Martian Embassy is the home for the Sydney Story Factory, a creative writing centre for young people. The design, a fusion of whale, rocket and time tunnel, is an immersive space of oscillating plywood ribs animated by red planet light and sound projections, creating a special community in inner city Sydney.

The design transformed a long, dark, unloved shop, located between a funeral parlour and an electrical outlet store on the high street, into the first interplanetary diplomatic post on Earth, giving the Sydney Story Factory a special identity. The goal is to awaken creativity in kids, so the design aims to fire up the engines of imagination. For inspiration LAVA travelled back to some great stories - Moby Dick, H. G. Wells' Time Machine and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.

A fluid geometry merged the embassy, school and shop, and a computer model was sliced and ‘nested' into buildable components. The 1068 ribs were CNC cut, then put together like a giant puzzle into an imperfect existing envelope. The timber ribs create the space, shelves, seats, benches, storage, counters and displays and continue as strips on the floor. Edged with Martian green, the curvy plywood flows seamlessly so that walls, ceiling and floor - space, structure and ornament - become one element. For LAVA design is not about decoration - it is about fusing structure, space and architectural expression into one single element. There are no straight lines - it is one fluid continuum. It continues LAVA's experimentation, since 2006, with slicing of space in order to create fluidity.

It's an intergalactic journey - from the embassy, at the street entrance, to the shop full of red planet traveler essentials, to the classroom. By the time kids reach the writing classes they have forgotten they are in "school". Kids inhabit the 150 square m space, crawl all over it and experience their own worlds.

Dynamic lighting add to the Martian effect with simple colour changes creating a ‘day in the life of the red planet'. The kids are stopped in their tracks, trying to work out what it looks like. A whale? A dinosaur?  A tunnel? A cave? They feel that the Martian Embassy is a special space, and more importantly that it was their special space. The design has played a crucial role in the core mission: enhancing young people's creativity.

Sustainability features include a renewable timber product, low maintenance, energy efficient LED lighting, and cross ventilation strategies minimise the use of active heating and cooling systems. The offsite prefabrication process reduced energy footprint, site time and costs. The computer process optimised profiles automatically, reducing waste.

Completed in 2012 it demonstrates how it is possible to create more with less, better design and amenities, with less material, less energy footprint, and less cost. NASA's rover explorer mission took seven months to get from Earth to Mars, but pro bono support from all partners meant this mission took far less time, and money!

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