Tim Black on how civil infrastructure can celebrate a civic identity…

What is special about this model?

This was a proposal for a huge 70m single-span sculptural gateway across the West Gate Motorway, on the western side of the West Gate Bridge. It was part of an urban design scheme that BKK worked up as part of the FastFlow bid team on the West Gate Tunnel Project, in which we were ultimately unsuccessful.

We saw this as the ‘Gateway to the West’ that hadn’t so far been acknowledged. It was, for us, an expression of Melbourne’s West’s coming of age. While the project was just a toll road, it had the capacity to do significant things for the inner western suburbs; practically – by removing trucks from the road – but also culturally – by acknowledging the West as a place of importance. It was a 7 x 7m steel box truss, wrapped in perforated Corten steel. It was a monumental sculptural gateway in steel.

Where and when did the idea behind this model originate?

It came from a series of sketches by Adi Atic, a former colleague of ours, and it revolved around a core conceptual framework around notions of flow. The concept aimed to draw together layers of narrative about Melbourne’s West. It was partly a play on the bid team’s name (FastFlow),  but it was mainly about the geological story of the West. One of the greatest basalt plains in the world is covers Western Victoria, extending from the Maribyrnong River all the way out to Warrnambool and beyond.

It was also intended to be a lyrical interpretation of the DCM’s ‘Cheese Stick’ that marks Melbourne’s entry from the north via Tullarmarine Motorway. We saw ours as a fluid riposte to the very rigid yellow chip. Formally, it was a nod to Clement Meadmore; a son of Melbourne who ‘made big’ in New York, and one of Australia’s pre-eminent post war sculptors. There is a really fabulous piece of his down on Southbank outside Hamer Hall – a bit of a personal favourite.

Where in the office would you place this model, if you could put it anywhere? Where should it live?

It should live on the West Gate Motorway at 70m long! [Laughs.]

It usually hangs on our boardroom wall, but we sometimes wear it around the office as a fascinator; it looks a little Napolean-esque in elevation. I think it should be worn to the races.

Has this influenced any projects within the BKK studio? If not, what opportunities do you see in it for transferring into architectural practice?

The geometry of this model was established using a highly flexible parametric model, so while it is a rigid engineering-style truss it can actually be traced out to any base line. It was coded in that way to easily test the sorts of knots and variances that Meadmore did throughout his career, but in a very quick manner. This ‘coding’ approach to architecture has all sorts of potential applications in projects, and we use it all the time.