Liminis Canopy UNSW

We were invited by Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture to design a canopy structure as part of a limited competition for the redesign of the University of NSW’s Gate 9 precinct.

The project focused on the curtilage of the Clancy Auditorium – a strong, brutalist structure that houses the University’s graduation ceremonies, but has outgrown its slim foyer spaces.

The form of the auditorium is so resolute, our approach was to provide a large, weather protected space external to the building to accommodate the guests that spill from the auditorium after the ceremonies – the liminis.

The liminis was strong in geometric form, but light in material and line – an addition that hovered against the chiselled concrete face of the auditorium.

An 18.6m structural cantilever was formed of triangulated bronze coloured ribs with glazed slots between. The ribs rose to the top of the building where they formed an armature for a series of bells – sound being a powerful way of announcing the graduation ceremony to the wider campus. The bells were operated by a series of ropes that emerged through the base of the canopy so that the physical ringing of the bells became a theatrical part of the graduation day ceremony. Its character as a mechanical apparatus also made a subtle nod to the origins of the university as the Sydney Mechanical Institute.

The liminis was conceived as the threshold that marked the transition between graduand and graduate – a focal point of the graduation ritual. Its eight ribs referenced the eight faculties of the university, and were identified by lines of colour that reflected the colours of the silk graduation cowls – Powder Blue, Cream, Tartan Green, Old Gold, Claret, Victrix Blue, Imperial Purple and Maize. These coloured bands played against stripes of the beautiful Mona Hessing artwork that runs the length of the existing foyer.

The form opens towards the free public edge of campus, where graduates literally, and metaphorically, spill out into the city beyond – filling the space with the colour and splendour of damask, velvet, coloured silks, tassels and celebration.

The pattern of light from the glazed bands and ribs was intended to overlay the perpendicular paving lines to form a shifting tartan of light and shadow across the surface of a new plaza.

The project also included a speculative component that explored the rehabilitation of a subterranean classroom and food court block behind the auditorium.

The competition was won by Aspect Studios working with Lahz Nimmo Architects.