Capturing the wild beauty of the outback

The film The Proposition, by musician Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, included a memorable scene of the Australian outback.

The film The Proposition, by musician Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, included a memorable scene of the Australian outback.

An indigenous servant, watering a rose garden behind a picket fence, was at odds with the desert beyond. The box hedges lining the stone path were more appropriate to an English-style garden in the late 19th century. This image was strongly embedded in the mind of BKK Architects when they designed one of three pavilions in the botanical gardens at Cranbourne.

Overseen by the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Gondwana pavilion is framed by gardens designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL).

"We were also inspired by the English-style rotundas you find in Melbourne," says architect Simon Knott, director at BKK Architects, who worked with Overend Constructions.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne, unlike the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, has no exotic species. There are desert landscapes, as well as the coastal and bush landscapes one can find in Australia. And while BKK acknowledge this unique local context, they also identified, like the setting in the The Proposition, Australia's tendency to import ideas from abroad.

"There's a certain futility in trying to control the landscape, even though we continue to create English-style gardens," says Knott. The Gondwana shelter features a striking heart-shaped roof perched on tree stumps in a circular arrangement. "We looked at the idea of shelter in the Australian context, like a giant leaf that had dropped from overgrown vines that may have existed in prehistoric times, fallen on tree trunks," says Knott. Logs ranging from 2.5 to four metres support the folded steel disk-like roof, creating a sense of fragility.

A popular shelter for those getting married (heart-shaped roof), the Gondwana shelter includes tree stumps for seating. Perched on a hill, this shelter, with its concrete floor, leads to a set of overscaled "lily pads" in a river. These circular steel disks were designed by TCL as a substitute to a traditional bridge. BKK also designed a sculptural bus shelter in the gardens, within the Eucalypt Walk. Clad entirely in timber, the folded form acts as a shelter along the various paths. The cafe and kiosk, located at the "constructed edge" of the gardens, including "back garden" typologies, offers a more familiar interpretation of the Australian bush. Shed-like, the timber-clad building was inspired by pitched farm roofs and sheds dotted around the countryside.

Designed to educate students about the Australian bush and native species, the modest complex includes a cafe and bathroom amenities. And to ensure the outdoors is appreciated, even while undercover, BKK included generous verandahs with timber battens placed below the polycarbonate awnings. Picking up on the vibrancy of some of our native flora, the architects highlighted the timber building in red orange trims. "Our brief was for well-designed and well-executed shelters. It was important that there was a synergy between the architecture and landscape," says Knott.

This brief was unusual for BKK. The usual procedure is to design a building and the landscape follows. The more visionary projects see architecture and the landscape work as one. However, in this instance, the architects responded to an existing landscape, a highly detailed and sophisticated one.

"It was quite a different scenario, but one that we embraced from the start. It's truly a unique environment," says Knott.

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