Shades of rural life reflected in Mildura's heart

A patchwork roof evokes vineyards and orchards, writes Stephen Crafti.

A patchwork roof evokes vineyards and orchards, writes Stephen Crafti.

The Mildura Rural City Council faced problems with its old mall in the middle of the town.

The pavement in Langtree Street was uneven and there was little shade for festivals and events aside from a modest 1980s canvas-covered pavilion, with room for at most a dozen people.

"The area had developed sporadically. There was a need for a new direction," says designer and artist Cat Macleod, co-director of architecture and art practice Bellemo and Cat.

At first the council called in engineers to deal with the uneven pavement. At their suggestion, urban planner Hansen Partnership was brought in, which in turn suggested a design competition to create a more congenial space for shoppers.

"Council realised this is the civic heart of Mildura, not just a shopping strip," says Macleod, who worked closely with her life and business partner, architect Michael Bellemo.

When Macleod and Bellemo, who won an Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian chapter) award for the design, first saw the mall, there was a solitary musician performing under the pavilion.

"Our brief was to provide sufficient shade for a country music festival, which can be up to several hundred people," says Macleod.

"The brief also included creating a focal point for the community."

As well as the mall, Bellemo and Cat looked at the surrounding landscape. Vineyards and orchards create a patchwork effect in hues of green and bronze, with the large, quilt-like pattern unique to the area.

"We also looked at some of the agricultural structures in place, such as the drying racks used for grapes," says Macleod.

This information was channelled into Bellemo and Cat's design, a pavilion of about 60 metres by 20 metres. Supported by steel columns, the City Heart Pavilion includes steel panels of different shapes and sizes with steel battens in four hues of green and bronze with a fibreglass roof at the centre.

"The pavilion still allows for dappled light, as well as shade," says Macleod.

"We also felt it was important to bring the agricultural component of Mildura into the township. It's important to celebrate the farmers' important contribution," she says.

Although there are seats in the mall, Bellemo and Cat designed a small concrete platform under the pavilion for seating or for smaller performances - a larger freestanding stage was provided by the council.

"The pavilion was quite a simple solution," says Macleod, sketching out the different combinations of steel frames.

However, the effect is eye-catching, reminiscent of the work of three-dimensional fabrics by Japanese designer Issey Miyake. And to ensure the "cloth" doesn't compete with the "seams", Bellemo and Cat concealed the services, needed for music amplification and lighting, within the structure.

The City Heart Pavilion is close to Cat and Bellemo's own heart, as the duo has established a reputation for artistic urban design projects. As well as in Melbourne's Docklands, they have created installations in schools and neighbourhood parks.

"You could say that many of our projects are art-based," says Macleod, "but unlike most art, they must also be functional and utilitarian."

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