ross mcleod and matthias hausler


The sublime has been discussed by philosophers in terms of the effect on the psyche of encounters that overwhelm the senses and emotions and lead the mind to a heightened awareness of what lies beyond the everyday.The studio explored ideas of the sublime in relation to twentieth century modernist architecture and art practices.

The project used the foyer of the original BHP House in Melbourne as both a physical site and as an example of modernist design principles. BHP house is a modernist steel frame skyscraper based on Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building. The foyer space is a minimalist glass lined void on which the fourty storey building seems to float. Students were expected to develop an opinion about the nature of the site, the building, its history and its usage and to situate a design response in the context of twentieth century architectural thinking.

Using a DIA student competition brief entitled the ‘Groundless Ground’ (an invisible presence that affects the interactions between user and environment) the students conducted a series of studies which expressed and explored the potential spectrum of variations between two binary extremes. Binary concepts which were explored included Outside / inside, Corporeal/ incorporeal, Public / private, Depth/ surface, Mass/ void, Figure/ ground, Night/ day, Entrance/ exit, Slow / fast, Reason/ sensuality.

The students were asked to come to terms with the physical and phenomenological aspects of the site and develop techniques for their focusing and amplification. This involved a deep technical understanding of the affects of light, sound and materiality and developing precise techniques for their documentation and specification. perceptual shifts that are possible between the interplay of additive and subtractive colour, the potential affects of relative colour and the interplay of light and darkness.

At this point the project moved from the abstract and theoretical into the specifics of the manipulation of space and its perception. Students were asked to not only consider the phenomenal, physical and material concerns of space but include ideas around the social, cultural and behavioral aspects of human beings. These observations and perceptions were to be aligned with the specific conditions of the site and used as a mechanism for developing a brief and program for the building. Ultimately the project sought to raise the everyday to the extraordinary and transform the mundane into the sublime.