Last week, former Australian Dance Theater Artistic Director Garry Stewart introduced us to his new role as Creative Arts Teacher at Flinders Uni in Adelaide. In this capacity, he chaired a Zoom in which Charles Renfro, partner of the New York design studio, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), presented himself in Australia as lead designer of Tarrkarri, the new museum of First Nations culture in Adelaide.
DS+R is an impressive crowd. “Founded in 1981, it is a design studio whose practice spans the fields of architecture, urban design, installation art, multimedia performance, digital media and art. ‘impression. With a focus on cultural and civic projects, DS+R’s work addresses the changing role of institutions and the future of cities. The studio is made up of more than 100 architects, designers, artists and researchers, led by four partners: Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, Charles Renfro and Benjamin Gilmartin.
Most famously, DS+R was responsible not only for transforming the old railway line – The High Line – into an elongated park, but also for using it to produce the ‘Mile-Long Opera’ with a thousand voices on it.
“DS+R’s multi-genre work has been hailed on TIME”100 most influential people” and was awarded the first scholarship in the field of architecture by the prestigious MacArthur Foundation, which identified Diller and Scofidio as “architects who have created an alternative form of architectural practice that unites design, performance and electronic media to cultural and architectural and critical theory. Their work explores how space works in our culture and illustrates that architecture, when understood as the physical manifestation of social relationships, is everywhere, not just in buildings.
‘Charles Renfro joined DS+R in 1997 and became a partner in 2004. He led the design and construction of the studio’s first concert hall outside the United States – the Tianjin Juilliard School in China – as well as the the studio’s first public park outside the United States. – Zaryadye Park in Moscow. Charles also leads the design of two projects in his native Texas: the renovation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas and Sarofim Hall, a new home for Rice University’s Department of Visual Arts in Houston. Charles is the Co-Chair of BOFFO, a non-profit organization that supports the work of queer LGBTQ+ BIPOC artists and designers, and has twice been recognized on the Out100 list.
Strangely, there’s no mention of Tarrkarri in its credits, though the imagined building is the latest on DS+R’s massive list of accomplishments since 1981 – slated for completion in 2025.
The only example of the company’s work in Australia so far is the University of Sydney’s Susan Wakil Health Building. It was designed as an extension of the landscape, embodying the Wingara Mura principles of the University. Gadigal Ground as an interpretation of the healing cycle, agitating body, mind and soul to reflect the Gadigal people’s approach to healing through the engagement of all human senses. The design celebrates the site’s origins as an Indigenous encounter center. Its shaded gardens, terraces, cornices and paths will extend the spaces for learning, reflection and social exchange outwards.
Which all has parallels to their plans for Tarrkarri.
Because Renfro has constantly emphasized on Zoom that his work is “a response to the Indigenous Reference Group, whose constant feedback is invaluable. Only through them can we achieve a malleable building that reflects the kaurna symbolism of the site and lets past, present and future emerge. It is to be anchored in the grounds – with a traditional front door on North Terrace (Adelaide’s cultural avenue) but the real front door on the side of the Botanic Gardens leading through ceremonies that emerge from the landscape. The galleries will be on the top floor, but all spaces communicate with the central storytelling space”.
Tarrkarri Deputy Director Leanne Tjunipa Buckskin echoed Renfro: “The building tells a story, retaining collective memory through a building and its collection. The stories will speak of the ingenuity of the ancestors and their resilience, achieving reconciliation and truth. And Charles’ genius is to bring diverse people together, to have the experience of how to escape the stigma of growing up gay in Texas! “.
All very positive, but no mention of the consequences of the change of government in South Australia. And no mention either of Woods Bagot, the local architects supporting New York-based DS+R.
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Charles Renfro, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, DS+R, Jeremy Eccles, Leanne Tjunipa Buckskin, Tarrkarri,