The modern architecture of Angelo Candalepas draws on Antiquity, gives to the future

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By Mary Sinanidis

The first step that Greek-Australian architect Angelo Candalepas took when he created his winning design for NGV Contemporary, known as ‘The Fox’, was just that – one ‘step’, or rather several steps in the streets of Southbank.

As he explored the densely populated boulevards and alleys just south of Melbourne’s CBD, he reflected on the relationship his design of a one-of-a-kind cultural landmark would have with the rest of Melbourne’s arts district.

Beyond considerations of the work itself, Mr. Candalepas also took into account the surroundings where millions of people are drawn each year to attend the Art Center concerts, the Crown Casino, cruises on the Yarra or just to sip a coffee in one of the waterside cafes. Then there are the 18,709 residents who call it “home”, a number that is constantly growing.

“Streets are what make cities interesting,” Mr. Candalepas said. The greek herald. “Every time you go, for example, to a big city, the street is the conduit that takes you; and in the street, if there is joy in this experience, then there is something that can tell you what this place is, what the intentions of these people are, what their aspirations are, what they want to offer the unborn children of the future, how the past has given us its bounty through the efforts that have been made there, in the streets. And that gives you an idea of ​​the place.

To get an idea of ​​Southbank, you have to consider its evolution. The swamplands before European settlement gave way to a snubbed industrial/warehouse area across the Yarra, before becoming Melbourne’s cultural mecca after the National Gallery of Victoria opened in 1968, the first purpose-built art gallery in Australia. .

“When I look at this particular site, there is a marriage of what has been offered in the past, which is the finest offering from the National Gallery of Victoria at Roy Grounds,” Mr Candalepas said. “It showed tremendous promise, aspiration and optimism for the future, and we live in that future that optimism was offered for.

SecchiSmith, Contemporary NGV.

“And I think if we’re going to come up with something that’s adjacent to something that had those aspirations, we should think that’s the catapult point, that’s the springboard that we have to work on to create something that’s of equal dimension. Perhaps with his knowledge he has a greater dimension towards his future, greater aspirations for the people who will live there and, more importantly, he connects with the past which is palpable and known .

“When Roy Grounds created something, there was, let’s say nothing cultural. Now we have the making of a place… and much like those old places until today. Wherever there is a building with a cultural dimension on a site, it directs the spawning of other things around it.

READ MORE: Candalepas wins design for iconic 55-storey tower in Sydney CBD.

Mr. Candalepas compares the arts district to a “culture market and we create this incredible agora”.

It will be housed in a new 30,000 square meter monument filled with exhibition galleries, a breathtaking rooftop terrace with stunning views. Inside, visitors will be greeted by a striking omphalos (the ancient Greek word for the center of the world by which Delphi was known).

It tells the story of the Oracle of Delphi, where the Pythia chewed bay leaves and offered dizzying glimpses of the future.

“They went there in a way, because of the geography that made it the ‘center of the universe’, but it ended up being the center of thought, the center of sports, the center of social opportunity and cultures,” he said, adding that “art today has the freedom, for the first time in art history, to comment on and critique politics in the world, and that’s what ancient Delphi was, it’s not an art gallery in the conventional sense because it was an oracle that had to do with questioning the world.

The new gallery will be as much about life as it is about art. “It’s a place for philosophers. This is a place for predictors. It’s a place for people who talk about art in the sense of climate change. They make predictions and there is also science. Art has once again become this beautiful great melting pot of everything.

He refers to Pythagoras, Euclid and Cartesian geometry to explain the specificities of space. “Πυθαγόρας (Pythagoras),” he says, when asked to elaborate on the odd triangular shape of the block where “The Fox” will be built, surrounded by Southbank Boulevard, Kavanagh Street and Sturt Street.

“If I weren’t of Greek origin, I would still do it,” he said, “because, in fact, it has something to do with universal values.”

We can’t know for sure if that would have been the case, because as the son of migrants from Tripoli, Mr. Candalepas had Greek values ​​instilled in him from an early age. He lived in a house with two yiayiades and two pappoudes, in Stanmore and Campsie, and grew up with a love and yearning for Greece.

Mr Candalepas said he was still thinking about “old things”.

“I think it’s very interesting that people want to be so contemporary, but architects deal with history in a different way,” he said. “We’re actually looking at works that may be relevant today.”

When creating works, Mr. Candalepas is very aware of the legacy his works will leave for future generations. He contemplates how the works will be seen hundreds of years from now, just as we see the architecture of the past.

READ MORE: The site of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Redfern is to undergo historic renovations.

“If we’re going to have three million people a year coming through this building, then that’s a significant public offering,” he said. “Three million people a year […] for a hundred years, that’s a lot of people. And I hope it will grow and grow. And what that means is that for every decision that’s made, that feeling of connection with the universal and the substantive in terms of matter and spirit is even more important, and what I want to do is is to develop through this work a kind of better understanding of the human condition than I already have.

Mr. Candalepas said that “the enormous scope and the potential for many people to be affected spiritually and intellectually by this project is very high”.

Insensitive to fierce competition

The chance to design “The Fox” sparked the imagination of acclaimed Australian architects who submitted plans for the design of the new gallery. These included Fender Katsalidis, the architectural firm responsible for designing the MoNA in Hobart. Its Athens-born manager, Nonda Katsalidis, a Southbank resident for some time, will have to make do with her Australia 108 building, the tallest in the southern hemisphere, casting her shadow over the new design.

When asked what he thought of the other projects, Mr. Candalepas replied: “I actually asked not to see them.”

Not yet.

“Looking at other people’s work is often clouded by a kind of anxiety about what I should be doing too, so I asked not to see them, and I don’t want to see them,” he said. “And it’s not because I don’t respect them, I want to see them eventually.”

Photo: Martin Mischkulnig.

For now, Mr. Candalepas wants to focus on his own vision. “Why should I worry about what others have done when I have my own standards? And I have to manage them in a way that meant even the competition wasn’t even close to what I want to offer. I want to offer something more than can be done in 12 weeks in the competition process.

Since securing the project, the $1.7 billion project has received an additional $100 million in cash from longtime NGV supporters Lindsay Fox AC, Paula Fox AO and their families. “It gives me confidence that they see something worthwhile in what we’re doing,” he said, adding that it had affected him “in a significant way”.

“Running the Tate and the Met”

Labor is quite the talk of the town, dominating social media posts about Southbank groups with reactions oscillating between excitement and concern that opinions may be affected. Residents of Triptych Flats across the road will have their view obstructed by a white wall, while upper Sturt Street will cease to be a public access route.

Upon learning that I live across from the new landmark, Mr. Candalepas advises me to keep this property despite the inconvenience that will be caused when the current six-story commercial office building purchased from Carlton and United Breweries in 2018 is demolished at the beginning of 2023.

It’s a view supported by Michael Parry, director of the Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation, who told the Yarra River Business Association forum that the new NGV would be a game-changer. “We compete with the Tate, we compete with the Met – this is going to be a significant change on the global playing field, and we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity.”

The new gallery will open to the public in 2028.

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